Thursday, January 30, 2014
Diverse perspectives on victims having diverse perspectives on sentencing
Regular readers know I am a fan and supporter of giving crime victims the opportunity and right to have their voices heard throughout the sentencing process. Some of the reasons why are effectively articulated in a recent post by Paul Cassell at The Volokh Conspiracy, "Why crime victims need their own voice in the criminal justice process." Here is an excerpt from the post responding to a common concern expressed by defense attorneys (and noting one of my own recent posts):
I have also heard defense attorneys argue against victim participation by claiming that this is ganging up on the defendant — double counting the prosecution’s view by adding in the victim’s view. Here again, that’s not quite right. While victims often are aligned with prosecutors, other times they may align with defense attorneys. Victims’ interests are not necessarily the same as prosecutors’ interests. Indeed, restitution may be an area where victims and defendants could make common cause. While prosecutors focus on long prison terms, victims are often worried about receiving compensation for their injuries. Victims might prefer, for example, a sentence under which the defendant is placed on work release and can make payments towards restitution instead of one that simply locks him up and throws away the key. Doug Berman has made exactly this same point about U.S. v. Paroline & Amy, explaining in a recent post that shifting our focus away from purely punitive criminal justice responses is why he is cheering for Amy to win a complete victory before the Supreme Court. My former law clerk and now federal defender, Benji McMurray, has expanded on this point at length in “The Mitigating Power of a Victim Focus at Sentencing,” 19 FED. SENT’ING RPTR. 125 (2006).
A notable example of the potential mitigating impact of victim input about sentencing is emerging in a Colorado capital case, about which Andrew Cohen has written in this notable new Atlantic piece headlined "When Victims Speak Up in Court — in Defense of the Criminals; A death penalty case in Colorado has generated an unusual fight between a district attorney and two parents who oppose capital punishment against the man who murdered their son." Here is how the article starts:
One of the most profound changes in criminal justice over the past 40 years has been the rise of the victims' lobby. Essentially shut out of the core of the process until the 1970s, the victims' rights movement today can cite legislation from sea to sea, chapter and verse under both federal and state laws, that broadens the rights of victims to participate in the trials of those accused of harming them or their families. The Department of Justice's 2012 "Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance," for example, totals 66 pages and barely scratches the surface of what similar state guidelines reveal.
The immutable trio that once existed in criminal cases — judge, prosecutor, and defendant — now almost always resembles a quartet. Victims have a voice — and they use it. All 50 states now allow some form of "victim impact statement" at sentencing. Because such statements are often so compelling to jurors, defense attorneys frequently seek ways to blunt their impact. But these efforts almost always fail. Even judges who are sympathetic to the constitutional rights of defendants, who fret about the prejudicial impact of victim testimony, say they are bound by legislative declarations broadening the scope of victim participation in criminal cases.
But a pending Colorado case raises a profound question that few judges (or prosecutors or jurors) ever have to confront: What happens when the victims of violent crime seek to speak out on behalf of the defendant and not the state? What happens when the family member of a murder victim seeks leave to beg jurors at sentencing to spare the life of the man who killed their son? What responsibility does the prosecutor have in that case? What obligations do the courts have? Do victims' rights sound only when they favor the government and the harshest sentence, or do they sound as well when they cry out for mercy?
So far, the prosecutor in the case, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, has answered those questions clearly: He wants to block one couple's efforts to speak out against the death penalty for the man who murdered their child. Brauchler has filed a motion in a pending case seeking to bar Bob and Lola Autobee from participating in the sentencing phase of the trial of Edward Montour, their son's killer. The law only guarantees the rights of victims to "discuss the harm that resulted from the crime," Brauchler argues. But I haven't been able to find a single victims' right advocate who believes that's true.
Of course, it is not always (and perhaps not even often) that a victim's voice will be for realtive leniency, as this local news segment from Massachusetts highlights. This piece is headlined "Victims' Families Want Tougher Sentencing For Juvenile Offenders," and it sets up recorded interviews this way:
The judicial system is designed to disregard emotion. Only the letter of the law matters. But a ruling handed down last week by the state Supreme Judicial Court stirred up a lot of emotion. Following the lead of the US Supreme Court, the SJC ruled mandatory life sentences for juvenile murderers are unconstitutional. The decision set the minimum time served at 15 years, and now the families of some murder victims are making an impassioned plea to keep those killers locked up longer.
Monday, January 20, 2014
Explaining why I am rooting so hard for "Amy" in Paroline
Oral argument in the fascinating Supreme Court case of Paroline v. United States now is just a couple of days away, and this new AP article provides effective background on the case while also helping to spotlight some reasons I am rooting hard for "Amy" and her advocates to prevail:
The case being argued at the Supreme Court on Wednesday involves a Texas man who pleaded guilty to having images of children engaged in sex acts on his computer. Doyle Randall Paroline is appealing an order holding him responsible for the full amount of losses, nearly $3.4 million, suffered by the woman known as Amy. Of the several hundred incriminating images on Paroline's computer, just two were of Amy.
Advocates for child pornography victims say that holding defendants liable for the entire amount of losses better reflects the ongoing harm that victims suffer each time someone views the images online. The threat of a large financial judgment, coupled with a prison term, also might deter some people from looking at the images in the first place, the advocates say.
Thirty-four states, dozens of victims' rights and child advocacy groups, local prosecutors and members of Congress are urging the court to uphold the ruling against Paroline by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
No one has intervened on Paroline's behalf. But his lawyer, Stanley Schneider of Houston, said in court papers that there is no link between the restitution ordered by the appeals court and Paroline's conduct. "An award of $3.4 million against an individual for possessing two images of child pornography is punitive and grossly disproportionate," Schneider said....
The Obama administration is trying to steer a middle course. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said the government agrees with Amy that her injury comes from the widespread viewing on the Internet of the assaults by her uncle. "The real question is whether ... a court must impose all of Amy's aggregate losses on each defendant. On that issue, Amy and the government take different views," Verrilli told the court. The administration said the correct answer is greater than zero and less than the entire amount and said trial judges should make the determination....
Regardless of the outcome of the court case, Congress could change the law. The U.S. Sentencing Commission recommended that lawmakers consider doing just that to eliminate confusion among federal judges about the right way to calculate restitution....
Since 2005, there have been about 2,000 prosecutions in federal court that, like Paroline's, included images of the rapes, for which Amy's uncle spent about 10 years in prison and paid a few thousand dollars for counseling sessions for Amy.... Courts so far have awarded restitution in 182 cases and Amy has collected $1.6 million. Of that total, $1.2 million came from one man.
Typically, the court-ordered awards and the amounts collected have been much smaller, as little as $50 in one case, according to Justice Department records. Many judges have ordered no payments at all, Marsh said. The restitution law does not allow Amy to receive more than the lifetime estimate of her losses, Marsh said. But until the 5th Circuit ruling, Marsh said, "She has been forced to go around the country endlessly seeking out defendants with assets. It's endless, and it takes a toll on the victim."
If upheld, the ruling would change the equation. Courts would not have to determine exactly how much harm any one defendant caused Amy. Instead, all defendants would be liable for the entire outstanding amount, raising the possibility that a few well-heeled people among those convicted might contribute most, if not all, of the remaining restitution. Marsh said such an outcome would be just, and wealthy defendants could fight among themselves about who should pay what. "It's really about shifting the burden from the innocent victim to the people who are responsible," Marsh said.
Long-time readers know that I take a consequentialist view on most sentencing and punishment issues, and I strongly believe better consequences will prevail if all persons convicted of unlawfully downloading Amy's picture are all jointly liable for the full amount of her documented economic losses. As the AP article suggests, if Amy wins then only the richest porn downloaders will end up paying her the most money in restitution. But if DOJ's vague approach prevails, the richest porn downloaders will likely end up spending lots of money on lawyers in order to aggressively argue at sentencing that they should not have to pay much or any restitution to Amy or other victims.
More broadly, I actually think better consequences can and will ultimately prevail for future federal defendants convicted of unlawfully downloading child porn if Amy prevails in this case. This is because I think, in light of the instructions of 18 USC 3553(a), federal judges would in the future be fully justified (and arguably even required) to generally impose a shorter federal prison sentence on a child porn defendant if and whenever that defendant is to be held jointly liable for the full amount of documented economic losses. (Intriguingly, Doyle Randall Paroline himself got sentenced only to two years in prison, while the average downloader of child porn prosecuted in federal court these days gets a prison term of nearly a decade.)
In her reporting and commentary on this issue (noted here and here), Emily Bazelon has rightly suggested that having child porn downloaders pay for their crimes through full restitution award (rather than through very lengthy prison terms) makes for better outcomes not only for victims but also for society. As she has explained:
[J]oint and several liability ... works like this: Other victims following in Amy’s footsteps would target the rich child-pornography defendants. Then it would be up to those men to find the others who are also legally responsible. This would allow many more victims to recover than the alternative: The victims have to sue the defendants they can find one by one, while courts award restitution in what would probably be relatively small amounts. If the Justice Department is really worried about fairness, it could create a compensation fund defendants could pay into for the benefit of more victims.
Money can make a huge difference for victims of sexual abuse. For Amy [and other like victims], it has meant access to counseling and a safety net when they have struggled with school and work, as they both have at times. Restitution makes far more sense than the enormously long prison sentences men often serve for collecting child pornography. Congress was right to see the value of restitution. The Supreme Court should too. And then lawmakers and judges should also recognize that the prison terms for possession of child pornography have become too harsh.
Because DOJ is not completely on Amy's side, and because some of the more conservative Justices have in the past expressed some constitutional concerns about some victims getting big awards in tort suits, I do not think it a certainty that Amy will prevail in this matter. But because this is technically a statutory interpretation case, and because the briefs on Amy's side have done such an effective job highlighting reasons to think Congress would want Amy to prevail in this battle of equities, I think she has a pretty good chance to prevail.
A few (of many) prior posts on Paroline and child porn restitution issues:
- Fascinating NY Times magazine cover story on child porn victims and restitution
- "Pricing Amy: Should Those Who Download Child Pornography Pay the Victims?"
- "Rethinking Restitution in Cases of Child Pornography Possession"
- "The Case for Full Restitution for Child Pornography Victims"
- SCOTUS grants cert on challenging child porn restitution issues that have deeply split lower courts
- "Should child porn 'consumers' pay victim millions? Supreme Court to decide."
- Gearing up for Paroline with a short "Child Pornography Restitution Update"
- Another preview of Paroline via the New York Times
- Yet another effective review of the child porn restitution challenges facing SCOTUS
January 20, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (41) | TrackBack
Monday, December 09, 2013
Ins't home confinement for only three months and a small fine insufficient punishment for a felony false imprisonment charge?
The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this new CNN report headlined "Ex-San Diego Mayor Bob Filner sentenced to home confinement, fines." Here are the details:
Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner was sentenced Monday to 90 days in home confinement, three years probation, and a series of fines totaling about $1500 as part of a plea deal.
The 71-year-old pleaded guilty in October to kissing or grabbing three women at campaign events or at City Hall -- one a felony false imprisonment charge, the other two misdemeanor battery charges. The three women were among 19 who accused him of offensive behavior during his tenure as mayor and as a congressman....
GPS monitoring will track his whereabouts during his confinement. He'll be allowed to go out for medical and therapy appointments, religious services, and meetings tied to his probation. He'll also be allowed to leave his apartment but stay within the apartment complex....
[T]he prosecution said Filner's behavior harmed the women and the city. Referring to the three women as Jane Does 1, 2, and 3, the state said Filner humiliated, scared, embarrassed, sexualized and devalued them. Prosecutors also noted that after taking part in two weeks of treatment earlier this year, Filner still denied his crimes "and insisted that he was the victim of a lynch mob."
Filner's attorneys said they did not dispute any of the facts stated by the prosecution. None of the victims chose to be in court for the sentencing.
The felony charge said Filner used force to restrain a woman at a fund-raising event March 6. The misdemeanor charges say he kissed a woman on the lips without her consent at City Hall on April 6 and grabbed a woman's buttock after she asked to have her picture taken with him at a rally on May 25....
Under the plea deal, which was announced in October, Filner would be prohibited from ever seeking or holding public office again, the attorney general's office said. Filner also would not be able to vote, serve on a jury or own a firearm while on probation. Filner also will have to give up pension credit for his time in the mayor's office after March 6, the date of the first offense.
I am not intimately familiar with all the details of all the unlawful intimate and too-familiar behavior of the former mayor of San Diego. But the fact that this plea deal included a felony count proposed by state prosecutors and accepted by the state court judge suggests that many responsible folks think Filner should be foreover branded a felon. In light of that conclusion, I have a hard time seeing the "slap on the wrist" punishment here to be reasonably sufficient, especially if prosecutors had solid evidence that Filner abused more than a dozen women and that "Filner humiliated, scared, embarrassed, sexualized and devalued" his many victims.
I am not sure if this (seemingly too) lenient sentence for Filner was baked into the plea deal or the result of a sentencing judge not being too troubled by Filner's many crimes. Whatever the reality, if the victims truly suffered the way the prosecutor asserted, I am sorry for them that they were not there to speak at Filner's sentencing and that their harm may seem disvaluaed by this outcome. That said, perhaps many of Filner's victims are mostly interested in a huge tort payday, so maybe at least some of them are content with Filner having resources to pay them in a civil suit rather than a huge fine to the state as part of his punishment.
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Yet another effective review of the child porn restitution challenges facing SCOTUS
I have already blogged some previews of the fascinating Supreme Court case of Paroline v. United States even though oral argument is still six weeks away because the issues strike me as so interesting and dynamic. (The parties' main briefs and now lots of amicus briefs are now available via SCOTUSblog on this Paroline case page.) And I suspect we are seeing other notable coverage of the case already because lots of others are also intrigued by the issues and arguments now before the Justices in Paroline. The latest example comes via Emily Bazelon here at Slate, and it is headlined "Paying Amy: Doyle Paroline owned two pornographic pictures of an 8-year-old girl. How much should he have to pay?" Here are a few excerpts (with cites to some of the filed briefs):
In January, the Supreme Court will hear the appeal of Doyle Randall Paroline, who was caught with two pictures of Amy among 280 illegal images and was found liable by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for the full amount of the restitution Amy, who is now 24, has claimed. The 5th Circuit said it was up to Paroline — not Amy — to find the other men who could also be on the hook for restitution and go after them for contributions. The legal theory is called joint and several liability. It’s the way courts deal with pollution cases in which a bunch of defendants all dump toxic waste into a single lake. A plaintiff sues one wealthy company for all the damages, and then that defendant has to sue other companies to share the costs.
Is this how Congress intended victims to recover from sex offenders when it passed [the Violence Against Women Act] in 1994?...
Of the eight appeals courts that have heard challenges by men like Paroline, only the 5th Circuit agreed entirely with Amy’s theory of recovery. The Department of Justice also disagrees with a key to it, saying that joint and several liability doesn’t apply in these cases. But a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators have filed a brief before the Supreme Court arguing that Congress wanted to give Amy an easy path to restitution. VAWA could “hardly be clearer,” say the senators (roll call: Orrin Hatch of Utah, Dianne Feinstein of California, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, John McCain of Arizona, Patty Murray of Washington, and Charles Schumer of New York)....
Five appeals courts have said they doubted that victims like Amy can win more than nominal restitution. Two others let her keep awards of only $10,000 or less. She has been able to collect larger amounts only from men who have agreed to settle or waived their right to appeal. The senators, though, say that all these courts got it wrong and the 5th Circuit got it right. They quote Vice President Joe Biden, chief architect of the VAWA, who called it “the most victim-friendly bill [the Senate] ever passed.” And they provide an important piece of history about how VAWA was drafted....
Here’s the clearest way to think about how and why Amy and other victims like her should win restitution. Their trauma can’t be neatly parceled out among the individual men convicted for possessing their pictures. But the harm is crystal clear in the aggregate. And so Paroline and other defendants shouldn’t be relieved of their obligation to pay “simply because Amy would continue to suffer harm if there were one less child-pornography consumer in the world,” as the Department of Justice puts it. This makes sense to me: You can’t let each viewer off the hook because he is merely one small part of the whole.
How much does each viewer who is convicted have to pay? The Department of Justice argues — vaguely and without any basis I can see in VAWA — that each defendant should pay restitution in an amount greater than zero but less than the whole. Courts should use their discretion to pick some place in the middle, the government says. It rejects the idea of joint and several liability as “practically unworkable” and “unduly harsh.”
If Paroline had to pay millions of dollars for his two pictures of Amy, then yes, that would be unfair. But that’s not how joint and several liability works. It works like this: Other victims following in Amy’s footsteps would target the rich child-pornography defendants. Then it would be up to those men to find the others who are also legally responsible. This would allow many more victims to recover than the alternative: The victims have to sue the defendants they can find one by one, while courts award restitution in what would probably be relatively small amounts. If the Justice Department is really worried about fairness, it could create a compensation fund defendants could pay into for the benefit of more victims.
Money can make a huge difference for victims of sexual abuse. For Amy and Nicole, it has meant access to counseling and a safety net when they have struggled with school and work, as they both have at times. Restitution makes far more sense than the enormously long prison sentences men often serve for collecting child pornography. Congress was right to see the value of restitution. The Supreme Court should too. And then lawmakers and judges should also recognize that the prison terms for possession of child pornography have become too harsh.
A few prior posts on Paroline:
- SCOTUS grants cert on challenging child porn restitution issues that have deeply split lower courts
- Gearing up for Paroline with a short "Child Pornography Restitution Update"
- Another preview of Paroline via the New York Times
December 5, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack
Monday, December 02, 2013
Another preview of Paroline via the New York Times
As I noted in this post a few weeks ago, oral argument in the fascinating Supreme Court case of Paroline v. United States is not until January. But the parties' opening briefs, all of which are now in and are available via SCOTUSblog on this Paroline case page, already provide a full review of the challenging issues that restitution sentences for child porn downloading victims presents for the Justices. Adam Liptak in this new New York Times piece, headlined "Evaluating the Liability of Viewers of Child Pornography," effectively reviews the issues and arguments now before the Justices in Paroline:
The notices arrive almost every day. They tell a young woman named Amy, as she is called in court papers, that someone has been charged with possessing child pornography. She was the child. “It is hard to describe what it feels like to know that at any moment, anywhere, someone is looking at pictures of me as a little girl being abused by my uncle and is getting some kind of sick enjoyment from it,” Amy, then 19, wrote in a 2008 victim impact statement. “It’s like I am being abused over and over and over again.”
Next month, the Supreme Court will consider what the men who took pleasure from viewing Amy’s abuse must pay her. Images of Amy being sexually assaulted by her uncle are among the most widely viewed child pornography in the world. They have figured in some 3,200 criminal cases since 1998.
Amy is notified through a Justice Department program that tells crime victims about developments in criminal cases involving them. She has the notifications sent to her lawyer. There have been about 1,800 so far. Her lawyer often files a request for restitution, as a 1994 law allows her to do. Every viewing of child pornography, Congress found, “represents a renewed violation of the privacy of the victims and repetition of their abuse.”
Amy’s losses are in most ways beyond measure, but some of them can be calculated in dollars. She has found it hard to hold down a job. She needs a lifetime of therapy. She has legal bills. Her lawyers say it adds up to about $3.4 million. The question for the justices is how to allocate that sum among the participants in the sordid marketplace for pictures of her.
One of those men is Doyle R. Paroline, who was caught with 280 images of children, including toddlers, being sexually abused. Two of the pictures were of Amy. The 1994 law allows victims of child pornography to seek the “full amount” of their losses from people convicted of producing, distributing or possessing it, and Amy asked the United States District Court in Tyler, Tex., to order Mr. Paroline to pay her the full $3.4 million....
Mr. Paroline was sentenced to two years in prison, but the trial judge, Leonard Davis, did not order him to give Amy anything. The link between Amy’s losses and what Mr. Paroline did, Judge Davis said, was too remote. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, disagreed and awarded Amy the $3.4 million she sought. Mr. Paroline should pay what he could and seek contributions from his fellow wrongdoers if he thought it too much, the court said, relying on the legal doctrine of “joint and several” liability....
Mr. Paroline said the ruling was deeply unfair. “An award of $3.4 million against an individual for possessing two images of child pornography is punitive and grossly disproportionate to the offense conduct,” he told the Supreme Court. Requiring him to seek payment from his fellow sex offenders, he added, “would create a procedural nightmare.”
Amy’s lawyers countered that it should not be her burden to pursue her abusers over “decades of litigation that might never lead to a full recovery.” She has received restitution in 180 cases so far, she told the justices, and has recovered a little more than 40 percent of her losses.
The Justice Department took a middle ground before the Supreme Court, saying that Amy deserved something from Mr. Paroline, but that $3.4 million was too much. The right amount, the department’s lawyers said, was “somewhere between all or nothing.” They did not specify what Mr. Paroline’s share might be, saying the trial court should decide.
A few prior posts on Paroline:
- SCOTUS grants cert on challenging child porn restitution issues that have deeply split lower courts
- Gearing up for Paroline with a short "Child Pornography Restitution Update"
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:
- Intriguing controversy over victim involvement in Whitey Bulger sentencing
- Federal prosecutors say Whitey Bulger "richly deserves" his coming LWOP sentence
- Should prosecutors in Florida and Oklahoma pursue capital charges against Whitey Bulger?
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
California judge now criticized by victim's family for marrying defendant after sentencing him to lifeIn 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.
Monday, October 21, 2013
SCOTUS grants cert on federal restitution and state Atkins application casesI 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.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Intriguing controversy over victim involvement in Whitey Bulger sentencingThis 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.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Controlled Substances # 5: Are Drug Crimes “Victimless”?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:
- Professor Kreit guest-blogging on "Controlled Substances: Crime, Regulation, and Policy"
- Controlled Substances # 1: Teaching Drug Possession
- Controlled Substances # 2: Identifying the Kingpin: Easier Said than Done
- Controlled Substances # 3: Measuring Culpability by Measuring Drugs?
- Controlled Substances # 4: Investigating "Victimless" Drug Crimes
Monday, September 09, 2013
Second Circuit panel provides fuller account of child porn restitution accountingThe 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.
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.
Thursday, August 01, 2013
Cleveland kidnapper Castro gets LWOP sentence plus 1000 years as plea deal providedI 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:
- Could and should the death penalty be on the table in the Cleveland kidnapping and sexual torture case?
- Cleveland police report supports Aggavated Murder capital charges against Ariel Castro
- "Why Might the Cleveland Kidnapper Get Charged With Murder?"
- Effective discussion of death penalty prospects for Cleveland kidnapper (and alleged pregnancy terminator) Ariel Castro
- "Man in case of 3 Ohio women held captive faces 329 charges including murder, rape, kidnapping"
- Not surprisingly, early buzz about a possible plea for Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro
- Committee of prosecutors to consider capital charges againse Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro
- Cleveland kidnapper Castro takes LWOP+ plea deal sentence to avoid death penalty
Friday, July 26, 2013
Cleveland kidnapper Castro takes LWOP+ plea deal sentence to avoid death penaltyThe "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:
- Could and should the death penalty be on the table in the Cleveland kidnapping and sexual torture case?
- Cleveland police report supports Aggavated Murder capital charges against Ariel Castro
- "Why Might the Cleveland Kidnapper Get Charged With Murder?"
- Effective discussion of death penalty prospects for Cleveland kidnapper (and alleged pregnancy terminator) Ariel Castro
- "Man in case of 3 Ohio women held captive faces 329 charges including murder, rape, kidnapping"
- Not surprisingly, early buzz about a possible plea for Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro
- Committee of prosecutors to consider capital charges againse Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Should (and can) Alaska really be precluding plea deals with sentence reductions?The (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 registryAs reported in this AP story, headlined "Nixon vetoes sex offender measure," the Governor of Missouri is apparently concerned this holiday week that a bill passed by his state's legislature will provide for too potential much freedom for juvenile sex offenders. Here are the basics:
Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday vetoed legislation that he said would remove sex offenders who commit their crimes as juveniles from websites that let the public know who they are, a day after he signed a measure that strengthens laws against sexual offenses.
Nixon said the vetoed measure is too broad. “It would grant this relief to juvenile sex offenders regardless of the sexual offense for which they were convicted to include forcible rape, forcible sodomy and child molestation,” said Nixon, who was state attorney general before becoming governor.
“Moreover, the bill would deprive victims of sex offenses the opportunity to be heard before an offender is removed from the very websites that are designed to protect victims and other members of the public.”...
State lawmakers return to the Capitol in September to decide whether they will try to override any vetoes.
On Tuesday, Nixon signed a criminal justice bill that includes a change to what constitutes rape. It had been defined as having sex with another person by use of “forcible compulsion,” which includes the use of a substance to physically or mentally impair another without his or her knowledge or approval. The new law broadens that to include instances in which someone is incapacitated, is incapable of consent or lacks the capacity to consent.
July 4, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
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:
Thursday, June 27, 2013
SCOTUS grants cert on challenging child porn restitution issues that have deeply split lower courtsAs 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?
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:
- Could and should the death penalty be on the table in the Cleveland kidnapping and sexual torture case?
- Cleveland police report supports Aggavated Murder capital charges against Ariel Castro
- "Why Might the Cleveland Kidnapper Get Charged With Murder?"
- Effective discussion of death penalty prospects for Cleveland kidnapper (and alleged pregnancy terminator) Ariel Castro
- "Man in case of 3 Ohio women held captive faces 329 charges including murder, rape, kidnapping"
Saturday, June 08, 2013
DOJ unveils new plans and programming for helping crime victims
As 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.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
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:
- Horrific crime with uncertain responsibility and uncertain punishment on Patriots' Day in Boston
- Spotting punishment and victims' rights issues after capture of Boston bombing suspect #2, Dzhokar Tsarnaev
- Does Boston bombing provide still more support for my federal-only death penalty perspective?
- "Balancing the State and Federal Roles in Boston Bomber Case"
- Bad news for hard-core death penalty fans: Judy Clarke joins defense team for Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
- "The Boston Bomber Should Face The Possibility Of The Death Penalty"
Thursday, April 25, 2013
"Can I Say I'm Sorry? Examining the Potential of an Apology Privilege in Criminal Law"The title of this post is the title of this article by Michael Jones, which I just saw via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This paper is written for the purpose of addressing the power and possibility of early apologies in the criminal justice system. As constructed, our criminal justice system rewards defendants that learn early in their case to remain silent, and punishes those that talk. Defendants that may want to offer an apology or allocution for the harm they’ve caused are often required to wait until a sentencing hearing, which may come months, or even years after the event in question.
This paper proposes that the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure be modified to provide an exception for apology to criminal defendants. Apologies can play an invaluable role in the healing process for victims, defendants, family members and others tied together by the unfortunate events of a criminal prosecution. This paper seeks to further the comprehensive law movement approach that promotes a healing process for those involved in the criminal justice system.
Friday, April 19, 2013
Spotting punishment and victims' rights issues after capture of Boston bombing suspect #2, Dzhokar TsarnaevThis CNN headline gets to the heart of the most notable news after a remarkable manhunt: "'CAPTURED!!!' Boston police announce Marathon bombing suspect in custody." Here are the basic details as of late Friday night:
The suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings was taken into custody Friday night, bringing to an end a massive manhunt in the Massachusetts capital amid warnings the man was possibly armed with explosives.
Law enforcement officials told CNN that authorities have confirmed the man in custody is 19-year-old Dzhokar Tsarnaev, who escaped an overnight shootout with police that left his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev -- the other man wanted in the bombings -- dead. The younger Tsarnaev was in need of undisclosed medical care, the officials said.
After announcing the arrest on Twitter, Boston police tweeted: "CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody."...
Tsarnaev was cornered late Friday on a boat in a backyard of Watertown, a suburb of Boston. Authorities "engaged" the man, according to one of the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, just minutes after authorities indicated during a news conference that a manhunt for the suspect appeared to come up empty....
The development came after authorities cast a wide net for the suspect that virtually shut down Boston and its surroundings following a violent night in which authorities say the brothers allegedly hurled explosives at pursuers, after killing Massachusetts Institute of Technology police Officer Sean Collier and hijacking a car....
A federal official told CNN that Dzhokar Tsarnaev came to the U.S. as a tourist with his family in the early 2000s and later asked for asylum. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2012. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was not a naturalized citizen, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He came "a few years later" and was lawfully in the United States as a green-card holder.
In a brief press conference following the capture of Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the local US Attorney, Carmen Ortiz, was asked about whether she would seek the death penalty; she effectively dodged the question for now. I would be surprised if federal capital charges are not pursued, even if the now-deceased older brother of Dzhokar Tsarnaev is found to have been the real mastermind of the Boston bombings. That said, as in the case of the Unibomber and the Tucson shooter and other notorious federal mass murderers, I would not be surprised if eventually capital charges are taken off the table for a guaranteed LWOP sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.
Among other significant legal issues now in play now is how the federal Crime Victim Rights Act might impact the prosecution of Dzhokar Tsarnaev. Obviously, all the persons harmed by the Boston bombings and their relatives qualify as crime victims and thus now have, under the CVRA, a "reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case." But, in light of the manhunt lockdown today, an argument can be made that more than one million persons in and around Boston were "directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a Federal offense" by Dzhokar Tsarnaev. Of course, it will be entirely impractical for everyone terrorized (and thus arguably victimized) by the Boston bombings and its aftermath to invoke formal rights under the federal Crime Victim Rights Act. Still, how federal prosecutors will seek to comply with the CVRA in this case will be interesting to watch.
- Horrific crime with uncertain responsibility and uncertain punishment on Patriots' Day in Boston
- Can the new media help identify the two persons the FBI are seeking in the Boston bombings?
April 19, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (83) | TrackBack
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Florida (finally!!) carries out sentence for child killer who murdered during Carter AdministrationAs reported in this AP article, "Florida executed one of the longest-serving inmates on its death row Wednesday evening, 32 years after he kidnapped and murdered a 10-year-old girl who was riding her bike to school after a dentist put on her braces." Here is more of the story:
Larry Eugene Mann was put to death by lethal injection for kidnapping and murdering Elisa Vera Nelson on Nov. 4, 1980. Melissa Sellers, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott's office, said Mann was pronounced dead at 7:19 p.m. at the Florida State Prison in Starke. He was 59.
The death sentence was carried out more than an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Mann's latest appeal. The condemned man answered "Uh, no sir," when asked if he had any last words before the procedure began. There were 28 witnesses to the execution, including media and corrections personnel, and a group of Elisa's relatives sat in the front row wearing buttons with her photo on them.
Afterward, Elisa's family was joined by a group of friends and family as her brother, Jeff Nelson, read a statement describing his sister as a "bright, funny, caring, beautiful little girl" who loved to play baseball and pretend to be a school teacher. He said she was a Girl Scout who would take in stray pets and donated money she earned to charity. She was a cheerleader who loved to dance and sing.
Then he described in horrifying detail how she died, saying Mann abducted her less than 100 yards from her school in Pinellas County. He said his sister fought hard, and Mann beat her, sending blood and hair throughout his pickup truck, as well as the note his mother wrote excusing Elisa from being late to school. He described how Mann pulled over into an abandoned orange grove, slit her throat twice, and then bludgeoned her head with a pipe with a cement base.
He paused from the written statement to add, "We just watched that same man slip into a very peaceful sleep. That's a far cry from how my sister passed."... Elisa's parents, David and Wendy Nelson, watched in silence. Her father kept his arms cross as he stared at Mann, who kept his eyes closed except for a brief moment throughout the procedure.
Outside the prison, there were 43 people gathered in favor of the execution and, in a separate area, 38 people were protesting the death penalty.
In 1980, Mann tried killing himself immediately after the girl's slaying, slashing his wrists and telling responding police officers he had "done something stupid." They thought he was talking about the suicide attempt until a couple of days later when Mann's wife found the bloodied note Elisa's mother wrote.
While Mann sought to die the day he killed Elisa, his lawyers had succeeded in keeping him alive for decades through scores of appeals. His lawyers didn't contest his guilt during appeals, but rather whether he had been properly sentenced to death.
Jeff Nelson criticized the justice system for making his family wait so long. "Elisa was only in our lives for less than 3,800 days and this pedophile and his lawyers have spent nearly 12,000 days -- over three times her entire life -- making a mockery of our legal system," he said.
Of the 406 inmates on death row in Florida, only 28 had been there longer than Mann....
While Mann didn't make a last statement in the death chamber, he did ask that "last words" be handed out after the execution. He chose a Bible verse. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord," Mann wrote out by hand.
Elisa's brother said the family has had to hear over the years that Mann would kneel in prayer while in prison and express remorse for his crime. "He just had his chance to say something and he didn't say anything," Nelson said. "We question whether he was really remorseful."
Though I still remain a troubled agnostic on so many aspects of the modern death penalty, here I share the view of the murder victim's brother that this case ended up "making a mockery of our legal system." If factual guilt was in doubt or if this was a complicated crime implicating competing culpability issues concerning the proper sentence, I suppose I could understand why it might take a decade or more to sort out and then carry out this killer's punishment. But it seems guilt was never in doubt and that the details of the crime and the killer's basic culpability were relatively clear from the outset.
In other words, it appears that the chief reason why final resolution of this case took over 32 years was because the legal system was eager to have a sentencing debate churn over and over and over again. I have long believed that there ought to be a basic rule that provides that if a death sentence cannot be reviewed and upheld through all levels of appeal within 15 years, then it ought just become an LWOP sentence in order to save everyone the time and aggravation of the continued uncertainty and legal fighting over the difference a quicker (execution) or slower (LWOP) death sentence. Indeed, I think it is interesting to speculate whether the family of the murder victims in this case would have been able to better more on with their lives if in, say, 1995 it was simply decided that Larry Eugene Mann would just serve LWOP. (It is also interesting to speculate whether Larry Eugene Mann might have died before April 2013 if he had gotten an LWOP sentence from the outset instead of a death sentence which surely led to him getting a lot more attention from lawyers and courts throughout the last three decades.)
April 13, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack
Thursday, April 04, 2013
Resentencing of Enron CEO Jeff Skilling perhaps on the verge of a resolution through a sentencing deal
This new CNBC report, which has a somewhat inaccurate headline and first sentence, provides an interesting update on a long-delayed high-profile resentencing. The article is headlined "Enron's Jeff Skilling Could Get Early Release From Prison," and the first sentence reads as follows: "Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, who is serving a 24-year prison term for his role in the energy giant's epic collapse, could get out of prison early under an agreement being discussed by his attorneys and the Justice Department, CNBC has learned." The rest of the story explain what is going on and reveals why I call the start of the piece inaccurate:
Skilling, who was convicted in 2006 of conspiracy, fraud and insider trading, has served just over six years. It is not clear how much his sentence would be shortened under the deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled in 2009 that the original sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake was too harsh, but a re-sentencing for the 59-year-old Skilling has repeatedly been delayed, first as the appeals process played out, and then as the negotiations for a deal progressed. Those talks had been a closely guarded secret, but Thursday the Justice Department quietly issued a notice to victims required under federal law:
"The Department of Justice is considering entering into a sentencing agreement with the defendant in this matter," the notice reads. "Such a sentencing agreement could restrict the parties and the Court from recommending, arguing for, or imposing certain sentences or conditions of confinement. It could also restrict the parties from challenging certain issues on appeal, including the sentence ultimately imposed by the Court at a future sentencing hearing."
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. Skilling's longtime defense attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Lake, who imposed the original sentence, would have the final say in the sentence. The posting of the notice, however, suggests the parties have some indication he will go along. Lake held a private conference call with attorneys for both sides last month.
For Skilling, who has consistently maintained his innocence, an agreement would end a long ordeal, although his conviction on 19 criminal counts would likely stand. The government, meanwhile, would avoid a potentially messy court battle over alleged misconduct by the Justice Department's elite Enron Task Force appointed in the wake of the company's sudden failure in 2001.
Skilling's attorneys had planned to move for a new trial based on that alleged misconduct. Under a sentencing agreement, that motion would likely be dropped.
UPDATE: Thanks to a helpful reader, I discovered that the crime victim notice from DOJ referenced in this article is available at this link.
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Some notable headlines in wake of state prosecutors' decision to seek death penalty for James HolmesI was intrigued to see this set of notable anti-death penalty headlines and commentaries in a bunch of major news sources this afternoon as a follow-up to the recent decision by Colorado state prosecutors to seek a death sentence in the Aurora mass shooting case:
From The Atlantic here, "In Aurora Shooting Case, a Public Pushback Against the Death Penalty"
From The Guardian here, "Even Aurora shooter James Holmes shouldn't get the death penalty"
From CNN here, "Why death penalty for Holmes wouldn't bring justice"
From the Daily Beast here, "Why My Mother Would Save Aurora Shooter James Holmes"
Also from the Daily Beast here, "Death Penalty Is the Wrong Punishment for James Holmes"
I think most of the authors of these pieces are committed abolitionists, so their positions on this high-profile case is not all that surprising. But I still think it is notable and significant that so many commentators are quick to take up the challenge of seeking to explain and justify their opposition to the death penalty even in a case in which the crime is so horrific.
Recent and older related posts (with lots of comments):
- Largest mass shooting in US history surely to become a capital case
- Offense/offender distinctions in first-cut punishment reactions to Batman mass murder
- "For James Holmes, Death Penalty is Far from a Certainty"
- You be the prosecutor: will you accept Aurora theater shooter's plea offer and drop pursuit of the death penalty?
- "James Holmes' Victims Applaud Death Penalty Plan: 'I Want Him Dead'"
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Sixth Circuit weighs in with instructions on restitution sentencing in child porn casesA helpful reader alerted me to a notable ruling by a Sixth Circuit panel today in US v. Gamble, No. 11-5394 (6th Cir. Feb 27, 2013) (available here). Here is how the majority opinion gets started:
Judge Kethledge adds a brief and very interesting sepearate opinion which starts and ends this way:
In unrelated child pornography convictions, both James Gamble and Shawn Crawford were ordered by their respective district courts to pay over $1,000,000 in restitution to “Vicky,” the pseudonym of one of the individuals depicted in the images they possessed or received. Restitution was ordered jointly and severally under 18 U.S.C. § 2259, which makes restitution mandatory for “the full amount of the victim’s losses” in child exploitation cases. Because the district courts did not require a showing of proximate cause between the losses and the defendants’ offenses, and this circuit’s case law requires such a showing, the cases must be remanded so that this analysis can take place. On remand, moreover, the district court must reconsider the extent to which the defendants must pay restitution where they share responsibility for Vicky’s injuries with hundreds of other child pornography viewers. Finally, while Gamble additionally appeals his within-Guidelines prison sentence, it is substantively reasonable.
I join all but part II.B of the Court’s thought ful opinion. I do not join that part because I would direct the district court to make a more flexible and open-ended determination of each defendant’s share of responsibility for Vicky’s losses....
In determining the amount of a restitution award under § 2259, the courts can only do their best. It seems to me that a more flexible inquiry, focused on moral fault, and using all the evidentiary tools at the c ourt’s disposal, is the way to accomplish that end.
As I have stressed before, it is only a matter of time before the Supreme Court has to take up these issues, and this Sixth Circuit opinion provides the Justices with additional thoughtful reading for when they do.
February 27, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Monday, January 28, 2013
"Rethinking Restitution in Cases of Child Pornography Possession"The title of this post is the title of this article newly posted on SSRN and authored by Jennifer A.L. Sheldon-Sherman. (The piece is especially timely in light of yesterday's New York Times magazine cover story discussed here). Here is the abstract:
Child pornography is increasingly prevalent in today’s society and is now one of the fastest growing Internet activities. Unlike producers, possessors of child pornography do not actively engage in the physical and sexual abuse of children. However, possessors are viewers of this documented abuse and rape, and can be, therefore, similarly responsible for the perpetual victimization of innocent youth.
In 1994, Congress sought to protect victims of sexual exploitation and child pornography with the passage of the Mandatory Restitution Provision, 18 U.S.C. § 2259. While the meaning of § 2259 seems to unambiguously require restitution from defendants convicted of production, distribution, and possession of child pornography, courts’ interpretation of the provision have been less clear. Courts unhesitatingly order restitution in cases where the offender is responsible for the production of child pornography and is, therefore, directly linked to identifiable victim harm. More problematic, however, are cases where a victim seeks restitution against a defendant who did not produce the pornography but rather possessed it. In these cases, courts confront the issue of whether a victim must prove a causal connection between the defendant’s possession of the pornography and the victim’s alleged harm.
To date, the literature has focused on whether § 2259 contains a proximate cause requirement. I seek to advance this discussion, arguing that regardless of the interpretation of § 2259, the statute is not an appropriate means of compensating victims while also ensuring fairness for defendants. Accordingly, the statute as it currently operates is inefficient and unjust. This Article addresses that injustice, evaluating the underlying controversy regarding restitution for victims of child pornography possession under § 2259, discussing the judiciary’s approach to the issue, analyzing the difficulty in awarding restitution under § 2259 in cases of child pornography possession, and advocating a reformed system for issuing restitution in these cases.
January 28, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Fascinating NY Times magazine cover story on child porn victims and restitutionToday's New York Times magazine has this remarkable cover story headlined "The Price of a Stolen Childhood," which provides a fascinating profile of the two young women now at the center of legal disputes in federal courts nationwide over restitution sentences imposed upon defendants who download child pornography. The lengthy article has too many interesting facets to effectively summarize, but here is one snippet telling early parts of the legal aspects of the story:
Six months after [the first] sentencing [which included a restitution award in October 2008], [Amy's lawyer James] Marsh went after another child-pornography defendant, Arthur Staples, a 65-year-old sheriff’s deputy in Virginia, who had chatted online with an undercover detective and expressed an interest in young children. Staples sent one image of a young girl (not Amy), and he was caught with more than 600 pictures on his computer, including hers. Staples agreed not to appeal any sentence or restitution judgment. The judge sentenced him to 17½ years, and made the unusual move of ordering him to pay all of Amy’s claim. To Marsh’s surprise, Staples turned out to have $2 million in assets. He has since paid $1.2 million to Amy. (Marsh says the government let Staples’s wife keep part of the estate.) While Amy has been turned down for restitution by some courts, which have stated that there was not enough proof that any one man who viewed her pictures was responsible for the harm she has suffered, she has won more than 150 cases, totaling $1.6 million. Most of the amounts aren’t large: $1,000 or even $100, paid out in checks as small as $7.33.
Nicole has also been pursuing restitution. Her lawyer, Carol Hepburn, did her own research and got in touch with Marsh when she learned about the claims he was bringing for Amy. The two lawyers now collaborate on ideas and strategy, though they represent their clients separately. Since receiving her first check for $10,000, Nicole has collected more than $550,000, mostly in small amounts from 204 different men. So far only a few other child-pornography victims have gone to court for restitution. Many may not know there is a legal remedy; others don’t know their images have circulated....
Study after study links child sexual abuse to psychological trauma, addiction and violent relationships in adulthood. There is almost no research, however, that deals with the specifics of Amy and Nicole’s experiences: What additional harm comes from knowing that pictures of your childhood exploitation are circulating widely?
The Supreme Court actually addressed this question in its 1982 decision upholding child-pornography bans. “‘Pornography poses an even greater threat to the child victim than does sexual abuse or prostitution,’” Justice Byron White wrote, quoting from a book about abused children. “‘Because the child’s actions are reduced to a recording, the pornography may haunt him in future years, long after the original misdeed took place.’”
David Finkelhor, a sociologist who directs the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, sees the moral weight of the Supreme Court’s proclamation, but not the empirical proof. “The evidence doesn’t yet tell us to what extent the experience of being a pornography victim aggravates the experience of the sexual abuse itself,” he told me. “How do you separate it out?”
Courts have disagreed on this question. In at least a dozen cases, defendants have appealed restitution decisions and mostly won. In five of those cases, federal appeals courts have expressed skepticism that Amy and Nicole should receive more than nominal restitution. Two other appeals courts have allowed the young women to recover from individual defendants as members of the group of viewers but, so far, only for amounts of $10,000 or less. (Amy collected a far greater sum from Arthur Staples because he waived his right to appeal.)
Saturday, January 05, 2013
"Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?"The title of this post is the headline of this fascinating article appearing in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. The piece is about a sad Florida case in which a young man shot and killed his girlfriend and the role a restorative justice process used thereafter shaped the defendant's prosecution and sentencing. There are lots of interesting passages in the full piece, and but this passage early in the piece caught my attention because of what it reveals about prosecutorial discretion and the distinct interests (and power) of some victims once they know the prosecutor's legal options:
“Unfortunately I have a lot of experience talking to the parents of dead people,” says Jack Campbell, the Leon County assistant state attorney who handles many of North Florida’s high-profile murder cases. Sheriff’s deputies who were investigating the case told Campbell that the Grosmaires’ feelings toward the accused were unusual, but Campbell was not prepared for how their first meeting, two months after Ann’s death, would change the course of Conor’s prosecution.
Campbell had charged Conor with first-degree murder, which, as most people in Florida understand it, carries a mandatory life sentence or, potentially, the death penalty. He told the Grosmaires that he wouldn’t seek capital punishment, because, as he told me later, “I didn’t have aggravating circumstances like prior conviction, the victim being a child or the crime being particularly heinous and the like.”
As he always does with victims’ families, he explained to the Grosmaires the details of the criminal-justice process, including the little-advertised fact that the state attorney has broad discretion to depart from the state’s mandatory sentences. As the representative of the state and the person tasked with finding justice for Ann, he could reduce charges and seek alternative sentences. Technically, he told the Grosmaires, “if I wanted to do five years for manslaughter, I can do that.”
Kate [the mother of the murder victim] sat up straight and looked at Campbell. “What?” she asked. Campbell, believing she had misunderstood and thought he was suggesting that Conor serve a prison term of just five years, tried to reassure her. “No, no,” he said. “I would never do that.” It was just an example of how much latitude Florida prosecutors have in a murder case.
What Campbell didn’t realize was that the Grosmaires didn’t want Conor to spend his life in prison. The exchange in Campbell’s office turned their understanding of Conor’s situation upside down and gave them an unexpected challenge to grapple with. “It was easy to think, Poor Conor, I wouldn’t want him to spend his life in prison, but he’s going to have to,” Kate says. “Now Jack Campbell’s telling me he doesn’t have to. So what are you going to do?”
“He’s so sorry he said that,” Kate says now, of Campbell. “I mean, it opened the door for us.”
I urge readers, before clicking through to read the full New York Times piece, to consider what might have happened once a local prosecutor "opened the door" to a murder victim's family simply by telling them about the legal discretion he possessed to seek a more nuanced form of sentencing justice. I also welcome readers to opine on whether this story should be considered a vindication or violation of victims' rights given that the local prosecutor ultimately engineered a plea deal with a locked-in prison term that differed significantly from the sentence urged by the victim's family during the restorative justice "pre-plea" conference process.
January 5, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
"The Victims' Rights Amendment: A Sympathetic, Clause-by-Clause Analysis"The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Paul Cassell available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
My goal in this article is to provide a clause-by-clause analysis of the current version of the Victims’ Rights Amendment, explaining how it would operate in practice. In doing so, it is possible to draw upon an ever-expanding body of case law from the federal and state courts interpreting state victims’ enactments. The fact that these enactments have been put in place without significant interpretational issues in the criminal justice systems to which they apply suggests that a federal amendment could likewise be smoothly implemented.
Part II of this article briefly reviews the path leading up to the current version of the Victims’ Rights Amendment. Part III then reviews the version clause-by-clause, explaining how the provisions would operate in light of interpretations of similar language in the federal and state provisions. Part IV draws some brief conclusions about the project of enacting a federal constitutional amendment protecting crime victims’ rights.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Seventh Circuit (per Judge Posner) talks through challenging child porn restitution issuesThe Seventh Circuit has a lengthy and intricate child pornography sentencing opinion today in US v. Laraneta, No. 12-1302 (7th Cir. Nov. 15, 2012) (available here). The opinion is authored by Judge Posner and discusses at length the various complicated legal and practical issues that arise when victims of child pornography offenses seeks restitution at the sentencing of those who possess and distribute their images. Here is the final paragraph from the lengthy unanimous panel opinion:
To summarize: The defendant’s prison sentence is affirmed. The calculation of the crime victims’ losses is affirmed too, except that the judge must determine how much to subtract from Amy’s losses to reflect payments of restitution that she has received in other cases. The order of restitution is vacated and the case remanded for a redetermination of the amount of restitution owed by the defendant; that will require, besides the subtraction we just mentioned, a determination whether the defendant uploaded any of Amy’s or Vicky’s images. The defendant will not be permitted to seek contribution from other defendants convicted of crimes involving pornographic images of the two girls. And Amy and Vicky will not be permitted to intervene in the district court.
Thursday, November 08, 2012
Jared Loughner sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences plus 140 yearsLargely because (and seemingly only because) federal prosecutors were willing to take the threat of a death penalty off the table, a very high-profile mass shooting in Arizona reach a sentencing result today less than two years after the crime. This AP story, headlined "Life sentence in Ariz attack that wounded Giffords," reports on some of the basics:
Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, partially blind, her right arm paralyzed and limp, came face to face Thursday with the man who tried to kill her last year, standing beside her husband as he spoke of her struggles to recover from being shot in the head.
"Her life has been forever changed. Plans she had for our family and her career have been immeasurably altered," said astronaut Mark Kelly, both he and his wife staring at the shooter inside a packed courtroom. "Every day is a continuous struggle to do those things she once was so good at."
Jared Lee Loughner, 24, was then ordered to serve seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years in federal prison for the January 2011 shooting rampage that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords, outside a grocery store in Tucson, Ariz.
Loughner pleaded guilty under an agreement that guarantees he will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. He avoids a federal death sentence, although state prosecutors could still decide to try him.
One by one, survivors of the attack at a Giffords political event approached the courtroom podium to address Loughner, each turning toward him where he sat stoic and emotionless at a table with his attorneys. "You took away my life, my love and my reason for living," said Mavanell Stoddard, who was shot three times and cradled her dying husband in her arms as he lay bleeding on the sidewalk after shielding her from the spray of bullets.
Susan Hileman, who was shot, spoke to him, at times visibly shaking. "We've been told about your demons, about the illness that skewed your thinking," she said. "Your parents, your schools, your community, they all failed you. It's all true," Hileman said. "It's not enough."...
Some victims, including Giffords, welcomed the plea deal as a way to move on. It spared them and their families from having to go through a potentially lengthy and traumatic trial and locks up the defendant for life.
Giffords didn't speak, but stood by Kelly and kissed her husband when he was done. He grabbed her hand and they walked away, her limping. Earlier, Loughner told Burns that he would not speak at the hearing.
Both sides reached the deal after a judge declared that Loughner was able to understand the charges against him. After the shooting, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and underwent forcible psychotropic drug treatments.
Christina Pietz, the court-appointed psychologist who treated Loughner, had warned that although Loughner was competent to plead guilty, he remained severely mentally ill and his condition could deteriorate under the stress of a trial....
It's unknown whether Pima County prosecutors, who have discretion on whether to seek the death penalty against Loughner, will file state charges against him. Stephanie Coronado, a spokeswoman for Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, said Wednesday that no decision had been made.
It's also unclear where Loughner will be sent to serve his federal sentence. He could return to a prison medical facility like the one in Springfield, Mo., where he's been treated for more than a year. Or he could end up in a prison such as the federal lockup in Florence, Colo., that houses some of the country's most notorious criminals, including Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski.
I am very interested to hear (especially from vocal death penalty advocate and opponents) whether folks think justice has now been served in this high-profile case. I am likewise interested to hear whether folks think Arizona prosecutors should now follow-up with state charges against Loughner.
November 8, 2012 in Celebrity sentencings, Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
"A Theory of Criminal Victimization"The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new paper by Joshua Kleinfeld now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Criminal punishment is systematically harsher, given a fixed crime, where victims are vulnerable or innocent, and systematically less harsh where victims are powerful or culpable. We make a distinction between one gangster attacking another and a gangster attacking a bystander (though the assaults might be formally identical), or between selling drugs to an adult and selling them to a child (though the penal code might treat the two as the same). Yet this pattern in blame and punishment has been overlooked. Criminal scholarship and moral philosophy have offered no theory by which to explain it. And, lacking a theory, the pattern itself has been missed or misunderstood empirically.
This Article sets forth the concept of “victimization” — the idea that the moral status of a wrongful act turns in part on the degree to which the wrong’s victim is vulnerable or innocent and the wrongdoer preys upon that vulnerability or innocence. It shows the concept to be implicit in both the doctrine and practice of criminal law. And it argues normatively that victimization is at the same time essential to criminal justice and peculiarly prone to illiberal distortions, and should therefore be at once preserved and constrained.
A concluding section reflects methodologically on the paper’s approach to moral philosophy in law — an approach in which the law is not just a tool with which to implement the conclusions of an extralegal philosophical inquiry, but an object of study with a certain immanent moral content already in place, which philosophy can help bring to light and expose to question.
Monday, October 01, 2012
En banc Fifth Circuit clarifies its standard for restitution in child porn downloading cases
The Fifth Circuit has a huge and potentially hugely consequential en banc ruling today in In re Amy Unknown, No. 09–41238 (Oct. 1, 2012) (available here), concerning the standards for restitution awards in child pornography downloading cases. Here is how the lengthy opinion for the majority begins and ends:
The issue presented to the en banc court is whether 18 U.S.C. § 2259 requires a district court to find that a defendant’s criminal acts proximately caused a crime victim’s losses before the district court may order restitution, even though that statute only contains a “proximate result” requirement in § 2259(b)(3)(F). All our sister circuits that have addressed this question have expanded the meaning of § 2259(b)(3)(F) to apply to all losses under § 2259(b)(3), thereby restricting the district court’s award of restitution to a victim’s losses that were proximately caused by a defendant’s criminal acts. A panel of this court rejected that reading, and instead focused on § 2259’s plain language to hold that § 2259 does not limit a victim’s total recoverable losses to those proximately resulting from a defendant’s conduct. A subsequent panel applied that holding to another appeal, yet simultaneously questioned it in a special concurrence that mirrored the reasoning of our sister circuits. To address the discrepancy between the holdings of this and other circuits, and to respond to the concerns of our court’s special concurrence, we granted rehearing en banc and vacated the panel opinions.
This en banc court holds that § 2259 only imposes a proximate result requirement in § 2259(b)(3)(F); it does not require the Government to show proximate cause to trigger a defendant’s restitution obligations for the categories of losses in § 2259(b)(3)(A)–(E). Instead, with respect to those categories, the plain language of the statute dictates that a district court must award restitution for the full amount of those losses. We VACATE the district courts’ judgments in both of the cases below and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion....
For the reasons above, we reject the approach of our sister circuits and hold that § 2259 imposes no generalized proximate cause requirement before a child pornography victim may recover restitution from a defendant possessing images of her abuse. We VACATE the district courts’ judgments below and REMAND for proceedings consistent with this opinion
The bold in the last paragraph above was added by me, in part to highlight why this issue seems now destined for a cert grant in some case before too long.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
"Pricing Amy: Should Those Who Download Child Pornography Pay the Victims?"The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy and effective new article in the latest issue of the ABA Journal. Here is a small excerpt from a piece that merits a full read for any and everyone concerned with issues surrounding child porn sentencing or restitution punishment:
Under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, the government must notify Amy and other child pornography victims anytime anyone is arrested by federal authorities for possessing their images. Her attorney, James Marsh of New York City, says his office has received at least 1,500 required notices of federal prosecutions for possession of those images. “The day after we were retained in 2008, we had someone open up all these notices she received in the calendar years 2006 and 2007,” Marsh says. “It took two days just to open the envelopes.”...
The restitution portion of VAWA requires full compensation for victims’ losses, regardless of the defendant’s ability to pay. The D.C. Circuit noted this in April 2011 in U.S. v. Monzel, when it remanded a partial restitution order so the trial court could calculate “the full amount of the victim’s losses.”
However, the full-restitution requirement creates another problem with using VAWA in cases like Amy’s: how to split the restitution payment among all of the defendants who may be charged with possession of the same images. The act provides for joint and several liability among defendants in the same case, but what about defendants in multiple cases, in numbers nobody can predict? How should responsibility be apportioned between each of them, plus the original maker of the child pornography? And how can the justice system track what the victims actually receive?
Legal experts say there’s no precedent for these questions under VAWA or anywhere else in criminal law or in tort law. Several appeals courts have dedicated parts of their opinions to the problem, and federal district courts have struggled, with some developing a flat-rate scheme on their own. These include the Eastern District of California, which in three cases awarded $3,000 per victim, extrapolating from a provision in 18 USC § 2255 that minor victims of sexual exploitation may be deemed to have suffered civil damages no less than $150,000. In another case, a court in the Western District of Washington awarded $1,000 per image in U.S. v. Kennedy (later reduced to zero by the 9th Circuit at San Francisco).
Marsh says it’s his policy to file for full restitution—the full amount of Amy’s lost income, past and future psychiatric treatment, loss of enjoyment of life and attorney fees—in nearly every case, regardless of what other orders his client has received and regardless of the defendant’s means. He says Amy doesn’t care where the money comes from as long as she is made completely whole. He and Carol Hepburn of Seattle, Vicky’s attorney, argue that the system should not put the burden of working out these details on victims. Complicating matters further, Hepburn says, is the problem of collecting. “Just because an order is entered doesn’t mean one is going to get payment,” she points out. “In fact, I can remember early on a prosecutor telling me: ‘I got you a $10,000 order, but good luck getting anything because this guy’s going to get deported after he gets out of jail.’ ”
Even without immigration problems, defendants may have no money left after their defense, and no way of earning it while serving the long prison sentences typical in child pornography cases. Hepburn and Marsh say they receive some large checks as well as a few regular payments from prison wages. In some circumstances, particularly when the defendant is indigent, they may also work out arrangements with prosecutors or defense counsel.
August 29, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack
Friday, August 17, 2012
More on victims' perspectives and advocacy after SCOTUS Miller ruling
Today's Los Angeles Times has this interesting new piece headlined "Ruling on juvenile killers reopens wounds for victims' families: A Supreme Court decision that juvenile murderers with life sentences should have a chance at parole stirs old memories for relatives of victims; Some are preparing to fight back." Here are excerpts:
Jose Vasquez remembers the night police officers came to his house and said his sister Tayde was dead. He remembers too the mornings escorting his mother to the trial in Long Beach, and their relief when the young killer was given life in prison with no parole.
Now, after 20 years, the Supreme Court has ruled that juvenile murderers with mandatory life sentences should have a chance at parole, a decision that has led many states to debate comparable legislation. On Thursday, the California Assembly passed a measure that someday could set free youthful offenders like Elizabeth Lozano, who was 16 when 13-year-old Tayde Vasquez was shot in the head.
For Tayde's family, that is like the knock at the door again. Preparing to fight back, they returned to the courthouse this summer, collecting old records and transcripts, and seeking out prosecutors. They also have written prison officials asking to be told whether Lozano files a legal appeal, wins a parole hearing, escapes or dies. They are determined to keep her inside the California state prison in Chowchilla. "It's like it's all coming back again," Vasquez said. "It's like a ghost hunting us down."...
In the United States, about 2,000 inmates are serving life with no parole for juvenile murder. In California, there are 300 such offenders. To get parole under the bill, likely to pass next week in the state Senate, they would first have to serve 25 years and then convince authorities that they regretted their past actions, have stayed out of trouble in prison and could be productive in society.
That is a very high bar. Yet Lozano, now 37, has by all appearances turned her life around. She has excelled in academics, led prison fellowships and won accolades from the prison administration.
For the Vasquez family, that is not good enough. Nor does it persuade victims' advocates like Maggie Elvey, whose husband was killed in 1993 by two youths in San Diego County. She said opponents would consider a lawsuit to stop enforcement if the bill became law. "You do it, that's it," she said of a life sentence. "That's what you get."
Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, whose pregnant sister and her husband were killed in 1990 by a 17-year-old in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, worried that the court ruling would be emotionally devastating for her if she had to once more fight against a killer's release. After so many years, she said, case files might be missing, memories may have faded and witnesses long ago may have died. "Everything we would need to arm ourselves might be lost," she said. "Our ability to fight a parole hearing would be severely compromised."
Some states have found ways to get around the court's ruling. In Iowa, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad last month commuted sentences of life with no parole for all 38 juvenile murderers in his state, but he then made them eligible for parole only after they served 60 years. A killer at age 15 would be 75 before he saw a parole board.
Some related recent posts on Miller and its impact on victims:
- All juvenile defendants get narrow procedural Eighth Amendment win in Miller
- Basic mandatory juve LWOP head-count in light of Miller
- Guest post on Miller from Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, President of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers
- Guest post on Miller from another thoughtful victim of a teenage killer
- Iowa Gov uses clemency power to devise (astute? sinister?) response to Miller for juve LWOPers
- Taking stock on what Miller is likely to portend
- "What is the fairest way for Pa. to deal with juvenile lifers petitioning for resentencing?"
Thursday, August 16, 2012
"What is the fairest way for Pa. to deal with juvenile lifers petitioning for resentencing?"
The question in the title of this post comes from this local piece from Pennsylvania. Along with this companion piece, which is headlined "Pennsylvania is battleground for implementing Supreme Court ruling on young lifers," the report does a nice job spotlighting the challenges facing the Keystone State in the wake of the Supreme Court's work in Miller. Here is an excerpt from the piece which sets out some additional questions concerning which I am interested in comments:
Pennsylvania has more prisoners who were sentenced to life without parole as minors than any other state — about 500 — and the least amount of time to deal with the flood of resentencing petitions. Under existing state law, those prisoners have 60 days to re-open their cases, while some states have as long as a year.
If the decision is to work retroactively, which is not at all clear yet, it could mean a lot of potential resentencing hearings and a lot of unhappiness dredged up for the families of murder victims. What is the fairest way of dealing with this?
Iowa's Gov. Terry Branstad sidestepped the issue in July by commuting the life sentences of 38 juvenile offenders and making them eligible for parole after 60 years. The action seems to be an attempt to protect victims' families, who would be forced to sit through parole hearings if lifers are granted new sentences. He eliminated that possibility and, in going against the spirit of the Supreme Court decision, sparked criticism and legal challenges.
Do you think individual prisoners should be entitled to a resentencing hearing, or is this an unfair burden on Pennsylvania's legal system?
Speaking of unfair — should victims' families be forced to reopen old wounds with more legal proceedings?
Would you support a blanket solution like Branstad's (which, as far as we know, is not on the table in Pa.), or do you think his disregard for individual cases was unfair?
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
"Child Pornography and the Restitution Revolution"
The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Cortney Lollar now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Victims of child pornography are now successfully seeking restitution from defendants convicted of watching and trading their images. Restitution in child pornography cases, however, represents a dramatic departure from traditional concepts of restitution. This Article offers the first critique of this restitution revolution.
Traditional restitution is grounded in notions of unjust enrichment, and seeks to restore the economic status quo between parties by requiring disgorgement of ill-gotten gains. The restitution being ordered in increasing numbers of child pornography cases does not serve this purpose. Instead, child pornography victims are receiving restitution simply for having their images viewed. This royalty-type approach to restitution amounts to a criminal version of damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. To justify this transformation of restitution, courts have come to rely on several commonly accepted, but flawed, theories about the impact of child pornography. Because these theories are unsupported by social science or law, they divert attention from remedies that could better alleviate the harms of child pornography.
Rather than restoring victims and encouraging them to move forward with their lives, restitution roots victims in their abuse experience, potentially causing additional psychological harm. Restitution in its new form also allows the criminal justice system to be a state-sponsored vehicle for personal vengeance. This Article calls for an end to the restitution revolution, and proposes several alternative approaches that better identify and address the consequences of child pornography.
Friday, August 03, 2012
Victim's family, 32 years later, now seeks closure via life (with parole) rather than deah sentence
This fascinating local story out of Texas, headlined "Long-serving Death Row inmate makes deal, could be paroled in 12 years," provides a distinctive perspective on what closure can end up meaning for some family members of murder victims. Here are the remarkable details:
Delma Banks Jr., who has been on Death Row for three decades, accepted a life sentence Wednesday and will be eligible for parole in 2024 under an agreement with Bowie County prosecutors. Banks, 53, was convicted of fatally shooting 16-year-old Richard Whitehead in 1980 in a park near Texarkana and stealing his car.
In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Banks' death sentence, finding that Bowie County prosecutors who tried the case suppressed evidence and deliberately covered up their mistakes for decades. A new punishment trial was scheduled for October in Collin County, where it was moved on a change of venue.
Bowie County District Attorney Jerry Rochelle told the Texarkana Gazette that Whitehead's family wanted the case to end. "They were ready for some closure," Rochelle told the newspaper. "After 32 years of dealing with the offense, the death of their son, the original trial, the appeals and the prospect of a new trial, they were ready for it to end."...
There were no witnesses to the killing and no physical evidence linking Banks to it. The prosecution's case relied largely on the testimony of Robert Farr and Charles Cook, both admitted drug users; Cook also had convictions for robbery by assault and forgery. Banks had no criminal history, and people who were with him and Whitehead on the last night that Whitehead was alive testified there was no ill will between the two.
Banks is black; Whitehead was white. An all-white Bowie County jury convicted Banks and returned a death sentence. In 1999, a federal judge forced Bowie County to open its case records. Banks' lawyers found a transcript showing that Cook's testimony had been extensively rehearsed and coached. They also learned that police paid Farr, an informant who had an unreliable record, $200 for his role in the investigation.
Farr said in an affidavit that he was afraid that the police would arrest him on drug charges. In exchange for the money, and to avoid jail, he agreed to set up Banks, he said. Prosecutors allowed Cook and Farr to lie in court and never told jurors that their information was false, the Supreme Court found.
In arguments before the Supreme Court, state lawyers did not dispute that Cook had been coached and that Farr was paid for his help. But they said Banks' lawyers were at fault for not uncovering the information sooner. In 2003, Banks got within 10 minutes of his scheduled execution before the Supreme Court stopped it....
In previous motions, Banks also sought to challenge the jury's decision that he was guilty, based on the court's findings that prosecutors had erred in the trial. But in the agreement signed Wednesday, Banks agreed to no further challenges of his conviction. He will be 65 when he is eligible for parole, and he will have served 44 years in prison.
George Kendall, an attorney for Banks, issued a brief response to the agreement: "After 32 years, the State has decided to no longer seek the death penalty in this case. We hope the resolution of this case will bring closure to all concerned."
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
"Are Our Sex Crime Laws So Radical They Deter Reporting?"
The provocative question in the title of this post comes from Professor Dan Filler via this post at The Faculty Lounge, which in turn links to this extended op-ed also by Dan Filler appearing in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. The op-ed carries the headline "Penn State scandal shows sex-abuse laws can backfire," and here are excerpts:
[T]here is another lesson to be learned from this horrible [Sandusky] story, and it's time we acknowledged it. Penn State's administrators might have buried the charges against Sandusky partly because our national anxiety about sexual abuse has resulted in a lattice of laws so toxic that people are afraid to report it. Although Penn State officials may have wanted Sandusky to stop, they also may have feared the overwhelming consequences of reporting the crime....
Over the past two decades, advocates, the media, and politicians have stoked public fears about sexual abuse. The resulting panic has had serious consequences. It has subjected all sexual offenders to greater stigma and, more importantly, has led to a complex array of laws that dramatically increase the costs of conviction even for less serious sexual offenses. In some states, a low-grade sex offender faces greater repercussions than a murderer.
Prison is just the start. Every state also imposes the public shame of community notification. Most restrict where such offenders can live — in some cases so severely that homelessness becomes the only viable option for offenders. Some states are even incarcerating people beyond their regular sentences because they are expected to commit sex crimes in the future.
There is little evidence that all these measures reduce the incidence of sex crimes one whit. They have, however, dramatically raised the stakes of reporting and charging such crimes.
There's no doubt that Penn State administrators were trying to protect the university and its football program. But they were also trying to protect Sandusky and themselves from the tsunami that would follow. I take [former Former Penn State president Graham] Spanier at his alleged word that he feared an inhumane result. He isn't alone: Some recent research suggests that some prosecutors shape their charging and plea-bargaining decisions to moderate the effects of current laws.
And then there are the victims. If administrators and prosecutors are concerned about inhumane responses to sex offenses, think about the most common kind of victims: those who are abused by relatives. There is already plenty of pressure on children to keep quiet about abuse within families; public shaming and residential restrictions compound the consequences, which in many ways may end up hurting victims by dissuading them from reporting abuse and excluding them from communities when an offending family member is released.
There is no question that society needs strong laws prohibiting and punishing sexual abuse. But those laws must be well-reasoned and tailored to be both just and effective.
Over the past 20 years, society has approached sex crimes with unbridled passion and anger. This emotional search for justice is entirely appropriate in particular cases; that is one purpose of sentencing. But when the same intense feelings become an engine for policy-making, they may undermine the crafting of effective laws.
The goal, after all, is to prevent Jerry Sandusky and others like him from victimizing children, and that won't happen if we deter people from reporting their crimes. When laws become so radical that they work against the protection of victims, they are inherently inhumane.
July 10, 2012 in Celebrity sentencings, Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (49) | TrackBack
Sunday, July 01, 2012
Guest post on Miller from Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, President of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers
A few weeks ago at the US Sentencing Commission's annual conference, I had the great pleasure of meeting Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, the President of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers (NOVJL). With the juve LWOP cases then still pending before SCOTUS, Jennifer and I had a fascination conversation about how victims of juve lifers would be impacted by a SCOTUS ruling declaring some juve LWOP sentences unconstitutional. Then, after the ruling, I asked Jennifer if she would write a guest-post for this blog, and here is what she kindly sent me for posting, reprinted in full:
Victims families' primary concern in the wake of the Miller v Alabama, Jackson v Hobbs ruling this week from the Supreme Court is for those like us who do not yet know about the case. We have been calling on all those involved to devote themselves now to outreach to affected victims families, hopefully delivering to them all the information and support they need to cope with the new legal realities just created by the Court. We already know that well-funded offender advocates are busily working already to assist many teen killers to file their new legal challenges. We have long been troubled by the significant staff and funding available to help those who murdered our family members, while there has been no assistance whatsoever to the victims families left behind.
But we also are confident that very little in these offenders' prison sentences will actually change, and here's why:
While striking down all “mandatory” JLWOP sentences for teen killers, retroactive application of this ruling will be legally challenged in many killers’ sentences. This matter will obviously be heavily litigated (see legal analysis at our website here). Cases still under direct appeal will be re-sentenced, but state legislatures will likely weigh in first, and victims families, along with the general public, can help shape how state legislatures decide to comply with the ruling.
State legislatures can simply make the LWOP sentences optional -- then judges can still give them to the offenders. Many will do just that. After the legal tussles shake out, many victims’ families may only have to undergo only ONE additional proceeding with the killer -- a new sentencing hearing replacing the mandatory life sentence with what will likely be a virtually equally serious alternative.
While any encounter with the offender in a courtroom will be seriously re-traumatizing for victims families, they will have a right in all 50 states and federally to be notified of these proceedings, to be present, and to make a statement about the impact that the crime had on them before the new sentence is given.
Most offenders that get a re-sentencing opportunity will receive either an optional life without parole sentence (exact same sentence as they got before) or a lengthy term of years that constitutes a virtual life sentence, changing nothing for all intents and purposes. While we know a few will receive some relief, we are predicting that very few teen killers serving life sentences will likely ever be released early from prison.
The Supreme Court has now been asked multiple times to categorically ban JLWOP by attorneys for the offenders, and has repeatedly rejected that request. There was not a SINGLE vote on the Supreme Court to find all life sentences for teen killers unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has stated clearly that life without parole sentences for those rare most serious teen killers is completely constitutional as long as judges can consider the offender’s age as an optional factor in the sentencing process.
While NOVJL only exists to support and inform victims, and we take no specific stand on what sentencing should be (the purview of legislatures and courts) we did have some concerns with the majority opinion as written.
Justice Kagan in writing her majority opinion adopts the propaganda-laden word choice of offender advocates in her ruling calling these convicted murderers “children” (the correct legal term is “juvenile”) and uses the offender advocates’ propaganda line: “children sentenced to die in prison.” We believe that Supreme Court Justices should not use advocacy language so inaccurate and so insensitive to victims. The only people in this discussion with death sentences are our murdered loved ones.
To call a life sentence a death sentence is reminiscent of George Orwell’s futuristic warning novel 1984 in which language loses all meaning: war means peace, love means hate, and lies mean truth. A life sentence is NOT a death sentence. It is a LIFE sentence. Only a death sentence where the offender is to be executed is a death sentence. The way Justice Kagan uses it, the words mean no more than what is true for us all: that we are living this life under a proverbial “sentence of death” -- someday. Many victims families have complained of the insensitive lack of distinction between the offender who LIVES on, and our innocent murdered loves ones who suffered horribly and DIED.
Even serving a life sentence, offenders can experience life, love, joy, pleasure, family, relationships, and meaning. They can grow wise, they can educate themselves, they can be helpful to others, they can make a difference, they can be creative, they can make a legacy for their lives, and they can impact others in a positive way. They can choose each day to make good things happen, even from their cells. Many inmates that we admire do just that. They can even express remorse for their crimes and try to be helpful to victims everywhere. They can live. Even from behind bars. They LIVE. The language written in the majority opinion makes no such distinction, and we believe sadly diminishes the Court’s legacy of brilliantly written opinions.
Also, there was no recognition in the majority opinion whatsoever that there were dead victims at the heart of this whole huge discussion. Thankfully, Justices authoring the minority dissent actually mentioned the word “victim”. But the majority opinion gave no thought, apparently, to the impact of this decision on victims families.
Finally, some of us are actually feeling sorry for the families of the offenders affected by this ruling: right now they are likely very happy -- even celebrating -- feeling hope for the first time since these offenders were convicted of these murders and sent to prison for life. Some are likely even planning the offenders’ homecoming. We know that this is going to end in disappointment for almost all of them. Most of these offenders will never be released from prison, even after all the legal wrangling that this SCOTUS ruling will allow. They committed horrific murders. Most will not likely ever qualify for release anytime soon, even if they are re-sentenced in a way that allows release possibilities.
Juvenile life without parole remains constitutional, rare, and available as a sentence when the facts of the offense and the offender demonstrate that it is appropriate. Our focus remains where it should be: assisting people whose lives have been destroyed by the violent choices of others, and preventing future such tragedies.
Monday, June 25, 2012
"Utah mom upset over judge's hair-cut punishment"
The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing AP article about a (too?) creative state sentencing in a juvenile court. Here are the details:
A Utah mother says she felt intimidated in court when a judge told her that he would reduce her 13-year-old daughter's sentence if she chopped off the girl's ponytail in court — an offer the mother says she now wishes she hadn't taken.
Valerie Bruno, of Price, said she has filed a formal complaint against 7th District Juvenile Judge Scott Johansen with the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission. The teenager and an 11-year-old friend were referred to juvenile court for cutting off the hair of a 3-year-old girl with scissors in March and for harassing another girl in Colorado by telephone.
When the 13-year-old faced Johansen for a hearing in May, he ordered she serve 30 days in detention and to perform 276 hours of community service, but he also offered to take 150 hours of community service off the sentence if her mother cut her ponytail in his courtroom.
Bruno is now expressing regret for not consulting an attorney before taking her daughter into the courtroom. "I guess I should have went into the courtroom knowing my rights, because I felt very intimidated," she told the Deseret News. "An eye for an eye, that's not how you teach kids right from wrong."
Mindy Moss, mother of the 3-year-old whose hair was cut off, said she approved of the sentence and even spoke up during the hearing when she felt Bruno had not cut off enough of her daughter's hair. Johansen then directed Bruno to cut the ponytail all the way "to the rubber band."
Moss told The Salt Lake Tribune that she originally called police about the haircut because she worried the girls' behavior could become more serious. "I didn't want them to think they got away with it … It was malicious," Moss said.
Under state law, judges are given discretion in coming up with sanctions for youth that will change their behavior in a positive way. Johansen ordered the friend of Bruno's daughter to have her hair cut as short as his. She was allowed to go to a salon to have it done, then return to the courtroom to ensure that the new hairstyle met with the judge's approval.
I know of plenty of lawyers who get upset when a judge orders a hair-cut on their fee requests. I also know that prisoners often complain if and when prison officials require them to get haircuts. But this is the first time I have seen a concern about a hair-cut as part of a sentencing ruling.
June 25, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack
Thursday, June 14, 2012
"Sentencing Councils and Victims"
The title of this post is the title of this new article posted on SSRN by Ian Edwards. Here is the abstract:
This article explores the place victims have, and should have, in bodies that formulate sentencing guidelines, with particular reference to sentencing guidelines in England and Wales and the Sentencing Council's obligation under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to have regard to ‘the impact of sentencing decisions on victims of offences’ when devising guidelines. The issues are situated in political and penological contexts; the place of victims in sentencing commissions or advisory bodies in the USA, England and Australia is analysed and the meaning and significance of the Sentencing Council's obligation towards victims is considered, relating the specific obligation to broader issues concerning the place of victims within bodies that formulate sentencing guidelines.
While incorporating victims within sentencing commissions might undermine commissions’ aims, it can play an important role in helping to boost public confidence in criminal justice, a touchstone for all western governments’ criminal justice policies.
Monday, June 11, 2012
Heated "victims" and "low" guideline range set up interesting sentencing for mobster's moll
This new AP article, which is headlined "Lawyer for Mass. mobster's lover asks for leniency," reports on the final pre-game development before a high-profile federal sentencing scheduled for tomorrow in a high-profile criminal case out of Boston. Here are the details:
The lawyer for the longtime girlfriend of Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger asked a judge on Monday to sentence her to 27 months in prison for helping the fugitive stay on the run for 16 years. Prosecutors have asked for a decade in prison for Catherine Greig, who faces sentencing Tuesday.
The 61-year-old pleaded guilty in March to charges of conspiracy to harbor a fugitive, identity fraud and conspiracy to commit identity fraud. The 82-year-old Bulger is awaiting trial on charges he participated in 19 murders. Authorities captured the couple in Santa Monica, Calif., last June. Prosecutors say the pair posed as married retirees from Chicago and had a stash of more than $800,000 in cash and 30 weapons in their apartment upon capture.
In a sentencing memo, Greig's lawyer Kevin Reddington said his client was in love with Bulger and there was no evidence she knew about the money or guns. He said Bulger was a "Robin Hood like" person and a "champion of the oppressed" when she fled with him, years before an indictment revealed "horrific allegations of murder."
The attorney called the government's sentencing recommendation a "draconian sentence" to crush someone prosecutors are trying to portray as a "sinister mastermind." Reddington also suggested that the government was trying to "rectify the bungling" of their investigation and redeem themselves from bad publicity. He said the government struck a plea deal with Greig, then faced criticism in the media from family members of those whom prosecutors say Bulger killed.
Greig faces a maximum of 15 years in prison, but prosecutors previously said she could serve as little as 32 months under sentencing guidelines. Reddington's memo says probation officials recommended a prison sentence of 27 to 33 months.
The defense attorney also singled out Steven Davis, the brother of a 26-year-old woman who prosecutor say Bulger killed in 1981, as spearheading criticism he says led to a post-plea effort by the government to give his client a long prison sentence. Greig's attorney also filed an objection Monday to a request from the U.S. attorney's office to allow Davis and other family of Bulger's victims to speak at her sentencing. He says they're not victims of Greig's crimes.
Prosecutors have called Greig's conduct the most extreme case of harboring a criminal they've seen. They said she protected Bulger from authorities, for years denying the family of his victims the chance to see him brought to justice. Davis said Monday that a sentence of 27 months "would be the most ridiculous thing to ever come out of federal court."...
Patricia Donahue, the widow of a man who died in a hail of bullets after prosecutors say Bulger opened fire on someone else in 1982, called the defense's request for 27 months in prison for Greig "a joke" that would encourage other people to harbor criminals. Donahue, of Boston, also said she was hoping to speak at Greig's sentencing. "How are we not victims of the crime if she spent 16 years with the man responsible for my husband's death?" Donahue said.
The specifics of this AP article prompt the quote marks in the title of this post, which in turn frame the interesting legal issues now presented by Catherine Greig's sentencing. I can see a good argument for calling the victims of Bulgler's crimes also victims of Greig's crimes of harboring and fraud (and I generally take an expansive view of who has rights under the federal Crime Victims Rights Act). But, especially if one credits Greig's claims that she did not know all about Bulger's homicidal past (and that folks are really most angry about how the feds have handled the Bulger case), I can also see a reasonable argument for limiting how victims of Bulgler's murders get to express themselves at Greig's sentencing.
Even more interesting for hard-core sentencing fans seems to be the distinct dynamic in this case of a defense attorney urging a sentencing judge to follow the guidelines while federal prosecutors seek some form of a departure from the guidelines. As all federal sentencing practitioners know, in nearly all post-Booker cases, the prosecutors are typically defending the guidelines and seeking within-guideline sentences while defense attorneys attack the guidelines as too harsh and seek non-guideline outcomes. But, in this distinctive case, it appears that the defense attorney will be praising the guidelines, while prosecutors (and perhaps also victims) argue that a within-guideline sentence would be unjust and inappropriate.
Previous related post:
- Interesting plea deal calling for high-profile defendant's forfeiture of intellectual property rights
June 11, 2012 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Tuesday, June 05, 2012
Notable appeal for clemency from victims' family rejected by Mississippi Gov
As reported in this AP article, which is headlined "Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant won't stop execution for 1990 slayings," a plea for mercy coming from parents of children killed by a condemned murderer did not convince Mississippi's Governor to grant clemency on the eve of the execution. Here are the interesting details:
A Mississippi man who fatally stabbed four young nieces and nephews in a 1990 rampage faced scheduled execution Tuesday evening, despite the pleas of two sisters to spare the brother who murdered their children.
Henry "Curtis" Jackson Jr. was scheduled to die by injection at 7 p.m. EDT Tuesday. Jackson spent the day receiving relatives, including one of the sisters whose two children were kililed and who survived after being stabbed five times. The slain children ranged from 2 to 5 years old and were killed as Jackson allegedly was trying to steal his mother's safe while she was at church.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Phil Bryant declined to stop the execution. The mother of the slain children had asked Bryant to spare their brother. "I have reviewed the facts of this case and the applicable law," Bryant said in a news release. "There is no question that Mr. Jackson committed these heinous crimes, and there is no clear and convincing evidence that compels me to grant clemency."
But he said he was moved by the plea of the relatives. "I am deeply touched by the requests for clemency by two of his sisters and his brother-in-law," Bryant said. "One of these sisters was a stabbing victim, and both of the sisters are mothers of the murdered children. However, as governor, I have the duty to see that justice is carried out and that the law is faithfully executed."
Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said at a briefing Tuesday at the Mississippi State Penitentiary that Jackson acknowledged the crime and was talkative and writing letters after visiting with family. "This is somewhat unusual in that we have family members who are also victims," Epps said.
Among Jackson's visitors at the penitentiary in Parchman were his children, his mother and a sister, Regina Jackson was stabbed five times and survived the attack that killed her two daughters and two nephews.
Regina Jackson met with the governor Monday to plead for her brother's life. She also wrote Bryant a letter last month asking for a reprieve, saying she doesn't want her brother to get out of prison and that she "just can't take any more killing."
"As a mother who lost two babies, all I'm asking is that you not make me go through the killing of my brother," she wrote....
Regina Jackson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview as the execution date loomed that she has forgiven her brother over the years. "If they kill him, they're doing the same thing that he did. The dying is going to have to stop somewhere."
Another sister and her husband, Glenda and Andrew Kuyoro, also asked Bryant to spare Curtis Jackson in a letter dated May 15. The couple said they tried for years to understand why Jackson attacked his relatives, and they know their questions may never be answered, but that they surely won't if he dies.
"We are the victims in this case, and we are begging you not to let Curtis be killed. You can keep him in Parchman forever, but please don't put our family through this horrible execution," the Kuyoros wrote. "We are not asking you to take pity on Curtis, we're asking you to show US mercy. We have been through enough." Epps said Regina Jackson and the Kuyoros planned to witness the execution.
Jackson has said he doesn't remember stabbing the children, but testimony from his trial describ ed a horrific scene. He cut the phone line before going in the house, according to the court record. Once inside, he demanded money and attacked his sister. One of the children tried to help, but he stabbed her, too. Regina Jackson tried to fight him off with an iron rod, but he grabbed one of the children and used her as a shield.
UPDATE: This local article reports on the completed execution of Jackson (and also notes that Mississippi's next execution is scheduled for next week).