Friday, July 26, 2013
Kansas Gov calling special legislative session to deal with Allenye problemsA helpful reader alerted me to this local Kansas article reporting on the latest ripple from the Supreme Court's work last month in Alleyne. The piece is headlined, "Brownback calls for special legislative session to address questions on ‘Hard 50’ law," and here are the details:
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has called for a special legislative session starting Sept. 3 to address legal questions about the state's so-called "Hard 50" sentencing law. State Attorney General Derek Schmidt had asked for a special session because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a similar federal sentencing law.
“The ‘Hard 50’ sentence is a vital public safety tool that has been in place for more than 10 years,” Brownback said in a statement released today. “The sudden absence of the ‘Hard 50’ sentence poses a real and present danger to the public safety of all Kansans.”
Republican leaders of the Kansas Senate quickly issued a statement supporting the call for a special session. “I appreciate the assessment of the situation by the Governor and the Attorney General, and support their decision,” Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican said in the statement. “After learning about the circumstances of the pending cases, and recognizing the critical time element involved with the appeals process, it’s clear we must act. The Senate will respond quickly and efficiently to protect public safety.”
Under the Kansas statute, people convicted of premeditated murder can be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for 50 years if the trial judge finds certain aggravating factors. Otherwise, those defendants are typically given a sentence of 25 years to life.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, issued a ruling in June saying that when statutes like the Hard 50 law call for enhanced penalties, the facts that justify the more severe sentence must be decided by the jury, not a judge. Days after the Supreme Court issued that ruling, it remanded a Kansas case back to the state supreme court to be reconsidered....
“While returning to Topeka for a special session is often a last resort, crafting legislation to keep our constituents safe from violent offenders is the proper response to the Alleyne Decision," Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican, said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Alleyne v. United States. "Legislative action should be taken in a reasonable period of time and in a bipartisan manner.”
During a news conference Thursday, Schmidt said there were potentially dozens of other cases in Kansas that could be affected by the ruling. One of those involved a murder-for-hire scheme in which the victim was shot execution-style in the back of the head in front of her child. It was a case of mistaken identity, Schmidt said, and the victim was not the intended target.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
Echoes of Alleyne showing something's the matter in Kansas "hard 50" SentencingThis new local article, headlined "Supreme Court ruling threatens to invalidate Kansas hard 50 sentences," reports on one of the potential state echoes of the Supreme Court's Sixth Amendment ruling in Allenye last month. Here are the essential details:
A U.S. Supreme Court decision that prompted the Kansas Attorney General’s Office to drop plans to seek a hard 50 sentence against convicted wife-killer Brett Seacat could invalidate the hard 50 sentence given to Scott Roeder, who was convicted of murdering abortion doctor George Tiller.
The ruling also may force prosecutors to abandon plans to seek hard 50 sentences in some other cases, including the case of a Wichita man who was convicted last week of stomping his girlfriend to death with steel-toed boots. It could prevent the state from seeking a hard 50 for a man convicted last month of strangling a Wichita woman in 2011 while on parole for murdering a woman in Lawrence more than two decades earlier.
District Attorney Marc Bennett said the ruling, known as the Alleyne decision, could have an impact on any hard 50 case in Kansas that is on appeal, and could change the way prosecutors deal with first-degree murder cases in the future. “Clearly it will be an issue that we will have to address,” he said.
Defense lawyer Richard Ney was more blunt in his assessment of the ruling. “The hard 50 is dead as far as it exists in Kansas right now,” he said. “For cases that are not final, and Roeder would be one of them, I think they’re certainly in question.”
If the state wants to keep its hard 50 sentencing law, Ney said, the Kansas Legislature will probably have to adopt a sentencing system that includes a separate penalty phase in any first-degree murder trial where prosecutors seek a 50-year minimum sentence.
When the state enacted a hard 40 sentencing law in 1990 – the precursor to today’s hard 50 law – it used such a system where the jury that found a defendant guilty of first-degree murder would sit at a separate penalty phase and determine whether to impose a hard 40 sentence. The state later turned the decision of whether to impose hard 50 sentences over to judges....
In releasing the Alleyne decision, the Supreme Court sent a similar case – Astorga v. Kansas – back to Leavenworth County District Court for resentencing. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt cited both cases in his decision to abandon efforts to seek a hard 50 sentence in the Seacat case.
“Upon thorough review of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Alleyne, the state does not believe the procedural and factual posture of this case allow for the application of (the hard 50 law) in its current form. Therefore, the state is no longer seeking the imposition of a mandatory term of imprisonment of 50 years,” he wrote in a court filing.
As it now stands, Kansas’ hard 50 law says a judge must weigh aggravating and mitigating factors before deciding whether to grant a prosecutor’s request to impose a hard 50 sentence. The law lists several aggravating factors that include a prior conviction for a crime that caused death or great bodily harm, the commission of an act that creates a great risk of death to more than one person, and the commission of a crime in an especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner.
The law also lists mitigating factors that may include a defendant’s age, a defendant’s lack of criminal history and the fact that a defendant was a minor participant in the crime for which he or she was convicted.
If a judge rules that one or more aggravating factors exist, and decides that the existence of such factors is not outweighed by any mitigating circumstances, the law says the defendant shall be sentenced to life without parole for a minimum of 50 years.
Prior related post on Alleyne ruling:
- Per Justice Thomas in 5-4 SCOTUS split, Alleyne extends Sixth Amendment to findings triggering mandatory minimums
- First-cut reactions as to what is big, and not so big, about Alleyne's reversal of Harris
- Are 12 Alleyne GVRs (including one from Kansas) a sign of big Sixth Amendment things to come?
Thursday, May 23, 2013
NACDL rolls out state-by-state "excessive sentencing" proportionality litigation resource
I am extraordinarily proud and excited to report that, as detailed via a new NACDL news release, that the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is now offering, "as a resource for its members and as a service to the public, a collection of individual downloadable documents that summarize for each U.S. state the key doctrines and leading court rulings setting forth constitutional and statutory limits on lengthy imprisonment terms and other extreme (non-capital) sentences."
This resource has been given the name Excessive Sentencing: NACDL’s Proportionality Litigation Project its main page can be accessed via this link. Here is a bit more from the NACDL press release about the resource (and also my role therein):
Development of this new resource was inspired in part by the Supreme Court’s recent landmark constitutional decisions in Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (May 17, 2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 245 (June 25, 2012), which pronounced new Eighth Amendment limits on when and how states can impose life without parole prison terms on juvenile offenders. The state profiles and related materials provide a detailed snapshot of existing proportionality doctrines and jurisprudence as of fall 2012. They are intended as a resource for practitioners in all phases of the criminal justice system, for sentencing and appellate courts, for policymakers and advocates concerned with the high economic and human costs of excessively long terms of imprisonment, and for defendants facing or serving extreme prison terms.
The primary academic supervisor of this resource is Professor Douglas A. Berman of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.... Professor Berman intends to update these materials regularly as developments in the law warrant and new information becomes available.
On the project’s landing page –- which can be accessed here -- there is a free, nearly 90-minute sentencing skills webinar featuring Professor Berman and Stephen Hardwick, an assistant public defender in Columbus, Ohio....
In addition, the project landing page has this additional account of what this resource now provides and hopes to help achieve:
The state profiles and related materials, which were prepared by recent law school graduates under the supervision of Professor Douglas A. Berman, provide a detailed snapshot of existing proportionality doctrines and jurisprudence as of fall 2012. Unsurprisingly in the wake of Graham and Miller, there has been a significant increase in state-level litigation concerning lengthy prison terms, especially for juvenile offenders. The expectation is to have Professor Berman, in conjunction with the pro bono efforts other lawyers and aided especially by NACDL members and others who utilize this resource, revise and update these profiles regularly.
The profiles and charts are intended as a resource for practitioners in all phases of the criminal justice system, for sentencing and appellate courts, for policymakers and advocates concerned with the high economic and human costs of excessively long terms of imprisonment, and for defendants facing or serving extreme prison terms. The Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed that the Eighth Amendment’s “scope is not static [but] must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958); state-level doctrinal and jurisprudential developments have thus always had heightened federal constitutional significance in this area of law. Moreover, state policy-makers and state jurists have long understood that the Eighth Amendment sets only a minimum constitutional floor limiting only the most extreme punishment policies and practices: state lawmakers and judges can and should feel not merely free, but institutionally obliged, to consider developing their own distinct legal limits on unduly harsh sentencing terms based on distinct state-level requirements and needs. The profiles posted here demonstrate that, even though there is some notable convergence in state-level proportionality doctrines, there are also some important variations and innovations concerning how states seek to protect its citizens from extreme or excessive criminal punishments.
I plan to discuss this web resource and the broader NACDL projectin a series of posts over the next few weeks and months. For now, I just hope everyone will take a look at what we have posted (and perhaps begin commenting on what other materials might be usefully assembled and linked in this space).
May 23, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Graham and Sullivan Eighth Amendment cases, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
Corrupt state supreme court judge and sister facing state sentencing in PAAs reported in this local article, headlined "Former Pennsylvania Justice Orie Melvin, sister face sentencing today," a high-profile corruption case in the Keystone State has finally reached the sentencing stage. Here are the basics:
Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister and former court aide Janine Orie will be sentenced today by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus.
Prosecutors, in briefs filed before the court last month, are seeking incarceration for Ms. Orie Melvin and for her sister, who were convicted in February of misusing state-paid employees in Ms. Orie Melvin's campaign for a seat on the high court in 2003 and 2009. The sisters were found guilty of theft of services, conspiracy and misapplication of government funds. Janine Orie was also convicted of tampering with evidence and solicitation.
In their briefs, Ms. Orie Melvin's defense attorneys asked for probation, citing her dedication to public service, charitable work and her devotion to her family and the hardship incarceration would bring upon her family, including her six children and elderly father.
The sisters were charged with misapplication of government funds, theft of services and conspiracy for using the justice's former Superior Court staff and the legislative staff of a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to run campaigns for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. Among the allegations were that staffers wrote speeches, drove Ms. Orie Melvin to campaign events and worked the polls....
At the time of the verdict, Matt Mabon, the jury foreman, explained that the jury couldn't reach a decision on the official oppression count, which was connected to the employment of Lisa Sasinoski, chief law clerk for the justice who was a witness. Because there were competing versions of whether she was fired or resigned, jurors couldn't reach a decision, he said.
Ms. Orie Melvin voluntarily stopped hearing cases before the high court when she was indicted a year ago, just hours before the court issued an order suspending her to "preserve the integrity" of the system. That same day, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board issued a recommendation that she be suspended with pay pending resolution of the criminal case, but in August, the Court of Judicial Discipline ruled that Justice Orie Melvin should not be paid during her suspension. Her salary at the time was $195,309.
Justice Orie Melvin fought unsuccessfully to have the charges against her dismissed, claiming that the Supreme Court itself should have jurisdiction over the allegations and not the criminal courts. A month after the verdict, on March 25, Ms. Orie Melvin announced, in a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett, that she would resign May 1 "with deep regret and a broken heart."...
Jane Orie is serving a 21/2- to 10-year prison term for using her staff for her own and Ms. Orie Melvin's campaigns and for forging documents to cover it up. She was found guilty in March 2012 of 14 of 24 counts against her, including ethics violations, theft of services, tampering with evidence and forgery.
Assistant district attorney Lawrence Claus is seeking consecutive sentences of incarceration in the aggravated range for Ms. Orie Melvin. The standard range is probation to 30 months, versus 48 months in the aggravated range. For Janine Orie, the standard range is probation to 27 months and up to 45 months in the aggravated range.
UPDATE: I am very pleased to see from this local article, headlined "Orie Melvin must write apology letters to Pennsylvania judges on photos of herself," that the sentence for the former judge includes a serious shaming sanction. Here are the awesome basics, about which I will blog more in a future post:
Disgraced former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Joan Orie Melvin was sentenced today to house arrest followed by probation and ordered to send handwritten apologies on photographs of herself to every judge in the Commonwealth.
Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus sentenced Orie Melvin to three years' house arrest with two years' probation to follow.
A jury found Orie Melvin and her sister Janine Orie guilty on Feb. 21 of using judicial staff, as well as the staffers of another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to work on the campaigns in 2003 and 2009 for the Pennsylvania high court.
Orie Melvin, 56, was found guilty on six of seven counts against her, including conspiracy, theft of services and misapplication of government funds. She resigned from the Supreme Court in March.
She must serve in a soup kitchen three times a week and can otherwise only leave her house for church.
Judge Nauhaus also ordered that an official county photographer take a photograph of Orie Melvin, on copies of which she must apologize to each of Pennsylvania's judges. She must pay for the cost. He ordered a deputy to handcuff her and the photo was taken of her in handcuffs.
Her sentence also includes $55,000 in fines, a prohibition on using the title "justice" during her term and handwriting apologies to former members of her campaign staff and that of her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, whom she made engage in illegal work.
May 7, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, State Sentencing Guidelines, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Friday, April 26, 2013
Current NRA president vocally supporting (liberal? conservative?) mandatory minimum sentencing reform in OregonDavid Keene, a former chairman of the American Conservative Union who is now serving as president of the National Rifle Association, has this notable new commentary piece in the Salem Statesman Journal promoting sentencing reform in the Beaver State. Here are excerpts:
If you are an Oregon conservative, I hope you’re asking the same question the state’s bipartisan Commission on Public Safety asked: “Are taxpayers getting the most from the money we spend on public safety?” Oregon has been a leader in effective corrections policy and boasts one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation.
But the state is trending in the wrong direction when it comes to corrections spending, and much of the growth is due to mandatory minimum sentences that violate conservative principles.
Oregon criminal justice agencies predict that the state’s prison population will grow significantly over the next 10 years, and that the growth will be composed mostly of nonviolent offenders. The expected inmate surge is projected to cost Oregon taxpayers $600 million, on top of the biennial corrections budget of $1.3 billion.
The time is ripe for comprehensive criminal justice reform — not only supported by Oregon conservatives, but led by Oregon conservatives.
We believe all government spending programs need to be put to the cost-benefit test, and criminal justice is no exception. Oregon has done a good job with this in the past but is slipping, by locking up more offenders who could be held accountable with shorter sentences followed by more effective, less expensive local supervision programs....
As conservatives, we also believe that a key to protecting our freedom is maintaining the separation of powers between the branches of government. Such protection is lost when so-called “mandatory minimum” sentences force the judicial branch to impose broad-brush responses to nuanced problems. Mandatory minimums were adopted in response to the abuses of a few judges decades ago, but have proven a blunt, costly and constitutionally problematic one-size-fits-all solution begging for reform.
The commission’s recommendations make modest prospective changes to mandatory minimums under Measures 11 and 57. These measures have given prosecutors unchecked power to determine sentences by way of charging decisions, regardless of the facts of the case, or the individual’s history and likelihood of re-offending.
The reform package now before the Legislature would restore the constitutional role of the courts for three of the 22 offenses covered by Measure 11. Judges could still impose the stiffest penalties where necessary, but would regain discretion in sentencing appropriate offenders to shorter prison terms or less expensive, more intensive community supervision.
These sensible reforms will restore some checks and balances between prosecutors and the courts, allow prison resources to be focused on serious violent offenders and let taxpayers know that their public safety dollars are being spent more wisely.
April 26, 2013 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Monday, April 22, 2013
Law and Contemporary Problems devotes March 2013 issue to sentencing reform around the worldI am so very pleased to see that available on line here is the full March 2013 issue of the journal Law and Contemporary Problems, which is devoted to providing a "Global Perspective on Sentencing Reforms." The issue has a dozen articles, some of which are focused on state sentencing reforms, some of which are focused on federal sentencing reforms, and some of which are focused on sentencing reforms in the UK and Germany and elsewhere. And all of the article look like must reads for sentencing geeks like me. The Foreward to the Issue is authored by by Professor Oren Gazal-Ayal of the University of Haifa, and here are excerpts from the start and end of this introduction:
The articles published in this issue of Law and Contemporary Problems examine the effects of different sentencing reforms across the world. While the effects of sentencing reforms in the United States have been studied extensively, this is the first symposium that examines the effects of sentencing guidelines and alternative policies in a number of western legal systems from a comparative perspective. This issue focuses on how different sentencing policies affect prison population rates, sentence disparity, and the balance of power between the judiciary and prosecutors, while also assessing how sentencing policies respond to temporary punitive surges and moral panics.
The effects of sentencing guidelines are highly contested and debated among scholars. As a result, there are a number of outstanding questions regarding the actual effects of such guidelines. For instance, do sentencing guidelines transfer sentencing powers from the judiciary to prosecutors? Should the guidelines bear some of the responsibility for the surge in prison population in the United States? Has the lack of guidelines helped Germany constrain its prison population? Do sentencing guidelines help mitigate the effects of punitive surge, or, on the other hand, do they facilitate the punitive effect of moral panics? Do guidelines effect racial and ethnic disparity in sentencing? And how should guidelines be structured?...
The articles in this issue are the out come of a conference on sentencing reform that was held at the University of Haifa, Faculty of Law in February 2011. The conference and this issue address the effects of sentencing reforms from a global perspective, relying mainly on empirical research. The result is, as in most such attempts, incomplete. But we did come closer to answering some of the pressing questions — though only to find out that many new questions hide behind the answers to the old ones. It seems that sentencing, a topic that has been the focus of academic debate for centuries, will continue to attract this much needed attention for centuries to come.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
"Justice Reinvestment in Action: The Delaware Model"The title of this post is the title of this recently released policy brief from the Vera Institute of Justice. This posting by Alison Shames of Vera provides a preview of the context and content of this report, and here are excerpts:
To date, more than a dozen states have participated in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and worked with the Vera Institute of Justice, the Council of State Governments, or The Pew Charitable Trusts to analyze their state-specific data, identify the drivers of their corrections populations, and develop policies that aim to reduce spending and generate savings. Once the policies are passed into law, these jurisdictions continue to receive technical assistance to help with implementation and ensure that the changes and investments achieve their projected outcomes.
What this means in practice is described in Vera’s new report, Justice Reinvestment in Action: The Delaware Model. In 2012, after a year of analysis and consensus-building, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed SB 226, introducing a sea change to the way the state justice agencies conduct business. At every step in the process — pretrial, sentencing, prison, and supervision — SB 226 requires enhanced decision making based not only on professional judgment but also data analysis and empirically based risk and needs assessment instruments. If implemented correctly, up to $27.3 million could be available for reinvestment over the next five years.
Continued and increased support for the Justice Reinvestment Initiative — in the form of technical assistance and seed funding — is critical to making these methods available to additional jurisdictions and ensuring that the states realize their projected savings and enhance public safety. The future of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative looks bright, with President Obama including $85 million for this effort in his proposed 2014 budget, an increase of $79 million over last year's appropriation.
Implementing evidence-based practices and enabling justice agencies to integrate data analysis into their operations in an ongoing and sustainable way is hard work that takes time, patience, up-front investment, and strong leadership. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative builds and develops the leadership and contributes to the initial investment. Delaware is just one of a dozen success stories. The hard work continues.
Some older and more recent related posts:
- Important new Vera report on "Reconsidering Incarceration"
- New Vera Institute report looks at performance funding for criminal justice reform
- Potent prison projections from Pew
- New proposals from CSG's Justice Center for how Michigan can cut correction costs
- "Justice Reinvestment" in Texas
- "Reallocating Justice Resources: a Review of 2011 State Sentencing Trends"
- "Ending Mass Incarceration: Charting a New Justice Reinvestment"
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Sixth Circuit panel grants habeas relief to Tennessee defendant sentenced in violation of BlakelySadly, I no longer get ample opportunities to blog about Blakely Sixth Amendment sentencing issue these days -- though I suppose this could change if (and when?) the Supreme Court give these issues a new boost via a big ruling in Alleyne in the near future. Joyfully, this morning brings a little Blakely-era nostalgia via the Sixth Circuit's habeas grant in Lovins v. Parker, No. 11-5545 (6th Cir. Mar. 28, 2013) (available here). This extended decision gets started this way:
After a Tennessee state court jury convicted petitioner Derry Lovins of second-degree murder, the state trial court judge made additional factual findings and enhanced Lovins’s sentence from twenty to twenty-three years based on those findings. In this petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, Lovins raises various claims of trial error and argues that the threeyear sentence enhancement was unconstitutional under the rule of Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), because the sentence was enhanced based on facts that were not found by a jury. The history of Lovins’s requests for relief in state court is byzantine, but the legal principles are not. Lovins’s direct appeal was not final until almost three years after the Blakely decision, and therefore Blakely applies to his case under the clearly-established retroactivity rules of Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314 (1987), and Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989). For this reason, and because the procedural default doctrine does not bar our review of the merits of Lovins’s Blakely claim, we REVERSE the district court’s denial of relief, and we conditionally GRANT a writ of habeas corpus on the Blakely sentencing claim only. We AFFIRM the district court’s denial of relief on all of Lovins’s other claims.
March 28, 2013 in Blakely in Appellate Courts, Blakely in the States, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
New York Times editorial urges "Shrinking Prisons, Saving Billions"While on the road, I missed this notable New York Times editorial from this past weekend. Here are excerpts:
The mandatory sentencing craze that gripped the country four decades ago drove up the state prison population sevenfold — from under 200,000 in the early 1970s to about 1.4 million today — and pushed costs beyond $50 billion a year. Until recently, it seemed that the numbers would keep growing. But thanks to reforms in more than half the states, the prison census has edged down slightly — by just under 2 percent — since 2009. A new analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that the decline would have been considerably larger had the other states not been pulling in the opposite direction.
Over the last five years, 29 states have managed to cut their imprisonment rates, 10 of them by double-digit percentages. California, which has been ordered by the Supreme Court to ease extreme prison crowding, led the way with a 17 percent drop, mainly by reducing parole and probation revocations and shifting custody of low-level offenders to counties. Other states reduced prison terms for low-level offenses; diverted some offenders to community supervision; and strengthened parole programs, so that fewer offenders landed back in jail for technical violations like missed appointments or failed drug tests.
Even law-and-order states like Texas, which cut its imprisonment rate by 7 percent, have discovered that they can shrink the prison population without threatening public safety. Investing heavily in drug treatment and community supervision, Texas has avoided nearly $2 billion in spending on new prisons, while the crime rate has dropped to levels unseen since the 1960s. But even as the national prison population has declined, 20 other states — including Arizona, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — keep sending more people to prison than need to be there....
States that lag in reducing their prison populations should swiftly embrace these kinds of reforms.
Monday, March 25, 2013
New report assails Massachusetts sentencing and corrections policies and practicesThis lengthy article from the Boston Globe discusses a big new forthcoming report highlighing failings in the sentencing and punishment systems in Massachusetts. The article is headlined "Report slams state for lack of corrections reform: Crime down, prison costs up as study urges shorter sentences, focus on parole," and it gets started this way:
Despite steeply declining violent crime rates, the percentage of Massachusetts residents behind bars has tripled since the early 1980s, as the Commonwealth has clung to tough-on-crime laws that many other states have abandoned as ineffective, according to a study being released this week.
The 40-page report — endorsed by a coalition of prominent former prosecutors, defense attorneys, and justice officials — slams the state for focusing too much on prolonged incarceration, through measures such as mandatory minimum sentences, and for paying too little attention to successfully integrating prisoners back into society.
This is not just a social justice issue, the coalition argues, but a serious budgetary problem. The report estimated that policies that have led to more Draconian sentences and fewer paroles have extended prison stays by a third since 1990, costing the state an extra $150 million a year.
“It’s an odd set of numbers: crime going down while prison populations are still going up,” said Greg Torres, president of MassINC, the nonpartisan research group that commissioned the study. “What the report shows is that it’s a problem with the corrections systems front and back doors — sentencing and release.”
The study says Massachusetts, with its rising prison population, is heading in the opposite direction of several more traditionally law-and-order states — many of which have changed sentencing requirements, closed prisons, and cut costs. While other states have seen drops in incarceration in conjunction with falling crime rates, Massachusetts has seen the opposite.
In addition to the longer prison stays, Torres said, a reduction in post-release supervision has left Massachusetts with a recidivism rate higher than many other states, which in turn has sent more offenders back to prison. New data in the report show that six of every 10 inmates released from state and county prisons commit new crimes within six years. If the recidivism rate was cut by 5 percent, the report says, Massachusetts could cut $150 million from its more than $1 billion corrections budget.
Released in partnership with the newly formed grouping of law-enforcement officials, which is called Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, and Community Resources for Justice, a social justice nonprofit group, the report issues include a moratorium on the expansion of state prisons, reexamining sentencing guidelines, and expanding prerelease programs. “In the last 10 years we’ve learned a lot about what doesn’t work,” said John Larivee, chief executive of Community Resources for Justice and coauthor of the report.
One key to changing the state’s corrections system, the report’s authors stress, is building bipartisan consensus so neither side can later be accused of being soft on crime. “There’s more bipartisan common ground than you might expect,” said Wayne Budd, a Republican who is one of the reform coalition’s three co-chairmen.
In addition to Budd, the coalition is led by Kevin M. Burke, former state secretary of public safety, and Max D. Stern, president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
UPDATE: The full 40-page report, which is titled "Crime, Cost, and Consequences: Is it Time to Get Smart on Crime?," is now available via this link.
March 25, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Notable debate in Wisconsin over new state child porn sentencing lawRegular 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.
Monday, March 04, 2013
A notable first echo from Ohio's notable new early release lawThis local AP article, headlined "Five should be freed, state prisons chief says," reaffirms my belief that Ohio is now a dynamic and important "state to watch" concerning modern sentencing law and practices. Here are the interesting details from this latest story in the important Buckeye chapter of modern sentencing reform:
Ohio’s prison chief has recommended the release of five inmates who have served 80 percent of their time. The recommendations, if approved, would mark the first use of a 2011 law meant to help reduce the state’s inmate population and save the state money.
Director Gary Mohr of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction cited several reasons, including good behavior, for his recommendations in letters to judges, who have the final say. He also considered information from prison employees who are go-betweens with the prisons, the courts and the inmates.
The five inmates — two women and three men — are serving time mostly for low-level felonies, although one was convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide.
Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the 80 percent release option encourages inmates to act responsibly in prison “and is significant in our effort to better communicate with courts and assist the eligible, suitable offenders in having a successful transition back into our communities.”
The 2011 law aims to save the state millions of dollars by shrinking the number of inmates and reducing the number of offenders who might return to prison as repeat offenders. By several measures, the law and other efforts are working.
Ohio’s prison population remains under 50,000 inmates, a level not seen since 2007. Also, the state reported on Feb. 22 that the number of inmates returning to Ohio prisons upon release has hit a new low, a trend officials attribute to a focus on keeping inmates in the community and the involvement of groups that work with inmates before their release.
Other factors Mohr considered in making his recommendations included little or no rule-breaking during incarceration; a history of participating in prison programs; and development of a plan for dealing with the release.
Inmate Mary Clinkscales of Summit County, sentenced to a seven-year prison term in 2007 for possession of drugs, is a prime candidate for release because of her activities in prison, according to a Feb. 15 letter from a go-between, called a justice reinvestment officer.
Clinkscales had just one rule infraction while imprisoned — wearing shorts that were not part of her state-issued clothing — said Suzanne Brooks, the agency’s Cleveland-area justice reinvestment officer.
Clinkscales has attended literacy, anger-management and family-values skills classes, worked on community service projects making hats and scarves and is not a gang member, Brooks said. All these factors, plus no previous prison sentence, make her a suitable candidate for release, Brooks said.
I am tempted at this point to jokingly suggest that it would make sense to expect that someone named "Clickscales" would at some point get sent to prison for a drug offense. But this new story about prison officials actually actively advocating for the early release of a few prisoners is too serious and important to make the basis of jokes about surnames. And speaking of serious and important, the five prisoners likely to get released first via this Ohio early release program ought to seriously understand how very important it will be for other prisoners and so many others throughout Ohio for them to fulfil the faith that Ohio's prison chief has in them.
There are lots of potential reactions and commentary justified by this story and the operationalization of the 2011 Ohio law meant to help reduce the state's inmate population and save the state money. For now, I want to focus on an important political reality in this Ohio "smart on crime" development: both houses of the Ohio General Assembly and the executive branch of Ohio were all in firm Republican control when Ohio enacted the broad-based sentencing reform that is now enabling at least five offenders to likely obtain early release from their prison sentences. For this reason (and others), I think prison reform is right now much better understood, at least at the state level, as a matter of avoiding the (budget) red rather than a matter of political debate among the blue and red sides of the aisle.
March 4, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Thursday, February 28, 2013
You be the prosecutor: what state sentence should be sought for Joan Orie Melvin and her sister?
Regular readers know that, often on the eve of a high-profile or unique sentencing proceeding, I urge folks to imagine being the judge and to propose a just and effective sentence for the defendant. (See, e.g., prior "you be the judge" posts involving a rouge federal judge, a Ponzi schemer, the "Spam King", and an NBA star.) Earlier this month, however, I generated a notable sentencing debate by changing the script via this post in which I encouraged folks to imagine being a federal prosecutor tasked with recommending a federal sentence for Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife after it was clear that they intend to plead guilty to political corruption charges stemming from their misuse of campaign finance monies. (See "You be the prosecutor: what federal sentence should be sought for Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife?".)
As the title of this post reveals, I think it valuable to encourage readers again to think as a prosecutor about sentencing recommendations for political corruption. But, as explained via this local story, "Judge sets May 7 sentencing for Joan Orie Melvin," the high-profile upcoming sentencing I have in mind is in state court and concerns a prominent state jurist and her sister after a trial conviction on multiple charges:
Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus has scheduled suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin's sentencing for May 7, the judge's staff said Wednesday.
A jury on Feb. 21 found Melvin, 56, of Marshall guilty on six criminal charges dealing with her misuse of state-paid employees to campaign for a seat on the high court in 2003 and 2009. The jury deadlocked on a seventh charge of official oppression.
The jury also convicted her sister and former staffer, Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless on six related charges. Information on her sentencing date wasn't available. A third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, 51, of McCandless is serving 2 1⁄2 years to 10 years in state prison on similar charges.
Obviously, the exact specifics of the crimes and the political positions of Jesse Jackson Jr. and Joan Orie Melvin are quite different. Nevertheless, the underlying criminal behavior is arguably similar, as is the basic background of the offenders in relevant respects (e.g., both convicted defendants came from prominent political families, had a record of electorial success, and have considerable parental responsibilities). Of course, Jackson Jr. and his wife are due to be sentenced in the federal no-parole system in which judges must impose exact sentences subject only to a 15% reduction for good prison behavior, whereas Melvin and her sister are to be sentenced in the Pennsylvania with-parole system in which judges general impose sentences in term of broad ranges. Further, the Jacksons pleaded guilty and have expressed remorse, whereas Melvin and his sister both execised their trial rights and were found guilty on nearly all charges by a jury.
Differencea aside, I am eager to hear what readers think state prosecutors ought to be recommending as a sentence for Joan Orie Melvin and her sister. Do you think they merit a longer or shorter sentence that what the Jacksons are facing? Do you think the fact that state sentencing in Pennsylvania involves possibility of parole should lead to state prosecutor to urge for a much longer sentence in the Melvin case than federal prosecutors are urging in the Jackson case? Do you disagree with my general notion that these crimes are in some ways comparable given that they were prosecuted in different jurisdictions (even though, I think, the feds could have prosecuted both cases)?
I raise these points not only because I see high-profile, white-collar sentences as provide a great setting for debating sentencing issues, but also because I think efforts to compare the sentencing treatment of seemingly similar defendants can often distract from the task of seeking to impose the most just and effective sentence for a singular defendant. Ergo my interest in reader views on both the upcoming sentencing in this high-profile state political corruption case and how it should be compared to the upcoming sentencing of the Jacksons in federal court.
Recent related posts:
- You be the prosecutor: what federal sentence should be sought for Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife?
- Jacksons plead guilty and federal prosecutors recommend significant prison terms for both
February 28, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, State Sentencing Guidelines, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack
Saturday, February 16, 2013
Missouri dealing with pipeline sentencing issues after state changes to crack lawFederal sentencing practioners are well aware of the multi-year legal debate over the application of the new crack sentencing rules in the Fair Sentencing Act to pending cases. That legal debate culminated in the Supreme Court's Dorsey ruling last tear, and lower federal courts are still sorting through the consequences. Now I see from this local article, headlined "Crack cocaine sentencing law at crossroads in St. Louis case," that the Missouri now has the same kind of issue percolating as a matter of state sentencing law. Here is how this lengthy piece get started:
Two grams of crack cocaine could cost Jackie Murphy a lot more time in prison than many other defendants with identical drug cases awaiting trial. That’s because Murphy, of St. Louis, was charged before the Missouri legislature acted last summer to bring the penalties for possessing crack cocaine more in line with those for possessing powder cocaine.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce’s office has taken the stance that the new legislation was not intended to apply to cases that were pending at the time — only to charges going forward. That means that Murphy, if convicted, could face five to 15 years in prison for his alleged possession in January 2009 of two to eight grams of crack cocaine, under the Class B felony of trafficking. Someone accused of the same conduct after August 2012 would face far less: one day to seven years for the lesser charge of possession, a Class C felony.
It’s a dichotomy that Murphy’s public defender, Richard Kroeger, is calling “utterly wrong” in a motion arguing for a dismissal of the charges. He’s asking St. Louis Circuit Judge John Riley to follow the reasoning of the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June settled the same debate on the federal level. It was about two Illinois men whose cases were charged but not yet adjudicated when the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was enacted. The high court said the new law did apply to federal cases in the “pipeline.”
Joyce’s office opposes the motion, arguing that state law is clear and that the federal cases are a different matter. The office declined to make anyone available this week to answer questions about it. Riley is expected to issue a ruling as early as next week.
Those who advocated for the legislation here are watching carefully, saying this could be the test case for how the new law is applied across the state. It was unclear how many pending cases might be affected, but lawyers said “a number” were on hold pending the outcome.
Under the old Missouri law, trafficking more than 150 grams but less than 450 grams of powder cocaine was treated the same as trafficking at least two grams but less than eight grams of crack.
According to a 2011 report from the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit advocate on criminal justice policies, Missouri’s 75-to-1 ratio for weight-based penalties on crack versus powder cocaine was the highest disparity in the nation. It was adopted in 1989, according to the report, after a significant increase in cocaine-related deaths and at the tail end of a nationwide crack epidemic. The old federal law had a 100-to-1 disparity. Illinois, with no difference, was not mentioned in the report.
The Washington-based organization, and other advocates for equalizing crack and powder cocaine sentencing, argue that the old laws in Missouri and elsewhere are discriminatory because the heaviest penalties fell on minority and poor offenders, who have tended to choose crack. And in the last decade or so, lawmakers have begun to agree. Missouri is one of five states, among 13 with disparities, that have since moved either to close the gap or eliminate it, according to the organization.
Nicole Porter, director of advocacy for the Sentencing Project, said she was not aware of any legislation that included provisions to be applied retroactively, or specified whether it would apply to pending cases. Silence on the issue in the 2010 federal revision produced two years of uncertainty, until the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the consolidated cases of Dorsey v. United States and Hill v. United States. Porter added that Murphy’s case was the first she’d heard of on the state level that asks the courts how the pipeline cases should be handled. “That litigation that is going on in Missouri is really new territory,” she said.
February 16, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
New Sentencing Project report on 2012 state statutory sentencing developments
I just received an e-mail promoting a notable new report just released by The Sentencing Project. Here is the full text of the e-mail, signed by Marc Mauer, which includes a link to the report:
I am pleased to share with you a new report from The Sentencing Project, The State of Sentencing 2012: Developments in Policy and Practice, by Nicole D. Porter. The report highlights reforms in 24 states that demonstrate a continued trend to reform sentencing policies and scale back the use of imprisonment without compromising public safety. The report provides an overview of recent policy reforms in the areas of sentencing, probation and parole, collateral consequences, and juvenile justice. Highlights include:
- Mandatory minimums: Seven states — Alabama, California, Missouri, Massachusetts, Kanas, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania — revised mandatory penalties for certain offenses, including crack cocaine offenses and drug offense enhancements.
- Death penalty: Connecticut abolished the death penalty, becoming the 17th state to do so.
- Parole and probation reforms: Seven states — Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Missouri, and Pennsylvania — expanded the use of earned time for eligible prisoners and limited the use of incarceration for probation and parole violations.
I hope you find this publication useful in your work. The full report, which includes a comprehensive chart on criminal justice reform legislation, details on sentencing, probation and parole, collateral consequences of conviction, juvenile justice and policy recommendations, can be found online here. I’d encourage you to be in touch with Nicole D. Porter, Director of Advocacy, at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can support your efforts in the area of state policy reform.
- Juvenile life without parole: Three states — California, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania — authorized sentencing relief for certain individuals sentenced to juvenile life without parole.
January 29, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
More notable talk of more notable sentencing reforms (and a sentencing commission) in TexasFor many years and for many reasons, Texas has been among the most interesting and dynamic modern sentencing reform states. And this new article from the Austin American-Statesman, headlined "Prison reform outlook improves with business group’s involvement," details why the past, present and future of sentencing in the Lone Star State merits close attention from all sentencing fans. Here are snippets from this new article:
Now, with an influential business lobby group and a leading conservative organization leading the charge, some legislative leaders are wondering whether this year’s 140 days of lawmaking could rival the 2007 session. That year, lawmakers approved a historic $240 million initiative to provide addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs for convicts rather than building new prisons, a gamble that has since paid off — and become a national model.
This year, just two weeks into the legislative session, there are active discussions about expanding a variety of community-based corrections programs with state funds, changing state laws to rehabilitate low-level drug offenders in programs rather than in expensive state prisons, and even to ease laws that limit ex-convicts’ employment.
“The Legislature this year has an opportunity to take the next step,” said Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. Levin helped bring in the support of the Texas Association of Business to push the smarter-on-crime agenda. “The current system is a drag on our vitality as a state. The more people we can get into less costly treatment and rehabilitation programs that are successful, the better off we’ll be,” he said.
Bill Hammond, a former legislator who is president of the Texas Association of Business, agrees: “The current system costs too much. We’re looking at this from a business standpoint, that some changes are good public policy.” Even state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who is an architect of many of the previous reforms, says he is hopeful that meaningful reforms could be in the offing, thanks to an unexpected new ally....
Proposals sparking the most discussion so far include:
• Allowing more low-level offenders caught with small amounts of certain drugs to be sentenced to local rehabilitation and treatment programs instead of prison, and letting shoplifters and other petty criminals serve their sentences under community-based supervision. ...
• Making prostitution a misdemeanor offense, rather than a low-level felony. The change could eventually remove several hundred women from state lockups and place them in local rehab programs that have been highly successful elsewhere. The difference in cost: $15,500 a year for a state cell vs. $4,300 for a bunk in a community program.
• Creating a new commission of judges, prosecutors and other officials to review sentencing practices across the state. The panel was recommended by a recent government-efficiency report by the Legislature Budget Board. If adopted, it would be the first time the state’s criminal laws have been reviewed for streamlining since 1993....
• Allowing dozens of terminally ill and bedridden offenders to be more easily paroled, a move that could save the state millions of dollars in prison medical costs. At $700 million a year, the medical tab is one of the fastest-growing items in the state budget. The 10 sickest convicts in 2011 cost taxpayers nearly $2 million....
Crime victims and police groups that have campaigned to increase criminal penalties say they will be watching for any changes that might be too soft on crime. But some acknowledge that discussion of successful, less costly alternatives to prison is timely. “As long as public safety remains the most important priority, I’m sure there’s room for improvement,” said Kat Peterson, a Dallas resident who been a frequent fixture at legislative hearings over the past decade — both as a onetime victim of violent crime and an advocate for her cousin who is serving a long sentence in a state prison. “Even a good system can be reformed to make it better.”
I often look to Grits for Breakfast when I want to know more about the latest comingsand goings on Texas criminal justice issues, and Grits had had these recent notable posts on this front:
- LBB recommends sentencing commission to enhance consistency, contain costs of criminal sentences
- Central Unit not 100% closed: Targeting prison closures based on economic, budget benefits
- On ideology and overincarceration: Explaining conservative support for criminal-justice reform
Talk in Vermont of requiring judges to consider directly costs of sentence
This local article, headlined "Sentencing in Vt: Factor in cost?," reports on an interesting sentencing debate now taking place in the Green Mountain State. Here are highlights:
As part of an effort to curb rising corrections budgets, the Senate is contemplating legislation that would require Vermont judges to consider the cost of a sentence before handing down jail time. Sen. Dick Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it would be up to individual judges to decide whether to allow the information to influence their sentencing decisions. But with the annual cost of incarcerating an inmate in Vermont at $45,000, Sears said judges at least ought to be aware of the financial consequences of their decisions.
“I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t lock somebody up for 20 years,” Sears said Tuesday. “But if we do, it’s going to cost us $650,000, in today’s dollars, and we need people in the system to be asking themselves: Is that a good investment?”
Requiring judges to consider the cost of their sentences is the most controversial provision in a bill that seeks broader reforms to the sentencing process. The bill would provide judges information about the average sentences for certain crimes — a measure aimed at remedying the disparity in sentencing across county lines. The bill also would institute a risk assessment for offenders, before sentencing, as a means of helping judges evaluate the merits of various options.
Bram Kranichfeld, the new executive director of the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs, said cost should have no bearing on sentencing. “You can end up with unfair results, you can end up with arbitrary results, if a judge is required in every case to take cost into account,” Kranichfeld said.
He said state’s attorneys support efforts to track the costs of various sentencing options, and to come up with metrics that might help determine how “successful” various sentences are. But he said issues of cost should be used to shape policy, not to influence the length of a sentence in a specific case.
“If a judge was otherwise going to give someone life in prison for a horrible crime, would it be appropriate to give them less than that solely because of the cost?” Kranichfeld said. “On lower-level cases, it’s the same sort of issue. Would it be appropriate for a judge to give someone 20 days in jail if he or she thought 30 days in jail was appropriate and equitable, simply because the 10 extra days is going to cost more?”
Sears said the issue of price shouldn’t play a role in sentencing for violent crimes.
“But it maybe should have some impact on some crimes that are nonviolent in nature, which is an area we’ve been working over the past eight years trying to lower recidivism,” Sears said. “OK, I can put this baggy-pant kid in jail for awhile and it’s going to cost me $75,000, or I can put him in drug treatment and it’ll cost me $10,000. If he’s been breaking into cars and stealing stuff, you need a punishment. But with such limited resources now, maybe cost ought to be a factor in what you want to do with him.”...
Defender General Matt Valerio, who oversees a public defense system that represents the vast majority of defendants in criminal cases, said lawyers in his office have in the past sought to use cost as a factor in sentencing. In every case, Valerio said, they have “roundly been … shot down.”
Valerio said cost should be a factor in sentencing, especially in instances when courts are weighing retribution versus rehabilitation. “If you feel like you want to take out society’s anger with a situation on a person, rather than getting them a rehabilitative sentence, then we ought to know what that’s going to cost so you know how much you’re going to spend for society to impose its punishment,” he said.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Post-modern sentencing reforms: restricting judicial discretion to be harshThe story of "modern" sentencing reforms in the 1980s and 1990s was mostly about legislatures enacting sentencing statutes and guidelines that greatly limited judicial discretion to be lenient in response to relatively serious offenses. But, as this local story from California highlights, what I will call "post-modern" sentencing reforms now involve legislatures enacting sentencing statutes and guidelines that greatly limit judicial discretion at sentencing to be harsh in response to relatively less serious offenses. The story from California is headlined "State's prison overhaul changes sentencing structures but leaves judges with little discretion," and it starts this way:
Since the overhaul of California's state prisons in October 2011, nearly 90 people convicted of felony crimes were sent to Santa Cruz County Jail instead of prison under the new sentencing guidelines established by AB 109.
With prison realignment, state officials have carved out a number of types of felony crimes that no longer carry the option of a prison sentence. Instead, offenders convicted of these crimes serve their time locally, be it in county jails or through alternative programs such as drug treatment programs and electronic monitoring. It's also meant more people are getting placed on probation.
The new structure gives judges limited discretion when it comes to sentencing, said Judge John Salazar, presiding judge of Santa Cruz County Superior Court. When it comes to sentencing for crimes designated as jail-eligible, judges have the discretion to impose two types of sentences to County Jail. Previously, felony offenders were more likely sent to prison.
Judges may commit the offender to County Jail, or they can impose what's called a split sentence, with a portion served in jail and the rest on mandatory supervision. Eighty-eight people who would have been sentenced to prison before realignment now have been given County Jail sentences, said Jim Hart, the county's chief deputy of corrections.
Crimes that now carry potential jail, not prison sentences, are typically those considered "triple nons" -- nonviolent, nonserious and nonregisterable sex offenses. These include many drug offenses and property crimes. Before AB 109, these offenders would have been sent to prison.
How the actual jail portion of a sentence is served is left up to the jail staff to decide. Although judges can recommend or authorize certain types of alternative incarceration programs, Salazar said. Once a person is handed a jail sentence, it is the jail staff that determines if and whether that individual can serve it in a way other than being locked up in jail 24 hours a day.
As noted in prior posts here and here, the latest sentencing reforms in Ohio have also restricted judicial discretion to send certain offenders to prison (and, not surprisingly, it is now prosecutors rather than defense attorneys complaining about these new restrictions on judicial sentencing discretion). Similarly, a number of other states also dealing with overcrowded and costly prisons have likewise created new sentencing structures to urge or require sentencing judges to look at alternatives to prison.
This new story from California highlights one especially notable (and not always recognized) aspect of these post-modern reforms: in addition to restricting judicial discretion, these reforms have often shifted on-the-ground discretion from both judges and prosecutors now to corrections officials and thsoe who create and operate prison alternatives. Whether this kind of shift will be good for justice and public safety in the long run will be important to watch in the years and decades to come.
Friday, October 12, 2012
NPR piece spotlights Ohio success with sentencing reforms and reducing recidivismI am very pleased to see that my state is getting well-deserved national attention for its recent success with sentencing and corrections reforms. Specifically, NPR's Talk of the Nation had this lengthy segment earlier this week on Ohio's reforms under the heading "Programs Keep Inmates From Returning To Prison." Here is how the NPR site sets up the discussion:
States pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to house each inmate. Some states are rethinking the way they spend that money. In Ohio, sentencing reform, increased support for former inmates, and rehabilitation and education programs for current prisoners have helped keep prisoners from returning.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
You be the sentencing judge: what is a fitting sentence for abusive "Super Glue" mom?This AP article, headlined "Mom Who Glued Toddler's Hands Faces Sentencing," reports an on-going sentencing proceeding in Texas state court. The story prompts the challenge in the title of this post and my broader interest in readers' sentencing instincts in response to a high-profile case of child abuse:
I find this story interesting for many reasons: (1) despite modern structured sentencing reforms, here a sentencing judge still has unfettered discretion to impose a sentence anywhere from probation to life in prison; (2) though not asking for life, prosecutors' request for a 45-year prison term suggests they state think defendant should not be locked up until she is very old (and no longer able to have more kids); (3) the only man mentioned in this story is the sentencing judge (though I am inclined to assume at least one of the prosecutors is a man); (4) Texas has a procedure for jury sentencing, and it is interesting to speculate whether we think a fitting sentence would be more likely to emerge from a multi-member jury deliberating about these matters rather than from a single sentencing judge.
A mother who admitted to beating her 2-year-old daughter and gluing the child's hands faces anything from probation to a life in prison for her crimes.
Elizabeth Escalona's sentencing hearing will continue Thursday, a day after she pleaded for leniency, saying she was no longer the "monster" who committed the attack. "I will never forgive myself for what I did to my own daughter," said Elizabeth Escalona, who pleaded guilty in July to felony injury to a child.
Police say Escalona lost her temper last year with Jocelyn Cedillo over potty training problems. Escalona beat and kicked Jocelyn before sticking her hands to an apartment wall using an adhesive commonly known as Super Glue. The child was hospitalized for days.
Judge Larry Mitchell has a wide range in choosing Escalona's sentence: Anything from probation to life in prison is possible. Prosecutors are asking for a 45-year sentence.
Defense attorney Angie N'Duka asked Escalona what she thought of photos that prosecutors presented earlier this week showing her daughter's injuries. "Only a monster does that," Escalona responded. N'Duka then asked Escalona whether she thought she was a monster. "When that happened, I was," Escalona replied.
Escalona asked Mitchell for an opportunity to show she had changed, adding that she would accept any sentence as fair. "I want everybody to know I'm not a monster," Escalona said. "I love my kids." Escalona admitted to hitting and kicking her daughter but said she didn't recall why she did it.
Prosecutors have portrayed Escalona as an unfit mother with a history of violence. They have played recordings in which Escalona as a teenager threatened to kill her mother. They said she was a former gang member who started smoking marijuana at age 11.
Jocelyn suffered bleeding in her brain, a fractured rib, multiple bruises and bite marks, and was in a coma for a couple of days. Some skin had been torn off her hands, where doctors also found glue residue and white paint chips from the apartment wall, witnesses testified.
Escalona's family has acknowledged their dismay and anger following the attack, but both her mother and sister asked the judge for leniency. "I wanted an explanation," said Margaret Escalona, her sister. "I wanted to know what happened. I wanted to beat my sister up."
Ofelia Escalona, Elizabeth's mother, said her daughter hit her as a child, but she also said Elizabeth was abused growing up. Both Ofelia and Margaret Escalona argued that Elizabeth needed more help and not prison. "Her being taken away won't help any," Margaret Escalona said.
Counselor Melanie Davis testified Wednesday that she believes from the conversations she has had with Elizabeth Escalona that the mother loves her five children, one of whom was born after the attack. Davis said she has been counseling Escalona since June, nine months after her arrest.
October 11, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack