Sunday, December 07, 2014

Two astute commentaries about California's emerging Prop 47 issues

0Two local California paper have two distinct commentaries about Proposition 47 and its aftermath. Both are worth reading, and here are links and excerpts from the start and end of each piece:

Opinion by Alexandra Natapoff, headlined "Prop 47 empties prisons but opens a can of worms":

California is doubling down on decriminalization. Three weeks ago, the passage of Prop. 47 converted a half-dozen felonies to misdemeanors. In 2011, marijuana possession was reclassified from a misdemeanor to an infraction without jail time. If Rip Van Winkle fell asleep a decade ago at the height of California’s prison boom and woke up this morning, he’d quickly recognize this as a scramble to undo decades of harsh and expensive policy.

The state is not alone — we are seeing a seismic shift in how the United States handles punishment, especially with respect to misdemeanor decriminalization. Marijuana is the most famous example, but many states are eliminating jail time for other minor offenses, such as driving violations and public order crimes, and replacing them with so-called “nonjailable misdemeanors,” “nonarrestable” or “fine-only” offenses, and “civil infractions.”

There are a lot of great things about decriminalization. But it has a surprisingly punitive and racially charged dark side, and it doesn’t always work the way people think it does. The “non-jailable misdemeanor” — popular in many states — is still a crime that triggers arrest, probation and fines, criminal records and other collateral consequences. Even the gold standard of decriminalization — the “non-arrestable” civil infraction — can derail a defendant’s employment, education and immigration status, while the failure to pay noncriminal fines can lead to contempt citations and incarceration. And while decriminalization sounds egalitarian — after all, it’s a promise not to lock up people who would usually get locked up — sometimes it might actually make things worse for the poor and people of color....

It’s often hard to tell whether criminal justice reform is real progress or a shell game. Is California actually reducing incarceration, or is it quietly shifting prisoners around or repackaging punishment so as to avoid appointing lawyers for poor people? Decriminalization offers great promise, but it needs to be carefully monitored to make sure it lives up to its tantalizing name.

Editorial by Los Angeles Daily News, headlined "Prop. 47 sentencing changes are working out just as feared":

The saga of Proposition 47 and its troublesome implications is a crime story in which everybody left fingerprints except the real villains. The villains are California legislators, who kept their hands off the crucial challenge of criminal sentencing reform despite the need to address the state’s big problems with prison overcrowding and overly harsh policies that favor punishment over rehabilitation.

With lawmakers unwilling or unable to touch the issue, advocates picked it up and handed over the complex topic of sentencing reform to the public in the form of last month’s ballot initiative. Voters were asked to say yes or no to reducing felony sentences to misdemeanor penalties for many drug-possession and other criminal convictions.

The well-intended but dangerously flawed Prop. 47 passed easily with 59 percent of the vote. Now state and local legal authorities, including those in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, are having to confront the consequences....

In Humboldt County, the release of 35 percent of the county jail population has been accompanied by a reported rise in burglaries, thefts and vandalism. If that becomes a state trend, so much for Prop. 47 supporters’ title for the measure: The Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act.

It’s possible Prop. 47’s troubles can be worked out and it will achieve its goals. When FiveThirtyEight.com’s data journalists analyzed outcomes in states that have undertaken similar sentencing reforms, they found more positive than negative results at reducing prison populations and incarceration costs.

But the results in California will bear watching. Gov. Jerry Brown, who had planned to issue prison-reform proposals in January, other state officials and legislators must be ready and willing to act to make this work. Of course, if lawmakers had been willing to tackle the issue earlier, we wouldn’t be in this situation now.

December 7, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Former basketball star taking (wild?) shot at fighting loss calculation in federal fraud sentencing

TateThis notable article from Connecticut reports that a notable fraud defendant is going to be representing himself as he agrues against how loss is being calculated and used against him in his upcoming federal sentencing.  Here are some of the interesting details:

Ever since being convicted on four felony counts in a real estate scheme, former University of Connecticut basketball star Tate George has been complaining about his legal representation.  He criticized his trial attorney, saying he didn't listen to requests for calling witnesses and other strategies.

After dropping his first attorney, George briefly switched to another, who is also out of the picture.  Now George has received permission from a federal judge to represent himself at his sentencing.

A first-round NBA draft pick, George has more basketball experience than legal experience.  He is best known for hitting "The Shot" at the Meadowlands arena in New Jersey in the final second to defeat Clemson in the NCAA playoffs in 1990, one of the most stunning victories in UConn basketball history.

Before his request was granted this week, federal prosecutors warned George in court papers about "the dangers and perils of self-representation."  They quoted the saying that "he who represents himself has a fool for a client."  Prosecutors told George, "There are many complex rules in court, and that most non-lawyers, including yourself, cannot know all of these rules."

But George, 46, has gone his own way before.  After expressing dissatisfaction with his trial attorney, George began sending letters directly from his prison cell to the federal judge instead of sending them through his attorney.  In at least five letters to U.S. District Court Judge Mary L. Cooper in Trenton, George proclaimed his innocence.

"I understand that my life has no value to all those who have gone about defaming my name, but I beg to differ and will continue to fight to prove my innocence," George wrote to the judge.  "Again, for the record, even though the government refuses to want to hear or admit to the truth above their lies to make me look guilty, there are no losses to report at this time, which means there is no crime or victims.  PERIOD! AS I HAVE SAID, BUT NO ONE SEEMS TO BE LISTENING, THERE ARE MONIES OWED YES, BUT NOT LOSSED!"

As part of his legal strategy, George is saying that the $250,000 investment by former UConn basketball star and NBA player Charlie Villanueva that was never repaid should not be counted as a financial loss.  Since he has promised to repay Villaneuva, George says there is no victim and no loss....  

George has said he was upset that his attorney, David E. Schafer, a federal public defender, said that investors in his case had lost $833,000 when George maintained that the actual loss was zero.  Federal prosecutors say the investors lost more than $2.5 million. At one point, a prosecutor described George as a "baby Madoff," referring to the massive Ponzi scheme operated by now-imprisoned New York City financier Bernie Madoff in which investors lost billions of dollars in a long-running scheme.

George was convicted in September 2013 and could face as many as nine years in prison when he is sentenced. Although he was convicted more than a year ago, his sentencing has been postponed multiple times.

December 7, 2014 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friday, December 05, 2014

SCOTUS takes up new capital procedures case from Louisiana

As reported in this SCOTUSblog post, the Supreme Court this afternoon granted cert on three new cases, one of which involves death penalty procedure.  Here is Lyle Denniston's description of Brumfield v. Cain, the new capital case on the Supreme Court's agenda:

In accepting a Louisiana murder case for review on Friday, the Court agreed to sort out whether an individual accused of a capital crime has a right to an independent court hearing on whether he suffers from mental incapacity, and thus could not be sentenced to death.  In the case of Brumfield v. Cain, the issue of Kevan Brumfield’s mental state was decided as an issue at the penalty phase of his murder trial, rather than at a separate inquiry.

Brumfield was sentenced to death for the shooting death of an off-duty Baton Rouge, La., police officer during an attempted robbery at a night deposit box at a bank in 1993. The officer had used a police car to transport a store manager on a trip to the bank to deposit the store’s proceeds.  Brumfield was charged with killing the officer and wounding the store manager.

In taking the case to the Supreme Court, Brumfield’s lawyers argued that he has a serious defect in his intellectual capacity, but that state courts dealt with that only as an issue during his death sentencing hearing to determine whether it should mitigate the penalty.  The petition contended that he was entitled to a separate hearing on that question.  His petition raised a separate question on whether Brumfield was entitled to have the state pay for gathering evidence of his mental incapacity.

UPDATE: A lot more information about this crime and the defendant in this new SCOTUS case can be found in this local article, headlined "U.S. Supreme Court to hear mental retardation claim of Baton Rouge convicted killer: Mental retardation, execution eligibility at heart of the matter."

December 5, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

District Judge pushes federal prosecutors to back off extreme trial penalty sentence

As reported in this Reuters article, headlined "Prosecutors rethink convict's sentence after judge cites Holder," a federal judge earlier this week put some bite into the Attorney General's advocacy for reducing reliance on extremely long prison term by urging local federal prosecutors to reconsider an extreme sentence driven by application of mandatory minimum sentencing provisions. Here are the details of an interesting on-going sentencing story:

Prosecutors are reconsidering a 50-year sentence for a convicted robber and drug dealer, after a judge on Wednesday suggested they call Attorney General Eric Holder to ask him whether it was fair to "punish" a man for rejecting a plea deal and opting for a trial.

Randy Washington, 27, the Bronx man who faced the lengthy term after turning down a 10-year plea deal and getting convicted at trial, had been scheduled for sentencing in New York federal court on Wednesday.  But the hearing was adjourned so prosecutors could rework a deal carrying a shorter sentence, after U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan repeated his criticism that the 50-year mandatory minimum sentence appeared to "punish" Washington for going to trial.

Sullivan even suggested prosecutors call Holder himself to ask if their actions comport with his recent directive cautioning prosecutors against routinely using the threat of harsher sentences to induce defendants to plead guilty.  "He won't look with pride on what you're doing here today," Sullivan said....

In September, Holder issued a memo advising prosecutors to avoid employing the prospect of longer mandatory minimum prison terms in plea talks.  Sullivan cited the memo Wednesday in criticizing the sentence for Washington, who was convicted of robbery, narcotics and related charges.

In July, Sullivan said the potential 50-year term was legal but "unnecessary and unjust" and in a rare move pushed Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office to seek a reduced sentence. In response, prosecutors offered to drop a 10-year enhancement based on a prior felony conviction for Washington.

They separately offered Washington a new 25-year deal, which Washington rejected as it included an appellate waiver, a provision Sullivan questioned on Wednesday. "I'm not sure there's great consistency in the position that says, 'We agree that 50 years is too long, but it's too long only if you give up your appellate rights,'" he said.

After prosecutors consulted with Bharara himself, Assistant U.S. Attorney Telemachus Kasulis told Sullivan they would consider a 25-year deal without requiring Washington to waive all of his appellate rights. Sentencing was rescheduled for Dec. 12.

December 5, 2014 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Nevada completes detailed accounting of costs of death penalty cases

As reported in this local article, headlined "High cost of death penalty could affect its future in Nevada," the Silver State's audits have recently completed a detailed report on how much taxpayer gold is typically spent in capital cases. Here are the details:

Nevada’s criminal justice system spends nearly twice as much handling death penalty cases compared with murder cases where capital punishment isn’t sought, according to a report released Tuesday by state auditors.

The state-mandated study, which surveyed data from 27 state and local agencies, gives ammunition to death penalty opponents who have failed to defeat public support for capital punishment using moral objections. It is, by far, Nevada’s most comprehensive study on the controversial practice and will serve as a law makers' guide for years to come....

Auditors assembled the 105-page report by sampling data from 28 cases, calculating costs associated with legal counsel — both defense and prosecution — as well as for money spent on court proceedings and incarceration.

Here are three highlights from the document's release:

From a suspect’s arrest through his or her final days behind bars, officials spend at least $1.3 million on murder cases where convicts are sentenced to death but not executed — that’s $532,000 more compared with murder cases where capital punishment wasn't sought. Litigation costs, including the trial and appeal phase, averaged about three times more for death penalty versus non-death penalty cases. And expenses are similar for all death penalty cases, regardless of whether a sentence is given or not.

Among all prison inmates convicted of murder, costs are highest for people on death row. There were 83 people sentenced to death in Nevada as of late last year. Prosecutors could have potentially saved an estimated $44 million by never pursuing corporal punishment in those cases....

Nevada's per capita death penalty rate ranks fourth in the country and tops Texas and California, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. But the state's death chamber is seldom used, and only a dozen people have been executed since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the capital punishment in 1976. Of those, only one died against his will. The last execution in Nevada happened more than eight years ago.

It’s likely the study underestimated the cost of death penalty cases because of underreporting from government agencies....

The study’s findings fall in line with previous research examining the financial burden of capital murder cases — a study released this year by the Kansas Judicial Council found that defending a death penalty case costs as much as four times more than other murder cases.

Critics of the practice hope Nevada’s study will bolster efforts to erode support for capital punishment. “A lot of people who favor the death penalty think it’s cheaper,” said Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Lisa Rasmussen, who also watched Tuesday's meeting from Las Vegas. “Once people understand and they’re informed, maybe things will change.”

The full 100+ page Nevada legislative audit document released this week, which carries the exciting title "Fiscal Costs of the Death Penalty," can be accessed at this link.

December 4, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Praise for Texas justice embracing "Right on Crime" from across the pond

This new BBC article, headlined "Why Texas is closing prisons in favour of rehab," provides a notable example of the rest of the world taking note (and praising) the "right on crime" movement. The piece is authored by a Danny Kruger, a former speechwriter for UK's prime minister David Cameron, and here are excerpts:

Coming from London to spend a couple of days in Texas last month, I was struck most of all by how generous and straightforward everyone was.  Talking to all sorts of different people about crime and punishment, the same impression came across: We expect people to do the right thing and support them when they do.  When they don't we punish them, but then we welcome them back and expect good behaviour again.  It's not naive, it's just clear.

For years that straightforward moral outlook translated into a tough criminal justice system.  As in the rest of the US, the economic dislocations of the 1970s, compounded by the crack epidemic in the 1980s, led to a series of laws and penal policies which saw the prison population skyrocket.  Texas, for instance, has half the population of the UK but twice its number of prisoners.

Then something happened in 2007, when Texas Republican Congressman Jerry Madden was appointed chairman of the House Corrections Committee with the now famous words by his party leader: "Don't build new prisons. They cost too much." The impulse to what has become the Right on Crime initiative was fiscal conservatism — the strong sense that the taxpayer was paying way too much money to fight a losing war against drugs, mental ill-health and petty criminality.

What Madden found was that too many low-level offenders were spending too long in prison, and not reforming.  On the contrary, they were getting worse inside and not getting the help they needed on release.  The only response until then, from Democrat as well as Republican legislators, was to build more prisons. Indeed, Mr Madden's analysis suggested that a further 17,000 prisoners were coming down the pipe towards them, requiring an extra $500m (£320m) for new prisons.  

But he and his party didn't want to spend more money building new prisons. So they thought of something else — rehab.   Consistent with the straightforward Texan manner, the Congressional Republicans did not attempt to tackle what in Britain are known as "the causes of crime" — the socio-economic factors that make people more disposed to offend. Instead, they focused on the individual criminal, and his or her personal choices.  Here, they believe, moral clarity and generosity are what's needed.

Though fiscal conservatism may have got the ball rolling, what I saw in Texas — spending time in court and speaking to offenders, prison guards, non-profit staff and volunteers — goes way beyond the desire to save money. The Prison Entrepreneurship Programme, for instance, matches prisoners with businesspeople and settles them in a residential community on release.  Its guiding values are Christian and its staff's motives seem to be love and hope for their "brothers", who in turn support the next batch of prisoners leaving jail.

The statutory system is not unloving either. Judge Robert Francis's drugs court in Dallas is a well-funded welfare programme all of its own — though it is unlike any welfare programme most of the 250 ex-offenders who attend it have ever seen.  Clean and tidy, it is staffed by around 30 professionals who are intensely committed to seeing their clients stay clean and out of jail, even if that means sending them back to prison for short periods, as Judge Francis regularly does when required....

Immediate, comprehensible and proportionate sanctions are given for bad behaviour, plus accountability to a kind leader and supportive community.  This is the magic sauce of Right on Crime.

Far from having to build new jails for the 17,000 expected new inmates, Jerry Madden and his colleagues have succeeded in closing three prisons.  I visited one by the Trinity River in Dallas, now ready for sale and redevelopment.  They spent less than half the $500 million earmarked for prison building on rehab initiatives and crime is falling faster than elsewhere.

This, then, ticks all the boxes - it cuts crime, saves money and demonstrates love and compassion towards some of the most excluded members of society. It is, in a sense, what conservatives in America and Britain dream of — a realistic vision of a smaller state, where individuals are accountable for their actions and communities take responsibility for themselves and their neighbours.  It is a more positive version of the anti-politics — anti-Washington, anti-Westminster — tide that seems to be sweeping the West.

December 3, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

After numerous local, state and federal reforms, crime hits new record lows in biggest US city

Images (3)This new New York Times article reports on more good news about crime rates from the Big Apple.  Here are the encouraging details:

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday that a city his opponents once said would grow more dangerous under his watch had, in fact, become even safer.

Robberies, considered the most telling indicator of street crime, are down 14 percent across New York City from last year.  Grand larcenies — including the thefts of Apple devices that officials said drove an overall crime increase two years ago — are also down, by roughly 3 percent.  And after a record­-low 335 homicides in 2013, the city has seen 290 killings in the first 11 months of this year, a number unheard-­of two decades ago.

“When I came into this job, people always talked about last year — last year was an amazing year in this city in terms of bringing down crime,” Mr. de Blasio said.  “We saw what was possible.  The city’s crime rate continues to go down.”

Even shootings, which had increased by more than 10 percent earlier this year, have receded amid a push by the Police Department to stamp out troublesome pockets of gun violence.  There were just over 1,000 shootings in the first 11 months of this year, about a 4 percent increase over last year....

For Mr. de Blasio and his police commissioner, William J. Bratton, the numbers provided a kind of cushion for the criminal justice and policing reforms that both men are putting into place.

Officers will this week begin a pilot program of wearing body cameras in three police commands, Mr. Bratton said on Tuesday, and a wholesale retraining of the department’s patrol force is also starting.  A new marijuana policy aimed at reducing low­-level arrests, which was announced in November, has already resulted in a 61.2 percent decline in arrests in its first two full weeks....

The decline in the city’s crime rate, while deeper in many categories than other cities, mirrors a nationwide downward trend from heights of violent crime in the 1990s.  How much any one mayor or one police commissioner has control over crime has remained a subject of debate.  Indeed, Mr. de Blasio pointed to 20 years of “momentum” that he inherited, referring to an “arc of continuous progress across different mayors, different commissioners.”  He expressed pride in the performance of the Police Department over the first 11 months of this year, and declined to describe the continued decline as vindication of his reform-­minded policies.  Others were more ready to do so.

“Bravo!” wrote Joseph J. Lhota on Twitter, who as the Republican candidate for mayor last year ran ads predicting a return to the crime-­plagued streets of the early 1990s if Mr. de Blasio were elected.

With a month still to go before the end of the year, the favorable crime numbers appeared to render a verdict on at least one question: Would a vast decline in the number of recorded stop­-and-­frisk encounters create an opening for violence to return?  So far, Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Bratton said, the answer has been no Mr. Bratton said that by the end of the year there would be fewer than 50,000 such stops, down from a high of over 685,000 in 2011.  That sharp decline, like crime over all, began well before Mr. de Blasio took office and has continued.

As the title of this post highlights, this great news on crime rates is also great news for those eager to encourage continued reform of state and federal criminal justice policies and practices. In addition to recent stop-and-frisk and marijuana policing reforms, New York five years ago reformed its draconian Rockefeller drug laws and the state's prison population has also been reduced significantly in recent years. And, of course, if many recent federal sentencing reforms were to have any significant impact on crime rates, we reasonably should expect New York City to be a window on this national story.

Critically, I am not trying to assert or even suggest that recent crime reductions are the result of all the criminal justice reforms of recent years. But I do mean to highlight and stress that it seems freedom has been significantly increased in the Big Apple without any apparent harm to public safety (and despite lots of folks claiming that criminal justice reforms would surely result in more crime). To paraphrase Old Blue Eyes, not only should everyone start spreading this news, but we should conclude that if we can make criminal justice reform work there, we can make it work just about everywhere.

December 3, 2014 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

"United States v. Erwin and the Folly of Intertwined Cooperation and Plea Agreements"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Kevin Bennardo and published in the online complement to the Washington and Lee Law Review. (The Erwin case referenced in the title is a recent Third Circuit ruling discussed in this blog post titled "Significant Third Circuit ruling on the consequences of a defendant's appeal despite an appeal waiver.")  Here is the abstract of this new article:

Cooperation agreements and plea agreements are separate and independent promises by criminal defendants to: (1) assist the Government in the prosecution of another person and (2) plead guilty.  A defendant’s breach of one should not affect the Government’s obligation to perform under the other.  All too often, however, these agreements are inappropriately intertwined so that a minor breach of the plea agreement relieves the Government of its obligation to move for a downward sentencing departure in recognition of the defendant’s substantial assistance.  This intertwining undermines sentencing policy as set forth in the federal sentencing statute.  Thus, a district court should continue to consider a defendant’s substantial assistance when imposing a criminal sentence even if a breach of the plea agreement alleviates the Government of its duty to move for a sentence reduction under an intertwined cooperation agreement.

December 2, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, December 01, 2014

Justices struggling in Elonis argument with free speech and Facebook threats

There are now lots of old and new media sources reporting on today's Supreme Court oral argument in Elonis v. United States, the case considering the reach and application of a federal law prohibiting making threats via the Internet.  The folks at SCOTUSblog have two terrific review posts here and here, and How Appealing collects lots and lots of links to other coverage here and here.

All these media reports suggest that the Justices were struggling in various ways to figure out how best to balance free speech concerns and legitimate interests in punishing "true threats" made on-line.  And folks can read up on these struggles in full via the transcript in Elonis v. United States which is available at this link.

December 1, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Making the case (again) for fixing the federal clemency process

Over the holiday weekend, Professors Rachel Barkow and Mark Osler renewed their call for reform of the federal clemency process through this Washington Post opinion piece.  Here are excerpts from the start and end of the piece:

In the run-up to Thanksgiving, it was a sure thing that a turkey would get an efficient reprieve from President Obama. But that’s only because the turkey did not have to go through the normal pardon process. If it had, it would likely have waited more than four years and have had several layers of government bureaucrats nit-picking its case. The federal clemency process — for humans, at least — is broken, and Obama should act now to fix it for the benefit of his and future administrations.

Since the 1980s, presidents have utterly failed to use their constitutional pardon power as a systemic check on federal laws and prosecutors that go too far. As a series of ProPublica reports published in The Post revealed in 2011, recent presidents grant pardons and commutations rarely and arbitrarily, largely giving relief only when it is requested by members of Congress or other influential people. Obama has been among the worst of the lot....

What is broken is no mystery. The key gatekeepers for this process are in the Justice Department — the same agency that prosecutes federal crimes. Unsurprisingly, the department has been reluctant to second-guess its own decisions and rarely recommends that the White House approve a clemency petition. Moreover, each petition must pass through as many as seven levels of review prior to approval, and many of those doing the reviewing (such as the deputy attorney general and the White House counsel) have plates already full with other duties....

It’s easy to envision a better method. As in countless other areas of law, from communications and securities regulation to establishing sentencing guidelines, a dedicated agency comprising experts could address the problem efficiently and effectively. The president should appoint a bipartisan commission of Democrats and Republicans with expertise in criminal law to consider all applications and track data on recidivism and other outcomes. The agency can work with the president’s reentry council to coordinate prisoners’ transitions back to civil society. And because the commission would be politically balanced, the president would not need to worry about being exposed to Willie Horton-style attacks, should a convict commit some new crime after being freed; these will be cases that people of all political stripes agreed deserved relief. President Gerald Ford used this device in 1974 when he created a temporary board to quickly process about 21,000 Vietnam-era draft evasion and deserter cases. One reason we know the Ford plan was a political success is because so few people remember it.

With a small but dedicated staff, such an agency would shrink the relevant levels of review to just three. There is a simple reason that states almost uniformly use such boards rather than the federal approach of sending the review through layers of prosecutors: It works.

Such a common-sense reform would provide the president with a lasting legacy that his successors would surely appreciate: a pardon process that works not just for turkeys on Thanksgiving but for everyone, all year long.

Just a few of many recent and older posts concerning federal clemency practices:

December 1, 2014 in Clemency and Pardons, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Justices issue cert statements expressing concerns about procedural issues in criminal appeals

Today's order list from the Supreme Court, in addition to including a few notable denials of cert in criminal cases as noted by Lyle Denniston in this new SCOTUSblog post, concluded with two notable statements by a few Justices explaining why they voted to deny certiorari review in a couple of criminal cases even though they were troubled by procedural issues arising in efforts by defendants to raise various appellate issues.

This statement in Joseph v. United States should be of special interest to federal practitioners.  In it, Justices Kennedy and Sotomayor indicated they voted to grant certiorari, while Justice Kagan (joined by Justices Ginsburg and Breyer) explained how the Eleventh Circuit's application of rules about raising new claims in reply brief suggested that  "criminal defendants with unpreserved new claims may be treated differently within the Eleventh Circuit, just as they are as between the Eleventh Circuit and every other court of appeals."   Justice Kagan then, not too subtly, suggested that she was holding on granting cert in order to give the Eleventh Circuit a chance in the first instance to " clean up intra-circuit divisions" before SCOTUS took up the matter.  

This statement in Redd v. Chappell should be of special interest to capital punishment followers, especially in California.  In it, Justice Sotomayor (joined by Justice Breyer) laments that nearly two decades "after petitioner was first sentenced to death, and more than four years after his conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal, petitioner has not received counsel to represent him in his state habeas corpus proceedings — counsel to which he is entitled as a matter of state law." Justice Sotomayor explains she is did not vote to grant cert in part because "the State represents that state habeas counsel will be appointed for petitioner in due course.” When counsel is appointed is obviously real important to this petitioner; even more important to lots of others is whether this statement is something of a signal concerning the on-going federal court litigation in Jones v. Chappell over the constitutional problems posed by seemingly arbitrary delays in appellate review for condemned California killer.

December 1, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Previewing SCOTUS argument in Facebook threat case, Elonis v. United States

Images (2)To kick off December, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Elonis v. United States to consider application of the federal law prohibiting making threats using the Internet.  Lyle Denniston has this lengthy preview post at SCOTUSblog titled "Social media as a crime scene," and here are excerpts:

There is a way for the Court to decide the case of Elonis v. United States without sorting out just how far First Amendment protection extends to private expression on the Internet. In agreeing to hear the case, the Court added a question about the meaning of the federal law at issue.  If it narrows the reach of that law, it may not need to say anything directly about the First Amendment, although it probably would reduce the law’s scope if it felt that was necessary to avoid having to rule on the constitutional question.

In this case, a thirty-one-year-old man, Anthony Douglas Elonis, who lives in the small Pennsylvania community of Lower Saucon Township, was convicted for postings on Facebook four years ago that prosecutors treated as actual threats of violence. The jury agreed, leading to a guilty verdict and a forty-four-month prison sentence. His messaging came after his wife had left him and he was fired from his job at an amusement park because of one of his postings....

His conviction came under a federal law that makes it a crime to “transmit in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another.”

The Supreme Court, in fact, has already made at least partly clear — in decisions that go back to 1969 — that the First Amendment does not permit the government to punish for all threats made in communications in the media or in the public square. It has confined prosecution to “true threats,” and has stressed that the law against threatening someone does not apply at all to “political hyperbole” or to “vehement, caustic, or unpleasantly sharp attacks” that cannot be interpreted as “true threats.”

And, in a decision in 2003, the Court attempted to say just what a “true threat” is, legally speaking. It did so in interpreting another federal law that made it a crime to burn a cross with the intent of intimidating someone. That law said any cross-burning, by the act itself, would be proof of an intent to intimidate. A plurality of the Court said that the act alone was not sufficient. “‘True threats,'” that opinion said, “encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”

In [Elonis], the Supreme Court has the task of clarifying what a person “means to communicate” when speaking in terms of violence on the Internet, and also what constitutes “an intent” to commit the crime of making an illegal threat.

Basically, this case presents the Court with two choices — first, to look at the issue of intent from a subjective perspective, focusing on the speaker, or to look at it from an objective view, focusing on both the speaker and on a hypothetical “reasonable person” exposed to the message.

Anthony Elonis and his supporters argue that his postings on Facebook were not “true threats” because he actually had no “subjective intent to threaten another person.” If that is the test, a jury would have to make its own assessment of what an Internet user like Elonis did have in mind, examining the specific words used and their context.

The federal government and its supporters, however, argue that Elonis’s statements were judged — and should have been judged — by two measures: first, did he make his statements intentionally (without regard to what he was thinking), and, second, would “a reasonable person” read the words used and their context as conveying to the target of the message that they would be injured or killed?...

The effect of the decision that does emerge almost certainly would be felt in the very public space of such Internet sites as Facebook. For that reason, Elonis is running interference for the Internet as a whole, and especially for those sites where expression is robust, indeed. Much of the discussion in the case, in fact, is on the potential impact on the very provocative postings of rap music, and its fairly common idiom of violence.

November 30, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Growing awareness of the limited efficacy of local sex offender residency restrictions

This new Wall Street Journal article highlights the new awareness of enduring problems with sex offender residency restrictions.  The lengthy piece is headlined "Cities and Towns Scaling Back Limits on Sex Offenders: Officials Say Buffer Zones Don’t Prevent Repeat Offenses and Make Predators Harder to Track," and here are excerpts:

When Palm Beach County, Fla., was sued earlier this year over its housing restrictions for registered sex offenders, its attorneys took an unusual approach: They suggested the county relax its law.

The county’s commissioners — prompted largely by the lawsuit brought by a sex offender who claimed the limits rendered him homeless — voted in July to let such offenders legally live closer to schools, day-care centers and other places with concentrations of children. “We realized the law was costing the taxpayers money [for services for the homeless] and was causing more problems than it was solving,” said county attorney Denise Nieman.

In the mid-1990s, states and cities began barring sex offenders from living within certain distances of schools, playgrounds and parks. The rationale: to prevent the horrible crimes sometimes committed by offenders after their release. In October, for instance, officials charged sex offender Darren Deon Vann with murdering two women in Indiana. Mr. Vann, who is suspected of killing several others, pleaded not guilty.

Now, a growing number of communities are rejecting or scaling back such limits — out of concern that they don’t prevent repeat offenses, and, in some instances, may make sex offenders harder to track....

A 2013 Justice Department study that examined Michigan’s and Missouri’s statewide restrictions showed they “had little effect on recidivism.” Other studies have found the vast majority of sex-offense cases involving children are committed not by strangers but by family members or others with established connections to the victims, such as coaches or teachers.

About 30 states and thousands of cities and towns have laws restricting where sex offenders can live, while others are adding them. In March, a 1,000-foot buffer from parks took effect in San Antonio. In July, Milwaukee passed a law banning sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a variety of places where children gather....

Critics, however, say such moves do little more than score lawmakers political points and give an area’s residents a false sense of security. Some argue they can make communities less safe, by making it hard for offenders to find stable housing.

David Prater, district attorney of the county that encompasses Oklahoma City, said he and other state prosecutors have tried to get the state to relax its 2,000-foot buffer, to no avail. “No politician wants to be labeled the guy who lessens restrictions on sex offenders,” he said....

Some smaller towns are chucking restrictions, partly in the name of public safety. De Pere, Wis., a town of 23,000 south of Green Bay, tossed out its 500-foot buffer last year after reviewing data on its effectiveness, said several council members. The issue was reopened by some townspeople several months ago ,when a convicted sex offender moved across the street from a school for children with special needs. But the council didn’t budge. “You track where they live, you check in on them, but you let them live at home, where they’re comfortable and stable,” said Scott Crevier, a DePere city councilman. “I feel we’re actually safer than a lot of other towns in the state that have them.”

November 30, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Is Big Pharma already a bigger threat to kids than Big Marijuana would be?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting new piece up at The Crime Report headlined "The RX Alliance That Drugs Our Kids."  Here is how the piece starts:

Olivia Hernandez always trusted the doctors who scribbled out prescription after prescription for the heavy-duty psychiatric drugs that clouded her teenage years in foster care. Now, she feels “betrayed.”

Three of her former doctors are among a chosen group of California foster care prescribers who received gifts and payments for meals, travel, speaking and industry-sponsored research from the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies.

A three-part investigation by the San Jose Mercury News has found that drugmakers, anxious to expand the market for some of their most profitable products, spent more than $14 million from 2010 to 2013 to woo the California doctors who treat this captive and fragile audience of patients at taxpayers’ expense.

Drugmakers distribute their cash to all manner of doctors, but the investigation found that they paid the state’s foster care prescribers on average more than double what they gave to the typical California physician. The connection raises concerns that Hernandez and many other unsuspecting youth have been caught in the middle of a big-money alliance that could be helping to drive the rampant use of psychiatric medications in the state’s foster care system.

I am sympathetic to those advocates concerned that a legalized marijuana industry will end up being eager to market pot products to young users. But, as this article highlights, Big Pharma not only markets drug products to kids, but it has a huge group of licensed drug dealers (doctors) helping them peddle drug products.

November 29, 2014 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, November 28, 2014

Texas Justice calls for state's death penalty to be abolished

Tom-Price-Judge-Texas-Court-of-Criminal-AppealsAs reported in this local article, "Texas Court of Appeals Justice Tom Price on Wednesday denounced the death penalty, saying that Texas' 2005 life without parole law makes it unnecessary and that the possibility of executing a wrongfully convicted person is an 'irrational risk' that should not be tolerated by the criminal justice system."  Here is more about this notable development which emerged in a legal challenge to a notable planned execution:

The Dallas Republican's comments, thought to be the first time such views have been voiced by a judge on the state's highest criminal appeals court, came in a strongly worded dissent to the court's Wednesday rejection of an appeal on behalf of Scott Panetti, a Fredericksburg double-killer said to suffer from schizophrenia.  Panetti, 56, is scheduled to be executed next Wednesday.

"Based on my specialized knowledge of this process," Price wrote, "I now conclude that the death penalty as a form of punishment should be abolished because the execution of individuals does not appear to measurably advance the retribution and deterrence purpose served by the death penalty; the life without parole option adequately protects society at large in the same way as the death penalty option; and the risk of executing an innocent person for a capital murder is unreasonably high, particularly in light of procedural-default laws and the prevalence of ineffective trial and initial habeas counsel."

Price, 61, a former Dallas County state district judge, has served on the high appeals court since 1996.  His term ends this year and he has said he will not seek re-election.  In his statement, Price asserted that "society is now less convinced of the absolute accuracy of the criminal justice system."...

"In my time on this court I have voted to grant numerous applications for writs of habeas corpus that have resulted in the release of dozens of people who were wrongfully convicted," Price wrote.  "I conclude that it is wishful thinking to believe that this state will never execute an innocent person for capital murder. ... I am convinced that, because the criminal justice system is run by humans, it is naturally subject to human error. There is no rational basis to believe that this same type of human error will not infect capital murder trials."

Price's comments were greeted with surprise by law professors and appellate attorneys active in death penalty cases.  "I'm still absorbing it. It wasn't expected," said Maurie Levin, a former clinical law professor at the University of Texas who now is based in Philadelphia. "It's long overdue."  While the concerns raised by Price have been "discussed and decried around the country for a number of years now ... for a high court judge, a CCA judge, to articulate them so forthrightly is extraordinary."...

Jani Maselli Wood, an assistant Harris County public defender, an adjunct professor at the University of Houston law school and a former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals staff attorney, said she doubts Price's statement will influence legislators or incoming juries. But, "it will impact his legacy for what he wants us to remember," Wood said.  "He says we have life without parole, why do we need death convictions.  He is remarkably brave.  I think it is heroic."

Price's statement came in a dissent to the court's 6-3 vote not to consider a new appeal on behalf of Panetti that argues his mental condition "renders him categorically ineligible for the death penalty under the Eighth and 14th Amendments, because imposition of the death penalty on offenders with severe mental illness offends contemporary standards of decency."  The court found the petition failed to meet requirements for applications of post-conviction writs of habeas corpus.

Judges Elsa Alcala and Cheryl Johnson issued a separate dissenting opinion, saying they would stay Panetti's execution to allow for an examination of his claim that the Eighth Amendment prohibits execution of seriously mentally ill individuals.

The full six-page "Dissenting Statement" by Justice Price can be accessed at this link, and here is one of a number of notable paragraphs from the opinion:

Some might argue that a victim’s family deserves the finality that comes with the execution of an offender.  This is a misguided sentiment as the instant case demonstrates. Applicant has been on death row for about twenty years.  The victims’ family has not gotten finality after twenty years due to the numerous appeals and writs filed by applicant in which he has contended that his mental status makes him ineligible for execution.  And, perhaps, one would say that the answer is speeding up executions.  But creating a more restrictive temporal limitation would only increase the risk of executing a wrongfully convicted person.  In my experience, a victim’s family is more likely to quickly experience finality through the criminal justice system when an offender is sentenced to life without parole than when he is sentenced to death.

November 28, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Nearly a year into clemency initiative, turkeys remain more likely to get Prez Obama pardon than people

MaccheeseAs detailed in this AP story, headlined "Obama Defends Legal Authority — to Pardon Turkeys," there was much jocularity at the White House today as President Obama continued the White House tradition of giving executive grace to a couple of feathered friends:

President Barack Obama has issued an executive action that some of his Republican opponents may be hard-pressed to disagree with — sparing Thanksgiving turkeys from the dinner table.

In the spirit of the holiday, Obama on Wednesday took "action fully within my legal authority, the same kind of action taken by Democrats and Republican presidents before me," to pardon the National Thanksgiving Turkey, a 49-pound bird named Cheese. He also spared an alternate turkey, a 47-pounder named Mac. Both came from Cooper Farms in Oakwood, Ohio.

"If you're a turkey, and you're named after a side dish, your chances of escaping Thanksgiving dinner are pretty low," Obama said at the annual event, which drew international media coverage. He was accompanied by his daughters, Malia and Sasha, who declined his invitation to pet the birds. "No," Malia said....

"So these guys are well ahead of the curve. They really beat the odds," he said of Mac and Cheese. Obama last week announced a series of highly anticipated executive actions immigration that have left Republicans crying "fowl."

Joking about his poultry action, Obama said: "I know some will call this amnesty. But don't worry. There's plenty of turkey to go around." Later Wednesday, Obama took his family to a neighborhood food pantry to donate a pair of turkeys "that didn't make the cut."...

At the pardoning ceremony, Obama referenced news reports that questioned the wisdom of the turkey pardon tradition and said "it is a little puzzling that I do this every year." But Obama said he enjoys the tradition because "with all the tough stuff that swirls around in this office, it's nice once in a while just to say 'Happy Thanksgiving,' and this is a great excuse to do it."

Presidents as far back as Abraham Lincoln spared turkeys, according to the White House. President George H.W. Bush granted the first turkey pardon in November 1989.

At the risk of being a holiday party pooper, I cannot help but note that it has now been a full 10 months since the Obama Administration publicly announced (as detailed here) that it was eager to identify low-level, nonviolent drug offenders for possible clemency relief. Since that time, however, the President has granted clemency to a grand total of one prisoner and now to two turkeys.  Thus, as I have said often in the past and will continue to say unless things change dramatically, President Obama's clemency record to date to be not merely disappointing, but truly disgraceful.  

A few of many recent and older posts concerning federal clemency practices:

November 26, 2014 in Clemency and Pardons, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Can and should out-going Maryland Gov commute death sentences to ensure LWOP after state's capital repeal?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Baltimore Sun article discussing the interesting procedural and practical issues now surrounding the fate of Maryland's death row prisoners and the decisions facing the out-going Maryland Governor who signed the law repealing the state's death penalty.  Here are excerpts from the article:

A western Maryland woman whose parents were killed by a man on death row urged Gov. Martin O'Malley in a phone conversation Monday not to commute the man's sentence. The conversation came days after The Baltimore Sun reported that O'Malley had reached out to two relatives of people killed by men on death row — moves that fueled speculation that, with two months left in office, the governor may be poised to take action on the death penalty cases.

"I said, 'Don't touch this [case], let it go back to court, let the judges decide,'" said Mary Francis Moore, 71, whose father and his wife were killed in 1995 by Heath William Burch. Moore said that in their roughly 15-minute phone conversation, O'Malley did not say what his plans were. But they discussed what might happen to Burch in light of another inmate's appeal. Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has joined the appeal, arguing that the state no longer has the authority to execute anyone.

O'Malley "talked about the possibility that if it did go back to court, that these guys would get out, that they would only get life," not life without possibility of parole, Moore said. Moore said she concluded the conversation by asking O'Malley "to pray about it." The governor told her, she said, "I hope we meet some day."...

O'Malley has largely refused to discuss the fate of the men who were already sentenced to death when he and the General Assembly repealed the death penalty last year. The repeal did not apply to them.

Maryland's governor has broad power to pardon or reduce an inmate's sentence, but the authors of the death penalty repeal law included language spelling out that he could change a death sentence to life without parole — even if that sentence did not exist when the inmate committed his crime. Two men on death row commited their crimes before 1987, when Maryland lawmakers established the sentence of life without parole.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a proponent of repeal and the attorney general-elect, said Monday that a court would not be able to resentence an inmate to a penalty that did not exist at the time he was convicted, but the governor can.

Advocates on both sides of the issue have been watching to see whether O'Malley might commute the sentences of the four men remaining on death row....

Moore said she "begged" O'Malley not to grant Burch clemency, though he never clearly said he was considering that. She thinks Burch should be put to death. "I asked him, 'What are you going to do, governor?' I asked him two or three times, 'What are your plans?'"...

"The last thing I said to him was, 'I want you to really think about this, and I want you to pray about it, because I want you to do the right thing,'" she said. "The right thing to me is leave it alone."

Even before the death penalty repeal, the status of Maryland's death row inmates had been up in the air since 2006 when the state's regulations for executions were thrown out by a court. They were never replaced. Lawyers from the attorney general's office are scheduled to argue Dec. 8 before a state appellate court that Maryland can't issue new regulations now that capital punishment has been abolished.

An appeal by another death row inmate, Jody Lee Miles, faces an uncertain outcome in the courts. But Gansler has noted O'Malley's authority to commute death sentences to life without parole. Governors in Illinois and New Jersey commuted the existing death sentences in their states after the repeal of capital punishment....

Dorothy Atkinson, whose son was killed by Miles in 1997, said she, too, was contacted by the governor's office about a meeting.... Though Atkinson believes Miles deserves to be executed, she submitted a letter to O'Malley two weeks ago, asking him to commute Miles' sentence to spare her family from the ordeal of further legal wrangling.

I believe that, at least in some jurisdictions, convicted defendants are able to formally refuse to except a grant of clemency. Consequently, I am not entirely sure Gov O'Malley can ensure through a commutation decision that some of the death row prisoners get an LWOP sentence nor that a commutation decision will ensure there is no further legal wrangling over these cases. That said, the procedural and practical issues arising in this setting perhaps provide a strong reason for the out-going Gov to do exactly what the victims' families now request in each case whether that involves a request for commutation or a request to leave this matter to the state courts.

November 25, 2014 in Clemency and Pardons, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, November 24, 2014

USSC Chair's discussion of "A Generational Shift for Drug Sentences" now in print

I noticed via the US Sentencing Commission's official website that Chief Judge Patti Saris, Chair of United States Sentencing Commission and federal district judge, has now in print this law review article titled “A Generational Shift For Drug Sentences.” The article is based on a like-titled speech given by Judge Saris noted here earlier this year, and here is a snippet from the article's introduction:

It has been a generation since the laws governing federal drug sentences were put into place. Since the 1980s, our society, our attitudes, and our criminal justice system have evolved.  The Supreme Court case law, the statutes and United States Sentencing Guidelines (“Guidelines”), and the realities on the ground have changed significantly. With the benefit of experience and new thought, many are considering whether a change — a generational shift — in our approach to federal drug sentences is appropriate....

This article focuses on policies regarding drug offenders and drug penalties as one means to effect change in the federal prison populations and costs.  Drug offenders make up about a third of the offenders sentenced federally every year and a majority of the prisoners serving in the federal Bureau of Prisons, so they are in many ways the key to the size and nature of the federal prison population.  This article has four parts: Part I explores the history of the current mandatory minimum drug penalties, the Sentencing Commission, and the federal drug sentencing guidelines; Part II examines criminal justice system shifts over the past thirty years; Part III identifies what changes can be made by Congress and elsewhere to address the burgeoning federal prison population; and Part IV explains the Commission’s significant amendments in 2014 to reduce drug guideline sentences.

November 24, 2014 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Will Texas Kill an Insane Man?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this lengthy New York Times editorial. Here are excerpts:

On Dec. 3, Texas plans to execute an inmate named Scott Panetti, who was convicted in 1995 for murdering his in-laws with a hunting rifle. There is no question that Mr. Panetti committed the murders. There is also no question that he is severely mentally ill, and has been for decades.

During his capital murder trial, at which he was inexplicably allowed to represent himself, Mr. Panetti dressed in a cowboy suit and attempted to subpoena, among others, John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ.  A standby lawyer said his behavior was “scary” and “trance-like,” and called the trial “a judicial farce.”

It was not an act.  Mr. Panetti, now 56, was first diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 20, and in the years before the murders he was hospitalized several times for delusions and psychotic episodes.  

In this respect, he is no different from the estimated 350,000 inmates around the country with mental illness — 10 times the number of people in state psychiatric hospitals.  But Mr. Panetti is not just another insane prisoner; his name is synonymous with the Supreme Court’s modern jurisprudence about mental illness on death row. In Panetti v. Quarterman, decided in 2007, the justices held that it is not enough for a defendant simply to be aware that he is going to be executed and why — the previous standard the court had used in permitting the execution of the mentally ill....

But the justices refused to set precise guidelines for determining whether someone is competent enough to be executed, and they did not overturn Mr. Panetti’s sentence. Instead, they sent the case back to the lower courts for a fuller reconsideration of his current mental state.

By any reasonable standard — not to mention the findings of multiple mental-health experts over the years — Mr. Panetti is mentally incompetent. But Texas, along with several other stubborn states, has a long history of finding the loopholes in Supreme Court rulings restricting the death penalty.  The state has continued to argue that Mr. Panetti is exaggerating the extent of his illness, and that he understands enough to be put to death — a position a federal appeals court accepted last year, even though it agreed that he was “seriously mentally ill.”

Mr. Panetti has not had a mental-health evaluation since 2007.  In a motion hastily filed this month, his volunteer lawyers requested that his execution be stayed, that a lawyer be appointed for him, and that he receive funding for a new mental-health assessment, saying his functioning has only gotten worse.  For instance, he now claims that a prison dentist implanted a transmitter in his tooth.

The lawyers would have made this motion weeks earlier, immediately after a Texas judge set Mr. Panetti’s execution date. But since no one — not the judge, not the district attorney, not the attorney general — notified them (or even Mr. Panetti himself), they had no idea their client was scheduled to be killed until they read about it in a newspaper. State officials explained that the law did not require them to provide notification.

On Nov. 19, a Texas court denied the lawyers’ motion. A civilized society should not be in the business of executing anybody. But it certainly cannot pretend to be adhering to any morally acceptable standard of culpability if it kills someone like Scott Panetti.

November 24, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Reviewing the potential and pitfalls in a notable problem-solving court in NYC

Today's New York Times has this terrific lengthy account of the work of a unique "problem-solving court" in New York.  The piece is headlined "In a Queens Court, Women in Prostitution Cases Are Seen as Victims," and here are small excerpts from an article that merits a read in full:

The Human Trafficking Intervention Court in Queens, which is marking its 10th anniversary next month, ... serves as a model for a statewide 11-court program that began last year. The intention is to change the legal conversation around the multibillion-dollar sex trade by redefining the women in it as victims instead of criminals. Most are offered a deal: Take part in a set number of counseling sessions, usually five or six, and the charges will be dismissed and the record sealed.

After 13 months, the five New York City courts are still a work in progress, their success tracked more in individual stories than statistics. “This court is not devised to solve the problems of trafficking,” Judge Serita said of the program, “but to address one of the unfortunate byproducts, which is the arrest of these defendants on prostitution charges.”

All defendants in the specialized courts are presumed to be victims at risk, the first of many assumptions made, in part, because of the silence surrounding sex trafficking. That silence also makes it tougher to shift social mores. Not only do the police and the justice system still treat prostitution as a crime, but the women themselves, most undocumented, often don’t define themselves as having been trafficked — whether out of fear, shame or choice....

At no point in the proceedings does the judge, the prosecutor or the defense lawyer ask if the defendants have been trafficked; nor is there a quid pro quo to give up a trafficker. It is rare, but the hope is that the women, perhaps after working with counselors, will feel comfortable describing the conditions that led them to prostitution....

On Fridays, Judge Serita usually hears more than 40 cases in three hours. “How are you today?” she asks each of the women, inquiring whether they take English classes and praising their progress. Several defendants said they noticed less that she was an Asian woman and more that she had a warm demeanor. On other days, she presides over the drug treatment and mental health courts in Queens.

The trafficking court, she acknowledged, is a Catch-22: For people to feel less like criminals, they must first go through the criminal justice system. Leigh Latimer, the Legal Aid Society lawyer assigned to Judge Serita’s court, agreed. “There is a somewhat more recent view that clients are potentially victims, but we’re still arresting them at a very rapid pace,” she said. “We’re trying to solve their problems through being arrested, which is not an affirming process.”...

On several Fridays, nearly a dozen women said during interviews in Mandarin that they did not feel like trafficking victims, but victims of the police. The women all spoke on the condition of anonymity because their cases were still pending. “My name has been tarnished,” said one woman, who was upset that her case was “lumped with all those others.” She denied performing a sex act, but the police report contradicted that, Ms. Affronti said.

Another woman explained that she was arrested at 4 a.m. on her sixth day of work. She and her sister, who quit after the second day because she sensed “something was not right,” owed more than $80,000 to friends and family members who raised the money for them to come to the United States from Fuzhou. That type of pressure to pay back smuggling agents — often with interest as high as 12 percent — is considered “debt bondage.” It is a more subtle condition of human trafficking, but is pervasive in New York’s Asian communities, lawyers say.

November 23, 2014 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack