Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Florida Governor signs bill seeking to speed up executionsAs reported in this recent local article, headlined "Gov. Rick Scott signs bill to speed up executions in Florida," the Sunshine State has a new law seeking to improve the administration of capital punishment. Here are the basics:
Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law Friday aimed at accelerating the pace of the death penalty process in Florida that could make the governor the most active executioner in modern state history.
The measure, dubbed “the Timely Justice Act” by its proponents, requires governors to sign death warrants 30 days after the Florida Supreme Court certifies that an inmate has exhausted his legal appeals and his clemency review. Once a death warrant is signed, the new law requires the state to execute the defendant within six months.
In a lengthy letter accompanying his signature, Scott aggressively countered allegations by opponents that the law will “fast track” death penalty cases and emphasized that it “discourages stalling tactics” of defense attorneys and ensures that the convicted “do not languish on death row for decades.”
The bill, which passed the House 84-34 and was approved by the Senate 28-10, allows the governor to control the execution schedule slightly because it requires him to sign a death warrant after the required clemency review is completed and only the governor may order the clemency investigation. Scott’s office told lawmakers that because at least 13 of the 404 inmates on Death Row have exhausted their appeals, his office has already started the clock on the clemency review....
Supporters said 154 inmates have been on Florida’s Death Row 20 years and 10 have been there for more than 35 years. The average time for appeals runs 13 years, which is below the national average of 14.8 years.
Death penalty opponents flooded the governor’s office with letters and petitions, urging him to veto the bill and ask the Legislature to instead change what they consider a deeply flawed death penalty process in Florida....
The law imposes strict time limits for when records must be submitted from courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys in an attempt to streamline the appeals process. It also requires reports to the Legislature on how many cases have been pending, reestablishes a Death Row appeals office for North Florida and bans attorneys from handling capital appeals if they have been twice cited for constitutionally incompetent handling of cases.
The signing letter referenced in this article by Gov Rick Scott is available at this link. And, building mostly on this legal development in Florida, Stateline has this lengthy new report headlined "Some States Speed Up Death Penalty," which starts this way:
Supporters and opponents of capital punishment agree: The current death penalty is expensive, inefficient, and arbitrary. Some state legislatures have reacted to those faults by abolishing the death penalty, while others are trying to speed it up.
Since 2007, six states have abolished capital punishment — most recently Maryland, which did so this year. But other states, troubled by some of the same problems, have moved in the opposite direction.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Seeking comments on what to say in comments to the US Sentencing Commission about its prioritiesA wise colleague wisely suggested to me that this year might be an especially wise time to convert all my ideas and concerns about the work of the US Sentencing Commission into formal comments for formal submission to the USSC as a formal response to this formal statement of the USSC's proposed priority policy issues for the amendment cycle ending May 1, 2014.
The USSC's six-page Federal Register statement of tentative priorities lists just about every topic that has consumed the recent work of the Commission, ranging from mandatory minimums to post-Booker sentencing patterns to the child porn guidelines to the drug guidelines to economic crimes and lots of stuff in between (including even some back-end sentencing stuff like the compassionate release guidelines). Nevertheless, there are still plenty of topics not mentioned that I think should be high on the Commission's agenda, ranging from the impact of sequester on the operation of the federal criminal justice system to the enduring need for serious guideline simplification to the overwhelming problem of undue sentencing severity.
Here is the official statement of the official rules for submitting official public comments to the USSC:
The Commission hereby gives notice that it is seeking comment on [its] tentative priorities and on any other issues that interest ed persons believe the Commission should address during the amendment cycle ending May 1, 2014. To the extent practicable, public comment should include the following: (1) a statement of the issue, including, where appropriate, the scope and manner of study, particular problem areas and possible solutions, and any other matters relevant to a proposed priority; (2) citations to applicable sentencing guidelines, statutes, case law, and constitutional provisions; and (3) a direct and concise statement of why the Commission should make the issue a priority.
Appropriately, the final line in the USSC's notice includes this fitting kicker: "Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 994( g), the Commission also invites public comment that addresses the issue of reducing costs of incarceration and overcapacity of prisons, to the extent it is relevant to a proposed priority."
So, to the extent practicable, I would love to hear from readers about what they think I should make sure to put into my formal comments to the USSC. I have until July 15 to get this done, but I would very much like to have a document ready to send out not long after I enjoy the rocket's red blare this coming Independence Day.
Monday, June 17, 2013
"Lafler and Frye: Two Small Band-Aids for a Festering Wound"The title of this post is the title this notable new paper by Albert Alschuler now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This article contends that two recent Supreme Court decisions concerning the assistance of counsel in plea bargaining do not warrant the hype bestowed upon them by professors and the press. Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye did not significantly change the law, and even if these decisions had been bolder, they could not have done much to make effective legal assistance more likely. Our plea-bargaining system both subjects defense attorneys to serious temptations to disregard their clients’ interests and makes it impossible to determine whether defendants have received effective assistance.
Much of the article focuses on a partly empirical, partly jurisprudential issue that divided the majority and dissenting justices: Does plea bargaining reward defendants who plead guilty or instead penalize those who stand trial? The author of the principal dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia, maintained that plea bargaining enables defendants “to serve less time than the law says [they] deserve.” Justice Kennedy responded for the majority that defendants “who take their case to trial and lose receive longer sentences than even Congress or the prosecutor might think appropriate, because the longer sentences exist on the books largely for bargaining purposes.”
The article contends that the issue can be resolved and that the majority has it right. America did not achieve the world record for mass incarceration by giving 95% of all convicted offenders less punishment than they deserve. Indeed, no sane nation would be likely to sentence 95% of its convicts to less than they deserve or than effective deterrence requires. This nation would be far more likely to impose additional punishment on a small minority to save the cost of trials. It’s no coincidence that the nation most dependent on plea bargaining is also the nation that incarcerates the highest proportion of its population. By lowering the cost of imposing criminal punishment, plea bargaining has given America more of it.
The Lafler-Frye majority disregarded the implications of its position when it declared plea agreements beneficial to both parties. If post-trial sentences are imposed simply for the purpose of inducing guilty pleas (as the Supreme Court recognizes five-to-four), plea bargaining benefits both parties only in the sense that a gunman’s demand for your money or your life benefits you as well as the gunman. Proposals commonly are treated as coercive when refusing them would leave recipients worse off than they ought to be.
Along the way, the article considers what plea agreements should look like in a system that does what bargaining prosecutors and defense attorneys acknowledge (and boast) that they do, and it criticizes David Abrams’ empirical conclusion that plea bargains really aren’t bargains at all.
First-cut reactions as to what is big, and not so big, about Alleyne's reversal of Harris
I will likely have a lot to say about the specifics of the Sixth Amendment discussions in all the Alleyne opinions later today once I get more time to review the decision more closely. But I have three quick reactions about the ruling and its potential impact I wanted to share right away. I will give this trio of reactions these labels: big, not-so-big, could-be-huge.
The Big of Alleyne: though serious talk of a "Booker" fix to the advisory guidelines sentencing system has not had much juice for a very long time, the Alleyne ruling serves as a final nail in the "mandatory topless guidelines" idea that made the rounds as a potential legislative response to Blakely and Booker in the federal system. That "fix," which would have required judges to do fact-finding to raise guideline minimums without impacting maximums, depended on the validity and vitality of Harris. And Harris is now a goner.
The No-So-Big of Alleyne: though persons imprisoned now based on mandatory minimums triggered by judicial fact-finding might hope Alleyne is a new jurisprudential key to freedom, a host of doctrices may ensure very few new imprisoned persons get much benefit from Alleyne. For starters, the retroactivity doctrines of Teague and AEDPA may make it hard for those long ago sentenced to get their Alleyne claims even heard in court. Moreover, the harmeless error doctrines of Cotton and Recuenco may make it easy now for judges to say, even in those cases in which the issue can still be raised, that any Sixth Amendment error was harmless.
The Could-Be-Huge of Alleyne: there are any number of shaky exceptions and carve-outs to the full application of Apprendi doctrines, ranging from the prior-conviction exception of Almendarez-Torres to all sorts of efforts by lower courts to refuse to acknowledge Apprendi's potential impact on all sorts of judicial fact-finding that impacts punishment realities. If Alleyne (which comes just a year after Southern Union) portends a Court now willing and eager to keep taking up Apprendi issues and extending the reach of the Sixth Amendment, we all might be in for quite an interesting Sixth Amendment ride over the next few Term. (And, for the really creative, perhaps Alleyne could be combined with Peugh to perhaps even generate procedural protections even for federal defendants sentencing in a post-Booker world.)
Prior related post on Alleyne ruling:
- Per Justice Thomas in 5-4 SCOTUS split, Alleyne extends Sixth Amendment to findings triggering mandatory minimums
June 17, 2013 in Almendarez-Torres and the prior conviction exception, Apprendi / Blakely Retroactivity , Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack
Per Justice Thomas in 5-4 SCOTUS split, Alleyne extends Sixth Amendment to findings triggering mandatory minimumsBig news from SCOTUS today for sentencing fans, with this (abridged) initial report coming from the fine folks live-blogging at SCOTUSblog:
Alleyene: Any fact that increases the mandatory minimum is an "element" that must be submitted to the jury. 5-4 opinion per Justice Thomas.
Majority is Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Dissent by Roberts, joined by Scalia and Kennedy. Alito dissents separately.... Justice Sotomayor also filed a concurring opinion....
This is a major criminal law ruling on the right to a jury trial. The Court reverses an earlier contrary ruling....
And here is the money quote from the majority opinion: "Because there is no basis in principle or logic to distinguish facts that raise the maximum from those that increase the minimum, Harris was inconsistent with Apprendi. It is, accordingly, overruled." Alleyne, slip op at 15.
Based on a much-too-quick first read, this Alleyne ruling seems to be everything (and not much more) than what should have been expected and predicted when the Court granted cert to reconsider Harris. With all new Justices filling in the roles and votes of their predecessors, Harris gets reversed now because (and only because) Justice Breyer is no longer willing to prop up the ruling. And, as he continues to play Hamlet with Sixth Amendment doctrine, Justice Breyer also continues to dump on the whole Apprendi line of case.
As I predicted in this post last November (and especially with speculations precedents inother areas perhaps being in jeopardy), the most interesting and enduring significance of Alleyne is the sparring between Justices Sotomayor and Alito over stare decisis. I suspect after the con law folks get over their disappointment that we did not get any huge SCOTUS rulings today, there will be some enduring buzz over what all the Justices had to say (and not say) about stare decisis in Alleyne.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Notable comments and recommendations emerging from Ohio Death Penalty Task Force
As I have mentioned before, I have generally been disinclined to blog about my on-going work as a member of the Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty (background here). But there was some notable developments at this past week's public meeting of the Task Force which I thought would be of broad interest to readers of this blog. This report from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, headlined "Task force urges state panel be created to evaluate death penalty prosecutions," provides the highlights:
A state task force is recommending that Ohio create a panel under the state attorney general that would review potential death penalty cases before prosecutors could take them to trial.
Under current Ohio law, the power to decide when to pursue the death penalty rests in the hands of individual county prosecutors. But the recommendation by the Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio's Death Penalty would give the new panel authority to disapprove death penalty charges.
The recommendation is an attempt to address disparities in death penalty prosecutions in Ohio, said Ohio Public Defender Timothy Young, who chaired a subcommittee that drafted the recommendation. “The two biggest disparities my group has dealt with are race issues and geographic issues,” Young said. In the case of race issues, they revolve around the race of the victim. “I think it’s vitally important that we do something about disparity and the death penalty,” Young said. “The numbers are overwhelming.”
Once a prosecutor made a decision, the panel -- made up of staff from the attorney general’s office and former county prosecutors appointed by the governor -- would review that decision. It would look at the circumstances of the case, giving particular consideration to the races of those charged and the victims, said Jo Ellen Cline, government relations counsel to the Ohio Supreme Court and the court’s liaison to the joint task force. “It would be a significant change in how things operate now,” Cline said.
The task force’s recommendation has a long way to go before it could become reality. It likely will be late in the year before the task force finishes its work, and some recommendations, including this one, would require legislative action to change state law. Given that, not all of the details on how the panel would work, or if a prosecutor would have some recourse if opposed to the panel’s decision, are not nailed down. That specificity would likely come from the General Assembly, Cline said.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, with the Ohio State Bar Association, established the joint task force in 2011. It is charged with determining if capital punishment in Ohio is administered fairly and judiciously and to examine if adjustments are needed....
Far and away the majority of Ohio’s capital cases come from urban areas, Young said. And while they should naturally see more, simply because of population, their numbers are also greater per capita. “We have more than 40 counties that have never brought a death penalty case,” Young said.
There are a myriad of possibilities for why that is the case. The goal of the recommendation is to find more of a common standard, Young said. “Right now you have 88 prosecutors, all well intentioned,” Young said. “Our thought process was that if it went through a central committee that would even out those 88 applications.” Young said there was was significant debate on the recommendation, which was approved by a vote of 8 to 6.
Much of the debate dealt with the impact it would have on what now is a matter of prosecutorial discretion. And Young said he would not be surprised if those opposed to the recommendation write a dissenting opinion for the final report. Cline agreed. “They’re concerned that the prosecutors were elected by the folks in their jurisdictions to make these decisions,” she said.
Other developments in this week's meeting also made news as revealed by this Columbus Dispatch article headlined "Former Justice Stratton says she’s now opposed to death penalty." It starts this way:
In nearly three terms on the Ohio Supreme Court, former Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton sided with the majority most of the time when convicted murderers were put to death. From 1996 through the end of last year, spanning the time Stratton was a justice on the court, Ohio executed 49 men by lethal injection.
But nearly six months after leaving the court, the Republican, now an attorney in private practice in Columbus, has changed her views. Stratton yesterday told members of an Ohio Supreme Court task force reviewing administration of the death penalty that she didn’t have a strong feeling about capital punishment while serving on the court.
“I have evolved to where I don’t think the death penalty is effective,” she said in an interview. “I don’t have a moral inhibition ... Overall, it’s just not the best way to deal with it on a number of different levels.”
Stratton said she has long opposed executions involving mentally ill defendants, but she now opposes capital punishment in general because she doesn’t see it as a deterrent and victims’ families don’t gain the finality they seek when the murderer is put to death.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Sixth Circuit calls for briefing on Eighth Amendment in Blewett crack sentencing retroactivity case
In this post a month ago, I first reported that a majorty of a Sixth Circuit panel in US v. Blewett, No. 12-5226 (6th Cir. May 17, 2013) (available here), used equal protection principles to justify giving the new crack statutory sentencings levels of the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive effect. In that post, I noted that was unsure that a "Fifth Amendment equal protection theory provides a strong constitutional foundation" for Blewett, but I also suggested, "in the wake of the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act and the USSC's implementation of its new 18-1 crack guidelines retroactively, that a proper application of the Eighth Amendment could and should provided a reasoned and reasonable basis to give full retroactive effect to all the provisions of the FSA." In turn, I was not at all surprised when the government, as reported here, assailed the majority opinion in Blewett when seeking en banc review with the full Sixth Circuit a couple of weeks ago.
I am not quite pleased and excited to learn that the Sixth Circuit now seems interested in the Eighth Amendment as I am in Blewett, as evidenced by the text of a letter sent yesterday to counsel in Blewett:
RE: Case Nos. 12-5226/5582
USA v. Cornelius D. Blewett and Jarreous J. Blewitt
In connection with the prosecution’s Petition for Rehearing En Banc, the United States should submit a brief of not more than fifteen (15) pages by June 28, 2013, addressing whether the Blewetts’ punishment in this case based on a 100-to-1 ratio of crack to powder cocaine is constitutionally disproportionate in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause. See Solem v. Helm, 463 U.S. 277, 290 (1983) (striking down imposition of sentence of life without parole for passing a worthless check because “a criminal sentence must be proportionate to the crime for which the defendant has been convicted”). The Blewetts should also submit a brief of not more than thirty (30) pages in response to the Petition for Rehearing En Banc filed by the United States by June 28, 2013, that includes both their response to the Petition for Rehearing and their argument concerning the Eighth Amendment issue stated above.
I had been assuming the Sixth Circuit was going to grant en banc review in Blewett, and I had been gearing up to author an amicus brief on Eighth Amendment issues once that proceeding was set up and a briefing schedule set. And while I am now so very pleased to discover that the Sixth Circuit has ordered the parties to brief Eighth Amendment issues as it considers the government's en banc petition, I am now uncertain as to whether I can and should try to file my friendly thoughts on this topic with the Sixth Circuit later this month. Thoughts, dear readers?
Related posts on Blewett:
- On (wrong?) constitutional grounds, split Sixth Circuit panel gives full retroactive effect to new FSA crack sentences
- "Crackheaded Ruling by Sixth Circuit"
- How quickly can and will (hundreds of) imprisoned crack defendants file "Blewett claims"?
- Two weeks later, has there been any significant and noteworthy Blewett blowback?
- As expected, feds ask full Sixth Circuit to review and reverse Blewett crack retroactivity ruling
June 14, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, New USSC crack guidelines and report, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack
"Records Show Nearly 500 Years In Prison Time For Medical Marijuana Offenses"The title of this post is the heading of this notable new entry on The Weed Blog, which gets started this way:
In spite of growing public support for medical marijuana, concern about overreach by the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies, and cutbacks in federal spending, the U.S. government’s war on medical marijuana is raging unabated according to a survey of court records by Cal NORML.
On Tuesday, Michigan medical marijuana grower Jerry Duval, a kidney and pancreas transplant patient with severe medical problems, began serving a ten-year sentence in the same prison as the Boston bomber. Duval joins a growing list of defendants in states that allow medical marijuana who have been charged by the Department of Justice for violating federal laws prohibiting medical marijuana.
According to a survey of US court records, news stories, and case reports compiled by Cal NORML (with help from Americans for Safe Access):
• Over 335 defendants have been charged with federal crimes related to medical marijuana in states with medical marijuana laws.
• 158 defendants have received prison sentences totaling over 480 years for medical marijuana offenses. Some 50 are currently in federal prison, while more are waiting to be sentenced or surrender.
• Over 90% of the criminal cases settled to date have resulted in convictions. 10% have been dismissed. A single defendant has been acquitted. Federal law typically prohibits defendants from invoking medical marijuana in their defense.
• 153 medical marijuana cases have been brought in the 4 ¼ years of the Obama administration, nearly as many as under the 8 years of the Bush administration (163).
• Not a single pardon or clemency petition has been granted to a medical marijuana defendant by President Obama or his predecessors.
• One seriously ill defendant, Richard Flor, has died while in federal prison, and two others, Peter McWilliams and Steve McWilliams (no relation) died while being denied access to medical marijuana on bail. Other seriously ill patients who have who have been sentenced to lengthy terms include Dale Schafer, a hemophiliac currently serving 5 years along with his wife Mollie Fry, a cancer patient (pictured above); Vernon Rylee, who served nearly 5 years in a wheelchair (pictured right), and Jerry Duval.
• At least 259 defendants have been charged in California; over 31 in Montana; 6 in Oregon; 15 in Nevada; 12 in Michigan; 2 in Colorado; and 10 in Washington.
A few other recent notable posts on the same blog include the following:
- Obama Has Already Outspent Bush By $100 Million On Medical Marijuana Enforcement
- Prohibition Hurts Science According To Researchers
- Does Marijuana Make You Stupid?
Lots of reasonable debate over the guidelines and reasonable review from Second Circuit judges
With thanks to the readers who alerted me, I wanted to alert everyone else to todays Second Circuit opinion in US v. Ingram, No. 12-1058 (2d Cir. June 14, 2013) (available here). The per curiam opinion, which affirms a below guideline drug sentence, is not at all notable (and runs only 3 pages).
But the concurring opinions are both must reads: the first is by Judge Calabresi and runs 14 pages, the second is by Judge Raggi and runs 17 pages to explain why she thinks the prior 14 pages are all washed up. As a reader put it, the two Second Circuit jurists here "have at it on various psychological, philosophical, and practical matters concerning sentencing under the Guidelines."
Thursday, June 13, 2013
"The Non-Redelegation Doctrine" with post-Booker sentencing in mindNow available via SSRN is this intriguing new article from F. Andrew Hessick III and Carissa Byrne Hessick, which is titled simply "The Non-Redelegation Doctrine." Here is the abstract, which highlights why this article should be of special interest to sentencing fans:
In United States v. Booker, the Court remedied a constitutional defect in the federal sentencing scheme by rendering advisory the then-binding sentencing guidelines promulgated by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. One important but overlooked consequence of this decision is that it redelegated the power to set sentencing policy from the Sentencing Commission to federal judges. District courts now may sentence based on their own policy views instead of being bound by the policy determinations rendered by the Commission.
This Essay argues that, when faced with a decision that implicates a delegation, the courts should not redelegate unless authorized by Congress to do so. The proposed non-redelegation doctrine rests on both constitutional and practical grounds. Constitutionally, because delegation defines how Congress chooses to perform its core function of setting policy, judicial redelegation raises substantial separation of powers concerns. Practically, judicial redelegation is bound to affect the substantive policies that are adopted because the policies that the agent adopts depend on the agent’s unique characteristics and preferences. Although this Essay uses Booker to illustrate the need for the presumption, the presumption would apply equally to the myriad contexts in which Congress delegates its power to make policy and courts have the opportunity to alter that delegation.
SCOTUS holds in Davila judicial involvement in pleas subject to harmless error analysisVia the fine folks at SCOTUSblog, here are the quick highlights from the one sentencing-related opinion handed down by the US Supreme Court this morning:
US v. Davila. Opinion by Ginsburg for the Court. The decision of the Eleventh Circuit is vacated and remanded. There is a concurrence by Justice Scalia that joins part of the opinion and in the judgment; Justice Thomas joins that opinion.
Under the Federal Rules, vacatur of the plea is not in order if the record shows no prejudice to Davila's decision to plead guilty. This was a case in which the issue was whether there must be an automatic reversal if the judge played any role in the plea bargaining....
In Davila, the Eleventh Circuit had ruled that automatic reversal was required, which conflicted with essentially everyone else's ruling. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 prohibits judges from participating in plea agreements, but another subsection of the rule also provides that a “variance from the requirements” of Rule 11 is “harmless if it does not affect substantial rights,” so this one did not come as a huge surprise.
Arizona prosecutors say they are still planning to try again to get Jodi Arias sentenced to deathAs reported in this Reuters article, a "top Arizona prosecutor said on Wednesday that the state still plans to seek the death penalty for convicted murderer Jodi Arias for killing her ex-boyfriend, after a jury deadlocked last month on whether she should be executed." Here is more:
[T]he same eight-man, four-woman jury that convicted Arias of murder and quickly ruled her eligible for the death penalty subsequently failed to reach a consensus as to whether Arias should be executed, prompting a penalty phase mistrial.
The state of Arizona now has the option of retrying the sentencing phase of the trial, which would require a new jury be empanelled. If there is another deadlock, a judge would sentence Arias to natural life in prison, or life with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery told reporters prosecutors would ask a new sentencing jury to do what the previous one could not - put Arias to death. "At this point, we are still preparing to move forward to retry the penalty phase," Montgomery told a news conference.
After the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on May 23, Montgomery said that his office would assess its next steps, but was proceeding "with the intent to retry the penalty phase." A status hearing has been scheduled for June 20. A July 18 court date was set to select a new jury in the case.
Recent related posts:
- After high-profile state murder conviction, Jodi Arias claims she wants death penalty over LWOP
- Are there (and/or should there be) special death penalty rules for female murderers?
- Arizona jurors quickly make finding for Jodi Arias to be formally death eligible
- Notable developments in penalty phase of Jodi Arias' capital trial
- Jodi Arias now pleading for a life sentence before sentencing jury
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Bipartisan House Overcriminalization Task Force schedules first hearing for June 14I learned via this NACDL press release that Representative Jim Sensenbrenner Chairman Sensenbrenner has scheduled the first hearing of the Overcriminalization Task Force for this Friday, June 14, 2013, at 9:00 a.m. at 2237 Rayburn House Office Building." Here is more background and details via the release:
On May 7, 2013, The House Committee on the Judiciary voted unanimously to create the “Overcriminalization Task Force of 2013.” At a press briefing that day, Judiciary Committee and Overcriminalization Task Force leaders expressed agreement on the need to address several important issues, including the erosion of the mens rea (or criminal intent) requirement in federal criminal law, the often unnecessary duplication of state law in the federal code, overincarceration, and the explosion of regulatory offenses that some estimate may now number as high as 300,000, among other issues. Members also expressed the need to address mandatory minimum sentences.
According to Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), “The task force will be authorized for six months and will be led by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner and Ranking Member Bobby Scott.” It will “conduct hearings and investigations and issue a report on overcriminalization in the federal code, as well as possible solutions.” The task force is made up of five Democrats and five Republicans, and will include Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI) and Chairman Goodlatte as ex-officio members....
The topic of this first hearing is “Defining the Problem and Scope of Overcriminalization and Overfederalization.” [And here are the scheduled witnesses:]
Mr. Steven D. Benjamin, President, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Mr. John Malcolm, Rule of Law Programs Policy Director, The Heritage Foundation
Mr. William N. Shepherd, Chair, Criminal Justice Section, American Bar Association
The Honorable George Terwilliger, III, Partner, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
A webcast of the hearing as well as the written testimony of the witnesses will be made available [at this link].
Not surprisingly, early buzz about a possible plea for Cleveland kidnapper Ariel CastroAs reported in this USA Today article, headlined "Lawyer for Cleveland kidnap suspect hopes to avoid trial," an initial court appearance for Ariel Castro is already leading to talk of a possible plea in this high-profile case. Here are the basics:
The man accused of kidnapping and holding three women for a decade pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Cleveland to hundreds of criminal counts, but his lawyer said after the hearing that some of the charges "cannot be disputed" and that he hoped to avoid a trial.
Charges against Ariel Castro, 52, include murder, rape, kidnapping and torture -- and he could face the death penalty. Defense lawyer Craig Weintraub entered the plea in an arraignment that took about one minute. A pretrial hearing was set for June 19....
"We are very sensitive to the emotional strain and impact that a trial would have on the women, their families and this community," Weintraub said after the hearing. "Mr. Castro currently faces hundreds of years in prison with the current charges and it is our hope that we can continue to work towards a resolution to avoid having an unnecessary trial about aggravated murder and the death penalty."
A Cuyahoga County grand jury's 329-count indictment charges Castro, a musician and former school bus driver, with one count of aggravated murder for allegedly terminating one of his captives' pregnancies, 139 counts of rape and 177 charges of kidnapping, seven counts of gross sexual imposition, three counts of felony assault and one count of possession of criminal tools dating from the time of the first woman's disappearance until February 2007.
County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty has said the investigation is still underway. Additional charges could follow in a superseding indictment. The indictment charges Castro as a "sexually violent predator" who committed the murder and rapes in the course of a kidnapping. Those charges are considered aggravating factors that call for stiffer penalties. The murder charge is tied to one victim's fourth pregnancy, the indictment said.
"A not guilty plea at this stage requires the prosecutor to continue to evaluate their case to determine whether medical and forensic evidence can actually support an aggravated murder conviction, for the death of a fetus, and whether the death penalty is warranted," Weintraub said after the hearing.
The County Prosecutor's Capital Review Committee will consider whether prosecutors should seek the death penalty if Castro is convicted. Castro, who was fired last year from his bus driver job, is being held in the Cuyahoga County jail on $8 million bail....
Police allege in the indictment that Castro chained Knight to a pole in the basement and raped her the day after he took her captive. He allegedly taped Berry's legs and mouth, sexually assaulted her after she tried to escape, chained her to a pole in the basement with a motorcycle helmet on her head, chained her to a radiator in the bedroom, and attempted to strangle her with a vacuum cleaner cord, the indictment says. He also allegedly chained and assaulted DeJesus.
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"
"What the Sentencing Commission Ought to Be Doing: Reducing Mass Incarceration"The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Judge Lynn Adelman available via SSRN. With three new members of the US Sentencing Commission, the piece is especially timely, and here is the abstract:
The United States presently incarcerates about 2.3 million people. We imprison people at a higher rate than any other country and now house more than a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Incarcerating so many people raises important moral issues because the burden of incarceration is borne largely by minorities from impoverished inner city communities. Further, those incarcerated suffer detriments that go far beyond the legislated criminal penalty and doom many offenders to a continuing cycle of re-incarceration. Over-incarceration is also very costly.
The federal government contributes significantly to this problem. Every week it locks up a record number of people, presently about 216,000. While some states have recently reduced their prison populations, the federal prison population continues to increase. The principal reason for this is federal sentencing law. Since Congress enacted the Sentencing Reform Act (“SRA”) creating the Sentencing Commission and directing it to establish sentencing guidelines, the average federal sentence has more than doubled. Federal prisons are now at 138% of capacity and consume an ever-increasing share of the federal criminal justice budget.
There are only two ways that we can reduce the prison population: by sending fewer people to prison and imprisoning people for shorter lengths of time. Many observers believe that the sentences called for by the federal sentencing guidelines, which were mandatory until 2005 when the Supreme Court decided United States v. Booker and made them advisory, are too severe and could be significantly reduced without endangering public safety. The Commission, however, has shown no interest in making guideline sentences less harsh. Rather, its principal concern is that since Booker judges are imposing too many below guideline sentences and thereby creating disparity. Thus, it recently asked Congress to require sentencing judges to give additional weight to the guidelines and provide additional justification for sentences varying substantially from the guidelines, and to require appellate courts to presume the reasonableness of guideline sentences and to strictly scrutinize sentences based on policy disagreements with the guidelines. These restrictions would, of course, increase the federal prison population.
My essay argues that it serves no useful purpose for the Commission to continue to make its top priority curtailing judicial discretion in the name of reducing disparity. I contend not only that the system created by the SRA and the guidelines failed but that any system principally designed to reduce disparity will fail. I argue that, instead of attempting to curtail judicial discretion, the Commission should focus on the problem of over-incarceration. The Commission is statutorily authorized and institutionally well-positioned to address this problem and, by doing so, it could have a positive impact on the entire American criminal justice system. I propose that the Commission take such actions as modifying the guidelines to expand the use of probation, reducing the severity of numerous guidelines, developing a release program for elderly prisoners, lobbying Congress regarding mandatory minimum sentences, calling public attention to over-incarceration and others. I also contend that if the Commission is intent upon reducing disparity, the best way to do so is by making the guidelines less severe and thus making it more likely that judges will follow them.
Some recent related posts:
- Prez Obama makes three great new nominations to the US Sentencing Commission
- If (and when?) confirmed, will Judge William Pryor champion federalism concerns within the US Sentencing Commission?
- "How can a member of the US Sentencing Commission promote federalism?"
- Senate confirms new USSC Commissioners Barkow, Breyer and Pryor
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Notable capital habeas echo from Firth Circuit after complaint about Judge JonesAs reported in this local piece, headlined "Chief Judge: New Panel Will Be Assigned to Consider Death Row Appeal; Execution still slated for tomorrow," there has now been at least one procedural consequence of the resent complaint filed against Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones concerning her comments at a law school about the operation of the death penalty. Here are the basics:
The chief judge of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this afternoon ordered [via this panel ruling] a new three-judge panel of the court to be assigned to review the case of Texas death row inmate Elroy Chester who argues that comments made by Judge Edith Jones, detailed in a complaint filed last week with the court, indicate she cannot fairly rule in his case.
Whether Chester will be executed as planned, tomorrow night, June 12, is now in limbo. Chester was sentenced to die for the 1998 death of a well-liked Port Arthur fireman who he killed as part of a months-long crime wave. There is no doubt Chester is guilty of the crime, but there remains doubt about whether he is mentally retarded. If so he would be barred from execution under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the practice violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
To date, Chester's appeals on this point have been denied. Although experts, and even the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, have agreed that Chester has a low IQ and some deficits in adaptive functioning – two points that clinicians use to determine intellectual disability – the courts (including the CCA) have nonetheless determined that he is not too disabled to be executed. The nature of his crimes and other non-scientific factors upon which the Texas courts have relied to make such determinations are not unreasonable, the Fifth Circuit ruled in 2012.
That ruling was penned by the court's then-Chief Judge Edith Jones about whom a serious complaint of misconduct was filed by a handful of civil rights groups, with the Fifth Circuit's current Chief Judge Carl Stewart. The complaint alleges that Jones made a number of racist and biased comments during a lecture on the death penalty she gave at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law in February....
In response to the complaint, filed June 4, Chester's attorney, Alaska-based Susan Orlansky filed a motion with the Fifth Circuit to stay Chester's execution and to have a new three-judge panel review his previous appeal to the court – or, in the alternative, to have his execution stayed until the investigation into the complaint about Jones' behavior could be resolved. "The Court should not permit Mr. Chester to be executed amid troubling questions about the actual or apparent partiality of the judge who cast the deciding vote [denying his appeal] and [who] authored the opinion in his case."
Tuesday afternoon, Chief Judge Stewart agreed that a new panel should be constituted, but declined to stay tomorrow's execution – leaving three newly-assigned judges a little more than 24 hours to decide whether Chester's previous appeal should be revisited.
In determining that a new panel should be appointed, Stewart noted not only that Jones was subject to a misconduct complaint that raises "questions about the impartiality of the judge as respects petitioners like [Chester] and his underlying claims," Stewart wrote also that his duty to review that complaint gives him a "substantial role" in considering whether it should go forward. The third member of the panel, Judge James Dennis, is also placed an an odd conflicting position because the complaint against Jones also raises an issue about her as it pertains to an ugly episode during a 2011 oral argument during which she slams her hand on a desk and tells Dennis to "shut up" as he is questioning a lawyer about the case at bar.... "Given these extraordinary circumstances, the panel has concluded that another panel must be assigned to consider the pending motions," Stewart wrote today, though he declined to issue a stay of tomorrow night's slated execution, which would make Chester the 499th inmate put to death in Texas since reinstatement of the death penalty.
In a separate opinion, Dennis concurred with Stewart's decision to move the case to three different judges, but opined that the court should also stay the execution "in order to give the new panel adequate time to consider whether to recall the mandate and take further action in this case," he wrote. "If this court ultimately concludes that Chester's motion to recall the mandate is without merit, no irreparable harm will have been done to the state and the execution can be rescheduled," he continued. "Unless a temporary stay of the execution is granted, however, the court may be unable to give the issues presented the deliberate and judicious attention they deserve before the execution takes place. Chester's execution, of course, will moot those issues and any constitutional injury to his rights will be irreparable."
Recent related posts:
- Complaint filed against notable (notorious?) Fifth Circuit judge based on comments about death penalty
- "A Tale of Sound & Fury (But No Transcript): In Defense of Judge Edith Jones"
UPDATE: As reported in this local piece, Elroy Chester was executed by the state of Texas on Wednesday June 12.
Celebrity injustice?: NFL player Chad Johnson gets 30-days in county jail for lawyer butt patAs reported in this CNN piece, "Butt pat lands former NFL star Chad Johnson in jail," a low-level sentencing proceeding involving a high-profile defendant in Florida state court has become interesting fodder for debating courtroom decorum and celebrity justice. Here are the intriguing details:
As an NFL player, Chad Johnson patted a lot of men on the butt when he liked their work, but on Monday, defendant Chad Johnson found out that one Florida courtroom was not the place to play that game.
After Johnson patted his lawyer on the rear, Judge Kathleen McHugh rejected Johnson's plea to a probation violation in the domestic violence case involving Johnson and his then-wife, Evelyn Lozada. Johnson was arrested in May for not meeting with his probation officer and was in court Monday to enter a plea.
After he was asked if he was pleased with his attorney, the former wide receiver once known as "Chad Ochocinco" gave his lawyer, Adam Swickle, a gentle pat on the rear.
McHugh was furious when people in the audience laughed. "There's nothing funny about what's going on here today," she told Johnson.
Johnson, 35, replied that he wasn't laughing. Then McHugh said, "I don't think anything's funny about it, Mr. Johnson. This isn't a joke."
Johnson said he didn't do it as a joke. Swickle agreed, saying: "I don't think it was done as any disrespect to the court. I don't think he meant to get a reaction from the court room, judge."
The judge told Johnson she wouldn't accept a plea deal that involved only community service and more anger management counseling. Instead, she sentenced him to 30 days in jail and tacked three months onto his one-year probation, which would have ended in September.
Johnson seemed resigned to his fate. "Love me through the good and the bad because I'm gone love you regardless... See you in 30... " he tweeted later.
As I write this post, I am hearing Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith on First Take yelling at each other about sentencing practices, race, gender, incarceration and courtroom activities. Given that there is this video of what went down (with the key event just before the one-minute mark, and the judge's (over?)reaction just before the two-minute mark), I hope readers will provide their own takes on this notable example of celebrity sentencing.
Documenting problems with using electonic tracking for crime control in ColoradoThe Denver Post recently published this lengthy article headlined "Electronic monitoring of Colorado parolees has pitfalls," which documents that the benefit GPS tracking may depend on who monitors the monitoring. Here are exceprts:
One sex-offender parolee hooked his GPS tracking device to his dog's collar so he could consort with underage girls and collect firearms, drugs and ammunition, police say.
Another parolee disappeared from his motel the day he was tethered to an electronic monitor. He now is charged with raping two women and attempting to rape another. A third kept unplugging his monitoring device and ignored warnings that he stop moving without approval. Authorities now believe he killed a 59-year-old man at a motel.
Well before parolee Evan Ebel tore off his ankle bracelet in March and allegedly killed two people, including Colorado corrections chief Tom Clements, the state's electronic-monitoring system showed signs of trouble. A Denver Post review of parolee cases and monitoring data from October to April found that serious alerts sometimes went unheeded until it was too late, even as the system generated thousands of false and minor notifications.
Colorado's most dangerous parolees are outfitted with high-tech equipment that is supposed to keep a close watch on their whereabouts. Monitors are strapped to their ankles and receivers installed in their residences. In the most serious sex-offender cases, parolee movements are tracked by a GPS system.
But problems arise. Batteries run down. Plugs get ripped from wall sockets. The systems go dark. The Post found several cases in which parole officers responded slowly as parolees went off the grid and allegedly committed new violent crimes....
Tim Hand, the state's director of parole, requested an audit by the National Institute of Corrections, a U.S. Department of Justice agency, following the Ebel case. Hand has not talked publicly since being placed on administrative leave last month, but in an interview in April, he said electronic monitoring is a challenge.
"The public thinks we put an ankle bracelet on and everything is fine, but the electronic monitoring is just a tool," Hand said. "It's better, in my view, than not having that tool, but it doesn't mean that offender can't cut it off and run away. It doesn't mean we're going to be able to control that offender's every move."...
Under the state's new rules, when a tamper alert occurs, parolees will be required to stay at their residences until parole officials can visit with them. Parole officers, who previously had the discretion to respond on their own time frame, will be required to visit a parolee's home within 24 hours after a tamper alert to decide whether an arrest warrant is needed.
Officials also plan later this month to submit a $600,000-a-year plan to legislative leaders for a new parole unit to track down absconders. In the past, those roundups occurred on an ad-hoc basis using overtime payments to parole officers, with the assistance of local law enforcement. There are currently more than 800 Colorado parole absconders....
The data showed that a team of 212 parole officers had to respond to nearly 90,000 alerts and notifications generated by the electronic monitoring devices in the six months reviewed.
Carl Sagara, a past deputy director of parole and community corrections in Colorado, said he suspects that such high volume quickly can become overwhelming to parole officers. "These guys come into the office in the morning, and they have got 30 guys on electronic monitors, and the computer has so much information on all these guys, and the parole officers just go, 'Holy smokes,' " Sagara said.
In addition, many electronic-monitoring programs throughout the nation aren't staffed appropriately, said George Drake, a consultant who has worked on improving the systems. "Many times when an agency is budgeted for electronic-monitoring equipment, it is only budgeted for the devices themselves," Drake said. "That is like buying a hammer and expecting a house to be built. It's simply a tool, and it requires a professional to use that tool and run the program."
He added that programs also can get out of control if officials don't develop stringent protocols for how to respond to alerts and don't manage how alerts are generated. "I see agencies with so many alerts that they can't deal with them," Drake said. "They end up just throwing their hands up and saying they can't keep up with them."
Monday, June 10, 2013
"A Conservative Case for Prison Reform"The title of this post is the title of this op-ed appearing in today's New York Times and authored by Richard Viguerie, the chairman of ConservativeHQ.com. Here are excerpts:
Conservatives should recognize that the entire criminal justice system is another government spending program fraught with the issues that plague all government programs. Criminal justice should be subject to the same level of skepticism and scrutiny that we apply to any other government program.
But it’s not just the excessive and unwise spending that offends conservative values. Prisons, for example, are harmful to prisoners and their families. Reform is therefore also an issue of compassion. The current system often turns out prisoners who are more harmful to society than when they went in, so prison and re-entry reform are issues of public safety as well.
These three principles — public safety, compassion and controlled government spending — lie at the core of conservative philosophy. Politically speaking, conservatives will have more credibility than liberals in addressing prison reform.
The United States now has 5 percent of the world’s population, yet 25 percent of its prisoners. Nearly one in every 33 American adults is in some form of correctional control. When Ronald Reagan was president, the total correctional control rate — everyone in prison or jail or on probation or parole — was less than half that: 1 in every 77 adults.
The prison system now costs states more than $50 billion a year, up from about $9 billion in 1985. It’s the second-fastest growing area of state budgets, trailing only Medicaid. Conservatives should be leading the way by asking tough questions about the expansion in prison spending over the past three decades....
Too many offenders leave prisons unprepared to re-enter society. They don’t get and keep jobs. The solution lies not only inside prisons but also with more effective community supervision systems using new technologies, drug tests and counseling programs. We should also require ex-convicts to either hold a job or perform community service. This approach works to turn offenders from tax burdens into taxpayers who can pay restitution to their victims and are capable of contributing child support....
Right on Crime exemplifies the big-picture conservative approach to this issue. It focuses on community-based programs rather than excessive mandatory minimum sentencing policies and prison expansion. Using free-market and Christian principles, conservatives have an opportunity to put their beliefs into practice as an alternative to government-knows-best programs that are failing prisoners and the society into which they are released....
By confronting this issue head on, conservatives are showing that our principles lead to practical solutions that make government less costly and more effective. We need to do more of that. Conservatives can show the way by impressing on more of our allies and political leaders that criminal justice reform is part of a conservative agenda.
Some recent and older related posts:
- "Right on Crime: The Conservative Case for Reform" officially launches
- "NAACP, right-wing foes get friendly" when it comes to prison costs
- "Conservatives latch onto prison reform"
- NAACP head recognizes Tea Party favors some progressive criminal justice reforms (and sometimes more than Democrats)
- "Prison-Sentence Reform: A bill to give judges flexibility to impose shorter sentences deserves conservatives’ support."
- Wall Street Journal pitch for the Prez to get behind the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013
- Justice Safety Valve Act gets bipartisan introduction in House of Representatives
- "Bipartisan Legislation To Give Judges More Flexibility For Federal Sentences Introduced"
- Rand Paul begins forceful pitch in campaign against federal mandatory minimums
- Potent new quote from AG Eric Holder: "Too many people go to too many prisons for far too long for no good law enforcement reason"
- Another notable GOP member of Congress advocating for federal sentencing reform
"High Federalism: Marijuana Legalization and the Limits of Federal Power to Regulate States"The title of this post is the title of this new paper by David Schwartz which I just noticed via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The conflict between state marijuana legalization and the blanket federal marijuana prohibition of the Controlled Substances Act ("CSA") has created a federalism crisis in which the duties of state officials to adhere to state or federal law is unclear. Current federalism doctrine cannot even tell us whether or not a local police officer who encounters a person in state-authorized possession of marijuana must arrest the person and seize the marijuana.
The two most clearly applicable federalism doctrines -- the Tenth Amendment anti-commmandeering doctrine and the doctrine of federal preemption of state law under the Supremacy Clause -- offer only unsatisfactory answers. Anti-commandeering doctrine is incapable of telling us whether a federally imposed duty to arrest and seize the marijuana possessor is impermissible commandeering, permissible "general applicability," or permissible preemption, let alone answer the more complex federalism questions posed by state marijuana legalization. Alternatively, a strong preemption approach, while capable of producing consistent results in theory, would entail the virtual abandonment of the anti-commandeering doctrine and of judicial enforcement of federalism more generally, while at the same time violating important premises of the "political safeguards of federalism" theory.
The article argues that courts should pursue a middle path by applying a rigorous presumption against commandeering when considering the obligation of state officials to adhere to federal laws. This approach is faithful to consensus principles of federalism that should command the agreement of judges and academics on both sides of the judicial versus political safeguards of federalism debate. A presumption against commandeering, when applied to the CSA, requires that state officials be afforded broad latitude to enforce their states' legalization laws and have no compelled obligations to enforce federal law beyond a duty to refrain from active obstruction of federal officers. The extent of Congress's power to command state official compliance with the CSA can be considered if and when such an amendment to the CSA is under serious congressional consideration" something that may never occur given the current political trend.