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

Friday, January 18, 2013

Seventh Circuit panel affirms 70-year sentence for "self-described 'kingpin' of child pornography"

Though not clearly breaking any new ground, a Seventh Circuit panel has a notable discussion of reasonableness review today in US v. Boroczk, No. 12-1022 (7th Cir. Jan. 18, 2012) (available here).  The unanimous panel ruling in Boroczk gets started this way:

Darrick C. Boroczk (“Boroczk”),a self-described “kingpin”of child pornography on the internet, created hundreds of sexually explicit images and videos involving two of his own children.  Boroczk pled guilty to four counts of manufacturing and one count of possessing child pornography.  After a day long sentencing hearing, the district court imposed four 15-year sentences on the manufacturing counts and a 10-year sentence on the possession count, to be served consecutively, for a total of 70 years’ imprisonment.  On appeal, Boroczk argues that the district court committed procedural error and imposed a substantively unreasonable sentence. Finding no merit in Boroczk’s arguments, we affirm the 70-year sentence.

January 18, 2013 in Booker in the Circuits, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How do puppy rapists get treated in prison?

It is often reported that child rapists are often treated as pariahs even among the most hardened criminal is prison.   Consequently, this stunning local sentencing story prompted the (serious?) question in the title of this post. The article — which has an ending that led me to double-check it wasn't from The Onion — is headlined "N.Y. super who had sex with dog gets prison."  Here are the details:

An apartment building superintendent who was caught on tape entering a unit and having sex with the tenant's puppy was sentenced to prison Tuesday.

Kujtim Nicaj, 44, was sentenced Tuesday by Westchester County Judge Barry Warhit to 6.5 years in prison and 7 years' probation after pleading guilty in October 2012 to burglary and sexual misconduct charges.  "This case was unusual to say the least," Warhit said.  "You exhibited cruelty to the animal.  Your behavior was inexcusable."

Alan Kachalsky thought something in his apartment was amiss for months — blinds drawn that had not been, a window left open that he had left shut.  But nothing ever went missing, and, fearing he may come off as paranoid, Kachalsky never went to the police. Instead, he set up three cameras and waited.  Kachalsky shared his apartment at the Rye Colony Cooperative Apartments with a male Labrador puppy, Gunner, who, unbeknownst to Kachalsky, was the real target of the burglar.

The burglar, it turned out, wasn't there to steal anything, Kachalsky said Tuesday, but for something far more unimaginable.  Kachalsky, an attorney, said it never occurred to him that someone was returning to have sex with his dog.  Kachalsky turned over the video to police, who questioned and arrested Nicaj on Feb. 9, 2012, for sex acts against the 1-year-old dog committed the day before.

Nicaj, who wore a blue-striped gray sweater and blue jeans Tuesday in Westchester County Court, spoke little in court before his sentence, only telling Warhit that he had nothing to say.  Steven Davidson, a lawyer for Nicaj, indicated after the proceedings that he might appeal the sentence, calling it unfair.  "We'll do everything we can to protect his interests," Davidson said, adding that Nicaj was doing well under the circumstances, "other than what his family is going through."...

Nicaj, a 15-year resident of Rye, worked at the apartment complex for six years before his arrest, and Kachalsky said that the super seemed like a normal guy until one day, a few weeks before Kachalsky had set up the cameras, when the two had an odd run-in outside Kachalsky's apartment.   "He said he had stopped by to check the gas," Kachalsky said, even though the gas had been on for some time.

Finally, Kachalsky set up three cameras, which provided indisputable evidence — "a naked man, in your apartment, having sex with your dog," Kachalsky said.  "I was wondering why someone would keep coming in here," Kachalsky said. "I never noticed anything to make me think."

A subsequent examination of Gunner by a veterinarian revealed no permanent physical damage, Kachalsky said, and the vet even expressed surprise that the soon-to-be 2-year-old pup could still interact normally with men.  The dog had always eagerly greeted visitors at the door, Kachalsky said, and still does, but on the video, with Nicaj, Gunner was abnormally passive.  "Gunner just sat on the couch," Kachalsky said.  "He did not get up."

Now, Kachalsky said, Gunner is mostly back to his old self.  He turns 2 years old Jan. 25. "Anytime anyone comes in, he's all over 'em," Kachalsky said.  "He's a terrific dog."

Given the apparent happy ending for the victims of this crime, I am not sure whether to encourage off-color jokes about this case or to engage in serious analysis of the prosecution of this peculiar puppy rapist.  Thus, I pose this dilemma to readers:

January 16, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Friday, January 11, 2013

Lots of new and notable for criminal justice fans in latest SCOTUS cert grants

This time of year, working late on a Friday can sometimes get rewarded with Supreme Court news after its usual Friday conferences: this week brings a Friday afternoon SCOTUS order list with six new cert grants. And, as Lyle Denniston detailed in this new post at SCOTUSblog, half of the grants include cases with notable criminal justice concerns:

The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide a major case on the right to remain silent — a case testing whether that right exists for an individual who has not been arrested but is interviewed by police, and was not given Miranda warnings, when that silence was used to help prove guilt at a trial.  That case — Salinas v. Texas (docket 12-246) — was one of six new cases accepted for review.  (The order list is here.)...

Here, in brief, are the other new cases and the issues at stake [from the criminal justice part of the SCOTUS world]:...

** Sekhar v. United States (12-357) — whether the federal anti-extortion act applies to a private individual’s use of a threat in order to get a government authority to withdraw a recommendation that would be adverse to that private individual’s interest in a pension fund.  The issue is whether such a recommendation qualifies as “property” under the Hobbs Act, which makes it a crime to obtain property by threats.

** United States v. Kebodeaux (12-418) — Congress’s authority in 2006 to make it a federal crime for an individual convicted years before of a sex crime to fail to register, after the individual had long since completed a sentence.

Based on this helpful summary, it looks like the new sex offender case, US v. Kebodeaux, should be of greatest interest to sentencing fans. But all criminal cases on the SCOTUS docket, of course, can end up having a sentencing spin or impact.

January 11, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Intriguing New Yorker article on child porn, sex offenders and civil commitment

The latest New Yorker issue has this interesting article headlined "The Science of Sex Abuse: Is it right to imprison people for heinous crimes they have not yet committed?". The lengthy article, which rewards taking to time to read it, give particular attention to one particular sex offender's experience with child pornography and federal civil commitment procedures.  Here is an excerpt:

John pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and to using the Internet to persuade a minor to have sex, and was sentenced to fifty-three months in federal prison — a relatively light sentence by today’s standards.  In the past fifteen years, sentences for possession or distribution of child pornography — a federal crime, since images cross state lines — have increased in length by more than five hundred per cent.  The average sentence is now a hundred and nineteen months, which is about the same as the average punishment for a physical sex crime.

Child pornography didn’t become a priority for federal law enforcement until the mid-nineties, when the Internet, offering a fun-house reflection of the spectrum of human sexuality, exposed a previously invisible population of pedophiles.  Chat rooms have spawned an underground subculture in which social status is based on comprehensive libraries of images.  Many users consider themselves “collectors,” trading pictures until they assemble sets that feature certain children, stars on the Internet, being sexually abused over time.

In a study of child pornography, the historian Philip Jenkins, of Penn State, found that chat rooms foster a kind of “bandit culture.” Self-described “Loli fans” see themselves as part of a subversive fraternity, unified by the pursuit of forbidden pleasures.  There is a hierarchy of users: newbies, lurkers, traders, and, at the top, the pornographers themselves—“kings of the rooms,” as John told me.  He said that the most sought-after images were new and made in America, and showed interracial couplings.  The more taboos broken, the better.  Members reinforced one another’s desires, engaging in communal rationalization. “We’d pull at evidence from the dawn of photography to prove that child sexuality was once acceptable,” John said.  “Then we could say, ‘See, it’s society — not me!’ ”

January 8, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Saturday, January 05, 2013

District Judge at resentencing continues to resist federal child porn guidelines even after Sixth Circuit reversal

While I was traveling to New Orleans yesterday, back in my hometown a federal district court judge continued to make news in his second effort at sentencing a elderly federal defendant in a child pornography downloading case.  This local story, headlined "Judge blasts sentencing guidelines: Man's original punishment tossed on appeal," provides the notable details:

A federal judge in Columbus criticized sentencing guidelines for child-pornography offenses yesterday as he imposed a stricter sentence on a Mount Vernon man whose original sentence was rejected by an appeals court.

U.S. District Judge James L. Graham said he “continues to have significant concerns about the helpfulness of those guidelines.” He made his comments during a resentencing hearing for Richard Bistline, 70, who pleaded guilty in April 2009 to one count of possessing child pornography. Federal sentencing guidelines recommended a sentence of 63 to 78 months.

Graham sentenced Bistline in January 2010 to one day in prison and 10 years of supervised probation. Federal prosecutors appealed the sentence, which the 6th U.S. District Court of Appeals overturned in January 2012, saying it “does not remotely meet the criteria that Congress laid out” for criminal sentencing.

Graham imposed the same sentence yesterday but ruled that Bistline must be confined to his Knox County home for the first three years of probation. He credited Bistline with the one day he served in prison, three years served on probation and nine months of home confinement that he served while awaiting his original sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Solove had requested a five-year prison sentence, followed by five years of probation. She objected to the new sentence, saying it was “not reasonable.”

The judge said he was guided by appeals-court rulings that upheld sentences in similar child-pornography cases that included one day of prison and at least one year of home confinement. He cited statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons showing that federal judges across the country impose sentences below those recommended in the sentencing guidelines in more than half of child-pornography cases....

Bistline, a former Michigan schoolteacher with no criminal record, was arrested after a task force investigating online crimes against children downloaded images of child pornography that had come from Bistline’s home computer. A search of the computer uncovered 305 images and 56 videos of children posing naked or involved in sex acts with adults....

In the three years since his conviction, Bistline has complied with the terms of probation, successfully completed a one-year sex-offender treatment program, had no access to computers and understands the harm caused to the victims of child pornography, Graham said.  Defense attorney Jonathan Tyack told the judge that the past three years “have shown that (Bistline) was worthy of your original sentence.” 

Graham also said he was influenced by concerns about Bistline’s age and deteriorating health.  According to medical records presented to the court, Bistline has had two strokes and suffered a heart attack a year ago. He also cares for his wife, who has cancer. Sending him to prison for five years “would be a life sentence, or more accurately a death sentence,” the judge said.

It will be very interesting to see if federal prosecutors seek to appeal this sentencing yet again to the Sixth Circuit.  If they do, I would set the very early "betting line" on reversal at 50/50:  some judges on the Sixth Circuit surely will be troubled that Judge Graham imposed nearly the same sentence even after his first sentence was reversed as unreasonable; but some judges may be moved by the additional reasons Judge Graham gave upon resentencing for not changing the sentence dramatically.

Prior related post:

January 5, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Three decades and huge (record?) restitution sentence in federal child porn case from Texas

A helpful reader alerted me to what seems like a record-setting sentence handed down yesterday in a notable federal child porn prosecution out of Texas.  This local article about the sentencing provides the details:

Misty, a victim of child abuse that began when she was 4 years old, wrote that there is another “little me” being seen on the Internet by child pornography abusers.  Prosecutor V. LaTawn Warsaw read the young woman’s victim impact statement during the sentencing of Robert Hedrick, 61, the former president of Pan American Airways, who was convicted in May of five counts relating to child pornography.

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen sentenced Hedrick to 30 years in prison and ordered him to pay more than $5 million in restitution to known victims of child pornography whose images of abuse were found on Hedrick’s computer....

The government had asked for a 90-year sentence, but Hanen said because of Hedrick’s age a 30-year sentence was appropriate....

Investigators identified 99 known series of child pornography, along with 549 known images of child victims on Hedrick’s computer — just a fraction of the more than 2,400 images and 18 videos of child pornography it held.  Many of the children in the images are unidentified, Homeland Security Investigations Agent Joseph Baker testified....

Hedrick maintained his innocence.  “I can’t ask the court for anything.  I was framed.  I didn’t do what I was charged and convicted of,” he said, adding that he can’t say he is sorry or show remorse for something he didn’t do. Hedrick plans to appeal....

During the trial, however, evidence showed that Hedrick shared 136 images of adult and child pornography with detectives who were posing as 13- and 14-year-old girls.  According to testimony during the trial, Hedrick contacted the undercover investigators in Louisiana and Wisconsin through Yahoo instant messenger and email more than 20 times.

He also was convicted of asking the agents to provide him with images of themselves in sexually explicit sex acts.  The government introduced a web cam video of Hedrick masturbating for an undercover detective who identified herself as a 14-year-old girl from Louisiana....

Here is a breakdown of the victims to whom Robert L. Hedrick was ordered to pay more than $5 million in restitution....

  • $3,388,417 to the victim of the Misty series;
  • $1,145,300 to the victim of the Jan-Feb series;
  • $803,924 to the victim of the Vicky series;
  • $68,821 to the victim of the Cindy series.

Much can be said, of course, about the imposition of 30 years' in federal prison for a man in his 60s for what he did on the internet.  (Recall that now-infamous child molester Jerry Sandusky got a state sentence of 30-60 years.)  I find even more noteworthy that federal prosecutors could, with a straight face and as officers of the court, assert in this sentencing proceeding that they believed that only a 90-year federal prison term(!) was "sufficient but not greater than necessary" to serve the purposes of punishment set forth by Congress in 18 USC 3553(a).

In addition, the restitution amount imposed here is higher than I can recall seeing in any other child pornography case and thus may set a record for this kind of prosecution.  Moreover, unlike in many other child porn downloading cases, it seems possible that this defendant could pay some or perhaps all of this huge restitution amount. This reality not only raises the stakes for this defendant's planned appeal, but also potentially impacts whether and how the victims in this case will want or need to seek additional restitution awards from other child porn downloaders in future federal prosecutions.

December 20, 2012 in Booker in district courts, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, December 10, 2012

Distinguishing Padilla, Pennsylvania Supreme Court finds no Sixth Amendment problem with lack of pension plea advice

An interesting case involving a plea that led to the loss of a pension for a school teacher has now led to an interesting set of opinions from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Abraham, No. 36 WAP 2010 (Pa. Dec. 10, 2012) (links to majority opinion, concurrence one and two, and dissent).  Here is the set up via the start of the majority opinion:

Joseph Abraham was a high school teacher in the Pittsburgh public school system. In 2008, one of his students alleged he offered her $300 to have sex with him and touched her buttocks; she further stated he gave her one of his business cards and wrote his private cell phone number on it.  After these allegations surfaced, appellee, who was 67 years old, retired from teaching and began receiving pension payments of $1,500 per month.  Shortly after appellee retired, he was charged for the above incident. Pursuant to a negotiated agreement, appellee pled guilty to corruption of a minor and indecent assault of a person less than 16 years of age.  He was sentenced to probation; no direct appeal was filed.

Because the crime of indecent assault of a person less than 16 years of age is one of the enumerated offenses in the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act (PEPFA), 43 P.S. §§ 1311-1315, appellee forfeited his pension when he pled guilty to this charge.  He filed a motion to withdraw his plea nunc pro tunc, alleging he was not informed of his right to seek withdrawal of his plea or of the possible sentences he faced. The trial court denied the motion.

Appellee filed a timely PCRA petition alleging plea counsel was ineffective for failing to inform him he would forfeit his pension upon pleading guilty.  The PCRA court, after giving the required notice pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 907(1), dismissed the petition without a hearing. In its Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion, the PCRA court stated the loss of appellee’s pension was an issue collateral to the plea; thus, under Commonwealth v. Frometa, 555 A.2d 92, 93 (Pa. 1989), plea counsel’s failure to explain this consequence to appellee was not relevant to whether his plea was knowing and voluntary.  Accordingly, the PCRA court held counsel was not ineffective.

On appeal, the Superior Court reversed, holding a recent United States Supreme Court decision, Padilla v. Kentucky, 130 S.Ct. 1473, 1483 (2010), abrogated Frometa, which held deportation was collateral consequence of a guilty plea and therefore did not need to be explained to the defendant.  The Superior Court noted Padilla, which also dealt with deportation following entry of a guilty plea, held such consequences were so intimately connected with the criminal process that a direct versus collateral consequences analysis was ill suited to evaluate an ineffectiveness claim arising in this context.  Commonwealth v. Abraham, 996 A.2d 1090, 1092 (Pa. Super. 2010)....

We granted the Commonwealth’s Petition for Allowance of Appeal to determine:

(1) Whether, in light of Padilla v. Kentucky, ___ U.S. ___, 130 S.Ct. 1473 (2010), the distinction in Pennsylvania between direct and collateral consequences to define the scope of constitutionally “reasonable and professional assistance” required under Strickland v. Washington, 486 U.S. 668 (1984) is appropriate?

(2) If so, whether the forfeiture of a pension that stems from a public school teacher’s negotiated plea to crimes committed in the scope of his employment is a collateral consequence of a criminal conviction which relieves counsel from any affirmative duty to investigate and advise?

The various opinions reach various in Abraham reach various conclusions on these questions, but here is the heart of the analysis of the majority:

Not getting money as a consequence of breaching an employment contract cannot be equated with being forced to leave the country. Based on PEPFA’s aim, procedure, and consequences, we cannot conclude forfeiture of an employment benefit is so enmeshed in the criminal process that it cannot be subjected to a direct versus collateral consequences analysis. Accordingly, we hold Padilla did not abrogate application of such analysis in cases that do not involve deportation...

Our assessment of the above factors leads us to conclude PEPFA’s pension forfeiture provisions are not so punitive in force or effect as to negate the legislative intent that it be a civil, remedial provision. PEPFA is not punitive, and is thus a collateral consequence of appellee’s guilty plea.

Because counsel cannot be deemed ineffective for failing to advise a defendant regarding the collateral consequences of a plea, appellee’s ineffectiveness claim fails. Therefore, we reverse the order of the Superior Court granting appellee a PCRA hearing on the issue of prejudice, and we remand for reinstatement of the PCRA court’s order denying appellee relief.

December 10, 2012 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friday, December 07, 2012

Just who decides whether serious child porn case is in state or federal system?

I kind of know the answer to the question in the title of this post (as explained below), but this is still the inquisitive reaction I often have after reading about a state child porn sentencing decision like this one reported today out of Pennsylvania:

Calling him a danger to the community who showed no remorse, a Northampton County judge handed down a state prison sentence Friday to a Nazareth man who had child pornography and sent inappropriate text messages to a 12-year-old girl in which he said he wanted to make her feel "warm and cozy."

Christopher M. Rothrock, 46, was sentenced to 21 months to 7 years in prison by county Judge Stephen Baratta. In handing down his sentence, Baratta said he would be "afraid for the community" unless Rothrock served time in state prison.

Rothrock was reported to police in 2011 by the girl's parents.  Police said they found 25 texts from Rothrock to the girl, saying he wanted to massage her and asking for photos of her exposed stomach, court records state. Police said they also found thousands of child pornography images on Rothrock's computer.

In September, Rothrock pleaded guilty to five counts of possessing child pornography and one count of criminal solicitation for the text messages he sent to the girl. Northampton County Assistant District Attorney Patricia Broscius testified Friday that the victim and her mother are "extremely hurt, extremely angry" by Rothrock's actions. "The bottom line is he's dangerous and he needs intensive treatment," Broscius said. "He had no remorse, no insight, no empathy for what happened."

In a pre-sentence report read aloud Friday by Baratta, Rothrock said he had been viewing child pornography for 20 years and didn't believe it was a crime unless he was selling or distributing the images. He also told authorities he didn't believe pornographic images of children over the age 10 were considered child pornography.  Baratta noted that Rothrock stopped going to sex offender treatments after Rothrock said he could no longer afford to pay for therapy.

Though not perfectly clear from this story, it appears that the defendant here (1) may have already had a conviction of some sort that got him into sex offender treatment, and (2) had sent numerous sexual texts to a 12-year-old, and (3) had a massive and long-standing collection of child pornography.  Add up these facts in the federal system, and the defendant here would likely be looking at decades in the federal prison system.  But in state court this guy, deemed by the sentencing judge as dangerous and with no remorse, could be free in less than two years.

My understanding is that state and federal investigative authorities and prosecutors are ultimately the persons who decide whether and when a case will be brought in federal or state court when both jurisdictions have authority.  But, as highlighted by this story (and so many others in this area), the sentencing consequences of child porn crimes will often depend a lot more on this (hidden and unreviewable) state/federal prosecutorial decision than any other facts or factors.

December 7, 2012 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Fourth Circuit rejects feds' effort to commit "sexually dangerous person" under AWA

The Fourth Circuit has a notable sex offender civil committment ruling today in US v. Caporale, No. 12-6832 (4th Cir. Dec. 6, 2012) (available here).  Here is how it gets started:

The government appeals the judgment of the district court directing that Patrick Caporale be freed from the custody of the Bureau of Prisons and granted supervised release. Caporale finished serving his prison sentence for child molestation in 2008, but he has remained incarcerated while the government seeks to have him declared a "sexually dangerous person" pursuant to the civil-commitment provisions of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (the "Walsh Act"), Pub. L. No. 109-248, 120 Stat. 587, as specifically set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 4248.

A sexually dangerous person under the Walsh Act means one "who has engaged or attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation and who is sexually dangerous to others." 18 U.S.C. § 4247(a)(5).  A person is sexually dangerous to others insofar as he or she "suffers from a serious mental illness, abnormality, or disorder," and, as a result, "would have serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released." Id. § 4247(a)(6).  The parties have never disputed that, as evidenced by his several convictions, discussed infra, Caporale satisfies the first, prior-conduct element of § 4247(a)(5) by having engaged in child molestation.

Following an evidentiary hearing whose scope was thereby limited to the second element of § 4247(a)(5), the district court ruled that, as a matter of law, the government had not proved that Caporale suffers from a serious mental illness, abnormality, or disorder.  The court perceived in the alternative that even if Caporale were so afflicted, his commitment was not required because the government had also failed to sufficiently show that Caporale will experience serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released.

We conclude that, contrary to the district court’s legal determination and as established by the evidence, Caporale indeed suffers from a qualifying mental impairment. We nevertheless affirm the judgment below, discerning no clear error in the court’s alternative rationale that the government fell short of carrying its burden to demonstrate a relative likelihood that Caporale will reoffend.

December 6, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack