Friday, November 22, 2013

Gearing up for Paroline with a short "Child Pornography Restitution Update"

Through oral argument in the fascinating Supreme Court case of Paroline v. United States is still a couple months away, it is not too early to start thinking about the range of challenging issues restitution sentences for child porn downloading victims presents for the Justices.  One way to gear up, of course, is to review the parties opening briefs, all of which are now in and are available via SCOTUSblog on this Paroline case page.

Another effective way to start gearing up would be to read this short piece available now on SSRN titled simply ""Child Pornography Restitution Update" and authored by Mary Leary and James Marsh (who represents a victim seeking restitution). Here is the abstract:

This article discusses the issue of restitution for victims of child pornography cases. It specifically explores the legal background to this issue, relevant court opinions, and implicated statutes (18 U.S.C. §§ 2259; 3771) regarding the ability of child pornography victims to obtain restitution from those who possessed child pornography images, also known as images of child sexual abuse. The article addresses the current circuit split and pending Supreme Court case, Paroline v. United States. In addition to an analysis of the judicial opinions, this piece also discusses several policy initiatives available to address the issue.

November 22, 2013 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Sex Trafficking Court Holds Hope for the Oft-Blamed"

The title of this post is the title of this notable short essay by Mary Leary now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This opinion piece which appeared in the National Law Journal explores the State of New York’s Human Trafficking Initiative.  This Initiative creates nine Human Trafficking Courts which seek to identify arrestees who may, in fact, be victims of human trafficking and provide them with necessary services.  The column discusses the benefits of this approach to sex trafficking and encourages other jurisdictions to pursue similar models.  Of particular note is the multi-disciplinary approach to this complex issue as well as the initiative’s recognition that each case must be reviewed on its own merits.  The piece concludes with a word of caution regarding the need to work out important details of the scope of the program.

November 19, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Saturday, November 09, 2013

You be the federal judge: should everyone claiming to be a Whitey Bulger victim get to speak at sentencing?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new USA Today article discussing arguably the only legal uncertainty preceding this week's coming high-profile federal sentencing. Here is the background:

When a jury in August found Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger guilty in 11 murders and 31 racketeering counts, the verdict left eight families hungering for more justice. Their loved ones' deaths, the jury found, couldn't be linked to Bulger.  Now, with Bulger's sentencing hearing coming up Nov. 13 at federal court in Boston, these frustrated survivors might get the last word. Prosecutors hope at least some of them will get to tell the court how Bulger victimized them.

That prospect, however, has at least one juror crying foul, defense attorneys pushing back and legal experts warning that such an uncommon procedure could backfire by strengthening Bulger's grounds for appeal.

Judge Denise Casper is considering a prosecution request to permit "all victims" to give impact statements at the upcoming hearing. It is "beyond dispute that the criminal enterprise was responsible for the murder of all the victims specified in the indictment," says an Oct. 11 prosecution filing with the court. "Thus … family members of the murder victims clearly have a right to be heard at Bulger's sentencing."

Bulger's attorneys have fired back, urging the court to "reject the United States Attorney's Office's invitation to disrupt the findings of the jury." Meanwhile, Bulger trial juror Janet Uhlar has asked the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate what she calls "a threat to U.S. jurisprudence."

"The verdict we carefully, dutifully, and painfully deliberated is being mocked by the US Attorney's Office," Uhlar said in an email to USA Today. If all are permitted to speak despite the jury's findings, she said, "U.S. jurisprudence will be dealt a fatal blow."

Legal experts say Casper has discretion to permit a narrow or wide range of impact statements. They add that no matter who's permitted to speak, 84-year-old Bulger is all but certain to spend the remainder of his days in prison. Prosecutors are asking for two consecutive life sentences, plus five years, in accordance with sentencing guidelines.

To allow victim impact statements from those not linked to the defendant's crimes would be extremely rare, according to Michael Coyne, associate dean of Massachusetts School of Law in Andover, Mass. He's never seen a case where it's been permitted, he said, adding that it would potentially cast aspersions on the sentence. "The appeals court could end up sending it back to her for having made a mistake," Coyne said, if the higher court finds the sentencing hearing was improperly managed.

But Casper might be weighing competing factors, according to David Frank, editor of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, a newspaper that covers legal affairs in the commonwealth. Among the possible concerns: Be sure no one who might count as a Bulger victim in this super-complex racketeering case is denied an opportunity to speak. "By law, victims of crime have an absolute right to address the court before sentencing," Frank said. "The judge has a difficult decision to make" as she considers, in light of conspiracy and other racketeering findings, how to define who is and who isn't a Bulger victim.

If the prosecution prevails, the government's image might get a boost among those who were hurt, especially during the 1970s and 80s by Bulger's Winter Hill Gang, Coyne says. Such victims have long resented how the government did little to bring the gangsters to justice, instead taking bribes and agreeing to generous deals with Bulger associates.

Yet the price paid for such an open forum could include an impression that the court is being used for more than justice. "It would reduce the sentencing hearing, to large extent, to a circus," said Robert Bloom, a criminal procedure expert at Boston College Law School. "It has absolutely no meaning other than some sort of cathartic relief for some of the victims."

Candidly, I find both foolish and fantastical the comments asserting there could be big legal problems resulting from the victims of "acquitted conduct" getting a chance to speak at Bulger's sentencing.  As informed folks should know, under established Supreme Court doctrine (US v. Watts) acquitted conduct can be (and still regularly does get) used by federal judges to significantly increase a defendant's sentence on other counts.  Though I view U.S. jurisprudence allowing such sentence increases to be misguided, I do not see how our justice system will be "dealt a fatal blow" from simply letting "acquitted conduct" victims speak at sentencing.  And, given that Bulger is facing mandatory life terms, even if it were somehow a procedural error to let these "victims" speak at sentencing, I am certain that the First Circuit would consider any such error harmless.

Some recent related posts:

November 9, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

California judge now criticized by victim's family for marrying defendant after sentencing him to life

In this post from earlier this month, I highlighted a local story headlined "Judge sentences killer, performs wedding," involving a defendant having two notable (and surely life changing) experiences on one sentencing day.  This new story, headlined "San Diego judge criticized for officiating at wedding of killer," now provides this follow-up:

A San Diego judge is being criticized for officiating at the marriage of a convicted killer just minutes after sentencing him to prison. A lawyer representing the family of the defendant's victim has requested that Superior Court Judge Patricia Cookson apologize for officiating at the wedding just minutes after family members had testified "about the devastating impact (of) the murder of their loved one."

Cookson sentenced Danna Desbrow, 36, of Lemon Grove to 53 years to life in prison for his conviction in the killing of Kevin Santos. After having the courtroom cleared of members of the Santos family, Cookson then married Desbrow and his longtime girlfriend at the latter's request. The judge also provided the couple with slices of cake, but it is unclear whether she baked it herself.

The incident, which occurred in the East County branch of the court, was reported Sept. 30 by the U-T San Diego. The newspaper last night posted on its website a letter to Cookson from attorney Paul Kamenar, representing the Santos family.

Cookson, 60, a former deputy district attorney and a judge since 1992, has declined to discuss the incident with reporters or the Santos family.

In his letter, Kamenar told Cookson that her conduct has caused "emotional pain" to the Santos family and "clearly violated" judicial ethics that call for judges to avoid "undermining public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary." The Santos family did not know of the wedding until reading about it in the newspaper, Kamenar said.

"You stepped down from the bench, Bible in hand, and performed a full ceremony in your judicial robes, while the defendant was uncuffed, thereby putting yourself and court personnel in danger," according to the letter.

October 29, 2013 in Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Monday, October 21, 2013

SCOTUS grants cert on federal restitution and state Atkins application cases

I was actually starting to get a bit sad and worried that the US Supreme Court, after a few consecutive years of taking up a host of interesting and important sentencing issues, had decided this term to give little or no attention to the kinds of issues that serve as an obsession for me and this blog.  But, thanks to two cert grants this morning, my belief that the Justices love the sentencing issues I love (or at least my faith that these issues are often too important for SCOTUS to ignore) has been restored.  Here is the early report on these latest grants via SCOTUSblog:

The Supreme Court moved on Monday to settle a long-lingering issue: the legal standard for judging whether a person is too retarded mentally to be executed for a murder.  That is the issue in Hall v. Florida (docket 12-10882).  The Court also agreed to hear a second case, on the scope of restitution as a penalty for bank loan fraud.  That is the issue in Robers v. U.S. (12-9012).....

The new death penalty case from Florida raised this issue: “Whether the Florida scheme for identifying mentally retarded defendants in capital cases violates Atkins v. Virginia.”  In that 2002 decision, the Supreme Court had ruled that it is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment to execute individuals who are found to be mentally retarded.  The Court, however, left it to the states to decide who is mentally retarded and thus cannot be given the death penalty.

In the new case, attorneys for Freddie Lee Hall contended that Florida courts have adopted a “bright line” rule that a person is not mentally retarded unless their IQ falls below 70.  The state Supreme Court found that Hall had an IQ of 71.  In an earlier stage of Hall’s case, before the Supreme Court had decided the Atkins case, he had been found to be mentally retarded, the petition said.

The Hall case is certain to get lots of attention, and perhaps justifiably so.  That case is, arguably, the first "major" capital criminal procedure case to be taken up by the Supreme Court in a number of years (and certainly the biggest one I can think of since Justices Kagan and Sotomayor joined the Court).  And a ruling in Hall will necessarily have a some impact on all post-Atkins litigation in all death-penalty states. 

Robers, in contrast, will likely get very little attention because the case appears only focus on a relative narrow and technical issue as to the application of a federal restitution statute.  Nevertheless, even if the briefing in Robers ends up focused only on narrow and technical issues, I suspect the white-collar  bar (as well as corporate counsel in various industries) will want to keep an eye on this case because its resolution could impact an array of corporate crime and punishment issues.

As I will surely cover in future posts as these cases get briefed and argued in early 2014, Hall and Robers both could become "super sleepers" of the current SCOTUS Term because both cases have lurking Fifth and Sixth Amendment issues that could (but likely will not) grab some Justices' attention.  In both cases, critical facts that impact a defendant's sentence exposure are to be assessed and resolved by judges.  Though I do not believe Apprendi-type Fifth and Sixth Amendment claims are being pressed by the defendants in these cases, it is certainly possible that some amici and some Justices will contend that Fifth and Sixth Amendment jurisprudence ought to impact how the issues in Hall and Robers get resolved.

October 21, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Intriguing controversy over victim involvement in Whitey Bulger sentencing

This new National Law Journal piece, headlined "Judge Asked to Trim Victim Statements in Bulger Sentencing," reports on a notable legal debate in the run up to a high-profile federal sentencing scheduled for next month.  Here are the details:

Lawyers for accused mobster James “Whitey” Bulger and the Boston U.S. Attorney’s Office are facing off about whether victims of crimes for which he was acquitted should be allowed to speak out during his sentencing hearing next month.

The dispute highlights the wide discretion that federal judges hold in weighing evidence a jury rejected when passing sentence. In August, a jury found Bulger guilty of 11 of 19 murders that were predicate acts in the racketeering charges. Bulger also was found guilty of numerous additional racketeering and conspiracy offenses including extortion, narcotics, money laundering and firearms charges.

On Friday, prosecutors asked District of Massachusetts Judge Denise Casper to deny Bulger’s motion to exclude certain victim-impact statements from his November 13 sentencing hearing — specifically, those by family members of victims of crimes for which Bulger wasn’t convicted.

“Given the tumultuous history of this case and the backdrop of the inherent frailties of the Government’s witnesses, the Court should exercise its discretion by not considering acquitted conduct because to do otherwise is an insult to the jury process,” they wrote. “The jury has acquitted James Bulger of numerous murders he was accused of, and for which the government’s own cooperating witnesses are responsible. The sanctity of a jury's verdict should not suffer second guessing or be disrupted,” said Hank Brennan, of counsel to Boston’s Carney & Bassil, one of Bulger’s lawyers.

It’s relevant that Bulger was part of the criminal enterprise that killed all 19 victims, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly, chief of the public corruption unit in Boston.... “The fact that they found him guilty of [only] 11 murders doesn't mean that the other victims of the criminal group shouldn't have a say at sentencing,” Kelly said....

There’s very little case law on point and what there is grants courts wide discretion over what to consider at sentencing, said Jeff Steinback, a Chicago criminal defense lawyer who served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s practitioner advisory group between 2010 and 2012. “It’s always tricky, and there’s always a balancing act inherent in the process,” Steinback said.

This dispute seems very unlikely to have any substantive impact: given Bugler's age and the seriousness of his crimes of conviction, it is a near certainty that he will be getting a formal or functional life sentence.  But, especially for those eager to have a chance to speak out against Bulger in court, this matter is surely of symbolic and emotional importance for the victims.  For these reasons, I would be surprised if the district court precluded any victims from testifying at sentencing.

October 16, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Controlled Substances # 5: Are Drug Crimes “Victimless”?

31-cEIG37XL._SL500_AA300_Alex Kreit, guest-blogging on his new casebook, Controlled Substances: Crime, Regulation, and Policy (Carolina 2013):

My last post touched on some of the legal and policy questions that come with investigating crimes where there is no complaining witness.  The absence of a complaining witness leads some to refer to drug crimes as “victimless.”  This description is accurate in the narrow sense that parties to a drug transaction don’t have an incentive to report the crime to the police. 

But does that fact have any moral relevance?

Drug prohibition offers a great platform for examining the theories of punishment. Though we may disagree about how much punishment a thief, a killer, or a drunk driver should receive, few question that theft, murder, and driving under the influence should be against the law.  By contrast, a number of theorists, policy analysts, and (I’ve found) law students believe that the criminalization of some or all drugs is unjust and/or unworkable.  Of course, many others think that punishing drug manufacture, use and sale is a moral imperative. 

The diversity of student views on drug prohibition can make for some very fun and rewarding classroom discussion.  The second chapter of my casebook focuses on this debate, with materials that mix the theoretical with the real world.

The book divides coverage into two sections, roughly tracking deontological and consequentialist arguments.  The first section (which I’ll focus on in this post) engages the “victimless” crime debate and asks whether drug criminalization is just.  The second section asks whether drug criminalization works. 

I try to draw students into the “victimless” crime debate with a 2011 case — Wisconsin v. Hoseman — that presents the issue in an engaging and, I think, somewhat unexpected setting.  The case centers on a marijuana grower who was thoughtless in more ways than one.  Hoseman rented an 1885 Victorian home and converted it into a six-figure marijuana business.  But there was one problem for Hoseman.  Apparently between tending to the plants and selling the product, he forgot to pay the rent! 

After several months, the home’s owner flew back to Wisconsin from Las Vegas (where he was living) with plans to start an eviction action.  Once the owner discovered Hoseman’s marijuana grow operation, however, he decided to call the police instead.  Hoseman was convicted of manufacturing marijuana and ordered to pay the home’s owner over $100,000 pursuant to Wisconsin’s victim restitution statute. 

Despite overwhelming evidence of damage to the home, Hoseman argued that marijuana manufacture is a “victimless” crime and that the home’s owner was not a “victim” as the term is defined in Wisconsin’s restitution statute.

Hoseman isn’t a very sympathetic character.  And, not surprisingly, the Court disposed of his arguments in short order, reaching the “inescapable conclusion that the actions taken in furtherance of the conspiracy to manufacture marijuana caused the damage to the resident.”

The case poses a real challenge for students who believe that drug crimes are victimless.  Sure, Hoseman’s customers aren’t likely to call the police, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t causing harm to others.  In this case, there’s no doubt that Hoseman’s marijuana operation harmed the owner of the Victorian home.  In other cases, a drug user may harm their child through neglect.  With all these victims, how can anyone say that drug crimes are “victimless” with a straight face?

After I present students with this take on things, I try to lead them to a possible counter-argument: the home’s owner was a victim of “vandalism,” not a victim of “marijuana manufacture.”  It certainly would have been possible for Hoseman to grow marijuana without damaging the Burbeys’ home by, for example, growing a smaller number of plants or designing his operation with greater care.  Similarly, Hoseman could have caused just as much damage to the Burbeys’ home if he had grown a legal plant (say, tomatoes) in the same fashion as he had grown the marijuana.   

This discussion of Hoseman nicely sets up the deeper examination of these issues that follows, relying on more theoretical materials including the obligatory excerpt of On Liberty, as well as excerpts from articles by Bernard Harcourt, Doug Husak, Steven Calabresi, and Dan Kahan.

I always find these class sessions to be some of the most enjoyable in the course.  But they can also be the toughest.  Many students will come to this debate with firmly held views that are often driven by personal experiences (from a bad encounter with the police to seeing a loved one struggle with addiction.)  For that reason, when I teach this material, my goal is always to try and gently challenge the students to better understand and critically reassess their own beliefs.

Prior post in series:

September 11, 2013 in Guest blogging by Professor Alex Kreit, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Monday, September 09, 2013

Second Circuit panel provides fuller account of child porn restitution accounting

The Second Circuit today released a lengthy panel opinion in US v. Lundquist, No. 11-5379 (2d Cir. Sept. 9, 2013) (available here), providing a detailed discussion of the rules and standards for child porn restitution sentencing decisions. Here is how the opinion begins:

In this case, defendant-appellant Avery Lundquist was convicted of receiving and possessing child pornography.  Among the images in his possession was one of "Amy," the pseudonym for a young woman who was sexually abused by her uncle when she was four years old. The uncle photographed his abuse of Amy, and disseminated those images on the Internet.

Amy is now in her twenties, and the pornographic images her uncle took of her continue to be traded on the Internet.  Some 113 individuals -- including Lundquist -- have been convicted of possessing images of her.  The questions presented are whether Lundquist may be ordered to make restitution to Amy and, if so, in what amount.

The district court (Suddaby, J.) concluded that Lundquist proximately caused $29,754.19 of Amy's losses, but decided he should be held jointly and severally liable, along with all others convicted of possessing Amy's images, for her total losses of $3,381,159.  We conclude that there was sufficient evidence to support a finding of proximate cause and that the district court reasonably estimated the share of Amy's losses to be attributed to Lundquist as her total loss divided by the number of persons convicted of possessing her images at the time of the restitution request.  The district court abused its discretion, however, by including in its calculations losses that Lundquist could not have proximately caused and by holding Lundquist jointly and severally liable for harm caused by defendants who were not before the court. Accordingly, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for recalculation of the amount of restitution.

September 9, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Monday, September 02, 2013

"Restoration, Retribution, or Revenge? Time Shifting Victim Impact Statements in American Judicial Process"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing looking new paper by Tracy Hresko Pearl now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Courts currently permit victims to offer victim impact statement in criminal proceedings in all 50 states and federal jurisdictions. However, victim impact statements introduce serious constitutional problems into criminal cases by (1) creating inconsistencies in sentencing, (2) injecting bias and prejudice into formal courtroom proceedings, (3) giving judges and prosecutors an opportunity to reject testimony that might sway jurors toward more lenient punishments, and (4) leaving defendants with little opportunity to mitigate their impact on decision-makers. Scholars, therefore, have resoundingly called for the exclusion of victim impact statements from criminal proceedings in the United States.

In this article, I take a decidedly different position and argue instead that victim impact statements are, in fact, salvageable. Specifically, I look to lessons from the restorative justice movement and propose a solution that relies on time shifting victim impact statements to the close of criminal proceedings. By removing victim impact statements from trials and sentencing and requiring that they be offered afterwards, their constitutional deficiencies can be virtually eliminated and their numerous benefits preserved.

September 2, 2013 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Cleveland kidnapper Castro gets LWOP sentence plus 1000 years as plea deal provided

I had the honor this morning of watching the first part of the state sentencing proceeding for Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro in a remote studio waiting to be a boxed pundit on CNN.  Consequestly, I will link here and quote below part of CNN's extensive coverage of the sentencing chapter of this high-profile case:

Kidnapping victim Michelle Knight told her captor, Ariel Castro, during his sentencing hearing, "You took 11 years of my life away. ... I spent 11 years in hell. Now, your hell is just beginning."

"I can forgive you, but I will never forget," she said in her statement to Castro, calling him a hypocrite. "Nobody should go through what I went through," she said tearfully. She called another victim, Gina DeJesus, her "teammate" saying the woman saved her when she was "dying from his abuse." Knight said she "will overcome what happened" but Castro "will face hell for eternity."

During Ariel Castro's sentencing hearing, prosecutor Anna Faraglia said that Castro "tormented (his victims) by allowing them to watch their vigils ... and even had the audacity to attend them."  She further said that Castro would talk to his victims' parents as if he were distraught by their disappearances when "they were right underneath his roof."

Tim McGinty, Cuyahoga County prosecutor, stressed there's no backing to the claim that Ariel Castro suffered from mental illness. "He is responsible," he said, likening him to murderers John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy. "He has no excuse."  When asked what Castro would do if he could go back and do things differently, the kidnapper responded that he'd do it all over again, McGinty said. "He doesn't believe he did anything wrong," McGinty said. "There is no remorse."

Defense attorney Craig Weintraub then told the judge that he felt some of the testimony presented was inappropriate because "these were really private matters," the sentence had been agreed upon prior to the hearing and Castro waived his right to challenge the facts of the case. Judge Michael Russo responded that he felt the testimony and evidence was necessary to help him guide his decision on whether to accept the sentence.

Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro, speaking at his sentencing hearing, said, "I'm not a violent person.  I simply kept them there so they couldn't leave."  He was referring to the three women he held captive for about a decade.   Castro said he knew what he did was wrong, but he argued that the "accusations that I would come home and beat them" are "totally wrong."

"I'm not a monster. I'm just sick. I have an addiction. Just like an alcoholic has an addiction."...

Describing himself as a "very emotional person," Ariel Castro said during his sentencing hearing that "these people are trying to paint me as a monster and I'm not a monster. I'm sick."

"I believe I am addicted to porn to the point that it makes me impulsive and I lost it," he said, adding he's "not trying to make excuses."

Ariel Castro took issue with the aggravated murder charge related to the allegation that his abuse terminated the pregnancy of one of his victims, saying there was no evidence the incident occurred. Judge Michael Russo reminded him that he pleaded guilty, and Castro said he did so only to save his victims further psychological trauma....

Judge Michael Russo has already sentenced kidnapper Ariel Castro to hundreds of years in prison, mostly in eight- to 10-year consecutive blocks.  Russo said Castro "will never be released from incarceration during the period of his remaining natural life for any reason."

"A person can only die in prison once," Judge Michael Russo told Ariel Castro Thursday in handing down a sentence of life in prison plus 1,000 years.  The judge called the sentence "commensurate with the harm you've done." Russo, noting that Castro treated his victims as "slaves," said consecutive sentences rendered in his case must be "imposed" to protect the public and "to punish you."...

"There is no place in this city, there is no place in this country, there is no place in this world for those who enslave others," Judge Michael Russo told kidnapper Ariel Castro. The court in Cuyahoga County is seizing the property of Ariel Castro and imposing a fine of $100,000 on him, in addition to his massive sentence.

Related prior posts:

August 1, 2013 in Offense Characteristics, State Sentencing Guidelines, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, July 26, 2013

Cleveland kidnapper Castro takes LWOP+ plea deal sentence to avoid death penalty

The "settlement" value of the death penalty has shown itself again here in Ohio with the breaking news that "Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro accepted a plea deal today that sends him to prison for life plus 'not less than 1,000 years' with no chance of parole for abducting three women and keeping them as sex slaves for over a decade."  Here is more from this ABC News account of today's court proceeding:

"I'm fully aware and I do consent to it," Castro said at a hearing today in a Cuyahoga County court. The deal will spare him from the possibility of facing the death penalty. "I knew I was pretty much going to get the book thrown at me," Castro, 52, told the court.

The agreement as explained by prosecutors would sentence Castro to no "less than 1,000 years" in prison after completing a first sentence of life with no chance of parole. "You understand by accepting this plea, you're accepting life without parole," Judge Michael Russo asked Castro. "You'll never leave prison alive."

"Yes, I do," replied Castro.

The former school bus driver was accused of the aggravated murder of a fetus after forcibly causing an abortion in one of his victims that he is accused of impregnating. That charge would have carried the death penalty had he been convicted. He had previously pleaded not guilty to nearly 1,000 counts of kidnapping, rape and other crimes....

The victims, Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus were discovered in Castro's home in May. They were abducted between 2002 and 2004, when they were in their teens or early 20s. "Amanda, Gina, and Michelle are relieved by today's plea. They are satisfied by this resolution to the case, and are looking forward to having these legal proceedings draw to a final close in the near future. They continue to desire their privacy," attorney Kathryn T. Joseph said in a statement.

Prosecutors said if evidence of additional crimes came to light, Castro could still be indicted on future charges that included the death penalty. Castro said he was "willing to work with FBI and I would tell them everything" about his crimes. Wearing glasses for the first first time in court, Castro appeared more alert than at previous hearings.

He said he read and signed the plea deal and understood it although "my addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has taken a toll on my mind" that sometimes caused problems with comprehension. "I was victim as a child and it just kept going," Castro blurted out as an explanation for his crimes. But the judge cut him off, advising him to save his story for his sentencing hearing.

The judge still must accept the terms of the deal agreed to by lawyers and Castro, following a sentencing hearing where the victims may speak. The victims, through their spokesperson, had previously said they did not want to testify at a trial.

Though I suspect some die-hard death penalty abolitionists might take issue with my claim, I sincerely believe that the effective and efficient (and victim-helpful) final outcome in this case was made possible, at least in part, by Ohio having the death penalty on the books. I have a hard time seeing how it would be ethical for a defense lawyer to urge Castro to take a deal like this unless it involved eliminating the chance of a death sentence.  Of course, in a jurisdiction without the death penalty, there never is a chance of a death sentence.

A reasonable argument can be made that the costs and harms of trying to administer the death penalty ultimately outweigh the plea benefits that capital punishment can produce in cases like this. But I think a fair and honest debate about the virtues and vices of the death penalty must recognize cases like this one in which the death penalty would seem to here have done more good than harm for both the victims and society at large.

Recent related posts:

July 26, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Should (and can) Alaska really be precluding plea deals with sentence reductions?

ALASKAThe (cumbersome) question in the title of this post is my first reaction to this notable local criminal justice story coming out of Alaska, which is headlined "State puts an end to sentencing deals in serious crimes." Here are the fascinating details:

State prosecutors will no longer negotiate plea deals for lesser sentences for Alaskans accused of serious crimes and domestic violence, the Alaska Department of Law said Tuesday.

The change of policy, which took effect Tuesday, bars plea bargains involving sentences for the most serious classes of felony cases, as well as all cases involving sexual assault, sexual abuse of a minor and domestic violence, said deputy attorney general Richard Svobodny. A plea bargain is an agreement between a prosecutor and defendant in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for a lesser charge or a more lenient sentence, avoiding a trial. Nationally, between 90 and 95 percent of all criminal cases are settled through such agreements, according to a 2011 U.S. Department of Justice study. Attorneys say the statistic is roughly the same in Anchorage.

Under the new policy, prosecutors can offer defendants the opportunity to be charged with a less serious crime. But they can't offer a deal that changes the length of a sentence. Only a judge can do that. The idea is that judges should be the ones determining sentences, not prosecutors or defense attorneys, Svobodny said.

Attorneys say the policy could flood already-stretched courts with criminal defendants exercising their right to trial and generate huge new costs for prosecution and incarceration, which would eventually be borne by the public. "It's a major decision that's going to affect system-wide daily business in Anchorage courts," said Chester Gilmore, an Anchorage defense attorney. "Our model of criminal justice initially started with judges making those sentencing decisions and it should be handed back to them," he said.

The change comes in the wake of a state review that shows prosecutors botched a 2009 plea deal involving accused killer Jerry Active. Active is the 24-year-old Togiak man accused of killing an elderly Cambodian couple -- Touch Chea and Sorn Sreap -- in their Mountain View apartment in May. He also is accused of sexually assaulting three generations of the family, including Sorn, a toddler and a 90-year-old woman. Active had spent much of his adult life in the correctional system before the killings, which took place on the same day he was released from his latest stint in jail.

A state review found that prosecutors made an inappropriately soft plea agreement with Active in a 2009 case after failing to recognize that he had already been convicted of a felony, Attorney General Michael Geraghty said in June. A judge and the Department of Corrections both failed to recognize the plea agreement mistake. The Active case became "part of the mix" in the decision to announce the new policy now, Svobodny said, although a change had been under discussion in the law department for more than a year....

Another influence was Gov. Sean Parnell's "Choose Respect" campaign. Parnell's office "worked closely" with the Department of Law on the change, said a spokeswoman.The "Choose Respect" campaign has emphasized the prosecution of sexual offenders and domestic violence perpetrators. "We feel the policy will better protect victims and ensure perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes," Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys say the rule will inevitably lead to more trials. Plea bargains aren't always appropriate but in many cases prosecutors and defendants agree they are the best way to resolve a case quickly and fairly, Gilmore said. The policy "takes away a lot of the reason anyone would have for not going to trial," he said....

In 1975, Alaska's then-attorney general banned all forms of plea bargaining. Dire predictions of system overload didn't pan out, though misdemeanor trials increased substantially in the immediate aftermath of the ban, a 1977 Alaska Judicial Council study found. A 1990 judicial council study found that the ban had eroded and the practice was again commonplace.

I suspect resourceful Alaskan prosecutors and defense attorneys will still find a way to strike sentence-impacting plea deals even in the wake of this fascinating new prosecutorial policy. Ergo, I am not sure that the state can, as a functional matter, really put an end to all sentencing deals in serious cases. More broadly, as the question in the title of my post suggests, I wonder if others question (as I do) whether this is a wise policy even if it could be practically sustained. Will rape victims and other victims of serious crimes in Alaska really be pleased to have to endure more trials and the extra burdens such trials might place on them? Will the resources the state will now likely have to devote to more trials to resolve criminal charges reduce the resources needed to fight crime in other ways in the state?

I could go on and on with philosophical and practical questions concerning what Alaska seems to be trying to do hear, but for now I will stop to hear others' reactions and thoughts about a criminal justice development that justifies watching closely in the months and years to come.  Is Alaska on the verge of becoming the Last Frontier State for plea bargaining?

July 24, 2013 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Missouri Gov vetoes bill to take juve sex offenders off state registry

As reported in this AP story, headlined "Nixon vetoes sex offender measure," the Governor of Missouri is apparently concerned this holiday week that a bill passed by his state's legislature will provide for too potential much freedom for juvenile sex offenders. Here are the basics:

Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday vetoed legislation that he said would remove sex offenders who commit their crimes as juveniles from websites that let the public know who they are, a day after he signed a measure that strengthens laws against sexual offenses.

Nixon said the vetoed measure is too broad. “It would grant this relief to juvenile sex offenders regardless of the sexual offense for which they were convicted to include forcible rape, forcible sodomy and child molestation,” said Nixon, who was state attorney general before becoming governor.

“Moreover, the bill would deprive victims of sex offenses the opportunity to be heard before an offender is removed from the very websites that are designed to protect victims and other members of the public.”...

State lawmakers return to the Capitol in September to decide whether they will try to override any vetoes.

On Tuesday, Nixon signed a criminal justice bill that includes a change to what constitutes rape. It had been defined as having sex with another person by use of “forcible compulsion,” which includes the use of a substance to physically or mentally impair another without his or her knowledge or approval. The new law broadens that to include instances in which someone is incapacitated, is incapable of consent or lacks the capacity to consent.

July 4, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, June 28, 2013

"Should child porn 'consumers' pay victim millions? Supreme Court to decide."

The title of this post is the headline of this new Christian Science Monitor piece discussing the Supreme Court's grant of certiorari yesterday in Paroline (noted here).  Here is how the piece gets started:

The US Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to examine whether anyone convicted of possessing images of child pornography can be required to pay a multimillion dollar restitution award to the abused child depicted in the illicit images — even if the individual had no direct contact with the child-victim.

Under the Mandatory Restitution for Sexual Exploitation of Children Statute, Congress said that a judge “shall order restitution” for the victim in a child pornography case in “the full amount of the victim’s losses.”  The law applies to those who personally engage in physical abuse of a child while producing pornographic images of the abuse. But the question in the appeal is whether the same law requires anyone who views or possesses the resulting child pornography to also pay the total amount of restitution.

The issue has arisen in hundreds of cases across the country involving possession of child pornography. The vast majority of courts have declined to require child pornography consumers (as opposed to producers) to pay the full amount of restitution.  Only one federal appeals court, the New Orleans-based Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals, has ordered full restitution under such circumstances.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed to examine a case from the Fifth Circuit and decide whether the government or the victim must be able to prove there is a causal relationship between the defendant’s conduct and harm to the victim and the victim’s claimed damages.

Recent related post:

June 28, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 27, 2013

SCOTUS grants cert on challenging child porn restitution issues that have deeply split lower courts

As reported here at SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court wrapped up some business today via a final order list which included to criminal justice cert grants:

In a final round of orders for the Term, the Supreme Court on Thursday granted two new cases, and sent back a case on abortion rights back to an Oklahoma state court, asking for answers to specific questions on the impact of a new state law.

The Court agreed to hear, in its next Term, the cases of White v. Woodall (12-794) and Paroline v. United States (12-8561), limiting the question in that second case to a newly crafted question about restitution orders in child pornography cases. (Case page is forthcoming in Paroline.)

Woodall is one of those (always too popular) capital habeas/AEDPA cases that seems more about error-correction than changing the jurisprudential course of capital habeas review.  But Paroline has the Justices finally agreeing to take on the vexing, dynamic and very consequential issue of criminal restitution awards in federal child pornography sentencing.  Here is how the Justices' teed-up the issue in Paroline for consideration next term:

The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted limited to the following question: What, if any, causal relationship or nexus between the defendant's conduct and the victim's harm or damages must the government or the victim establish in order to recover restitution under 18 U.S.C. §2259.

I will have lots and lots to say about the Paroline grant and the issues it raises in the weeksn and month ahead. But already making my head hurt is the intriguing question of just who can, will and should get a chance to present arguments in Paroline.

Obviously, Doyle Paroline, the criminal defendant who petitioned for cert and is seeking to avoid a restitution punishment, will be represented and make arguments to the Supreme Court contended he should not have to pay restitution as part of his criminal sentence for downloading child pornography. And United States, of course, is the respondent which will be represented by the Solicitor General's office and likely will make arguments for a possible restitution award as part of a federal criminal sentence for downloading child pornography.  But the real "parties of interest" in this new SCOTUS case (and hundred of other to be impacted by a ruling in Paroline) are the (many thousands of) victims of child pornography offenses.  

Thanks to the federal Crime Victims Rights Act, lawyers for the victims of child pornography offenses have often been able to play an active and vocal role in lower courts as they adress the difficult statutory interpretation issue now taken up by SCOTUS in Paroline.  Will these lawyers get a chance to argue before SCOTUS in Paroline?  Might the CVRA be read to suggest that the Supreme Court must, or at least really should feel compelled to, give one (some? many?) counsel on behalf of child porn victims a chance to present oral argument to the Court?  Should brief from lawyers or groups respresenting child porn victim be styled amicus briefs in the Supreme Court or are they really party briefs that need to be filed under the distinct rules and timeline for such filings?

June 27, 2013 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

By wishing for end to legal proceedings, are Ariel Castro's victims urging a plea deal and no death penalty trial?

The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this new story, headlined "'Sordid details': Ariel Castro's alleged kidnapping victims want case to be over," coming today from the high-profile Cleveland kidnapping case. Here are the basics: 

The three young women allegedly held captive for a decade in a Cleveland home where they were raped and tortured want to get the case to court as quickly as possible, their attorneys said on Wednesday, adding that they want “this whole thing behind them.”

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight escaped Castro’s home on May 6 after Berry broke through a front door and screamed to neighbors for help. “The longer this process lasts, the more painful it is for them. And the more sordid details of this horror that get disclosed in this process, the more painful it is for them,” attorney Kathy Joseph, who is representing Knight, said in a statement....

“Again, they have faith in the process, but the simple, honest truth is they would like it to be over,” said James Wooley, attorney for Berry and DeJesus. “They want this whole thing behind them. Any date by which this may end is like light at the end of a tunnel.”

Ariel Castro has pleaded not guilty to 329 charges including kidnapping and rape.  On Wednesday, Judge Michael Russo in Cuyahoga County ordered Castro to undergo a competency evaluation regarding his ability to understand the trial proceedings and work with his attorney. Castro spoke twice during the 10-minute pre-trial hearing on Wednesday, both times affirming that he understood the judge.

As everyone who follows capital cases should know well, the most certain way to ensure that the prosecution of Ariel Castro does not get resolved quickly would be for the District Attorney to serious pursue a death sentence and to refuse to engineer a plea deal including a lesser sentence.  I have to believe the victims and their attorneys understand this, and thus I also believe that these new statements on behalf of the victims are, in essence, a request to key prosecutors to get to work on a quick plea deal to bring a form of closure to the legal proceedings ASAP.

Recent related posts:

June 26, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Saturday, June 08, 2013

DOJ unveils new plans and programming for helping crime victims

V21Report_thumbnailAs reported in this press release, the US Department of Justice yesterday "unveiled a plan calling for sweeping changes to advance crime victims’ rights and services in the 21st century."  Here is more from the press release about this interesting and positive development:

Developed by the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), Vision 21: Transforming Victim Services Final Report [available via this webpage], is the first collective examination in 15 years of current U.S. practices, funding and outreach in the crime victims’ field.

“Today’s announcement marks the latest step forward in the Department’s ongoing work to protect and empower those who have been victimized,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Through Vision 21, we’ve gained an unprecedented understanding of the current state of victim services from coast to coast. And we've developed groundbreaking strategies for responding to urgent needs, combating violence and abuse, and providing critical support to crime victims.”

Vision 21 documents the need to better understand who is affected by crime, how they are affected, how they seek help, who reports victimization and the reasons why some victims do not.  The report calls for continuous, rather than episodic, strategic planning in the victim assistance field and for statutory, policy and programmatic flexibility to address enduring and emerging crime victim issues.  It also calls for the development of evidence-based knowledge founded on data collection and analysis of victimization and emerging victimization trends, services, behaviors and enforcement efforts.

The full 60-page "Final Report" (available here) discusses so many issues relating to crime victims, it is hard to effectively summarize its coverage.  Because I have long been concerned about crime victims having ready access to legal counsel to effectively protect and pursue their statutory rights under the federal Crime Victims Rights Act, I found this passage from the report concerning these matters to be especially worth highlighting:

Recognizing that enforcement of crime victims’ rights was inconsistent, CVRA’s bipartisan sponsors understood that rights enforcement would require access to legal services and professional legal representation at tribal, state, and federal levels.  CVRA authorized funding for the “support of organizations that provide legal counsel and support services for victims in criminal cases for the enforcement of crime victims’ rights.”

The 2004 legislation built on a demonstration project launched in 2002 by OVC, which developed and evaluated a network of legal clinics that might serve as models for the provision of pro bono legal representation of victims in criminal court.  Funding for the OVC demonstration project ended in 2009.  Most of the 12 legal clinics that were established in a handful of states under CVRA and the OVC demonstration project have since significantly decreased operations or closed.  The full promise of CVRA was not realized, although the many legal issues facing crime victims remain.  Moreover, a system of effective legal services that meets the needs of all crime victims must acknowledge and contend with a sobering reality: the majority of crime victims in the United States never contact law enforcement or step across the threshold of a courtroom.

June 8, 2013 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Could and should the death penalty be on the table in the Cleveland kidnapping and sexual torture case?

Like perhaps many others, I have feelings ranging from horror to disgust to macabre interest as facts emerge from Cleveland concerning the many awful crimes committed on at least three young women for a decade.  This USA Today story provides just a small flavor of what the victims may have endured for years upon years upon years:

Cleveland police say they'll delay "deep questioning" of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight as they get acclimated to their families and freedom.  While the three appear to be in good health, a disturbing tale of sexual assault, physical abuse, bondage and other horrors is already emerging....

The Castro brothers allegedly forced all three women to have sex, resulting in up to five pregnancies, according to a report by Cleveland's WKYC-TV.  The station, quoting unnamed law enforcement sources, reported that the Castros also beat the women while they were pregnant, with several unborn children not surviving....

A law enforcement official said there is some evidence that the victims were held in chains during at least part of their captivity.  The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, did not elaborate on other conditions of their confinement or whether they were ever moved from the home.

In addition, Khalid Samad, a former assistant safety director for the city, said law enforcement officials told him that the women were beaten while pregnant, with unborn children not surviving, and that a dungeon of sorts with chains was in the home.

I cannot help but wonder if the Supreme Court's decision to categorically precluding consideration of the death penalty for even repeat and aggravated child rape in its 2008 Kennedy opinion might well have come out differently had this horrific Cleveland story been known at that time.  Perhaps because I am a blood-thirsty SOB or just because I know what kind of justice I would want if someone abducted and sexual tortured my children in a dungeon for a decade, my guttural first sentencing thought in this case is some regret that a team of men who rape and torture young girls for over four presidential administrations cannot even face the prospect of our ultimate punishment for these kinds of crimes.

That said, as the title of my post here hints, Ohio law might provide a real and realistic basis to purpose a death penalty charge if there is significant evidence showing that the offenders, through physical abuse and forms of torture, "purposely ... cause[d] ... the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy."  If the defendants beat their victims with an intent to cause them to miscarry, they could well be prosecuted in Ohio with Aggravated Murder pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 2903.01(B)

Of course, a lot more facts are going to need to be known and analyzed before anyone should jump to the conclusion that capital murder charges are possible in this high-profile case.  But because Ohio's statutes expressly reference "unlawful termination of another's pregnancy," I would expect and certainly hope that local prosecutors are already thinking about bringing homicide charges as well as rape and kidnapping charges in this case.  Ohio's legislators, by having amended the state's Aggravated Murder provisions to expressly included purposely causing the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy, indicated an interest in the possibility that the "worst of the worst" sorts of "pregnancy terminators" should possibly face the death penalty.  Based on the facts so far known, I feel very comfortable asserting that the defendants in Cleveland are likely among the "worst of the worst" sorts of "pregnancy terminators."

May 8, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

"The Case for Full Restitution for Child Pornography Victims"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper on SSRN co-authored by Paul Cassell, James Marsh and Jeremy Christiansen concerning an issue that has riven the federal circuit courts and seems destined for SCOTUS consideration before too long. Here is the abstract:

This Article explores the issues of restitution to the victims of child pornography and other federal sex offenses in depth and contends that Congress meant what it said in Section 2259 — specifically that child pornography victims must receive an award for the “full amount” of their losses from any defendant convicted of harming them.  This approach is consistent not only with the plain language of the statute but the well-established tort principle that any intentional wrongdoer is jointly and severally liable with other wrongdoers for an innocent victim’s losses.  Requiring defendants to pay for the full amount of the losses that they have caused will address the significant financial losses suffered by child pornography victims.

May 7, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Friday, May 03, 2013

How can/will Boston bombings victims reasonably "confer" with prosecutors and be "reasonably heard" in proceedings?

Long time readers know that I am a fan of the federal Crime Victims' Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3771, because it gives express recognition of key rights of participation for federal crime victims and provides means for enforcement of these rights. Also, as the title of this post suggests, the CVRA is potentially a law professor's dream because of the many challenging legal issues that necessarily arise if and whenever there is a major federal crime with lots of obvious (and not-so-obvious) victims who might make claims under the CVRA.

In this post on the night of the capture of Dzhokar Tsarnaev, I quickly flagged a few legal issues the CVRA might raise in his federal  prosecution.  But especially with new buzz about a possible plea deal to take the death penalty off the table for Tsarnaev following the appointment of federal defender Judy Clarke, I wanted to talk through some CVRA concerns a bit more fully.

First, consider the definition of who has rights under the CVRA: section (e) of 3771 states "the term 'crime victim' means a person directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a Federal offense."  Tsarnaev has already been formally charged with the federal offense of using a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and using an explosive device in the malicious destruction of property.  Even if we only focus on bodily harm and property harm, there were obviously hundreds of persons at the Boston Marathon finish line who were "directly and proximately harmed" (and severely harmed) by Tsarnaev's federal offenses.  All those sent to the hospital and so many others on the scene when the two bombs exploded clearly have statutory rights under the CVRA now (though I doubt many, if any, have lawyers (yet) working to help them know and understand their CVRA rights).

Moreover, psychological harm also surely "counts" under the CVRA. This means many thousands of persons in Boston (and perhaps tens of millions of persons throughout the US) could at least reasonably claim to have been "directly and proximately harmed" by the Boston bombings.  I wonder if any persons claiming psychological harm might at some point assert they have significant statutory rights under the CVRA now in the prosecution of Tsarnaev.

Second, consider some key statutory rights set forth in the CVRA: section (a) of 3771 states that a crime victim has, inter alia, a "right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing,..." and a "reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case."  And, notably, section (c) states that officials "engaged in the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime shall make their best efforts to see that crime victims are notified of, and accorded, [their CVRA] rights" and that the "prosecutor shall advise the crime victim that the crime victim can seek the advice of an attorney with respect to [their CVRA] rights.

Because plea negotiations are not conducted as part of "any public proceeding," the Boston bombing victims would not under the CVRA have a right to "be reasonably heard" during the negotiations.  But, of course, any court proceeding to formally enter any plea will be a public proceeding, which means every obvious (and not-so-obvious) victims here would have a right to urge a judge to accept (or reject) any plea deal arranged by the parties in this case.

Perhaps even more significantly right now, I would assert that a fair reading of the CVRA places a duty on DOJ officials to make "their best efforts" to confer with at least some (many?  most?  all?) of the Boston victims whenever there is serious consideration of any plea deal to take the death penalty off the table.  Prosecutors also would seem to have a duty under the CVRA to let the Boston bombing victims know that they can (and should?) seek help from an attorney when considering these matters.

Criticially, crime victims have never been thought to have a constitutional right to an appointed attorney, and the CVRA plainly does not create a statutory right to an attorney for crime victims.  Consequently, I fear that many (most?  all?) of the Boston bombing victims may ultimately get little professional help in securing the potential benefits of the important statutory rights set forth in the CVRA.  And maybe in a case in which a federal offense has arguably produced many millions of crime victims, perhaps we have to recognize that, for practical if not principled reasons, there may always be significant functional limits on the rights of even the most sympathetic of crime victims.

Some related recent posts:

May 3, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack