Thursday, May 28, 2015
US District Judge John Gleeson finds extraordinary circumstances to order expungement of old federal fraud conviction
Regular readers are likely to recall the remarkable series of opinions issued by US District Judge John Gleeson in recent years in which the judge has forcefully expressed deep concerns with how federal prosecutors sometimes exercise their charging and bargaining powers in the application of mandatory minimum sentencing provisions. Now I have learned, thanks to this great new Margy Love post at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, that Judge Gleeson's latest opinion examines the collateral workplace consequences of an old federal fraud conviction in the course of ordering expungement. Here is how the must-read opinion in Doe v. US, No. 14-MC-1412 (EDNY May 21, 2015) (available here), starts and ends:
Jane Doe filed an application on October 30, 2014, asking me to expunge her thirteen-year old fraud conviction because of the undue hardship it has created for her in getting — and especially keeping — jobs. Doe gets hired to fill home health aide and similar positions only to be fired when her employers learn through subsequent background checks about her conviction. Since the conviction was for health care fraud, it’s hard to blame those employers for using the conviction as a proxy for Doe’s unsuitability.
However, even if one believes, as I do, that employers are generally entitled to know about the past convictions of job applicants, and that their decisions based on those convictions are entitled to deference, there will nevertheless be cases in which all reasonable employers would conclude that the conviction is no longer a meaningful consideration in determining suitability for employment if only they had the time and the resources to conduct a thorough investigation of the applicant or employee.
I have conducted such an investigation, and this is one of those cases. In addition to presiding over the trial in Doe’s case and her subsequent sentencing, I have reviewed every page of the extensive file that was created during her five years under probation supervision. I conclude that the public’s interest in Doe being an employed, contributing member of society so far outweighs its interest in her conviction being a matter of public record that the motion is granted and her conviction is expunged....
Doe is one of 65 million Americans who have a criminal record and suffer the adverse consequences that result from such a record. Her case highlights the need to take a fresh look at policies that shut people out from the social, economic, and educational opportunities they desperately need in order to reenter society successfully.
The seemingly automatic refusals by judges to expunge convictions when the inability to find employment is the “only” ground for the application have undervalued the critical role employment plays in re-entry. They are also increasingly out of step with public opinion. The so-called “ban the box” practice, in which job applications no longer ask the applicant whether he or she has been convicted of a crime, is becoming more prevalent. There is an increasing awareness that continuing to marginalize people like Doe does much more harm than good to our communities.
Accordingly, Doe’s application for an order expunging her conviction is granted. It is hereby ordered that the government’s arrest and conviction records, and any other documents relating to this case, be placed in a separate storage facility, and that any electronic copies of these records or documents and references to them be deleted from the government’s databases, electronic filing systems, and public record. Doe’s real name is to be removed from any official index or public record. It is further ordered that the records are not to be opened other than in the course of a bona fide criminal investigation by law enforcement authorities and only when necessary for such an investigation. The government and any of its agents may not use these records for any other purpose, nor may their contents be disseminated to anyone, public or private, for any other purpose.
Finally with respect to the relief granted here, I welcome the input of the parties. My intention is clear: no inquiry of the federal or state government by a prospective employer should result in the disclosure of Doe’s conviction. Effectuating that intent without unduly burdening those governments or impairing their legitimate law enforcement interests is not so clear, at least not to me. Thus I welcome any proposed modifications to the relief set forth above, and of course any such proposals by the government would not be regarded as a waiver of its opposition to my decision to expunge the conviction.
It will be interesting to see how the Justice Department responds to this decision, and also how the Second Circuit will consider this matter if (when?) the feds appeal.
"Do the Supreme Court and other federal courts need a watchdog?"
The question in the title of this post is from the headline of this Lyle Denniston story at Constitution Daily discussing a notable new proposal by Senator Charles Grassley to create an inspector general for the judiciary. Here are excerpts from the piece:
Acting within the judicial sphere, the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts are assured of independence by the dual protection of lifetime tenure for the Justices and judges, and the guarantee that they can keep their jobs unless they commit a “high crime or misdemeanor” that would justify their removal by impeachment.
But impeachment is a drastic remedy, and the Constitution deliberately makes it hard to bring about. That gives the Justices and judges, in their day-to-day work, the freedom to regulate their own ethical conduct. Congress has given the judges some rules for when they should not take part in a decision because of a conflict of interest. But the Supreme Court has largely exempted itself from those rules, preferring to impose some self-limiting restraints. And that streak of independence by the Supreme Court from time to time rankles some members of Congress, who would like to do something about it.
The latest idea in Congress to impose some restraint on judicial behavior has just been introduced by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa Republican Charles Grassley. His idea is to create the office of “inspector general,” a kind of super watchdog, inside the judicial branch. It works in the Executive Branch, he says, and so there is no reason it should not work in the judiciary, too.
While the senator appears to be most interested in having someone to monitor serious misconduct within the judicial branch, perhaps as a prelude to impeachment, the constitutionally risky part of his proposition is to make this new watchdog a monitor of judicial ethics. That, of course, is part of the title of his new bill, the Judicial Transparency and Ethics Enhancement Act.
As Grassley has fashioned the terms of this office, the watchdog would not be a creature entirely of the judicial branch. The Chief Justice would name the “inspector general,” but the bill specifies that an appointment would only come after “consultation” with the leaders of the Senate and the House. Is that a form of veto power? Or would the Chief Justice be free to ignore any legislative input?
And, on the all-important question of removal of such an appointee from office, the Chief Justice could do so but would be required to give his reasons to both houses of Congress. Is that a sign that Congress would not quite trust the Chief Justice to use that authority?
While the Grassley bill says explicitly that the new “inspector general” would have no power to “investigate or review any matter that is directly related to the merits of a decision or procedural ruling” by any federal court, the officer would have explicit authority to “conduct investigations of alleged misconduct in the Supreme Court that may require oversight or other action” by Congress or by the judiciary itself. (Similar investigative power would exist for lower courts, too.)
That investigative power is not spelled out in the bill, so it presumably would be up to the “inspector general” to define the kind of “misconduct” to be monitored. Would it only be a “high crime or misdemeanor” of the kind sufficient to justify impeachment? Would it have to be criminal behavior? If not either of those, would it be a breach of some ethical principle or norm. and, if so, defined by whom?
Policing ethics is not a process that lends itself to nice precision. What is “good” or “bad” behavior by a judge? The Constitution itself specifies that federal judges may keep their jobs “during good behavior.” But the only constitutional definition of behavior contrary to that is “high crimes and misdemeanors,” in the impeachment provision; it is not further clarified.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Feds seeking LWOP sentence for Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht
As reported in this Wired piece, "headlined "Silk Road Prosecutors Ask to 'Send a Message' in Ulbright Sentencing," the federal government has now asked for the toughest possible sentence for the defendant convicted of creating the on-line drug market known as Silk Road. Here is part of the story:
Ross Ulbricht's billion-dollar black market Silk Road was in many ways the first of its kind, blending encryption and online drug sales in a business model that plenty of other online drug lords have since sought to emulate. So as Ulbricht’s sentencing for running that massive narcotics-selling experiment approaches, the Department of Justice wants to make an example of Ulbricht’s punishment, too.
Ahead of Ulbricht’s sentencing Friday, prosecutors in his case have sent the judge a 16-page letter asking that Ulbricht be given the maximum possible punishment of life in prison. And one of the reasons for that harsh sentence, the Department of Justice attorneys argue, is to “send a clear message” to anyone who would follow in Ulbricht’s footsteps and create the next Dark Web drug market.
“Ulbricht’s conviction is the first of its kind, and his sentencing is being closely watched,” the prosecution’s letter reads. “The Court thus has an opportunity to send a clear message to anyone tempted to follow his example that the operation of these illegal enterprises comes with severe consequences.”
That deterrence argument is just one in a series of calls for a life sentence made by the prosecution in its letter. At other points, it lists the details of six deaths it argues were caused by drug overdoses facilitated by the Silk Road’s anything-goes drug sales. It rebuts the positive arguments about Ulbricht’s character made by the defense, as well as the over 100 letters from friends, family, and even fellow inmates about Ulbricht’s character, pointing to his cold-blooded recording of his attempted murders of enemies in the journal found on his laptop. And it counters the argument made in the defense’s pre-sentencing letter to the judge: That the Silk Road actually reduced harm for drug users with a rating and review system that assured drugs’ quality and purity....
Indeed, several iterations of the Silk Road have come and gone in the two short years since it went offline. Those copycat sites have included the Silk Road 2, which was shut down in law enforcement’s dark web purge last fall, and Evolution, a giant black market for drugs, guns, and stolen financial information whose leaders absconded with users’ funds in March. Today the black market site Agora reigns as the largest black market still online, with tens of thousands more products listed for sale than the Silk Road ever offered.
In its letter, the Silk Road prosecution points to the difficulty of tracking down and punishing the creators of those markets as one more reason that Ulbricht should be imprisoned for life: If anonymous market administrators can’t be easily caught, perhaps they can be deterred from a life of Dark Web crime by their fear of Ulbricht’s fate. “Although the Government has achieved some successes in combating these successor dark markets, they continue to pose investigative challenges for law enforcement,” reads the letter. “To the extent that would-be imitators may view the risk of being caught to be low, many are still likely to be deterred if the stakes are sufficiently high.”
The government's full sentencing memorandum is available at this link.
Prior related posts:
- You be the judge: what federal sentence for Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht?
- Notable developments in prelude to federal sentencing for Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht
- Debate over harms of online drug market now at center of upcoming sentencing of Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht
"A new report could have a big impact on New York’s prison population — if anyone pays attention"
The title of this post is the astute subheadline of this effective Marshall Project piece by Beth Schwartzapfel talking about a sentencing reform report finally released in New York. Here are excerpts:
A new report by some of New York’s key criminal justice players recommends major changes to the state’s sentencing system. The report, which [is available here], would reduce the length of prison sentences and broaden eligibility for probation and other alternatives to incarceration for about one-third of the felony convictions New York hands down each year. The report would also end the state parole board’s traditional role as the arbiter of when, exactly, prisoners go home.
With more than 50,000 people imprisoned in New York State, even small sentencing changes can make a big difference. “If you increase the time served even by three months across 10,000 people, you’re going to generate a whole lot more imprisonment,” says Martin Horn, executive director of the New York State Sentencing Commission, which produced the report.
Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the state’s highest court, established the commission in 2010 to craft a simpler, more transparent sentencing scheme. “He did not specifically charge us to reduce the prison population,” Horn says. “If that turns out to be a side benefit, that’s terrific.”
At this point, the commission’s recommendations are just that — recommendations. The suggested changes were compiled into a piece of draft legislation that the committee has submitted to the state legislature. But the bill so far has no sponsor, and the prospect of fewer prison beds — and, by extension, fewer prisons — has traditionally faced fierce opposition by the New York state correctional officers union and by legislators representing the upstate communities where most of the state’s prisons are located. As it is, upstate District Attorney Kathleen Hogan, who served on the Commission, says she would not support the legislation. “I would support the idea of migrating to determinate sentences, but I think that the numbers are too low,” she told The Marshall Project. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not said whether he will support the proposals.
New York’s body of sentencing laws is a patchwork, with the history of the state’s changing politics woven into it and over it. As a result, the new report says, sentencing is “confusing and misleading” for prisoners and victims alike.
Historically, New York State’s sentences were all indeterminate: a judge could hand down a range of years that a prisoner might serve (such as 1-to-3 or 5-to-15). When during that window the person would actually go home was unpredictable: it was up to a parole board.
The changes began in 1995 under Gov. George Pataki. The nation had just kicked off a federally-funded prison-building boom, and a get-tough attitude prevailed. Pataki proposed eliminating parole for those convicted of violent felonies. Under the resulting law, judges handed down determinate sentences — a specific number of years, with very little wiggle room — and they were long.
In the 2000s, the public began calling for a change to the 1973 Rockefeller drug laws, which mandated draconian sentences like 15 years to life for even low-level drug crimes. The resulting reforms in 2004 and 2009 eliminated indeterminate sentences for most drug crimes, too.
So now, sentences for violent felonies and drug crimes are fixed, and sentences for everything else depend on the parole board. The crimes still subject to the parole board’s discretion are a hodgepodge, from filing a false tax return to second-degree stalking. The commission’s report is aimed at these crimes — class C, D, and E felonies — considered “non-violent” under the law but not always so in reality. About 5,500 out of the 14,000 people who enter the New York State prison system each year are convicted of these crimes.
The commission, composed of judges, victims’ representatives, professors, and attorneys, recommended bringing these sentences into line with those for other crimes by eliminating the parole board’s discretion. They suggested a new matrix of sentence lengths that judges can hand down, eliminating mandatory minimums for a wide range of crimes and expanding the number of crimes eligible for alternatives to incarceration like drug treatment and community service. They also recommended much shorter terms of supervision once people are out of prison; for most offenders, researchshows that longer periods on parole do not improve public safety but do increase the odds that someone will go back to prison for a technical violation....
Similar recommendations by the 2007 O’Donnell Commission, established by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, never gained any legislative traction, in part because the recommended sentence ranges in that report were too harsh, Horn says: “The Assembly rejected that. They felt those maximums were too high, were too broad.”
This time around the opposite might be true; with these recommendations shaving months off of thousands of sentences, district attorneys and other tough-on-crime advocates might push back. Lake George District Attorney Kate Hogan submitted a letter — included as an addendum to the report — expressing “grave concerns” about the shortened sentence ranges. She told the Marshall Project that reducing the maximum penalty available for certain crimes “discounts plea bargaining in its entirety. No one pleads the maximum. That’s how you incentivize someone to resolve a case by plea.”
Senator Paul talking about crime and punishment in Chicago
As reported in this Chicago Tribune article, headlined "Rand Paul in Chicago: Crime 'not a racial thing, it is a spiritual problem'," the most interesting man in sentencing politics had lots of interesting things to say about crime and sentencing in the Windy City today. Here are some details:
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul brought his presidential campaign to Chicago on Wednesday, appealing to African-Americans on the South Side, entrepreneurs downtown and Republicans in the suburbs. On a stage set up on a blacktop parking lot in front of an American flag mural at 66th Street and South Martin Luther King Drive, Paul continued a unique approach for GOP White House contenders — making an appeal to African-Americans who tend to favor Democrats....
"There is crime going on all across America. It is not a racial thing, it is a spiritual problem," Paul said. "I think government can play a role in public safety, but I don't think government can mend a broken spirit. Government can't provide you salvation, government can't save you. … Ultimately, salvation is something you accept yourselves."
A white, libertarian Republican senator from Kentucky urging African-American voters in an impoverished, heavily Democratic neighborhood on the South Side to look within themselves to "find your inner grace" isn't a typical scene in a GOP presidential bid. Paul, though, isn't running a conventional campaign. His stop in Chicago came a day after the release of his book "Taking a Stand," in which he makes the case for a new, more inclusive Republican Party, proclaiming the "Republican brand sucks."
On Wednesday, Paul sought to bring that theme to the stump. He advocated for reclassifying nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors as part of his call to end "mass incarceration" in America.
"We've got to rethink the war on drugs. We've got to find a better way," Paul said. "We've got to treat drugs as a health problem, not an incarceration problem."
Paul also called for providing "second chances" for felons to vote and seek jobs. And he pitched a tax-cutting program for businesses in low-income areas. "If you want more jobs in your communities, if you want more businesses in your communities, we can't keep doing the same thing," Paul said. "For years, we've had this war on poverty and all we have is more poverty."
May 27, 2015 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Nebraska legislature, with every vote counting, repeals death penalty by overriding Gov veto
As reported in this local article, the "death penalty has been repealed in Nebraska." Here is how:
In a historic vote Wednesday, senators voted 30-19 to override a veto from Gov. Pete Ricketts. The bill (LB268) had passed a week ago on a 32-15 vote.
Ricketts had worked hard in the last week to get senators to flip their votes. He needed three to change their minds, but only two -- Sens. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo and John Murante of Gretna -- changed their votes to sustain the veto.
"This is it," said Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha as he entered the legislative chamber to begin the debate on a motion to override the veto. Chambers has offered a bill to repeal the death penalty 40 times in his tenure of the Legislature. In 1979, Chambers won legislative approval of death penalty repeal, but the bill fell victim to a veto by Gov. Charles Thone.
Nebraska lawmakers debated more than two hours Wednesday on a motion to override Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto of a death penalty repeal bill. "Once we take this step, there is not going to be a falling apart of this state," Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers said at the start of discussion on the floor of the Legislature. "This building will not implode."
The historic significance of the event attracted a large group of onlookers, legislative staffers and media watched as debate began at 1:30 p.m.... Miriam Thimm Kelle, sister of Rulo murder victim James Thimm, was among onlookers in the legislative chamber Wednesday. Thimm's murderer, Michael Ryan, died this week on death row. Kelle has lobbied in support of abolishing the death penalty.
On Tuesday, Vivian Tuttle, whose daughter Evonne Tuttle was killed in the Norfolk bank robbery, joined the governor at a press conference to ask senators to sustain the veto. "I want justice for my grandchildren," she said. "I want justice for all the other families."
"Will Mike Huckabee's Forgiveness of Joshua Duggar Extend to Other Youthful Offenders?"
The question in the title of this post is the headline of this provocative Huffington Post commentary authored by Steve Drizin. Here are excerpts:
I confess that I had never heard of Josh Duggar before Friday. I never watched TLC's 19 Kids and Counting show, never knew that Duggar was the eldest son of the Duggar family clan which includes ten boys and nine girls, never knew that Duggar worked for the Family Resource Council, the influential conservative Christian lobbying group. Mr. Duggar's name didn't register with me until the news broke this week that he had molested young girls, including several of his sisters, when he was a 14-year-old.
Now he matters to me. Not because of who he is or what he has done, but because Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee came to Mr. Duggar's defense. While other potential Republican conservative candidates, many of whom have been pictured with Duggar over the years or have publicly supported his family's values, stayed silent on the sidelines, Mr. Huckabee moved quickly to call for forgiveness for Mr. Duggar....
Mr. Huckabee's statements have aroused the ire of many of his supporters. His Facebook page lit up with angry comments from fans. But I am not writing to join those who want to bury Mr. Huckabee. As someone who has represented many teenage offenders, I want to praise him.
Mr. Huckabee's call for mercy in this age of retribution is an act of political courage. Although his recognition that youthful offenders are less culpable for their crimes due to their immature judgment and more amenable to rehabilitation is, in the words of the United States Supreme Court, something that "every parent knows" and a matter of "common sense," few politicians -- conservatives, moderates, or liberals -- have echoed his words. In my book, he gets points for being willing to take a risk, even if he is simply stating the obvious when talking about young people who commit crimes.
But the book is not yet closed on Mr. Huckabee with regard to the Duggar affair. Will Mr. Huckabee stand silent on these issues in his run for the Presidency? O r will he use this case as a "teachable moment" and engage other conservatives (and moderates, liberals and progressives) in a debate about juvenile justice reform?
Will Mr. Huckabee's endorsement of forgiveness and privacy for Mr. Duggar, extend to the thousands of other adolescent sex offenders, who unlike Mr. Duggar, were convicted of sex offenses and are paying the price by being required to register as sex offenders. Will he call for mercy for these young men and women as well? Will he support efforts to allow them to prove that they are no longer a danger and no longer need to register? ...
Will Mr. Huckabee's recognition that "being a minor means that one's judgment is not mature" lead him to oppose prosecuting juveniles as adults, housing them in adult jails and prisons, or sentencing them to mandatory prison sentences? If he truly believes that young people are capable of rehabilitation, will he oppose life without parole and other draconian sentences for juveniles? Will he support greater funding for programs aimed at rehabilitating them? ...
Just how far will Mr. Huckabee's grace extend? Does he believe in second chances only for wealthy, white, or religious teenagers who use their influence and connections to get diverted from our juvenile and criminal justice systems or will he support the same second chances for the poor, mostly black and brown teenagers who fill our juvenile and criminal jails and prisons?
Is this true political courage or one-off favor for a politically connected friend and his family? Only time will tell.
Split Connecticut Supreme Court applies Miller retroactively to 50-year discretionary juve sentence
Yesterday the Connecticut Supreme Court, splitting 4-3, gave the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence concerning juvenile LWOP sentencing the furthest reach of any major ruling I have seen through its opinion in Casiano v. Commissioner of Correction, No. SC19345 (Conn. May 26, 2015) (majority opinion here, dissents here and here). Here is how the majority opinion gets started:
We recently held in State v. Riley, 315 Conn. 637, 659, A.3d (2015), that, to comport with the eighth amendment to the federal constitution, the trial court must give mitigating weight to the youth related factors set forth in Miller v. Alabama, U.S. , 132 S. Ct. 2455, 2464–65, 2468, 183 L.Ed. 2d 407 (2012), when considering whether to impose a life sentence without the possibility of parole on a juvenile homicide offender. In Riley, the defendant challenged on direct appeal a total effective sentence of 100 years with no possibility of parole before his natural life expired, a sentence that the state conceded was the functional equivalent to life without parole. State v. Riley, supra, 642. The different procedural posture and sentence in the present case raises two significant issues regarding the reach of Miller: whether Miller applies retroactively under Connecticut law to cases arising on collateral review, and, if so, whether Miller applies to the imposition of a fifty year sentence on a juvenile offender. We answer both questions in the affirmative and, therefore, reverse the habeas court’s decision rendering summary judgment in favor of the respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, on the petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by the petitioner, Jason Casiano.
May 27, 2015 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Nebraska Gov officially vetoes bill to repeal death penalty in the Cornhusker State
As reported in this local article, "Gov. Pete Ricketts delivered Tuesday on his promise to veto legislation that would repeal the death penalty for murderers in Nebraska." Here is more on the decision and what is likely to follow it:
"This is a matter of public safety," Ricketts said. "We need to have strong sentencing. We need to be sure our prosecutors have the tools to put these hardened criminals behind bars."
"I urge our senators to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement," Ricketts said.
The governor was joined by Attorney General Doug Peterson and family members of Evonne Tuttle, who was one of five people killed in the 2002 Norfolk bank robbery. Three of the killers involved in the robbery are on death row. Evonne's mother, Vivian Tuttle, said she sat through the trials. In each one, she watched the surveillance video that showed Jose Sandoval put a gun to her daughter Evonne's head as she knelt on the floor and was shot to death. "I want justice for my grandchildren. I want justice for the other families," she said.
The Legislature passed the death penalty bill (LB268) on Wednesday on a 32-15 vote. Thirty votes would be required to override the governor's veto. The governor said Friday that senators who voted to repeal the death penalty weren't in touch with their constituents. But a number of those senators said Tuesday at least half of their constituent contacts are telling them to stick to their votes in favor of repeal.
Supporters have lost at least one override vote -- Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo. Johnson said he was shaky on his repeal vote last week. Then, most of his emails urging him to vote for repeal were from the faith community. What he has learned since last week's vote is that people in the pews aren't necessarily on the same page as church leadership, he said....
Another senator who voted for repeal -- Sen. John Murante of Gretna -- also is reconsidering his vote, he said. He is discussing it with many constituents who have called him over the past few days, he said. "I've always been torn on the issue of the death penalty," he said, "and I'm gathering as many opinions as I can before rendering a vote on the veto override."
Sounds like every single vote is going to matter now in Nebraska's unicameral legislature. Stay tuned.
"Implementing Just Mercy"
The title of this post is thew title of this notable new piece authored by William Berry III now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This book review essay explores the connection between Bryan Stevenson's recent book, "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption", and the development of concepts of individualized sentencing under the Sixth and Eighth amendments by the Supreme Court.
In light of these steps toward individualizing sentencing, this book review essay imagines a serious application of the principles of just mercy that Stevenson has championed in his legal career to the criminal justice system. Specifically, this essay argues that individualized consideration of criminal offenders throughout the criminal justice process — from policing to sentencing — is necessary to achieve the compatible (not competing) goals of justice and mercy.
The essay proceeds in three parts. Part One describes Stevenson’s book, highlighting the principles of just mercy latent in his narrative and their connection to the individualized consideration of criminal offenders. In Part Two, the essay shifts to argue that many of the current shortcomings of the criminal justice system result directly from stigmatizing alleged offenders rather than considering them individually as people possessing human dignity. Finally, in Part Three, the essay outlines a series of criminal justice reforms drawn from Stevenson’s experiences and the concepts of individualized consideration that emerge from pursuing just mercy.
SCOTUS grants cert on a federal sentencing case and state capital case
This morning's Supreme Court order list, available here, includes two grants of certiorari. Both cases are criminal cases, Lockhart v. US and Foster v. Humphrey, and here are the links to casepages and the issues via SCOTUSblog:
Lockhart v. US: Whether the mandatory minimum sentence of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(b)(2) is triggered by a prior conviction under a state law relating to "aggravated sexual abuse" or "sexual abuse," even though the conviction did not "involv[e] a minor or ward," an issue that divides the federal courts of appeals.
Foster v. Humphrey: Whether the Georgia courts erred in failing to recognize race discrimination under Batson v. Kentucky in the extraordinary circumstances of this death penalty case.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
You be the prosecutor: what sentence will you recommend for convicted "sex on beach" couple?
Regular readers may recall this post from earlier this month, titled "Imprisonment for 15 years for sex on the beach?!?! Really?!?!," which covered the possibility of one member of an indecent couple in Florida facing a mandatory 15-year prison sentence for shoreline dirty dancing with his girlfriend. But this follow-up post reported that State Attorney Ed Brodsky indicated that "he will not seek the maximum possible punishment — 15 years in prison — for the couple convicted of having sex in public on Bradenton Beach." Now this news update on the notable case indicates that sentencing is likely to be scheduled in the coming weeks and includes this partial preview:
Jose Caballero, 40, and Elissa Alvarez, 20, were convicted May 4 on two counts each of lewd and lascivious behavior for having sex on Cortez Beach on July 20, 2014. The convictions carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and require both to register as sex offenders....
The State Attorney's Office has said it will not seek the maximum penalty for either defendant, but is looking into jail time for both of them. [Assistant state attorney prosecutor Anthony] Dafonseca said they'd seek a harsher punishment against Caballero, who has served prison time for cocaine trafficking.
The defendants were represented by attorney Ronald Kurpiers, but Alvarez will be represented at sentencing by Greg Hagopian, according to Dafonseca. Hagopian said he didn't want to discuss the reason for Alvarez's switch. She had no criminal record before her conviction.
A few people filed letters on behalf of the defendants, saying the judge should take it easy on Alvarez and Caballero and not make them register as sex offenders. "You are likening these two individuals to deplorable people who have actually taken advantage of or violated children," read a letter signed by Femi Olukoya. "This state needs to grow up and that can start with you," read another letter.
The jury found the couple guilty after a 1 1/2 day trial and only 15 minutes deliberation. One of the witnesses took video of the two in July, showing Alvarez moving on Caballero in a sexual manner in broad daylight.
Unsuprisingly, prior posts about this case generated a lot of notable commentary, and now I am eager to focus discussion on how folks think the state prosecutors here ought to exercise their sentencing discretion. Specifically, I would really like folks to put themselves in the shoes of the Florida prosecutors and state, with some specificity, exactly what sentence they think should be recommended to the sentencing judge in this unusual criminal case.
Prior related post:
- Imprisonment for 15 years for sex on the beach?!?! Really?!?!
- Florida prosecutor says he will not seek 15-year prison terms for sex-on-beach convictions
Friday, May 22, 2015
Two notable voices from the (far?) right calling again for drug war and sentencing reform
The two recent stories about recent comments by notable advocates reinforce my sense that more and more traditional (and not-so-traditional) conservative voices are feeling more and more confortable vocally criticizing the federal drug war and severe drug sentencing:
Money Quotes: If you told me a year ago that I [Grover Norquist] would be speaking out in favor of one of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's top priorities, I would have said you were crazy. The governor is a tax-and-spend liberal and I have spent my entire career fighting high taxes and wasteful government spending. Yet, just as a broken clock gets it right once in a while, Gov. Malloy is right about the need to reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
Contrary to their original intent, mandatory minimum laws have done little to reduce crime. They have, however, been significant drivers of prison overcrowding and skyrocketing corrections budgets. That's why conservatives and liberals in Washington, D.C., and in statehouses all across the country are coming together to repeal and reform these one-size-fits-all laws. Oklahoma, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Florida are just a handful of the states where conservatives have not simply supported, but led, the efforts to scale back mandatory minimum sentences.
Conservatives in Connecticut should support the governor's mandatory minimum proposals for two reasons. First, the reforms are very modest — addressing only drug possession. In some states, such as Connecticut's neighbor, Rhode Island, and Delaware, lawmakers have repealed mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses. Still more states have enacted significant reform to their drug mandatory minimum laws so that judges have discretion to impose individualized sentences that fit the crime. In all of these states, crime rates have dropped.
Conservatives in Connecticut also should embrace sentencing reform because of the state's awful budget mess. For too long, fiscal hawks have turned a blind eye to wasteful law enforcement spending. Not wanting to appear "soft on crime," they have supported every program and policy to increase the prison population without subjecting those ideas to cost-benefit analysis.
Those days are over. After watching state spending on prisons skyrocket more than 300 percent over the last two decades, state leaders across the country seem to understand that they can no longer afford to warehouse nonviolent offenders in prison.
Money Quotes: Today on Glenn Beck's radio (and TV) show, I [Jacob Sullum] debated marijuana prohibition with Robert White, co-author (with Bill Bennett) of Going to Pot: Why the Rush to Legalize Marijuana Is Harming America. The conversation turned to the war on drugs in general and also touched on federalism, the Commerce Clause, the nature of addiction, and the moral justification for paternalistic interference with individual freedom. Reading from my recent Forbes column, Beck said he is strongly attracted to the Millian principle that "the individual is sovereign" over "his own body and mind," which rules out government intervention aimed at protecting people from their own bad decisions. "I'm a libertarian in transit," he said. "I'm moving deeper into the libertarian realm.... Inconsistencies bother me." By the end of the show, Beck was declaring that the federal government should call off its war on drugs and let states decide how to deal with marijuana and other psychoactive substances.
Addendum: Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell notes that Beck indicated he favored marijuana legalization back in 2009, saying, "I think it's about time we legalize marijuana... We either put people who are smoking marijuana behind bars or we legalize it, but this little game we are playing in the middle is not helping us, it is not helping Mexico and it is causing massive violence on our southern border... Fifty percent of the money going to these cartels is coming just from marijuana coming across our border." As far as I know, however, this is the first time Beck has explicitly called for an end to federal prohibition of all the other currently banned drugs.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Nebraska legislature votes by large margin to repeal state's death penalty
As reported in this new AP article, " Nebraska lawmakers gave final approval on Wednesday to a bill abolishing the death penalty with enough votes to override a promised veto from Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts." Here is more:
The vote was 32 to 15 in Nebraska's unicameral Legislature. If that vote holds in a veto override, Nebraska would become the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty since North Dakota in 1973. The Nebraska vote is notable in the national debate over capital punishment because it was bolstered by conservatives who oppose the death penalty for religious reasons and say it is a waste of taxpayer money.
Nebraska hasn't executed a prisoner since 1997, and some lawmakers have argued that constant legal challenges will prevent the state from doing so again.
Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, a death penalty supporter, has vowed to veto the bill. Ricketts announced last week that the state has bought new lethal injection drugs to resume executions. Ricketts, who is serving his first year in office, argued in his weekly column Tuesday that the state's inability to carry out executions was a "management problem" that he is committed to fixing.
Maryland was the last state to end capital punishment, in 2013. Three other moderate to liberal states have done so in recent years: New Mexico in 2009, Illinois in 2011, Connecticut in 2012. The death penalty is legal in 32 states, including Nebraska.
Spotlighting who profits from "Piling on Criminal Fees"
Professors Ronald Wright and Wayne Logan have this important new Huffington Post article summarizing the important themes from their important article titled "Mercenary Criminal Justice." Here are excerpts:
Criminal courts sometime function as fee-generating machines.... The problem here is not any single criminal fee; the problem is how they stack up to create injustice. That's why we are calling for a statewide Commission on Criminal Fees.
In a recent law review article, "Mercenary Criminal Justice," we chronicled the historically central role of fee-generation in U.S. criminal justice systems, a tendency that became even more pronounced as a result of the recent fiscal crisis. We call this system "mercenary" because the revenues affect the enforcement decisions of actors in the justice system, who start to depend on that revenue, and put their own job security above the job of doing individual justice. As the Justice Department's report on Ferguson noted, city officials there asked the police and courts to increase ticket collection, explicitly to increase their revenue, basically treating minor criminal offenders as ATM machines. This mistreatment is all the more troubling when the fees and fines land most heavily on racial minorities and the poor, as they routinely do...
The beneficiaries of the revenue hail from diverse and powerful institutions. Courts, crime labs, prosecutors, and even public defenders all see the dollar signs and make their requests. What's the harm, after all, in asking for another $100 from an arrestee, convict, or probationer?
And it is not only government employees who have their hands out: private sector actors (with profit motives) have increasingly gotten a piece of the action. Courts, for instance, ask private contractors to collect fees and fines, allowing them to add their own service charges to the total bill. Private companies, moreover, have been active in probation services. More recently, the American Legislative Exchange Council (or ALEC) started promoting a variation on this theme -- called "post-conviction bail" -- that empowers private bail bond dealers to monitor defendant compliance with post-release conditions. If the released inmate does not comply, the dealer tracks him down and collects a new financial penalty.
Any one of these fees or fines might be a reasonable part of a non-prison punishment, promoting public safety and the interests of defendants alike. The trouble comes when nobody minds the total effects of all these fees on individuals. Taken together, even the most modest and well-justified fees can trap the indigent in the control of criminal courts, always paying but never paying their debt down to zero. We believe that a statewide Commission on Criminal Fees can see the big picture and prevent this piling-on effect. Before authorizing a new fee to support the state crime lab, for instance, the Commission would ask how that fee interacts with the public defender's application fee, the probation supervision fee, and all the other fees currently imposed on individuals ensnared in the justice system.
May 20, 2015 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Has death penalty administration now become a "testing ground for toxic drugs"?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by the subheadline of this lengthy new New Republic piece: "Lethal Entanglements: Lethal injection was supposed to be a cleaner, more humane version of capital punishement. Over the past five years, it has become a messy, largely unmonitored testing ground for toxic drugs." Here are is a passage from the center of the lengthy article:
Lethal injection was first adopted in Oklahoma in 1977 as a less violent alternative to the gas chamber and the electric chair. Over the next 25 years, almost every death-penalty state copied Oklahoma’s three-drug formula: first the barbiturate sodium thiopental to knock the prisoner out, then the paralytic pancuronium bromide to immobilize him, and finally potassium chloride to stop his heart. The second and third drugs would cause intense suffering on their own, but the Supreme Court ruled that the method was constitutional in Baze: As long as the thiopental rendered the prisoner unconscious, he would be insensate to the agonizing effects of the next two drugs. Just one year after the Baze decision, though, in late 2009, the pharmaceutical company that sold thiopental to every death-penalty state, Hospira, reported a shortage.
As a consequence, the death penalty has undergone in the past five years its biggest transformation since states began switching to lethal injection decades ago. As thiopental disappeared, states began executing prisoners with experimental one-, two-, or three-drug cocktails. States have essentially been improvising what is supposed to be one of their gravest and most deliberate duties, venturing deep into the shadows to carry out executions. They have turned to mail-order pharmaceutical suppliers and used untested drugs. They have sidestepped federal drug laws, minimized public disclosure, and, on multiple occasions, announced changes to execution protocols just hours before prisoners were set to die. The machinery of death in the United States has become a kluge.
In April, the Supreme Court acknowledged this when it heard oral arguments in Glossip v. Gross. A group of prisoners from Oklahoma — including Richard Glossip, a convicted murderer — challenged the state’s use of a drug called midazolam because they feared it would not anesthetize them. The court had hoped Baze would obviate future lethal injection lawsuits, but the thiopental shortage had stripped the decision of any practical relevance almost as soon as it was issued. Now, just seven years later, the justices were considering whether they should invalidate a specific method of execution for the first time in U.S. history. The court’s decision won’t overturn the death penalty, but it will define the way we practice it for years to come.
Though the challenge comes from Oklahoma, it is Arizona that provides the best case study of the rapid, slipshod evolution of lethal injection since Baze. The desert state hasn’t executed the most prisoners since the thiopental shortage began — that distinction belongs, as always, to Texas — but it has used more methods than any other state, killing prisoners with four different drug combinations. No other state has been quite so dogged in its determination to carry out executions. And no other state has left so detailed a paper trail. Judges, lawyers, and journalists (most notably Michael Kiefer at The Arizona Republic) have brought much of the abuses to light over the years, but the story has been told in disparate pieces: a deposition here, an uncovered email there. The complete narrative is more troubling than any one of its components.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
"NY Senate votes to create registry of violent felons"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article sent my way by a helpful reader. Here are excerpts:
The New York state Senate has voted to create a public list of those convicted of violent felonies similar to the existing sex offender registry. The proposal is intended to prevent future crimes, and in particular domestic violence, by allowing people to check if a new acquaintance has a violent past.
The legislation is named Brittany's Law after Brittany Passalacqua, a 12-year-old from Geneva who was murdered in 2009 along with her mother by her mother's then boyfriend. The boyfriend had a prior conviction for a violent felony.
Brittany’s grandmother, Dale Driscoll, remarked: “Words cannot express the gratitude my family and I have for Senator Nozzolio and his dedication and commitment to seeing ‘Brittany’s Law’ adopted into law. The murder of my daughter and granddaughter devastated our family. If this legislation prevents another family from suffering the loss we have experienced, then my daughter and granddaughter will not have died in vain. People should have the right to know if a person is a violent felon and I will continue to do everything I can to push this measure in the State Assembly.”...
The Senate passed the bill Monday. Similar legislation is pending in the Assembly but no vote has been scheduled.
Critics argue a registry could stigmatize ex-offenders and make it harder for them to secure jobs and housing after they are released.
Notable sentencing and clemency comments from newly-confirmed Deputy Attorney General
I just came across this recent Washington Post profile of Sally Quillian Yates, the new number two at the Department of Justice. The piece is headlined "New deputy attorney general: ‘We’re not the Department of Prosecutions’," and here are some notable excerpts:
The odds were stacked against lawyer Sally Quillian in her first trial in rural Barrow County, Ga. Before an all-white jury, she was representing the county’s first African American landowning family against a developer over a disputed title to six acres of land. The family was so distrustful of the court system back in the 1930s that they hadn’t recorded their deed. Instead, the family’s matriarch kept the deed, written on cloth, folded inside her dress every day while she worked the fields. Now, a developer was trying to take their property, and Quillian was arguing the case using an arcane legal theory.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Quillian — now Sally Quillian Yates — recalled. “I had never tried a case before.” But the jury came back with a verdict in favor of her client. “These 12 white jurors, who knew and went to church with and socialized with everybody on the other side, did the right thing,” said Yates, who was then at a private firm. “This court system that my client’s family had mistrusted so much that they wouldn’t even file their deed had worked for them as it’s supposed to and had given them back the property that had been so important to their family all of these years.”
That case some 30 years ago had a deep impact on Yates, who went on to become a prosecutor in Atlanta for 20 years. In 2010, President Obama nominated Yates to be the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. Last week, she was confirmed to be deputy attorney general , the second-highest-ranking position at the Justice Department. A bottle of champagne still sits in her fourth-floor corner office, which overlooks Constitution Avenue and where senior officials celebrated her 84-to-12 Senate vote....
One of Yates’s priorities will be to follow through with the criminal justice reform efforts begun by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., including the push to give clemency to “nonviolent drug offenders” who meet certain criteria set out by the department last year, she said in her first interview since taking the job.
Yates and other prosecutors enforced the harsh sentencing policies from the 1980s and ’90s. “Those policies were enacted at a time of an exploding violent-crime rate and serious crack problems,” Yates said. “They were based on the environment we were in. But things have changed now, and violent crime rates have dropped dramatically.”
More than 35,000 inmates are seeking clemency, but a complicated review process has slowed the Obama administration’s initiative. In February, Obama commuted the sentences of 22 drug offenders, the largest batch of prisoners to be granted early release under his administration and the first group of inmates who applied after the new criteria were set.
“Certainly, there’s some growing pains at the beginning,” Yates said. “There’s start-up time involved in this. I think all of us are frustrated that it’s taken longer than we would like for this to be operating as efficiently as possible. But I think we are headed down that road now. There are going to be more recommendations from the department, and I would expect more commutations that the president will be issuing.”...
Yates commutes every other weekend to Atlanta to be with her husband, who is the director of a school for children with learning disabilities, and to plan the wedding of her 24-year-old daughter, the older of two children. She said the back-and-forth is worth the opportunity to influence criminal justice issues, including civil rights and sentencing reform, at the highest level.
She plans to urge lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass legislation to change sentencing policies. “Certainly, I don’t think I can ever be accused of being soft on crime,” Yates said. “But we need to be using the limited resources we have to ensure that we are truly doing justice and that the sentences we’re meting out are just and proportional to the crimes that we’re charging.”
“We’re not the Department of Prosecutions or even the Department of Public Safety,” Yates said. “We are the Department of Justice.”
Some recent posts of note from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
I have not recently done in this space a round-up of posts of note from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform in a few weeks. Here is an abridged listing of MLP&R posts that might be of special interest to sentencing fans:
Is a former lobbyist and former federal prisoner likely to be a uniquely good sentencing reform advocate?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new CQ Roll Call article headlined "Out of Prison, Ex-Lobbyist Pushes Sentencing Overhaul." Here are excerpts:
Kevin Ring helped write a bill in the 1990s that toughened penalties for methamphetamine charges. Now, recently out of prison, the former Team Abramoff lobbyist says he wants Congress to overhaul the nation’s justice system and to undo mandatory minimum requirements altogether.
His own effort comes at a pivotal time for the issue on Capitol Hill, where bipartisan measures (S 502, HR 920) to reduce stiff sentencing requirements for drug charges appear to be gaining some traction.
Ring, a former Hill aide, is wrapping up his 20-month sentence for an honest services fraud conviction by serving home confinement that allows him to work in downtown Washington, D.C. He is drawing on his K Street and criminal justice experiences at Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group devoted to peeling back the same sort of laws he helped push through while serving as a Senate Judiciary Committee staffer.
“We wanted to look tough on meth,” said Ring, a Republican, who recently started working full-time as FAMM’s new director of strategic initiatives. “The Hill is run by too many 20-year-olds with a lot of opinions and not enough experience, and I was part of that. I didn’t have enough experience to write criminal statutes. What did I know?”
Ring is a former colleague of ex-K Street power player Jack Abramoff, and like Abramoff he went to the federal prison camp in Cumberland, Md. Ring started working with FAMM part-time five years ago, doing grant writing. He’d already lost two jobs at K Street firms amid the unraveling Abramoff scandal, and he needed work. He had to terminate all outside employment during his prison term.
“When he first interviewed with us, he was incredibly humble, hat in hand, and said, ‘I’m about to be indicted,’” recalled Julie Stewart, FAMM’s president and founder and a self-described libertarian. “I immediately realized what an incredible gem we had in Kevin because of his conservative background. It was very clear to me that Kevin could do so much good for FAMM and for our issue and promoting it in a voice that could really be heard by the people we were trying to influence on the Hill.” FAMM, she noted, is a rare organization that gets funding from conservative David Koch and liberal George Soros.
Ring, 44, said he doesn’t expect he will meet the legal definition of a lobbyist at FAMM, but he intends to write op-eds, congressional testimony and advocacy letters. In short, he plans to influence the process largely from the background. It's not likely to be an easy sell.
Even as the White House and Republicans on the Hill, including Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, are championing sentencing overhaul legislation, such proposals are far from a fait accompli. Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa has pushed back on criticism that he is blocking sentencing legislation, but he’s made clear his support would come with a price....
Grassley, in a recent speech at the Press Club, said white-collar criminals such as Ring receive "paltry sentences." He has suggested such criminals ought to be subject to mandatory minimums in exchange for reduced minimums for nonviolent drug offenders. "The last thing we need is to take away a tool that law enforcement and prosecutors use to get the bad guys," Grassley said.
His spokeswoman, Beth Levine, said Grassley’s staff and aides to the lawmakers pushing for sentencing legislation “have been sitting down to work something out.”
FAMM, as well as Ring, opposes new mandatory minimum requirements for white-collar crimes. “It’s an awful, awful idea,” Ring said during an interview last week in FAMM’s offices near Metro Center. “Even without mandatory minimums, prosecutors can threaten you with such a long sentence that you want to plead guilty.”
He said the mandatory minimums have inflated sentencing guidelines across crimes, even those not subject to mandatory sentences. In Ring’s case, prosecutors asked the judge to sentence him to at least 20 years in prison. He said even his current home confinement, which includes a GPS ankle tracker to monitor his location 24 hours a day, is surprisingly restrictive and ought to be used more for nonviolent offenders — keeping them out of the prison system and allowing them to continue to work, pay taxes and care for their children.
It’s a message that resonates with budget-conscious Republicans, especially those with a libertarian stance. Stewart, who started FAMM 24 years ago, when her brother went to federal prison for growing marijuana in Washington state, said the current conversation on Capitol Hill and across the country is unprecedented. “My one fear is that talk is cheap,” she said. “It’s going to be a push.”
And Ring will be right in the middle of it. “I believed it before, and now I just feel like I’m better informed for having had the experience,” Ring said. “You know I wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone, but now that I have it, I feel compelled to say what I saw. So that goes to not only how prosecutions work, how sentencing works, but then also how prisons work or don’t work.”