Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Some final squabbling over some of the final executions slated for 2013
This new Reuters piece, headlined "Oklahoma to execute inmate; Missouri execution stayed," provides a run down of some of the final aspects of some of the final executions scheduled for 2013. Here are the details:
Oklahoma on Tuesday was scheduled to execute a man convicted of raping and murdering two elderly women in the 1980s, while a federal appeals court panel has stayed a Missouri execution planned for hours later.
Missouri appealed the 2-1 ruling by the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel to stay the execution of Allen Nicklasson, 41, who was found guilty of killing a stranger who offered him roadside assistance. Nicklasson has raised claims that his trial and appeals counsel were ineffective. The full Eighth Circuit was expected to hear arguments and rule Tuesday morning on the state's request to lift the stay of Nicklasson's execution, which is set for early Wednesday at a Missouri prison.
The Missouri Department of Corrections is proceeding with its plans for the execution unless instructed differently by the state attorney general, spokesman Mike O'Connell said. Oklahoma is scheduled to execute Ronald Clinton Lott, 53, by lethal injection at a state prison after 6 p.m. Central Time (0000 GMT) on Tuesday.
If carried out, the executions of Lott and Nicklasson would be the 37th and 38th in the United States this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Lott was convicted of raping and killing Anna Laura Fowler, 83, in 1986 and Zelma Cutler, 90, in 1987 in their Oklahoma City homes after DNA evidence linked him to the crimes.... Another man, Robert Lee Miller Jr., had originally confessed to the rape and murder of the two women and served 11 years, seven on death row, before DNA evidence led authorities to Lott. Miller was released in 1998.
Lott would be the fifth man executed in Oklahoma in 2013. The state is also scheduled to execute Johnny Dale Black, 48, on December 17 for his conviction in the 1998 stabbing death of Ringling, Oklahoma, horse trainer Bill Pogue.
In the Missouri case, Nicklasson was found guilty of murder for the August 1994 shooting of motorist Richard Drummond, who stopped on a highway to help Nicklasson and two other men whose car had broken down. The men had burglarized a home where they stole guns and ammunition before their vehicle broke down. When Drummond stopped to offer a ride, the men abducted him, took him to a wooded area and shot him in the head, according to court records. One of the men, Dennis Skillicorn, was executed in 2009. The other man, Tim DeGraffenreid, was 17 at the time. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a reduced sentence.
Nicklasson and Skillicorn were also convicted of killing an Arizona couple while they were on the run after killing Drummond. Nicklasson would be the second person executed in Missouri this year.
Nicklasson had been scheduled to die October 23, but Missouri Governor Jay Nixon halted the execution due to broad criticism over the state's planned use of the drug propofol, widely used as an anesthetic in medical procedures. The case is one of many caught up in a nationwide debate over what drugs can or should be used for executions as capital punishment opponents pressure pharmaceutical companies to cut off supplies of drugs for executions. Missouri in November used pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate, mixed by a compounding pharmacy to execute serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin.
Because the executions discussed in this piece are the only ones likely to be carried out this month, it appears very likely that there will be less than 40 executions in the United States in 2013. This is only the second time in nearly two decades in which there were less than two score execution throughout the nation, and the last time (in 2008) no executions had been carried out for the first three months of the year as everyone awaited a result in Baze concerning the constitutionality of lethal injection protocols.
Monday, December 09, 2013
Ins't home confinement for only three months and a small fine insufficient punishment for a felony false imprisonment charge?
The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this new CNN report headlined "Ex-San Diego Mayor Bob Filner sentenced to home confinement, fines." Here are the details:
Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner was sentenced Monday to 90 days in home confinement, three years probation, and a series of fines totaling about $1500 as part of a plea deal.
The 71-year-old pleaded guilty in October to kissing or grabbing three women at campaign events or at City Hall -- one a felony false imprisonment charge, the other two misdemeanor battery charges. The three women were among 19 who accused him of offensive behavior during his tenure as mayor and as a congressman....
GPS monitoring will track his whereabouts during his confinement. He'll be allowed to go out for medical and therapy appointments, religious services, and meetings tied to his probation. He'll also be allowed to leave his apartment but stay within the apartment complex....
[T]he prosecution said Filner's behavior harmed the women and the city. Referring to the three women as Jane Does 1, 2, and 3, the state said Filner humiliated, scared, embarrassed, sexualized and devalued them. Prosecutors also noted that after taking part in two weeks of treatment earlier this year, Filner still denied his crimes "and insisted that he was the victim of a lynch mob."
Filner's attorneys said they did not dispute any of the facts stated by the prosecution. None of the victims chose to be in court for the sentencing.
The felony charge said Filner used force to restrain a woman at a fund-raising event March 6. The misdemeanor charges say he kissed a woman on the lips without her consent at City Hall on April 6 and grabbed a woman's buttock after she asked to have her picture taken with him at a rally on May 25....
Under the plea deal, which was announced in October, Filner would be prohibited from ever seeking or holding public office again, the attorney general's office said. Filner also would not be able to vote, serve on a jury or own a firearm while on probation. Filner also will have to give up pension credit for his time in the mayor's office after March 6, the date of the first offense.
I am not intimately familiar with all the details of all the unlawful intimate and too-familiar behavior of the former mayor of San Diego. But the fact that this plea deal included a felony count proposed by state prosecutors and accepted by the state court judge suggests that many responsible folks think Filner should be foreover branded a felon. In light of that conclusion, I have a hard time seeing the "slap on the wrist" punishment here to be reasonably sufficient, especially if prosecutors had solid evidence that Filner abused more than a dozen women and that "Filner humiliated, scared, embarrassed, sexualized and devalued" his many victims.
I am not sure if this (seemingly too) lenient sentence for Filner was baked into the plea deal or the result of a sentencing judge not being too troubled by Filner's many crimes. Whatever the reality, if the victims truly suffered the way the prosecutor asserted, I am sorry for them that they were not there to speak at Filner's sentencing and that their harm may seem disvaluaed by this outcome. That said, perhaps many of Filner's victims are mostly interested in a huge tort payday, so maybe at least some of them are content with Filner having resources to pay them in a civil suit rather than a huge fine to the state as part of his punishment.
Sunday, December 08, 2013
Victims provide some recent historical perspectives on two worst crimes in recent American history
As regular readers may know, I am a huge believer in having criminal justice systems give special attention to victims' interests, rights and perspectives (in part because I believe actual victims, generally speaking, are often interested in a much more dynamic and sophisticated government response to wrong-doing than just the lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key attitudes too often claimed to be in their interest by politicians and prosecutors). For that reason, I am always pleased when victim-oriented matters become big legal cases (as with the SCOTUS Paroline case concerning restitution for child porn victims), and also when the media gives special and extended attention to crime victims.
For these (and other) reasons, I am pleased and intrigued to see today's New York Times has these two extended articles discussing victims' perspectives on two of the worst crimes in recent American history:
I have long felt very fortunate that I personally have only been the victim of relatively minor property crimes (though I do have a number of family members and friends who have had their lives shattered by serious violent crimes). I also feel very fortunate to live in a society that, at least in some high-profile settings for some victims, seeks to be attentive to the unique needs and enduring challenges that all too many crime victims face.
Friday, December 06, 2013
Federal judge in Washington finds Sixth Amendment violations from cuts to local public defender programs
As reported in this AP piece, a pair of "Washington cities have systematically violated the constitutional rights of poor defendants to effective legal representation, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, blaming city officials for being 'willfully blind' to the effects of their cost-cutting." Here is more about what seems to me to be a landmark ruling handed down earlier this week:
The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Skagit County towns of Mount Vernon and Burlington two years ago, alleging that public defenders there were so overworked that they amounted to little more than "a warm body with a law degree."
U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik agreed. He issued a ruling Wednesday, following a two-week trial in June, that could have broad ramifications for how cities provide legal help to the poor: "In the state of Washington, there are undoubtedly a number of municipalities whose public defense systems would, if put under a microscope, be found wanting," he wrote.
The judge ordered the cities to hire a part-time public defense supervisor to oversee whether poor defendants are receiving adequate legal counsel, saying "the court has grave doubts regarding the cities' ability and political will to make the necessary changes on their own."
Lawyers involved said they believed it was the first time in the nation's history a federal court had appointed such a supervisor to oversee a public defense agency. Sarah Dunne, the ACLU of Washington's legal director, said in an emailed statement she was thrilled to see the ruling this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Gideon v. Wainright that the right to counsel applies in state courts as well as federal ones....
Andrew Cooley, who represented the cities, said he was gratified the judge did not impose a case-load limit on their public defenders. The state Supreme Court has adopted such standards as it wrestles with how to improve the representation of indigent defendants, but they aren't scheduled to take effect until January 2015.
He also said the cities have doubled their public-defense budget since the lawsuit was filed, and it remained unclear whether officials could stomach spending any more. Instead, Burlington and Mount Vernon might simply disband their municipal courts, leaving Skagit County District Court to handle those cases.
Lasnik noted that two lawyers who formerly handled public defense cases for the cities each took on about 1,000 cases a year from 2009-2011 and often spent less than an hour per case. There was almost no evidence they investigated their clients' cases, met with their clients confidentially, or performed any legal analysis of the cases, the judge said.
Instead, they simply assumed police had done their jobs correctly. "The services they offered to their indigent clients amounted to little more than a 'meet and plead' system," he wrote....
Ironically, Lasnik said the failings of the public defenders in Mount Vernon and Burlington didn't necessarily result in their clients getting worse deals. With a note of chagrin, he said the penny-pinching of city administrators faced with tough budgetary times had also hit prosecutors, who in turn offered "overly lenient plea deals."
But that's not the point, Lasnik said: "Advising a client to take a fantastic plea deal in an obstruction of justice or domestic violence case may appear to be effective advocacy, but not if the client is innocent, the charge is defective, or the plea would have disastrous consequences for his or her immigration status."
The 23-page ruling in Wilbur v. City of Mount Vernon, No. C11-1100RSL (D. Wash. Dec. 4, 2013), is available at this link and it concludes with this poetic paragraph:
It has been fifty years since the United States Supreme Court first recognized that the accused has a right to the assistance of counsel for his defense in all criminal prosecutions and that the state courts must appoint counsel for indigent defendants who cannot afford to retain their own lawyer. The notes of freedom and liberty that emerged from Gideon’s trumpet a half a century ago cannot survive if that trumpet is muted and dented by harsh fiscal measures that reduce the promise to a hollow shell of a hallowed right.
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Remarkable new HRW report details massive "trial penalty" due to mandatory minimums in federal system
As highlighted in this press release discussing a new important report, in federal courts "drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain, according to new statistics developed by Human Rights Watch." Here is more from the press release about the report and its findings:
The 126-page report, “An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty,” details how prosecutors throughout the United States extract guilty pleas from federal drug defendants by charging or threatening to charge them with offenses carrying harsh mandatory sentences and by seeking additional mandatory increases to those sentences. Prosecutors offer defendants a much lower sentence in exchange for pleading guilty. Since drug defendants rarely prevail at trial, it is not surprising that 97 percent of them decide to plead guilty.
“Prosecutors give drug defendants a so-called choice -- in the most egregious cases, the choice can be to plead guilty to 10 years, or risk life without parole by going to trial,” said Jamie Fellnew, senior advisor to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Prosecutors make offers few drug defendants can refuse. This is coercion pure and simple.”...In one of hundreds of cases Human Rights Watch reviewed, Sandra Avery, a small-time drug dealer, rejected a plea of 10 years for possessing 50 grams of crack cocaine with intent to deliver. The prosecutor triggered a sentencing enhancement based on her prior convictions for simple drug possession, and she was sentenced to life without parole.
In addition to case reviews, the report is also based on numerous interviews with federal prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges. It also includes new statistics developed by Human Rights Watch that provide the most recent and detailed measure of what the report calls the “trial penalty” -- the difference in sentences for drug defendants who pled guilty compared with those for defendants convicted after trial. The trial penalty is, essentially, the price prosecutors make defendants pay for exercising their right to trial. “Going to trial is a right, not a crime,” Fellner said. “But defendants are punished with longer sentences for exercising that right.”
Prosecutors are able to impose the trial penalty because judges have been reduced to virtual bystanders in cases involving mandatory sentences. When prosecutors choose to pursue mandatory penalties and the defendant is convicted, judges must impose the sentences. They cannot exercise their traditional role of tailoring sentences to each defendant’s conduct and culpability and of making sentences no longer than necessary to serve the purposes of punishment....The new statistics Human Rights Watch developed for the report, based on raw federal sentencing data for 2012, include the following:
• The average sentence for federal drug offenders who pled guilty was five years, four months; for those convicted after trial the average sentence was sixteen years.
• For drug defendants convicted of offenses carrying mandatory minimum sentences, those who pled guilty had an average sentence of 82.5 months compared with 215 months for those convicted after trial, a difference of 11 years.
• Among drug defendants with prior felony convictions, the odds of receiving a sentencing enhancement based on those convictions was 8.4 times greater for those who went to trial than for those who pled guilty.
• Among drug defendants with a gun involved in their offense, the odds of receiving the statutory gun sentencing enhancement were 2.5 times greater for those who went to trial than for those who pled guilty.
Yet another effective review of the child porn restitution challenges facing SCOTUS
I have already blogged some previews of the fascinating Supreme Court case of Paroline v. United States even though oral argument is still six weeks away because the issues strike me as so interesting and dynamic. (The parties' main briefs and now lots of amicus briefs are now available via SCOTUSblog on this Paroline case page.) And I suspect we are seeing other notable coverage of the case already because lots of others are also intrigued by the issues and arguments now before the Justices in Paroline. The latest example comes via Emily Bazelon here at Slate, and it is headlined "Paying Amy: Doyle Paroline owned two pornographic pictures of an 8-year-old girl. How much should he have to pay?" Here are a few excerpts (with cites to some of the filed briefs):
In January, the Supreme Court will hear the appeal of Doyle Randall Paroline, who was caught with two pictures of Amy among 280 illegal images and was found liable by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for the full amount of the restitution Amy, who is now 24, has claimed. The 5th Circuit said it was up to Paroline — not Amy — to find the other men who could also be on the hook for restitution and go after them for contributions. The legal theory is called joint and several liability. It’s the way courts deal with pollution cases in which a bunch of defendants all dump toxic waste into a single lake. A plaintiff sues one wealthy company for all the damages, and then that defendant has to sue other companies to share the costs.
Is this how Congress intended victims to recover from sex offenders when it passed [the Violence Against Women Act] in 1994?...
Of the eight appeals courts that have heard challenges by men like Paroline, only the 5th Circuit agreed entirely with Amy’s theory of recovery. The Department of Justice also disagrees with a key to it, saying that joint and several liability doesn’t apply in these cases. But a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators have filed a brief before the Supreme Court arguing that Congress wanted to give Amy an easy path to restitution. VAWA could “hardly be clearer,” say the senators (roll call: Orrin Hatch of Utah, Dianne Feinstein of California, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, John McCain of Arizona, Patty Murray of Washington, and Charles Schumer of New York)....
Five appeals courts have said they doubted that victims like Amy can win more than nominal restitution. Two others let her keep awards of only $10,000 or less. She has been able to collect larger amounts only from men who have agreed to settle or waived their right to appeal. The senators, though, say that all these courts got it wrong and the 5th Circuit got it right. They quote Vice President Joe Biden, chief architect of the VAWA, who called it “the most victim-friendly bill [the Senate] ever passed.” And they provide an important piece of history about how VAWA was drafted....
Here’s the clearest way to think about how and why Amy and other victims like her should win restitution. Their trauma can’t be neatly parceled out among the individual men convicted for possessing their pictures. But the harm is crystal clear in the aggregate. And so Paroline and other defendants shouldn’t be relieved of their obligation to pay “simply because Amy would continue to suffer harm if there were one less child-pornography consumer in the world,” as the Department of Justice puts it. This makes sense to me: You can’t let each viewer off the hook because he is merely one small part of the whole.
How much does each viewer who is convicted have to pay? The Department of Justice argues — vaguely and without any basis I can see in VAWA — that each defendant should pay restitution in an amount greater than zero but less than the whole. Courts should use their discretion to pick some place in the middle, the government says. It rejects the idea of joint and several liability as “practically unworkable” and “unduly harsh.”
If Paroline had to pay millions of dollars for his two pictures of Amy, then yes, that would be unfair. But that’s not how joint and several liability works. It works like this: Other victims following in Amy’s footsteps would target the rich child-pornography defendants. Then it would be up to those men to find the others who are also legally responsible. This would allow many more victims to recover than the alternative: The victims have to sue the defendants they can find one by one, while courts award restitution in what would probably be relatively small amounts. If the Justice Department is really worried about fairness, it could create a compensation fund defendants could pay into for the benefit of more victims.
Money can make a huge difference for victims of sexual abuse. For Amy and Nicole, it has meant access to counseling and a safety net when they have struggled with school and work, as they both have at times. Restitution makes far more sense than the enormously long prison sentences men often serve for collecting child pornography. Congress was right to see the value of restitution. The Supreme Court should too. And then lawmakers and judges should also recognize that the prison terms for possession of child pornography have become too harsh.
A few prior posts on Paroline:
- SCOTUS grants cert on challenging child porn restitution issues that have deeply split lower courts
- Gearing up for Paroline with a short "Child Pornography Restitution Update"
- Another preview of Paroline via the New York Times
December 5, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
"How Bureaucrats Stand in the Way of Releasing Elderly and Ill Prisoners"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new ProPublica piece about (the paucity of) compassionate release in the federal criminal justice system. Here are excerpts:
The government has long been criticized for rarely granting compassionate release. This August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department would try to change that by expanding criteria for who can apply.
Under the new guidelines, compassionate release can be granted not just to prisoners who have terminal illnesses, but also to those with debilitating conditions. Prisoners who need to serve as caregivers for family members may now also seek reductions in sentencing. And for the first time, elderly federal inmates who aren’t necessarily dying or incapacitated can apply to be let out early.
Holder touted the compassionate release initiative as one way to cut down on the “astonishing” federal prison population, which has grown by nearly 800 percent since 1980.
But even if the changes enable more inmates to apply for compassionate release, prison officials still have almost total discretion over who is approved. A federal prison’s warden, as well as the Bureau of Prisons’ regional director and central office must sign off on an inmate’s application before it is passed on to a judge. Any of those officials can reject applications for a number of reasons, from a perceived risk of recidivism to concern for what’s best for a prisoner’s child.... There is no process for inmates to appeal those decisions in court.
Many advocates say they expect eligible inmates will remain behind bars despite the changes. “I don’t believe it’s going to change at all,” said lawyer Marc Seitles, whose client was denied release despite terminal cancer. “It’s still the same people making decisions.”
In September, Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels said he predicted expanding eligibility would result in the “release of some non-violent offenders, although we estimate the impact will be modest.” (The agency declined to make Samuels available for comment to ProPublica.)
As of October 29, The Bureau of Prisons had approved and passed along 50 compassionate release requests to judges this year. That’s up from 39 in 2012 and 29 in 2011. It’s impossible to know if the overall rate of approval has increased, as the federal Bureau of Prisons hasn’t released the number of inmates who have applied.
The Bureau says it recently started to track inmate requests, after an Inspector General report earlier this year excoriated the department for failing to do so. The report also found most inmates didn't even know the program existed.
The expansion of compassionate release was motivated in part by the rising number of sick and elderly inmates incarcerated in the U.S. As of 2011, there were over 26,000 inmates over 65 in state and federal custody. And as the elderly population in prison grows, so do their medical bills. Housing an inmate in a prison medical center costs taxpayers nearly $60,000 a year — more than twice the cost of housing an inmate in general population.
Many lawyers and prisoner advocates have said the “jailers are acting as judges” by rejecting most compassionate release cases without ever passing them onto the courts for a final decision. “The Bureau of Prisons should be letting judges have the opportunity to decide every time extraordinary and compelling reasons come to their attention, and [they are] not doing that,” said federal public defender Steve Sady, who has written extensively on the issue and represented clients requesting early release. “We believe that, under the statute, the sentence is for the judge to decide.”
Prisons spokesman Edmond Ross said in an emailed statement that “Congress gave the [Bureau of Prisons] authority” to decide which inmates should be granted release. “Review includes deliberation on the most important factor, ensuring that an inmate's release would not pose a danger to the safety of any other person or the community,” he said. “This must be considered before any request is submitted to a court.”
Mary Price, general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, says prison officials are ill-equipped to make those kinds of decisions. Prison officials’ “job is to keep people locked up. Identifying people who should no longer be incarcerated is just not what they do,” she said....
Prisoner advocates at Human Rights Watch and other organizations have proposed allowing inmates to go before a judge to appeal rejections. “Unless there’s an institutional change or a criteria that they have to follow, this will never change,” Seitles said.
"The wrong people decide who goes to prison"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new CNN commentary authored by US DIstrict Judge Mark Bennett and Prof. Mark Osler. Here are some of the on-the-mark views coming today from these Marks:
Nearly 30 years ago, Congress embarked on a remarkable and ultimately tragic transformation of criminal law. Through the establishment of mandatory sentences and sentencing guidelines, discretion in sentencing was shifted from judges to prosecutors. After the changes, prosecutors largely controlled sentencing because things like mandatory sentences and guideline ranges were determined by decisions they made.
This change ignored the fact that federal judges are chosen from the ranks of experienced members of the bar precisely because their long legal careers have shown the ability to exercise discretion. It also ignored the contrasting truth that many federal prosecutors are young lawyers in their 20s and 30s who have little experience making decisions as weighty as determining who will be imprisoned and for how long.
The primary reason for the changes was well-intended, though: Members of Congress wanted more uniformity in sentencing. That is, they wanted a term of imprisonment to derive from the crime and the history of the criminal rather than the personality of the person wielding discretion.
After nearly 30 years, we know how Congress' experiment turned out, and the results are not good. Federal judges have been relatively lenient on low-level drug offenders when they have the discretion to go that way. Turning discretion over to prosecutors via mandatory sentences and guidelines not only resulted in a remarkable surge in incarceration, it does not seem to solve the problem of disparities....
Let's look at just one way that prosecutors exercise this discretion: the enhancement of narcotics sentences under 21 U.S.C. 851, or proceedings to establish prior convictions. These enhancements, at a minimum, double a drug defendant's mandatory minimum sentence and may raise the maximum possible sentence.... [O]ur analysis of the way these enhancements have been used reveals a deeply disturbing dirty little secret of federal sentencing: the stunningly arbitrary application of these enhancements by prosecutors within the Department of Justice.
The numbers tell the story. Our home states are fairly typical in their wild disparities: A federal defendant in Iowa is more than 1,056% likely to receive a 851 enhancement than one in Minnesota. Nor are these Midwestern neighbors an anomaly. In the Northern District of Florida, prosecutors apply the enhancement 87% of the time, but in the bordering Middle District of Georgia, they are used in just 2% of relevant cases.
There is also breathtaking disparity within federal district within the same state (PDF). For example, in Florida, prosecutors in the Northern District apply the enhancement 87% of the time, but in the Southern District, it is used only 14% of the time. In the Eastern District of Tennessee, offenders are 3,994% more likely to receive an enhancement than in the Western District of Tennessee. In the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, a defendant is 2,257% more likely to receive the enhancement than in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The disparities are startling.
In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced steps to establish more discipline within the Department of Justice in how this discretion is used. It is a promising step but only that: a step. It is unclear how firm the attorney general is willing to be in tracking and constraining the use of this kind of discretion by prosecutors in different areas.
The larger lesson, and the more important one, is that after nearly 30 years, we still have gross and tragic disparities in federal sentencing, with the added burden of too many people put in prison, caused by mandatory sentencing and harsh sentencing guidelines. Tentative steps at reform will not be enough. It is time for a radical rethinking of the project as a whole and a recognition that this grand experiment in shifting discretion to prosecutors has failed.
December 4, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Interesting (similar?) accounts of distinct forms of tough justice being reconsidered
Yesterday's New York Times had two distinct pieces telling similar types of stories about the review and reconsideration of tough sanctions that have not always worked out ideally. Here are the headlines and links, with just a bit of excerpted content:
Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools are leading to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that especially affect minority students, cities and school districts around the country are rethinking their approach to minor offenses.
To most of the world – back in 1992 and even now — Mike Reynolds’s effort to keep repeat violent offenders locked up for life after the murder of his 18-year-old daughter, Kimber, in Fresno, Calif., was a non-event, not the opening salvo of what would become a barrage of state laws and referendums eventually known as the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” movement....
A few noted criminologists predicted at the time that “three strikes” laws, which would sweep the nation, were unlikely to have much effect on crime, would fill the nation’s prisons to bursting and would satisfy frustrated voters at the expense of bad public policy. They were largely ignored. As this Retro Report points out, California voters eventually concluded that its three strikes law was excessive in its zeal and financial burden, and last year they amended the law that Mr. Reynolds had put before them two decades earlier.
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
In lengthy split opinions, en banc Sixth Circuit rejects all efforts to give any relief to pre-FSA crack defendants still serving mandatory minimums
The Sixth Circuit this morning has handed down a lengthy set of opinion in the closely-watched Blewett litigation. All the opinions, which can be accessed here, run a full 79 pages. It appears the vote to reject providing any relief to pre-FSA defendants still serving now-repealed mandatory minimums was 10-7, and here is the complicated accounting of the votes and opinions:
SUTTON, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which BATCHELDER, C. J., BOGGS, GILMAN, GIBBONS, COOK, McKEAGUE, GRIFFIN and KETHLEGE, JJ., joined, and MOORE, J., join ed in the result. MOORE, J. (pp. 21–33), delivered a separate opinion concurring in the judgment. MERRITT, J. (pp. 34–37), delivered a separate dissenting opinion, in which DONALD J., joined. COLE, J. (pp. 38–43), delivered a separate dissenting opinion. CLAY, J. (pp. 44–58), delivered a separate dissenting opinion, in which DONALD, J., joined. ROGERS, J. (pp. 59–67), delivered a separate dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and STRANCH, JJ., joined, MERRITT, J., joined in part, and COLE, J., joined except for the last paragraph. WHITE, J. (pp. 68–79), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.
I am not at all surpsised by the line-up here, which notably seems to go down party lines save for Clinton appointees Judges Gilam and Moore with the Republican-appointee-heavy marjority, and Bush appointees Judges Rogers and White voting with the Democratic-heavy dissenting minority. Here is how the opinion of the Sixth Circuit majority ends:
At the end of the day, this is a case about who, not what — about who has authority to lower the Blewetts’ sentences, not what should be done with that authority. In holding that the courts lack authority to give the Blewetts a sentence reduction, we do not mean to discount the policy arguments for granting that reduction. Although the various opinions in this case draw different conclusions about the law, they all agree that Congress should think seriously about making the new minimums retroactive. Indeed, the Fair Sentencing Act, prospective though it is, dignifies much of what the Blewetts are saying as a matter of legislative reform and may well be a powerful ground for seeking relief from Congress. Yet the language of the relevant statutes (the Fair Sentencing Act, § 109 and § 3582(c)(2)) and the language of the relevant decisions (Dorsey, Davis and Harmelin) leave us no room to grant that relief here. Any request for a sentence reduction must be addressed to a higher tribunal (the Supreme Court) or to a different forum altogether (the Congress and the President).
Especially because I have a very busy teaching week, I am unlikely to find the time to read and assess these opinions in full for a little while. Moreover, because I have a much more robust view of the limits of the Eighth Amendment than most members of the federal judiciary, I suspect I will not be moved by how the majority disposed of this matter with reference to Harmelin and other cases which do not involve the sui generis reality of sustaining lengthy federal prison terms that have been resoundly and repeatedly rejected and disavowed by all other branches of the federal government and by all the states in the Union as well.
December 3, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Calling out DOJ for talking the talk, but not walking the walk, on mandatory minimums
Andrew Cohen has this lengthy and effective new piece via The Atlantic highlighting a case in the SCOTUS cert pool that highlights the ways federal prosecutors are able to use mandatory minimums to force judges to impose lengthy prison terms for drug offenders. The piece's headline and sub-head highlight its themes: "Attorney General Mean What He Says About Sentencing Reform?: Eric Holder has spent a great deal of time and energy lately advocating for reforms to mandatory minimum sentences. So why is the federal government trying to stiff Clarvee Gomez in court?". And here is how piece starts and concludes:
When the justices of the United States Supreme Court confer Friday morning to consider new cases they will have the opportunity to accept for review a dispute that tests not just the meaning of their own recent Sixth Amendment precedent but the viability of a major new policy initiative implemented this summer by the Justice Department to bring more fairness to federal sentencing while reducing the terrible costs of prison overcrowding.
In Gomez v. United States, a Massachusetts case, the justices have been asked to determine whether they meant what they wrote about juries and drug sentences in Alleyne v. United States, decided just this past June, and at the same time whether Attorney General Eric Holder meant what he said, in August, when he promised to curb the ways in which his federal prosecutors abuse "mandatory minimum" sentences in drug cases to obtain guilty pleas (or higher sentences).
The justices should accept this case for review. And the Court should affirm the just principle that a man cannot constitutionally be sentenced based upon charges that are not brought or upon facts a jury does not even hear. But even if the justices aren't willing to muster up that level of indignation, they ought to at least take the opportunity to call out federal prosecutors for saying one thing in front of the microphones and another in court papers....
The government's positions in this case — both the tactics employed by Gomez's prosecutors and the arguments made now by federal attorneys — are utterly inconsistent with the much-publicized policies the Attorney General himself promulgated this summer....
Even after the Court's mandate in Alleyne, even after the Attorney General's pointed memorandum, even after all the public speeches about sentencing reform, federal attorneys still are trying to argue that the result in the Gomez case is both fair and constitutional. It is neither and the Supreme Court ought to say so — or at least expose the incoherence and hypocrisy of the government's position. If true sentencing reform is going to come it's going to come one case at a time — and this is as good a case as any to start.
Monday, December 02, 2013
Another preview of Paroline via the New York Times
As I noted in this post a few weeks ago, oral argument in the fascinating Supreme Court case of Paroline v. United States is not until January. But the parties' opening briefs, all of which are now in and are available via SCOTUSblog on this Paroline case page, already provide a full review of the challenging issues that restitution sentences for child porn downloading victims presents for the Justices. Adam Liptak in this new New York Times piece, headlined "Evaluating the Liability of Viewers of Child Pornography," effectively reviews the issues and arguments now before the Justices in Paroline:
The notices arrive almost every day. They tell a young woman named Amy, as she is called in court papers, that someone has been charged with possessing child pornography. She was the child. “It is hard to describe what it feels like to know that at any moment, anywhere, someone is looking at pictures of me as a little girl being abused by my uncle and is getting some kind of sick enjoyment from it,” Amy, then 19, wrote in a 2008 victim impact statement. “It’s like I am being abused over and over and over again.”
Next month, the Supreme Court will consider what the men who took pleasure from viewing Amy’s abuse must pay her. Images of Amy being sexually assaulted by her uncle are among the most widely viewed child pornography in the world. They have figured in some 3,200 criminal cases since 1998.
Amy is notified through a Justice Department program that tells crime victims about developments in criminal cases involving them. She has the notifications sent to her lawyer. There have been about 1,800 so far. Her lawyer often files a request for restitution, as a 1994 law allows her to do. Every viewing of child pornography, Congress found, “represents a renewed violation of the privacy of the victims and repetition of their abuse.”
Amy’s losses are in most ways beyond measure, but some of them can be calculated in dollars. She has found it hard to hold down a job. She needs a lifetime of therapy. She has legal bills. Her lawyers say it adds up to about $3.4 million. The question for the justices is how to allocate that sum among the participants in the sordid marketplace for pictures of her.
One of those men is Doyle R. Paroline, who was caught with 280 images of children, including toddlers, being sexually abused. Two of the pictures were of Amy. The 1994 law allows victims of child pornography to seek the “full amount” of their losses from people convicted of producing, distributing or possessing it, and Amy asked the United States District Court in Tyler, Tex., to order Mr. Paroline to pay her the full $3.4 million....
Mr. Paroline was sentenced to two years in prison, but the trial judge, Leonard Davis, did not order him to give Amy anything. The link between Amy’s losses and what Mr. Paroline did, Judge Davis said, was too remote. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, disagreed and awarded Amy the $3.4 million she sought. Mr. Paroline should pay what he could and seek contributions from his fellow wrongdoers if he thought it too much, the court said, relying on the legal doctrine of “joint and several” liability....
Mr. Paroline said the ruling was deeply unfair. “An award of $3.4 million against an individual for possessing two images of child pornography is punitive and grossly disproportionate to the offense conduct,” he told the Supreme Court. Requiring him to seek payment from his fellow sex offenders, he added, “would create a procedural nightmare.”
Amy’s lawyers countered that it should not be her burden to pursue her abusers over “decades of litigation that might never lead to a full recovery.” She has received restitution in 180 cases so far, she told the justices, and has recovered a little more than 40 percent of her losses.
The Justice Department took a middle ground before the Supreme Court, saying that Amy deserved something from Mr. Paroline, but that $3.4 million was too much. The right amount, the department’s lawyers said, was “somewhere between all or nothing.” They did not specify what Mr. Paroline’s share might be, saying the trial court should decide.
A few prior posts on Paroline:
- SCOTUS grants cert on challenging child porn restitution issues that have deeply split lower courts
- Gearing up for Paroline with a short "Child Pornography Restitution Update"
What sentencing issues should SCOTUS be taking up to fill out its docket?
I have noted (and been disappointed by) the relative paucity of major sentencing cases on the Supreme Court docket this Term. But, as highlighted by this new Washington Post article, headlined "Supreme Court busy looking for cases — but finding fewer than usual," SCOTUS is now facing a relative paucity of all cases on its docket.
That all said, this recent Politico article, headlined "Digital era confounds the courts," spotlights that a number of cases concerning the intersection of the Fourth Amendment and new technology likely to be on the SCOTUS docket soon:
[T]he nation’s top court is set to consider whether to take up three key related cases ... [with] big tech issues that could finally get decided:...
Lower courts have been split on the authority of police to search your technology [incident to an arrest]. Currently, court rulings have required warrants to search a cellphone in six states, while they are not required in 20 other states, according to a map put together by Forbes and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.....
In the age of encryption and passwords, law enforcement officials can obtain a warrant for a hard drive, but they may not be able to access the material on it. So can police compel someone to provide a password or to unlock an account or decrypt a file? Courts have in some cases ruled that individuals can refuse to provide a password under their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves....
Another nettlesome issue brought up in part by the ubiquity of cellphones and smartphones is the ability of police to track a person’s movements. While the Supreme Court ruled last year that police cannot affix a GPS tracking device to a car without a warrant, it decided U.S. v. Jones based on a question of trespassing, which doesn’t apply when police get location information from a suspect’s devices or service provider.
The courts are also split on this issue. In July alone, two courts made opposite rulings: The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas found that law enforcement may get cell location data from service providers without a warrant. In a New Jersey case, a very different result -- the state supreme court held that the state’s constitution requires a warrant.
Like all criminal procedure issues, these constitutional search question are sure to have eventual sentencing echoes. But, of course, hard-core sentencing issues are the ones that really get me excited, and I think there are plenty the Justices should be taking up to fill out their docket.
Some of the most obvious sentencing issues seemingly ready for SCOTUS review are follow-ups to its recent Eighth Amendment work in Graham and Miller. Lower courts are deeply split over the retroactivity of Miller and also concerning what kinds of crimes and sentences fit within the categorical ban of juve LWOP sentences for nonhomicide offenses announced in Graham.
In addition, plenty of federal sentencing issues in the post-Booker world are still roiling district and circuit courts. I personally would like to see the Justices throw some more dirt on the worst guidelines by taking up, and then reversing as unreasonable, a poorly-justified, within-guideline sentence based on guidelines widely recognized to be badly broken (e.g., the crack or CP or fraud guidelines). But I doubt many Justices are eager to spend their spring further fighting with Justice Breyer over the mysteries of his Booker remedy.
I could go on issue spotting here for the Justices, but I am really eager to hear from informed readers about the question in the title of this post. What issues do folks working day-to-day in the sentencing vineyards believe the Supreme Court should take up ASAP?
December 2, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack
Sunday, December 01, 2013
"Death penalty for Boston bomber a complicated question"
The title of this post is the headline of this new piece from USA Today. Here are excerpts:
The high-security wing at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., now represents an increasingly complicated backdrop for a decision Attorney General Eric Holder is set to make in the next several weeks on whether to pursue the death penalty in the federal government's prosecution of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
There is little argument about the strength of the case against Tsarnaev, charged with 30 criminal counts in connection with the blasts that killed three and wounded more than 260 others. There are photographs of Tsarnaev allegedly planting explosives at the site of one of the bombings.
Yet the government's record in carrying out the death penalty is mixed at best, and there are conflicting views about whether the often-delayed penalty is an appropriate punishment if the 20-year-old defendant is convicted in the bombing case. Since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, only three offenders have been executed and none in the past 10 years....
In the case of Tsarnaev, there are other potentially complicating factors at play for the federal government in Massachusetts, a state long opposed to the death penalty. In September, less than six months after the attack, a poll commissioned by The Boston Globe found that 57% of Boston residents favored Tsarnaev's facing life in prison without parole, while only 33% supported death. The opposition, in the city deeply scarred by the bombing, crossed political lines with Democrats overwhelmingly favoring life in prison at 61%-28% and Republicans more narrowly supporting prison over death at 49%-46%.
"It's one thing for the government to be willing to impose the death penalty; it will be a lot harder to find people in Massachusetts to serve on a jury who would vote for the death penalty," said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which conducted the poll. "It's not terribly surprising given that it is Massachusetts."
Aitan Goelman, a former federal prosecutor who assisted in the Oklahoma City prosecutions, said the federal government's rarely used execution chamber reflects a system "slanted against" execution. From the mandatory pre-prosecution review to determine whether to pursue the maximum punishment to the actual prosecution, Goelman said, there are required thresholds in the federal system that don't exist in most states....
"The system seems to bend over backwards not to have executions,'' said Goelman, though he said he believes that "at the end of the day," Holder will likely certify the Tsarnaev prosecution as a death penalty case. "If you put a bomb down in a crowd, it becomes one of those cases where you say, 'If not now, when do you ever certify a case as a death penalty case?'" Goelman said.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which advocates against the death penalty, said possible considerations that could work in Tsarnaev's favor are his relative youth and whether Tsarnaev's older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, may have pushed him to take part in bombings.... "Justice might approve seeking the death penalty just to keep their options open," Dieter said, referring to a possible strategy to exact a guilty plea from the defendant.
Among those who have little doubt that death should be pursued against Tsarnaev is a former top Boston police official who worked closely on the investigation. "I don't believe in the death penalty in most cases," former Boston Police commissioner Ed Davis said. "I believe it is appropriate in this case. I would caution everyone to wait until all of the evidence comes out. … There is no explanation for what happened here."
I would be very surprised if AG Holder does not approve seeking the death penalty in this case, and I will be similarly surprised if the case is not ultimately resolved through a plea deal providing for an LWOP sentence.
Some prior related posts:
- "Balancing the State and Federal Roles in Boston Bomber Case"
- Does Boston bombing provide still more support for my federal-only death penalty perspective?
- Bad news for hard-core death penalty fans: Judy Clarke joins defense team for Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
- "The Boston Bomber Should Face The Possibility Of The Death Penalty"
- How can/will Boston bombings victims reasonably "confer" with prosecutors and be "reasonably heard" in proceedings?
- "Boston Bombing Suspect Is Indicted on 30 Counts"
- Will a jury get a chance to embrace or reject death penalty in Boston bombing case?
- Intriguing sparring over federal capital recommendation procedure in Boston bombing case
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Years after Graham and Miller, Florida still working on its legislative response
As reported in this local article, Florida is continuing to struggle with how it wants to respond legislatively to the Supreme Court's determination that the state cannot be so quick to give so many juvenile offenders life without parole. Here are the details:
After a stinging defeat last year on the floor of the Senate, Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, has again filed legislation to align Florida’s juvenile-sentencing laws with recent United States Supreme Court rulings.
In 2010, the Supreme Court said it’s unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile to life in prison without the possibility of parole, though it allowed exceptions for juveniles convicted of murder. Ever since, lawmakers have failed to pass legislation changing Florida’s juvenile sentencing laws to comply with those opinions. There are 265 inmates in custody of the Department of Corrections that were given life sentences as juveniles.
Additionally, without a tweak to state law, courts across the state have been left to interpret the Supreme Court’s decisions differently. “We owe it to our courts to provide guidance,” Bradley said. “It’s the Legislature’s job.”
During the 2013 legislative session, Bradley, a private attorney, ushered a proposed legislative fix through three committee stops, but halted his own bill on the Senate floor after opponents tacked on an amendment he opposed. Bradley’s bill would have required a judge to consider factors like background and ability for rehabilitation during a mandatory hearing before sentencing a juvenile convicted of murder to life in prison.... Bradley’s bill also capped at 50 years the sentence a judge could give a juvenile who did not commit murder.
The amendment, offered by state Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, would have allowed a parole hearing every 25 years for juveniles given life sentences for non-fatal crimes and for those who committed murder. “Why not give that judge the ability to review a case after 25 years?” Garcia asked during April floor debate.
This year, Bradley’s legislation offers parole hearings after 25 years for juveniles convicted of non-fatal crimes, and caps sentences for those offenders at 35 years. It does not offer hearings for juveniles convicted of homicide. “The bill I filed still does not offer hearings to murderers,” Bradley said.
Friday, November 29, 2013
Louisiana Supreme Court at crosshairs of strong gun rights and tough drug laws
As reported in this effective local article, headlined "Court considering second major gun law: La. drug-gun statute latest to face review," the top court in the Pelican State has a lot of interesting legal issues to sort out in the wake of state voters having last year approved by a gun-rights constitutional amendment backed by the National Rifle Association. Here are the particulars:
Amid the growing confusion over whether Louisiana’s litany of gun crimes violates its residents’ turbocharged right to bear arms, the state Supreme Court has decided it will try to settle one of the most consequential questions: Does it remain constitutional to charge a person with a high-grade felony for having a gun at the same time as illegal drugs, no matter what kind of drugs or how much?
Rico Webb, a 22-year-old caught in a car with one marijuana cigar and a gun, points to a state constitutional amendment passed last year, applauded by conservatives and the National Rifle Association, that for the first time in American history declared gun ownership a fundamental right in Louisiana, subject to the same level of judicial scrutiny as free speech and voter equality.
The amendment provoked an avalanche of legal challenges to the state’s major gun-crime laws. At least three judges have declared various criminal statutes unconstitutional. The Louisiana Supreme Court is tasked with sorting out the mess.
The high court already is considering the statute that forbids certain felons from possessing firearms. It heard oral arguments last month, and its decision is pending. In the meantime, the court agreed on Friday to take up Webb’s challenge to the law that punishes the possession of guns and drugs with five to 10 years in prison without the possibility of parole....The constitutional amendment sailed through the Legislature last year and received overwhelming support from voters at the ballot box. Its proponents, both inside and outside the Legislature, defended the measure as a guarantee of freedom if federal gun protections were to somehow fall.
But critics described it as an unnecessary law that solved no problem. Louisiana already had among the most liberal gun laws in the nation. All the amendment has accomplished, they say, is widespread constitutional chaos that could endanger public safety and waste hundreds of courthouse hours on the taxpayers’ dime.
The measure was pitched by conservative legislators as a state equivalent to the Second Amendment. But in practice, it goes far past the protections offered by the U.S. Constitution. The amendment erased language in the law that allowed the Legislature to prohibit carrying a concealed weapon and specified that, for the first time anywhere in the nation, gun laws would be subject to a “strict scrutiny” test, the highest level of judicial review.
“What the Legislature did is it took discretion away from itself,” said Raymond Diamond, a LSU law professor and Second Amendment scholar. “This pro-gun Legislature voted to bind itself, and future Legislatures that might not be so pro-gun, from undertaking gun control. It has similarly binded local communities in ways that right now we really don’t understand.” He has described the amendment as “a can of worms.”
It pushed the Louisiana Supreme Court to become the first in America to analyze criminal gun statutes using a strict scrutiny test. That test presumes that every person has the right to be armed. Any law that seeks to infringe that right must pass a grueling legal test that kills more than two-third of the laws that come up against it. The state must show that the law serves a compelling government interest, and that it is so narrowly defined that there is no less restrictive way of achieving that interest.
The arguments against the current statutes are similar, in that they equally dole out “heavy-handed penalties” to vast groups of people. The drug statute treats people caught with small amounts of marijuana the same as those with large amounts of more serious drugs. The felon-with-a-gun statute equates burglars with murderers. It includes a list of 150 felony offenses, characterized as drug or violence crimes, and says that anyone convicted of any of them is barred from possessing a firearm for 10 years after being released from prison.
The state supports that law by arguing that those with a demonstrated capacity to break the law are more dangerous when armed. Its position on the drugs-and-gun statute is the same: Drugs beget violence and guns make volatile situations deadly.
But Webb’s attorney, New Orleans public defender Colin Reingold, argues that the state cannot prove, under a strict-scrutiny test, that a single marijuana blunt makes him more dangerous when armed than anyone else, particularly since the possession of alcohol and guns is not equally restricted. “The true danger of a firearm comes not from the manner in which its owner keeps or bears it, but rather from how the citizen uses the weapon,” Reingold wrote in his appeal to the Supreme Court.
Webb, who has no criminal record, was arrested on Sept. 10, 2012, when police pulled over his girlfriend for having a broken taillight. He confessed to police that he had the blunt in his backpack and said the gun on the floorboard was his, too. The gun was legal and the marijuana alone would have amounted to a misdemeanor, prosecuted in Municipal Court and typically punished with a fine and probation. But combined, the gun and pot became a felony with a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of 10 years, without the possibility of parole.
Webb appealed his charge to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which announced on Friday it would hear the case. Over the years, the courts will have to sort out which of the 80 other gun crimes on Louisiana law books remain constitutional under the new amendment.
The state has become an experiment. “This is an exciting time because there is some risk that some of the laws will be declared unconstitutional,” Diamond said. “Everybody’s very interested to see what the court’s going to do with it.”
Various prior Second Amendment and gun policy posts:
- Big (ugly?) NY Times report on felons getting back gun rights
- "Should pardoned felons have gun rights?"
- North Carolina Supreme Court finds state constitutional right for some felons to bear arms
- Notable new Alaska appellate decision on denying gun rights to non-violent felons
- "Convicted Felon Sues State Over Right To Bear Arms"
- Fourth Circuit suggests people must be "responsible" to get full Second Amendment protection
- Might restoration of felon gun rights actually reduce recidivism?
- Are Scooter Libby and Martha Stewart and millions of others not among the Constitution's "people"?
- "Why Can’t Martha Stewart Have a Gun?"
- Should NRA care more about gun rights for non-violent felons or those accused of domestic violence?
- "Is the Supreme Court only willing to work at the fringes of the Second Amendment?"
- Senator Rand Paul talking up restoring voting and gun rights for felons, as well as sentencing reform
"Abstract Risk and the Politics of the Criminal Law"
The title of this post is the title of this intriguing looking new paper by Brenner Fissell now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Much of the criminal law contains what theorists call “abstract endangerment” statutes — crimes that punish not actual, but hypothetical, creation of risk. Consider the case of underage alcohol possession: age does not necessarily imply immaturity, and possession does not necessarily lead to consumption. The crime is therefore doubly “abstract”: many violations will create no risk of harm at all but the conduct is nevertheless prohibited. Theoretical defenses of these overinclusive laws proceed mainly by emphasizing the deficiencies of individuals in assessing their own cases of risk. What these defenses implicitly assume, though, is that the entity the individual must defer to — the legislature — is itself superior at risk assessment.
This Article attacks this supposition, and discusses the problematic features of legislative deliberation regarding risk in the criminal law. Many extraneous considerations often enter, and certain inherent features of these bodies make them especially problematic. Defenders of abstract endangerment statutes, then, ought not simply assume that the legislature is epistemically superior to the individual, and bear a greater justificatory burden than they have satisfied thus far.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
What SCOTUS sentencing cases are you least thankful for?
A couple of years ago, I asked on Turkey Day in this post "What SCOTUS sentencing cases are you thankful for?". For lack of a better idea for a Thanksgiving post, I though it might be fun (or informative or interesting or a way to keep busy during football blowouts and before heading out shopping) to ask now what SCOTUS sentencing cases are you least thankful for.
Of course, I tend to be thankful for all of SCOTUS's sentencing decisions, as they have given me lots to write about in this space and elsewhere for nearly two decades now. But there is at least one major Eighth Amendment ruling that has always bothered me throughout the years, Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957 (1991), which upheld against an Eighth Amendment challenge Michigan's imposition of a mandatory life without the possibility of parole sentence for just the possession of 672 grams of cocaine. I believe that ruling, which reflected sentiments prevailing at the height of the modern "war on drugs," has long thwarted reasonable development of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
"20% Of Obama’s Pardons Have Gone To Turkeys"
The title of this post is the fitting headline devised by Andrew Sullivan for this post from The Dish. The post links to this longer lament of the entire turkey pardon ritual by Brad Plummer, which winds down this way:
It's a mockery of the presidential pardon, which is an all-too neglected issue. Maybe this isn't surprising, since the turkey pardon was basically invented as a way of mocking presidential pardons. Still, it's worth mentioning.
After tomorrow, Obama will have "pardoned" 10 turkeys in all (turkeys that, as best we can tell, haven't actually committed any crimes). By contrast, he will have only pardoned or commuted the sentences of 40 actual living human beings.
The latter is a record low for modern-day presidents. At the same point in his presidency, Ronald Reagan had pardoned 313 people. Harry Truman had pardoned 1,537 people.
Last year, Sam Morrison, an official who spent 13 years in the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney before retiring in 2010, described the prevailing attitude toward pardons this way: "They tend to view any grant of clemency not as a good thing, as a criminal justice success story, but almost as a defeat — that you're taking away something from what some good prosecutor achieved." (The Justice Department disputed this characterization.)
Over at National Journal, Ron Fournier pointed out that, at the bare minimum, Obama could grant clemency to all the people still serving extra time in prison under the old crack-sentencing guidelines — guidelines that Obama himself opposed as excessive and which Congress reduced for all new prisoners in 2010. So far, however, there's no sign that the White House will do this.
Of course, comparing Prez Obama's pitiful clemency record to the records of prior presidents like Ronald Reagan or Harry Truman is quite unfair — to Reagan and Truman. The federal criminal justice system and the federal prison population (not to mention the negative consequences of a federal record) were all much, much smaller when Reagan and Truman were President, and thus the number of federal offenders and prisoners formally seeking clemency was much lower. Indeed, these official clemency statistics reveal that Prez Obama gets about 10 times as many formal commutation requests than Prez Reagan got each year (which, is not so surprising given that the federal prison population is nearly 10 times larger now than it was when Reagan first became President).
Indeed, if we focus on only commutations, President Obama's record looks even more revolting. As Jacob Sullum notes here at Forbes, Obama has only commuted a single federal prison sentence. Thus, as the Forbes headline states, "Judging From His Clemency Record, Obama Likes Turkeys 10 Times As Much As People."
Should reform advocates welcome latest DEA raids of hinky medical marijuana facilities in Colorado?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent report from The Denver Post, headlined "Feds arrest one, seize guns and ammo in Colorado marijuana raids" about recent federal raids of medical marijuana facilities in a state now only a month away from having recreational marijuana stores. Here are the details of the latest federal intervention:
When federal agents swooped into a swanky Cherry Hills Village home last week as part of widespread raids tied to medical-marijuana businesses, they found a person inside holding a loaded gun, according to a court document unsealed Monday. By the time they were done searching the $1.3 million home Thursday, agents had collected five assault-style rifles, five handguns, a shotgun and a "large cache of ammunition," according to the document. It did not identify the person with the gun.
One person was detained and later arrested on suspicion of weapons violations, authorities announced Monday. As part of their investigation, agents had obtained an e-mailed photograph that appears to show that man, 49-year-old Hector Diaz, holding two semi-automatic rifles while wearing a Drug Enforcement Administration ball cap.
The details on the raids — disclosed for the first time Monday — come from an affidavit in the criminal case against Diaz and provide new context for the largest federal operation against medical-marijuana businesses ever in Colorado. Agents executed "approximately 15" search warrants during the raids, the affidavit states. Sources have told The Denver Post that the raids — which a search warrant shows targeted 10 men — were part of an investigation into a single enterprise that detectives believe may have ties to Colombian drug cartels.
Diaz, a Colombian national, was charged with a single count of possessing a firearm after having been admitted to the United States under a non-immigrant visa. He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Appearing in court Monday afternoon, Diaz was advised of the charge against him and ordered held until at least Wednesday, when a hearing will determine whether he should be released and at which time more information about the raids will likely be disclosed.
The raids focused especially on stores, cultivation warehouses and individuals connected to the VIP Cannabis dispensary in Denver. On Sunday, an attorney for one of the owners of the dispensary sent a letter to Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh proclaiming his client's innocence. Attorney Sean McAllister wrote that his client, Gerardo Uribe, did nothing wrong under state law and "will be vindicated by a full review of this matter."...
The raids are not the first time, however, the people associated with VIP Cannabis have been accused publicly of marijuana misdeeds. A lawsuit filed last month in Denver claims Gerardo Uribe and two other men named in the search warrant, Luis Uribe and Felix Perez, have not made good on hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to three men for the purchases of a dispensary on East Colfax Avenue and a grow warehouse on Elizabeth Street. The suit also alleges that the Uribes and Perez were suspected of hiding profits and product from their marijuana businesses and selling marijuana out of state.
"Marijuana product is unaccounted for, proceeds from the dispensary are unaccounted for and Plaintiffs assume that the Defendants have stolen product and money from them," the lawsuit states. Another section of the suit alleges: "Plaintiffs believe that the Defendants may be transacting business with people in other states and do not want to reveal what the businesses are really making or who they are conducting business with."...
Other lawsuits also provide a glimpse into the high-dollar business of marijuana in which the raid targets were involved. A lawsuit filed this year in Jefferson County accuses businesses controlled by Luis Uribe and another person named as a target in the search warrant, Carlos Solano, of not paying up on the purchase of a cultivation facility. In a settlement reached in September, Uribe and Solano agreed to pay $90,000 to the plaintiffs.
As the title of this post hints, I think advocates for legalizing and regulating marijuana ought generally be pleased when the feds go after the most shady operators of marijuana facilities. I suspect businesses that follow the law in any industry can and do generally hope that those competitors cutting corners will get in trouble for regulatory failings. And, with respect to state-legalized marijuana industries, even advocate for a regulatory scheme instead of prohibition may still find it useful and beneficial for there to be the ever-present threat of the feds bringing a severe criminal justice hammer down on those businesses getting the most out of line.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Intermediate NJ appeals panel upholds broad restriction on released sex offender access to social media websites
As reported in this AP article, headlined "NJ panel: Sex offenders can be kept off Facebook," a New Jersey appeals panel handed down today a notable opinion upholding a notable restriction on computer use by released sex offenders. Here are the basics:
A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that paroled sex offenders can be barred from Facebook, LinkedIn and other online social networks.
Two offenders had gone to court to challenge that restriction, saying social networks are important ways to get news, information and find business opportunities.
However, a three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that the offenders can be kept off social network as a term of parole. The judges said they agree that the networks are an important facet of modern life, but said there is a good reason to keep convicted sex offenders off them. "The provisions are legitimately aimed at restricting such offenders from participating in unwholesome interactive discussions on the Internet with children or strangers who might fall prey to their potential recidivist behavior," Judge Jack Sabatino said in his opinion. He noted that the parolees can still get news and buy products online.
The ruling referenced in this article is partially available at this link, and here are excerpts from the start of the opinion:
Appellants J.B., L.A., B.M., and W.M. are individuals who have been convicted of sexual offenses, have completed their respective prison terms, and are now being monitored by respondent New Jersey State Parole Board (the "Parole Board") as of fenders who are subject to either parole supervision for life ("PSL") or its statutory predecessor, community supervision for life ("CSL"). Represented by the same attorney, appellants challenge the constitutionality of certain terms of supervision the Parole Board has imposed upon them. Similar conditions have been imposed on other offenders subject to CSL or PSL, although appellants have not filed a class action.
The terms of supervision mainly being challenged in these related appeals are (1) the Parole Board's restrictions on appellants' access to social media or other comparable web sites on the Internet; and (2) the Parole Board's authority to compel them to submit to periodic polygraph examinations....
For the reasons that follow, we reject appellants' facial challenges to the Internet access restrictions, subject to their right to bring future "as-applied" challenges should they avail themselves of the Parole Board's procedures for requesting specific permission for more expanded Internet access and are then denied such permission.
I expect the defendants here may be eager to appeal this matter to the NJ Supreme Court and maybe even the US Supreme Court, especially since it appears that the internet use restrictions upheld here are set to last a lifetime. And though this case might not be the best vehicle, I suspect that SCOTUS will eventually have to consider what restrictions can be poperly place on internet access for released offenders.
November 26, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack
Can Prez Obama be trusted to live up to clemency reform promises?
Perhaps the only thing I have grown to dislike about Thanksgiving in modern times is all the pomp and circumstance (and the lame-stream media's attention) given to the silly tradition of having the President pardon a turkey. Regular readers kow that this silly tradition is distinctly galling of late given the Obama Administration's truly disgraceful record on granting clemency to real humans rather than tasty animals. Fortunately, this new article at The National Journal is covering the real story with reference to the well-known case of (my former client) Weldon Angelos under the headline "Will Obama Pardon This Man (and Many Like Him) or Just a Turkey?: The White House is considering clemency reform, sources say, after compiling a historically unmerciful record." Here is how this piece starts:
President Obama on Wednesday will pardon a Thanksgiving turkey. Which makes this a good time to ask why a liberal constitutional lawyer who bemoans the bloated prison system and proclaims that "life is all about second chances" is -- on the matter of clemency -- one of the stingiest presidents in U.S. history? Put another way: If a turkey deserves a second chance, why not Weldon Angelos?
Angelos was sentenced in 2004 to 55 years' imprisonment for possessing a firearm in connection with selling small amounts of marijuana. He didn't brandish or use a weapon, nor did he hurt or threaten to injure anybody. And yet the father of young children and an aspiring music producer was given an effective life sentence because of a draconian federal law requiring mandatory minimum sentences.
Even the judge on his case, Paul G. Cassell, found the sentence "cruel and irrational." While urging Obama to reduce Angelos's punishment, the Republican-appointed judge wrote, "While I must impose the unjust sentence, our system of separated powers provides a means of redress."
More than almost any president, Obama has failed to exercise that "means of redress" inscribed in the Constitution, the presidential clemency. But that may be changing. The White House is considering a broad range of clemency reforms.
One reason I am among the majority of Americans who now, according to the latest polling, thinks is Obama is not honest or trustworthy is because we have been hearing from this White House vague talk about clemency reform for years now and yet have not seen one whit of action on this front despite mountains of evidence (and lots of talk from Attorney General Holder) that reform is badly needed and long overdue.
Long-time readers likely recall that I blogged and complained a lot about these issues during the first few years of the Obama Administration when I still believed that this President meant what he said and said what he meant. But in recent years I have concluded that this Prez is in this context happy and generally eager to talk the talk without ever walking the walk.
I certainly will continue to hold out hope that we may eventually see this White House develop "a broad range of clemency reforms," and I remain (naively?) optimistic that the Obama team will do at least a little something (at least for show) on this front come mid-November 2014 or 2016. But I have long been tired of the talk and too long been waiting for action to really from the current Administration, and I instead like spending my time imagining what a President Rand Paul might be willing and able to do with the historic constitutional power of clemency.
Some recent and a few older posts concerning federal clemency practices:
- "How to Awaken the Pardon Power"
- New Slate pitch for Prez to use clemency powers to address crack sentencing disparities
- "Clemency Reform: We're Still Waiting"
- "Why Has Obama Pardoned So Few Prisoners?"
- "Barack the Unmerciful: Obama's amazingly stingy clemency record"
- New York Times editorial assails Prez Obama's considerable clemency failings
- "Obama Has Granted Clemency More Rarely Than Any Modern President"
- Updated numbers on President Obama's disgraceful clemency record
- ProPublica reveals more ugliness in federal clemency process
- Effective USA Today coverage of President Obama's clemency stinginess
- NYTimes op-ed assailing Obama's pathetic pardon practices
- How about a few clemency grants, Prez Obama, to really honor vets in need on Veterans Day?
Monday, November 25, 2013
New Brennan Center report urges "Reforming Funding to Reduce Mass Incarceration"
As reported in this press release, late last week The Brennan Center for Justice published a notable new report setting out a notable new proposal under the title "Reforming Funding to Reduce Mass Incarceration." Here are highlights via the press release:
The proposal, dubbed by the authors “Success-Oriented Funding,” would recast the federal government’s $352 million Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program, by changing the measures used to determine success of its grants. It reflects a broader proposed shift in criminal justice programs at all levels of government. The proposal could be implemented without legislation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Funding what works and demanding success is critical, especially given the stakes in criminal justice policy. This report marks an important step toward implementing this funding approach in Washington and beyond,” said Peter Orszag, former Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, who wrote the proposal’s foreword.
The Center proposes major changes to the program’s “performance measures”, which are used to track a grant recipient’s use of the funds....
“What gets measured gets done,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center and one of the report’s authors. “Criminal justice funding should reflect what works. Too often, today, it is on autopilot. This proposal reflects an innovative new wave of law enforcement priorities that already have begun to transform policy. That is the way to keep streets safe, while reducing mass incarceration.”
Success-Oriented Funding would hold grant recipients accountable for what they do with the money they receive. By implementing direct links between funding and proven results, the government can ensure the criminal justice system is achieving goals while not increasing unintended social costs or widening the pipeline to prison.
The JAG program was launched nearly three decades ago at the height of the crime wave. As such, its performance measures center on questions about the quantity of arrests and prosecutions. Although funding levels are not based on rates of arrests and prosecutions, interviews with over 100 state and local officials and recipients found that many grant recipients interpreted the performance measure questions as indicating how they should focus their activity.
The Brennan Center’s new, more robust performance measures would better record how effective grant recipients are at reducing crime in their state or locality. For example, current volume-based performance measures record activity, such as total number of arrests, number of people charged with gun crimes, or number of cases prosecuted. The Brennan Center’s proposed new Success-Oriented performance measures record results, such as the increase or decrease in violent crime rate or what percentage of violent crime arrests resulted in convictions.
A Blue Ribbon Panel of criminal justice experts also provided guidance and comments on the measures, including leaders in law enforcement, prosecutors and public defenders, former government officials, and federal grant recipients. Participants included David LaBahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys; John Firman, research director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police; and Jerry Madden, a senior fellow at Right on Crime....
In addition to implementing new metrics, the Brennan Center recommends the Justice Department require grant recipients to submit reports. By mandating that grant recipients answer the questions, the Justice Department can align state and local practices with modern criminal justice priorities of reducing both crime and mass incarceration. The reported data should then be publicly available for further analysis.
The full Brennan Center report can be accessed at this link.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Is there any obvious sentencing fallout after nuclear option used in Senator filibuster war?
I am intrigued that a group of Senators finally triggered the (foolishly-named) nuclear option in an effort to preclude the persistent use of filibuster practices to delay and/or thwart some presidential nominees. And though I know it is hard for folks to put aside short-term political realities that prompted these reforms, I am hopeful readers might here talk about whether they think this development could be good or bad (or perhaps just inconsequential) for the long-term development of sentencing jurisprudence.
This CNN article, which is headlined "5 ways life changes in the Senate after nuclear option on filibusters," predicts "more new judges" as one likely consequence, and that seems about right. Others are saying we should expect to see more ideological federal judges, too. Assuming this is all true, do folks think more new and more ideological federal judges will be good or bad for the future of sentencing jurisprudence?
I tend to be an optimist by nature, so I am inclined to assert that more new and more ideological federal judges could lead to more thoughtful skepticism about lots of sentencing jurisprudence. But maybe I am now just looking way too hard for a sentencing silver lining in the mushroom cloud that I suppose now is hanging over the Senate chamber after Harry Reid pushed his nuclear button.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Gearing up for Paroline with a short "Child Pornography Restitution Update"
Through oral argument in the fascinating Supreme Court case of Paroline v. United States is still a couple months away, it is not too early to start thinking about the range of challenging issues restitution sentences for child porn downloading victims presents for the Justices. One way to gear up, of course, is to review the parties opening briefs, all of which are now in and are available via SCOTUSblog on this Paroline case page.
Another effective way to start gearing up would be to read this short piece available now on SSRN titled simply ""Child Pornography Restitution Update" and authored by Mary Leary and James Marsh (who represents a victim seeking restitution). Here is the abstract:
This article discusses the issue of restitution for victims of child pornography cases. It specifically explores the legal background to this issue, relevant court opinions, and implicated statutes (18 U.S.C. §§ 2259; 3771) regarding the ability of child pornography victims to obtain restitution from those who possessed child pornography images, also known as images of child sexual abuse. The article addresses the current circuit split and pending Supreme Court case, Paroline v. United States. In addition to an analysis of the judicial opinions, this piece also discusses several policy initiatives available to address the issue.
November 22, 2013 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Thursday, November 21, 2013
"Have Inter-Judge Sentencing Disparities Increased in an Advisory Guidelines Regime? Evidence from Booker"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Crystal Yang now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines were promulgated in response to concerns of widespread disparities in sentencing. After almost two decades of determinate sentencing, the Guidelines were rendered advisory in United States v. Booker. What has been the result of reintroducing greater judicial discretion on inter-judge disparities, or differences in sentencing outcomes that are attributable to the mere happenstance of the sentencing judge assigned?
This Article utilizes new data covering over 600,000 criminal defendants linked to sentencing judge to undertake the first national empirical analysis of interjudge disparities post Booker. The results are striking: inter-judge sentencing disparities have doubled since the Guidelines became advisory. Some of the recent increase in disparities can be attributed to differential sentencing behavior associated with judge demographic characteristics, with Democratic and female judges being more likely to exercise their enhanced discretion after Booker. Newer judges appointed after Booker also appear less anchored to the Guidelines than judges with experience sentencing under the mandatory Guidelines regime.
Disentangling the effect of various actors on sentencing disparities, I find that prosecutorial charging is a prominent source of disparities. Rather than charge mandatory minimums uniformly across eligible cases, prosecutors appear to selectively apply mandatory minimums in response to the identity of sentencing judge, potentially through superseding indictments. Drawing on this empirical evidence, the Article suggests that recent sentencing proposals that call for a reduction in judicial discretion in order to reduce disparities may overlook the substantial contribution of prosecutors.
Maryland Gov. candidate running on "comprehensive plan to legalize and regulate marijuana"
As reported in this local article, headlined "Gubernatorial Candidate Mizeur Proposes Marijuana Legalization In Md.," a relatively high-profile candidate in a relatively high-profile state has come out with a campaign message that ensures she will be endorsed by High Times. Here are the basics:
A candidate for governor wants to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and she’s drawing passionate reaction.... It comes from Democratic candidate Heather Mizeur and would highly regulate the use of pot. She says it’s time to decriminalize it and she’s making more than just political waves.
For the first time, a major party candidate for Maryland governor wants to open the door to legalized recreational marijuana use. “We will take the underground market that exists for everyone trying to access this substance and bring it to the light of day,” Mizeur said.
Mizeur says it would only be for those over 21, illegal to smoke in public and she wants to tax it $50 an ounce, bringing in as much as $157 million a year for education. “Drug dealers on the streets are still selling marijuana to children. They’re not asking for an ID,” she said.
But critics like former addict and counselor Mike Gimbel call the controversial proposal dangerous. “It is totally backwards, irresponsible, stupid and it’s going to hurt people and nobody really seems to care,” he said.
A poll last month showed 51 percent of Marylanders support legalization and 40 percent oppose it.... Maryland is surrounded by jurisdictions that have legalized medical marijuana like D.C. and Delaware, and states considering doing so, like Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Past attempts for less strict laws have largely failed here and none of Delegate Mizeur’s opponents – Democratic or Republican – support it.
What I find especially noteworthy (and appealing) about this political development is that delegate Mizeur seems eager to make marijuana reform a centerpiece of her campaign and she has this part her official website promoting this detailed 11-page document titled "A Comprehensive Plan to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana in Maryland." Here is how that document gets started:
Marijuana's time as a controlled, illegal substance has run its course. Marijuana laws ruin lives, are enforced with racial bias, and distract law enforcement from serious and violent crimes. Marijuana criminalization costs our state hundreds of millions of dollars every year without making us any safer. A Maryland with legalized, regulated, and taxed marijuana will mean safer communities, universal childhood education, and fewer citizens unnecessarily exposed to our criminal justice system.
I do not know local Maryland politics well enough to have any real idea if Mizeur has any real chance to become the next governor of Maryland. But I do have an idea that her campaign on this issue is just the latest sign of being in interesting political times concerning drug laws and policies.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Split Texas appeals court refuses to allow additional habeas action for death row defendant complaining about racialized testimony
As reported in this local article from Texas, that "state’s highest criminal court Wednesday dismissed an appeal by death row inmate Duane Buck, who claims his sentence is improper because it was based, in part, on a psychologist’s finding that he presents a greater danger to society because he is black." Here is more about the ruling and its context:
In a 6-3 ruling, the Court of Criminal Appeals said that Buck had already filed his one guaranteed appeal, known as a petition for writ of habeas corpus, in 1999 and wasn’t legally entitled to another.
But the court’s newest member, Judge Elsa Alcala, submitted a blistering dissent that said Buck had been ill-served by previous lawyers and the court system. “The record in this case reveals a chronicle of inadequate representation at every stage of the proceedings, the integrity of which is further called into question by the admission of racist and inflammatory testimony from an expert witness,” Alcala wrote in a dissenting statement joined by Judges Tom Price and Cheryl Johnson.
The upshot, Alcala said, is that no state or federal court has examined, let alone ruled on, Buck’s claim that his constitutional rights had been violated by the inclusion of inappropriate racial testimony and by the incompetence of previous lawyers. “This cannot be what the Legislature intended when it (voted in 1995 to provide) capital habeas litigants ‘one full and fair opportunity to present all claims in a single, comprehensive post-conviction writ of habeas corpus,’” Alcala wrote.
Though there is no question about Buck’s guilt — he gunned down a former girlfriend and her male friend, shot his stepsister and targeted a fourth adult in Houston — his case has become a rallying point for judicial reformers and civil rights advocates, largely because of its racial overtones at trial.
The controversy centers on punishment-phase testimony by psychologist Walter Quijano, a defense expert who told jurors that Buck was less likely to pose a future danger — and therefore not eligible for the death penalty — because the crime wasn’t a random act of violence. But Quijano also testified, unprompted, that “Hispanics and black people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.” On cross-examination, a prosecutor followed up by asking Quijano if race, particularly being black, increases a defendant’s future dangerousness “for various complicated reasons.” Quijano replied, “Yes.”
Buck was sentenced to death in 1997. Three years later, however, then-state Attorney General John Cornyn, now a U.S. senator, acknowledged that seven death penalty convictions — including Buck’s — had been improperly influenced by Quijano’s testimony linking race to dangerousness. The attorney general’s office did not oppose new punishment trials for the other six inmates to cure the constitutional defect.
State lawyers later decided, however, to oppose a new trial for Buck, arguing that his case was “strikingly different” because Quijano was a defense expert whose questionable testimony was elicited by a defense lawyer. Instead, lawyers for Texas argued that Buck should have objected to the racial testimony in his 1999 habeas petition. Because he didn’t, Buck lost his chance to appeal the matter, they argued.
On Wednesday, the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, dismissing Buck’s latest habeas petition as improper. In her dissent, Alcala said she would have accepted the new petition because Buck’s 1999 appeal was so poorly done that it amounted to no defense at all, depriving a death row inmate of a full review of constitutional claims before his execution.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
"Sex offender offers to castrate himself for lighter sentence"
The title of this post is the headline of this new Boston Herald article, which gets started this way:
A convicted child-sex offender facing more than 40 life sentences in a rash of alleged rapes and assaults at a Wakefield child-care center is offering to undergo a “physical castration” to reduce his sex drive in return for a “massive” reduction in his sentence, his lawyer said.
John Burbine, 49, a Wakefield resident before he was arrested in September 2012, is asking prosecutors or the judge in his case if they would be willing to cap his sentence at the legal minimum of 15 years in prison if he agrees to voluntarily undergo a castration “preventing production of testosterone,” his lawyer William J. Barabino said. “We would do it only if it results in a massive reduction in sentence,” Barabino told the Herald last night.
He told the judge in a court motion the procedure is effective in producing “a drastic reduction or complete discontinuation in sexual urges and sexual function, due to the inability to produce testosterone,” and is “an accepted method of treating certain types of abnormal sexual behavior, such as pedophilia.”
Barabino will make his pitch this morning in Middlesex Superior Court. He said prosecutors have already indicated informally they are not interested in the deal.
The Wakefield defense lawyer said he expects a formal reply in court and still hopes the judge might consider authorizing the proposal. His actual motion calls for a therapist to ensure Burbine can make an informed decision on the medical procedure.
Missouri mass murderer gets two last-minute execution stays from two federal judges... UPDATE: stays reversed, execution completed
As reported in this new Reuters article, "[t]wo federal judges granted a serial killer stays of execution on Tuesday hours before he was to be put to death, allowing him to challenge Missouri's new lethal drug protocol and his mental competence, and the state immediately appealed the rulings." Here is more:
Joseph Paul Franklin, an avowed white supremacist, was convicted and sentenced to death for killing one man and wounding two outside a St. Louis-area synagogue in 1977. He was scheduled to be executed early on Wednesday at a Missouri prison.
Franklin, 63, has been linked to the deaths of at least 18 other people. He was convicted of killing eight in the late 1970s and 1980s in racially motivated attacks around the country. The victims included two African-American men in Utah, two African-American teenagers in Ohio and an interracial couple in Wisconsin.
Franklin also has admitted to shooting Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt in 1978, paralyzing him. Flynt has argued that Franklin should serve life in prison and not be executed.
In October, Missouri changed its official protocols to allow for a compounded pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate, to be used in a lethal dose. The state also said it would make the compounding pharmacy mixing the drug a member of its official "execution team," which could allow the pharmacy's identity to be kept secret.
In granting the stay, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey noted that Missouri had issued three different protocols in the three months preceding Franklin's execution date and as recently as five days before. "Franklin has been afforded no time to research the risk of pain associated with the department's new protocol, the quality of the pentobarbital provided, and the record of the source of the pentobarbital," Laughrey wrote in the stay order entered in federal court in Jefferson City, Missouri....
In the second case, U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson in St. Louis ordered Franklin's execution stayed, concluding that a delay was required to permit a meaningful review of his claim that he is mentally incompetent and cannot be executed.
The Missouri Attorney General's office asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to lift the stays.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon denied Franklin clemency on Monday. Franklin is one of 21 plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the execution protocol issued by the Missouri Department of Corrections.
UPDATE: As the commentors to this post noted before I got back on-line, Franklin was executed by Missouri after the Eighth Circuit reversed both the stays he received. Here is an AP report on the execution:
Joseph Paul Franklin, a white supremacist who targeted blacks and Jews in a cross-country killing spree from 1977 to 1980, was put to death Wednesday in Missouri, the state's first execution in nearly three years.
Franklin, 63, was executed at the state prison in Bonne Terre for killing Gerald Gordon in a sniper shooting at a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977. Franklin was convicted of seven other murders and claimed responsibility for up to 20, but the Missouri case was the only one that brought a death sentence.
Mike O'Connell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said Franklin was pronounced dead at 6:17 a.m. The execution began more than six hours later than intended, and it took just 10 minutes....
Franklin's lawyer had launched three separate appeals: One claiming his life should be spared because he was mentally ill; one claiming faulty jury instruction when he was given the death penalty; and one raising concerns about Missouri's first-ever use of the single drug pentobarbital for the execution.
But his fate was sealed early Wednesday when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal appeals court ruling that overturned two stays granted Tuesday evening by district court judges in Missouri. The rulings lifting the stay were issued without comment.
"Death Meted Out by Politicians in Robes"
The title of this post is the headline of this New York Times editorial, which riffs off of Justice Sotomayor's dissent from the denial of cert concerning Alabama’s death sentencing scheme (discussed here). Here are excerpts:
In nearly all of the 32 states that permit capital punishment, a jury makes the final decision on whether a defendant will live or die. Not so in Alabama, where elected judges may override a jury verdict of life in prison and unilaterally impose a death sentence....
On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to this law, which appears to violate a 2002 ruling that capital defendants “are entitled to a jury determination of any fact” necessary to sentence them to death.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a 12-page opinion, joined partly by Justice Stephen Breyer, dissenting from the court’s decision not to hear the current case, Woodward v. Alabama. While the court previously upheld the Alabama law in 1995, she noted, the state is now alone in overriding jury verdicts of life. Because it undermines “the sanctity of the jury’s role in our system of criminal justice,” Justice Sotomayor wrote, the Alabama law is “constitutionally suspect.”
Justice Sotomayor rightly identified the reason Alabama’s judges impose more death sentences per capita than any other state. The judges, she wrote, “who are elected in partisan proceedings, appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures.”...
In his dissent from the 1995 ruling upholding the Alabama law, former Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that allowing a judge to override a jury verdict in this way severs “the death penalty from its only legitimate mooring.”
The death penalty should have no legitimate mooring at all in modern American society, and it certainly should not be imposed by a judge who is worried about keeping his job.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Florida Supreme Court delays execution to hear about new drug used in injection protocol
Concerns about new lethal injection drugs has bought at least a few more weeks of life for a Florida death row defendant. This Miami Herald update, headlined "Miami killer's execution delayed amid questions about new drug," explains:
In a 5-2 decision, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday ordered that Thomas Knight's scheduled execution be delayed so he can argue that a new drug used to anesthetize a prisoner at the start of a lethal injection could subject him to "serious harm." Knight, also known as Askari Abdullah Muhammad, had been scheduled to die at Florida State Prison on Dec. 3.
Florida is the only state in the U.S. that uses midazolam hydrochloride as an anesthetic in the first stage of a three-drug lethal injection mixture. The new drug replaced pentobarbital after the state Department of Corrections exhausted its supply.
The state's high court stayed Knight's execution until at least Dec. 27 and sent his case back the state's Eighth Judicial Circuit, which includes Bradford County, where he is imprisoned. A circuit court judge must hold a hearing on the inmate's claims and issue a ruling no later than 2 p.m. Nov. 26, two days before Thanksgiving, after which time both sides can file additional arguments.
Knight has been on Death Row since 1975 for the murders of a Miami couple. While in prison he stabbed a correctional officer, Richard Burke, to death. It is that killing for which he is condemned to die.
In its order, the court said: "The Court has determined that Muhammad’s claim as to the use of midazolam hydrochloride as an anesthetic in the amount prescribed by Florida’s protocol warrants an evidentiary hearing. We conclude based on the allegations in Muhammad’s 3.851 motion that he has raised a factual dispute, not conclusively refuted, as to whether the use of midazolam hydrochloride in Florida’s lethal injection protocol will subject him to a 'substantial risk of serious harm.'
"We further direct the DOC (Department of Corrections) to produce correspondence and documents it has received from the manufacturer of midazolam hydrochloride concerning the drug’s use in executions or otherwise, including those addressing any safety and efficacy issues," the court ordered.
Justice Sotomayor calls for Alabama's capital sentencing system to get a "fresh look"
SCOTUS wrapped up its formal November activities with an order list this morning that included two dissents from denials of cert in state criminal cases. SCOTUSblog here reports on these basics:
Among cases the Court declined to hear was a challenge to Alabama’s death sentencing scheme, filed by an inmate who was given such a sentence by the judge even though the jury had voted eight to four against that punishment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a twelve-page dissent most of which was joined by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, said that the Court should take a new look at Alabama’s capital punishment approach. It is now the only state where judges have imposed death sentences contrary to advisory verdicts recommended by juries. In a part of the opinion that Justice Breyer did not join, Justice Sotomayor argued that the Alabama approach may violate a string of modern Court rulings enhancing the role of juries in the sentencing process. She wrote as the Court denied review in Woodward v. Alabama (13-5380).The Court’s denial of review in two other cases drew dissenting opinions or separate statements by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. One was Rapelje v. McClellan (12-1480), a test of federal courts’ power in habeas cases to defer to summary rulings by state courts in criminal cases. Justice Antonin Scalia joined the Alito dissent in that case.
The case concerning Justice Alito has more to do with habeas review than sentencing issues, but the case concerning Justice Sotomayor has to be right in the wheel-house of sentencing fans. Here is how Justice Sotomayor's dissenting opinion (which has a graph in the middle) gets started and concludes:
The jury that convicted Mario Dion Woodward of capital murder voted 8 to 4 against imposing the death penalty. But the trial judge overrode the jury’s decision and sentenced Woodward to death after hearing new evidence and finding, contrary to the jury’s prior determination of the same question, that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances. The judge was statutorily entitled to do this under Alabama law, which provides that a jury’s decision as to whether a defendant should be executed is merely an “advisory verdict” that the trial judge may override if she disagrees with the jury’s conclusion. In the last decade, Alabama has been the only State in which judges have imposed the death penalty in the face of contrary jury verdicts. Since Alabama adopted its current statute, its judges have imposed death sentences on 95 defendants contrary to a jury’s verdict. [FN1] Forty-three of these defendants remain on death row today. Because I harbor deep concerns about whether this practice offends the Sixth and Eighth Amendments, I would grant Woodward’s petition for certiorari so that the Court could give this issue the close attention that it deserves....[FN1] A list of these 95 defendants sentenced to death after a jury verdict of life imprisonment is produced in an appendix to this opinion. By contrast, where juries have voted to impose the death penalty, Alabama judges have overridden that verdict in favor of a life sentence only nine times.
Eighteen years have passed since we last considered Alabama’s capital sentencing scheme, and much has changed since then. Today, Alabama stands alone: No other State condemns prisoners to death despite the considered judgment rendered by a cross-section of its citizens that the defendant ought to live. And Apprendi and its progeny have made clear the sanctity of the jury’s role in our system of criminal justice. Given these developments, we owe the validity of Alabama’s system a fresh look. I therefore respectfully dissent from the denial of certiorari.
"The Jurisprudence of Death and Youth: Now the Twain Should Meet"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Janet Hoeffel now available on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The Supreme Court recently married its "death is different" death penalty jurisprudence and its burgeoning "children are different too" jurisprudence to apply Eighth Amendment death penalty jurisprudence to juvenile non-death sentences in Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama. This Article argues that the (practically non-existent) jurisprudence of juvenile transfer should travel further down this comparative road paved by the Court and insist that juvenile transfer proceedings be subject to the same scrutiny exercised over capital punishment proceedings. While Eighth Amendment process need not be literally incorporated into juvenile transfer proceedings, it should be adopted through the Due Process Clause.
The parallels between the death penalty and juvenile transfer are striking. Both involve a decision to expose a person to the most severe set of penalties available to the relevant justice system: a death sentence for adults in adult court; a transfer to adult court for youth in juvenile court. The decision to send an adult to his death is a decision to end his life; the decision to send a juvenile to adult court is a decision to end his childhood. Both decisions signify a life not worth saving, and therefore, both decisions are to apply to the "worst of the worst." As a result of the finality and seriousness of their consequences, both processes should require the strictest of procedures for reliable imposition of those consequences.
While the Court’s jurisprudence on procedures for imposing death is not a model, the Court has, at least, worked both to narrow who is subject to the death penalty and to reduce the potential for arbitrary and capricious imposition of death through procedures for guided discretion. The lessons learned in that context can be applied to improve juvenile transfer procedures that allow transfer of a child to adult court based on the unfettered and arbitrary discretion of a judge or, worse, a prosecutor. Furthermore, death penalty jurisprudence applied in capital cases, and as applied in Graham and Miller, leads to the conclusion that juvenile transfer laws allowing automatic transfer of a child to adult court, without an individualized consideration, violates due process.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
"Correcting a Fatal Lottery: a Proposal to Apply the Civil Discrimination Standards to the Death Penalty"
The title of this post is the title of this notable student note by Joseph Thomas now available for download via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Claims of discrimination in death penalty proceeding receive disparate treatment compared to virtually every other type of discrimination: employment, housing, jury venire, reverse-racial discrimination, racial profiling by police, racial profiling by private security, racial gerrymandering, qualified immunity by a state prison guard, qualified immunity by city officials and police, felon disenfranchisement laws. They each use the same process when there is no direct evidence of discrimination -- a burden shifting framework to help present the evidence in an organized manner with a standard of the preponderance of the evidence that must be demonstrated to prove discrimination took place. Dissimilarly, death penalty proceedings are the exception to the rule -- all of the evidence is presented in one stage, without any organization, and the heightened standard of exceptionally clear proof must be demonstrated to prove discrimination took place.
With the use of disparate standards to adjudicate the exact same thing -- claims of discrimination without direct evidence -- makes the process used in the death penalty unconstitutional because with life and liberty at stake, defendants in the death penalty should be afforded more protections, not less. Alternatively, I propose my own standard for handling discrimination cases in the death penalty, based off of the civil standards.
Friday, November 15, 2013
"One death row inmate supporting another in organ-donation fight"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable NBC News report in the wake of Ohio Gov. John Kasich's surprising decision to postpone the execution of child-killer Ronald Phillips to explore if he can donate his organs prior to (or during?) his execution (as first reported here). Here are the details:
An Ohio convict's quest to donate his organs when he's executed is getting support from an Oregon death row prisoner who made a similar bid two years ago. Christian Longo, who was sentenced to die for murdering his wife and three small kids in 2001, told NBC News in an email that he reached out to Ronald Phillips, whose execution was just postponed so his organ-donation offer can be studied.
The "contact was rejected," Longo said. But he's still lobbying for Phillips to be given the chance to give away his organs at death — a proposal that experts say is an ethical and logistical minefield. “With a little bit of careful planning and coordination, lives can be saved from someone who has to die – up to eight lives with organs, and the enhancement of dozens more lives with tissues and tendons,” Longo wrote.
“There is no need to be in a rush to execute Mr. Phillips, who will die regardless. Not when there are so many innocently waiting on transplant lists for healthy donors who may die otherwise. To deny this is a perpetuated tragedy,” Longo said.
Longo's donation offer has been repeatedly turned down by Oregon authorities, and all executions are on hold anyway after Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a moratorium last year....
Medical ethicists say allowing such donations could give juries and judges an incentive to impose the death penalty and that prisoners could be coerced into giving away their organs. Organs are usually removed from people who are brain dead but whose bodies are otherwise functioning, and some experts say it would be impossible to replicate that scenario during an execution.
"The only options for executing someone to obtain vital organs is to either shoot them in the head or chop their head off and have a team of doctors ready to step in immediately," said Arthur Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center. Theoretically, he said, the method of execution could be the removal of the organs under anesthesia. "The problem is no doctor is going to do it," he said. "It violates all medical ethics and now you're making the doctor the executioner."
Longo — who has a website and a Facebook page for his campaign, Gifts of Anatomical Value from Everyone — is also pushing states to allow prisoners who are not condemned to donate non-vital organs, like a single kidney. He helped Utah inmates push for a new Utah law, passed in April, that allows them to register as organ donors.
Recent related posts:
- "Kasich postpones execution of inmate who wants to donate organs"
- Some early reactions to Gov. Kasich's surprise decision delay execution to explore organ donation
Is AG Eric Holder going to stay on the job until he truly reforms American criminal justice?
The question in the title of this post is inspired by this new Washington Post article headlined "Reforming justice system is personal goal for Eric Holder Jr." Here are excerpts from the piece:
As the Justice Department seeks new ways to reduce the burgeoning U.S. prison population, its success is likely to depend on community programs such as the one in this small city in America’s heartland.
In the past 11 years, federal prosecutors here have authorized substance abuse treatment and other assistance for more than 100 low-level offenders as an alternative to prison sentences. Eighty-seven have successfully completed the program and, in the process, saved the federal government more than $6 million by sparing it the cost of incarceration....
Justice officials see the program in Peoria as a model for other communities — and central to the criminal justice reforms that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is moving to implement. In August, at an American Bar Association conference in San Francisco, Holder announced that low-level nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations would no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences. He has also introduced policies to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates, to find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals, and to improve reentry programs to curb repeat offenses.
The announcements have heralded some of the most significant criminal justice policy shifts from the department in years. For Holder — who has said that as a U.S. attorney and judge he saw neighborhoods destroyed by both illegal drugs and the tough-on-crime legislation that has disproportionately affected black men — the issue has been personal.
“Day after day, I watched lines of young people, most often young men of color, stream through my courtroom,” Holder told ex-offenders Thursday during a visit to a St. Louis courthouse, one of a string of stops he is making to promote his reform agenda. “I learned how drug abuse, crime and incarceration can trap people in a destructive cycle. A cycle that weakens communities, tears families apart and destroys individual lives.”...Many of the department’s criminal justice reforms have bipartisan support, and Republican governors in some of the most conservative states have led the way on prison reform. Congress also has shown a renewed interest in reducing the nation’s prison population, including the introduction of a bill this week that would reauthorize the Second Chance Act, which funds grants for programs that support probation, parole and reentry programs across the country.
“Rather than incarcerating repeat offenders in the same families generation after generation, we can put our taxpayer dollars to better use to break this vicious cycle and turn lives around,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a former prosecutor and one of the bills sponsors, said in a statement.
Efforts to reduce the prison population have drawn criticism from some lawmakers, who are skeptical that new policies will reduce crime. “I am skeptical,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, said at a a hearing last week. “Reducing prison sentences will bring prisoners out on the street sooner. The deterrent effect of imprisonment would be reduced. Many so-called nonviolent drug offenders have violent records. Some of these released offenders will commit additional crimes.”...
In a Philadelphia courtroom earlier this month, the attorney general watched more than a dozen drug offenders in a “reentry” program report to a judge to discuss their personal and work situations. Officials there said the program, which provides parenting classes, vocational training and job opportunities, has saved $1.5 million in annual incarceration costs because fewer ex-offenders are being sent back to prison. The national revocation rate for ex-offenders who are not in such programs is 47 percent; the rate among participants in the seven-year-old Philadelphia program is about 20 percent.
During his stops Thursday, Holder met with judges and pretrial service officers and watched as a district court judge encouraged ex-offenders to overcome their drug addictions and stay out of prison. He spoke emotionally to a group about how his nephew struggled to overcome drug addiction.
Inside a federal courthouse in St. Louis, he watched a ceremony in which ex-offenders graduated from an intensive recovery program called EARN (Expanding Addicts’ Recovery Network). “I look at you all and I see myself,” he said. “I grew up in a neighborhood in New York City where people like you would have been my friends. We would have gone to school together. We would have tried to learn about girls together. We would have played basketball together. So I can’t help but feel mindful of the fact that, although I’m here in my capacity as attorney general of the United States, a few of the people I grew up with, good people like you, ended up taking different paths.”
“Some of them didn’t catch the same breaks,” the nation’s top law enforcement official said. “Some had to deal with drug issues. . . . I know that everyone makes mistakes — everyone. Including me. And that’s why I wanted to be here today to tell you in person how proud I am that each of you has decided not to let your mistakes define you and not to make excuses, but to make the most of the opportunities that you’ve been given.”
Right after President Obama's re-election, as noted in this post from last November, AG Holder was talking about staying on as AG for only "about a year" into this second Presidential term. But that year has now passed, and I have heard very little new buzz about AG Holder moving on. And, if he is truly committed to engineering significant and lasting criminal justice reform, I think he may need (at least) the next three years to really have a chance to get this done.
November 15, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Thursday, November 14, 2013
"Misconstruing Graham & Miller"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece by Cara Drinan now up at SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In the last three years the Supreme Court has decreed a sea change in its juvenile Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. In particular, in its Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama rulings, the Court struck down a majority of the states’ juvenile sentencing laws, outlawing life without parole for juveniles who commit non-homicide offenses and mandating individualized sentencing for those children who commit even the most serious crimes. An examination of state laws and sentencing practices, however, suggests that the Graham and Miller rulings have fallen on deaf ears. After briefly describing what these two decisions required of the states, in this Essay, I outline the many ways in which state actors have failed to comply with the Court’s mandate. Finally, I map out a path for future compliance that relies heavily upon the strength and agility of the executive branch.
November 14, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Clemency and Pardons, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
"Kasich postpones execution of inmate who wants to donate organs"
The title of this post is the headline of this breaking news story reporting some surprising news coming from Ohio this afternoon. Here are details:
Wowsa. I have to catch my breath and think about this a lot before I am sure how to react. While I do so, I look forward to hearing reactions from both the pro and anti death penalty crowd in the comments.
In an unprecedented move, Gov. John Kasich has postponed the execution of Akron child-killer Ronald Phillips scheduled for Thursday to determine if his organs can be harvested. It has been rescheduled for July 2, 2014.
In a statement released this afternoon, Kasich halted Phillips’ execution “so that medical experts can assess whether or not Phillips’ non-vital organs or tissues can be donated to his mother or possibly others.”
“Ronald Phillips committed a heinous crime for which he will face the death penalty. I realize this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio, but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues then we should allow for that to happen,” Kasich said.
Phillips, 40, was sentenced to die for the 1993 beating, rape and murder of three-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, the daughter of his girlfriend at the time. The governor said if Phillips “is found to be a viable donor to his mother or possibly others awaiting transplants of non-vital organs, such as kidneys, the procedures would be performed and then he would be returned to Death Row to await his new execution date.”
Phillips asked earlier this week if he could donate his organs to his mother or others, but the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction rejected his request.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Sixth Circuit upholds dismissal of indictment with new mandatory minimum charge based on on prosecutorial vindictivenessLast week, in a decision I have been meaning to blog about given recent blog debate over federal prosecutorial discretion, the Sixth Circuit upheld a district court's decision to dismiss an indictment in a child pornography downloading case based on prosecutorial vindictiveness. The ruling in US v. LaDeau, No. 12-6611 (6th Cir. Nov. 4, 2013) (available here), highlights my concern about the potential misuse of federal prosecutorial charging discretion, while also revealing that judges are not without some mechanisms to try to check prosecutoral abuses of power. Here is how the unanimous panel ruling in LaDeau starts:
Defendant Daniel Bruce LaDeau was indicted on a single count of possessing child pornog raphy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(A). This charge prescribed a sentencing range of zero to ten years’ imprisonment. Subsequently, LaDeau moved to suppress the evidence that he had any such materials in his possession. After the district court granted LaDeau’s motion to suppress, the government sought and obtained a superseding one-count indictment charging LaDeau with a conspiracy offense based on evidence that had been in the government’s possession since before the initial indictment. But rather than charging LaDeau in the superseding indictment with conspiring to possess child pornography, the government chose to charge him with conspiring to receive child pornography — a charging decision that subjected LaDeau to a five-to-twenty-year prison term instead of the previously applicable statutory range of zero to ten years. Defendant LaDeau then moved to dismiss the superseding indictment. The district court agreed with LaDeau that the government’s decision to change to a receipt theory warranted a presumption of prosecutorial vindictiveness, inasmuch as there was a realistic likelihood that LaDeau was being charged with a more serious offense in retaliation for his successful suppression motion. Concluding that the government had not rebutted the presumption of vindictiveness, the district court dismissed the superseding indictment. The government filed this appeal. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the superseding indictment, we affirm.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Two notable SCOTUS criminal law arguments (with federal mandatory minimums at issue)
The Supreme Court Justices could have perhaps benefited from this long weekend by hanging out with my terrific first-year Criminal Law students because they return to work on Tuesday to hear two interesting cases raising classic issues relating to the basic doctrines of substantive criminal law. thanks to Congress, though, these issue arise for SCOTUS with severe mandatory minimum sentencing terms hanging in the balance.
SCOTUSblog, of course, is the place to go for a quick primer on Burrage v. United States and Rosemond v. United States, and here are the links and introduction for the argument previews now posted there:
Law school hypos about criminal law mens rea by Rory Little
At 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 12, the Court will consider a philosophical question that has troubled the criminal law for centuries: what mens rea (mental state) is required to prove “aiding and abetting” liability? The question in Rosemond v. United States arises under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c), the federal law that provides significant mandatory minimum imprisonment terms for carrying, using, brandishing, or discharging a firearm during and in relation to a narcotics offense. Arguing for petitioner Justus Rosemond, seeking to overturn his conviction, will be John P. Elwood, a former Assistant to the Solicitor General who is now a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Vinson & Elkins. Arguing for the federal government will be Assistant to the Solicitor General John F. Bash.
Crime and death’s cause By Lyle Denniston
At 11 a.m. next Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hold one hour of oral argument on the proof that federal prosecutors must offer to get an enhanced prison sentence for a drug dealer when a customer who bought heroin died. Arguing for the convicted Iowa man in the case of Burrage v. United States will be Angela L. Campbell, of the Des Moines law firm of Dickey & Campbell. Arguing for the federal government will be Benjamin J. Horwich, an assistant to the Solicitor General.
How about a few clemency grants, Prez Obama, to really honor vets in need on Veterans Day?On Veterans Day, I always find myself thinking about veterans who, after serving our country in the military and thereby supporting of our nation's commitment to liberty and freedom, return home and discover the hard way that these constitutional values are not always paramount in our modern criminal justice systems. This Daily Beast piece, headlined "From PTSD to Prison: Why Veterans Become Criminals," highlights that there are now probably hundreds of thousand of veterans in America's prison and jails:
In 2008 the RAND Corporation surveyed a group of veterans six months after their return. It found that almost one in five had either PTSD or major depression. In recent years rates of substance abuse and suicide among veterans have also ticked steadily upward.
A certain number of veterans suffering from mental-health issues will, invariably, end up in jail or prison. After Vietnam, the number of inmates with prior military service rose steadily until reaching a peak in 1985, when more than one in five was a veteran. By 1988, more than half of all Vietnam veterans diagnosed with PTSD reported that they had been arrested; more than one third reported they had been arrested multiple times. Today veterans advocates fear that, unless they receive proper support, a similar epidemic may befall soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
No one knows how many veterans are incarcerated, but the most recent survey, compiled by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2004, found that nearly one in 10 inmates in U.S. jails had prior military service. Extrapolated to the total prison population, this means that approximately 200,000 veterans were behind bars.
As the title of this post highlights, I would like to see President Obama go beyond the usual symbolic gestures and use his historic clemency powers to salute at least a few veterans in federal prison with commutations that would create just a bit more physical liberty and honor a few more veterans with pardons that would free offenders from the enduring collateral consequences of a federal criminal conviction.
This effective recent op-ed by Mark Osler, headlined "Clemency is a task for people and institutions of faith; It should also be a task for the president, but he seems unwilling or unable to use his powers," starts by noting why, sadly, I am not expecting the President to step up to the clemency plate today or anytime soon:
President Obama is, by a wide margin, the stingiest president in modern times in his use of the pardon power. He seems unwilling or unable to use this simple constitutional tool, even as both conservative and progressive commentators are criticizing the federal government’s overincarceration of nonviolent offenders. A simple way to alleviate that problem would be to commute (shorten) the most egregious of these sentences using the pardon power.
Some recent and a few older posts concerning federal clemency practices:
- "How to Awaken the Pardon Power"
- New Slate pitch for Prez to use clemency powers to address crack sentencing disparities
- "Clemency Reform: We're Still Waiting"
- "Clemency for the 21st Century: A Systemic Reform of the Federal Clemency Process"
- Will Prez Obama's clemency record ever match his inaugural rhetoric?
- "Why Has Obama Pardoned So Few Prisoners?"
- "Barack the Unmerciful: Obama's amazingly stingy clemency record"
- New York Times editorial assails Prez Obama's considerable clemency failings
- "Obama Has Granted Clemency More Rarely Than Any Modern President"
- Updated numbers on President Obama's disgraceful clemency record
- Noting President Obama's (still) stingy clemency record
- ProPublica reveals more ugliness in federal clemency process
- "A no-pardon Justice Department"
- Effective USA Today coverage of President Obama's clemency stinginess
- "Obama should exercise the pardon power"
- NYTimes op-ed assailing Obama's pathetic pardon practices
"Sentence Appeals in England: Promoting Consistent Sentencing through Robust Appellate ReviewThe title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Briana Rosenbaum now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Unlike in most areas of the law, federal courts of appeals in the United States defer to trial courts on many issues of sentencing law and policy. As a result, the power to decide sentencing law and policy is often at the discretion of individual district court judges. Law reform scholars have long decried the disparity, lack of transparency, and legitimization concerns that this practice raises. These concerns are heightened in the post-Booker sentencing regime, where the advisory nature of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines undermines those Guidelines’ ability to further sentencing consistency.
The deferential approach to federal sentence appeals is in sharp contrast to the approach in England, where the appellate court conducts de novo review of sentencing law and policy to develop a common law of sentencing that is independent of the English sentencing guidelines. The English model of appellate review suggests a new way to design the role of appellate courts in the federal system: from bodies that merely enforce guidelines to further consistency of sentencing outcomes, to bodies that develop sentencing law to further consistency of sentencing approach.
In this paper, I explore the primary functional, institutional, and normative arguments behind the resistance to robust appellate review in the federal appellate courts and study the English model as a means of evaluating these critiques. Ultimately, I suggest that the federal courts of appeals borrow England’s “mixed deference approach” to sentence appeals, including de novo review of sentencing law and principles. Doing so will promote greater sentencing consistency without either over-enforcement of the Guidelines or unwarranted encroachment of sentencing discretion.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Reviewing the continuing challenges for states seeking to continue with lethal injectionThis New York Times piece, headlined "Executions Stall as States Seek Different Drugs," reports on the latest mechanical challenges for those states seeking to keep their machineries of death running despite new difficulties and old litigation surrounding lethal injection drugs and protocols. Here are excerpts:
Florida ran out of its primary lethal-injection drug last month and relied on a new drug that no state had ever used for an execution. At Ohio’s next scheduled execution, the state is planning to use a two-drug combination for the first time. Last month in Texas, Michael Yowell became that state’s first inmate executed using a drug made by a lightly regulated pharmacy that usually produces customized medications for individual patients.
The decision by manufacturers to cut off supplies of drugs, some of which had been widely used in executions for decades, has left many of the nation’s 32 death penalty states scrambling to come up with new drugs and protocols. Some states have already changed their laws to keep the names of lethal-drug suppliers private as a way to encourage them to provide drugs.
The uncertainty is leading to delays in executions because of legal challenges, raising concerns that condemned inmates are being inadequately anesthetized before being executed and leading the often-macabre process of state-sanctioned executions into a continually shifting legal, bureaucratic and procedural terrain....
“We have seen more changes in lethal injection protocols in the last five years than we have seen in the last three decades,” said Deborah W. Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School and a death penalty expert. “These states are just scrambling for drugs, and they’re changing their protocols rapidly and carelessly.”
All 32 states with legalized executions use lethal injection as their primary option for executions. Of the more than 250 executions since 2008, all but five were done with lethal injections.
Facing increasing pressure and scrutiny from death penalty opponents, manufacturers of several drugs used in lethal injections — including sodium thiopental and pentobarbital — over the past few years have ceased production of the drugs or required that they not be used in executions. Looking for alternatives, state prison systems have been more eager to try new drugs, buy drugs from new sources, keep the identities of their drug suppliers secret and even swap drugs among states.
A week before the execution of a convicted murderer, Arturo Diaz, in September, Texas prison officials received two packages of pentobarbital from the Virginia Department of Corrections, at no charge; the state with the country’s second-busiest death chamber acting as ad-hoc pharmacy to the state with the busiest.
Several states have turned to compounding pharmacies, which are largely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration and overseen primarily by the states. They have traditionally made specialized drugs, for instance, turning a medication into a cream or gel if a patient has trouble swallowing pills.
In Missouri, the availability of drugs and litigation have slowed the pace of executions. There have been two since 2009. “We are going to continue to be affected by these pharmaceutical company decisions time and again, unless the death penalty states can find a pharmaceutical product that has some supply stability around it,” said Chris Koster, the attorney general in Missouri, which dropped plans to use the anesthetic propofol after the European Union threatened to limit exports of the drug if it was used in an execution.
The drug shortages and legal wrangling have led some officials to discuss older methods of execution. In July, Mr. Koster suggested that the state might want to bring back the gas chamber. Dustin McDaniel, the attorney general in Arkansas, which has struggled with its lethal-injection protocol, told lawmakers the state’s fallback method of execution was the electric chair. Mr. Koster and Mr. McDaniel said they were not advocating the use of the gas chamber or the electric chair, but were talking about the possible legal alternatives to an increasingly problematic method for states.
“No state has had any success with getting their hands on the cocktail that has heretofore been relied upon,” Mr. McDaniel said. He said that lawyers for the state are trying to navigate the appeals process in death penalty cases while knowing that “if the legal hurdles were magically to go away, we are in no position to carry out an execution in this state.”
Saturday, November 09, 2013
"Drug policy: Moral crusade or business problem?"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent Detroit News op-ed by law prof Mark Osler. Here is how it gets started:
Slowly, Americans are beginning to realize what a mess our “War on Drugs” has been. We have spent billions of dollars and prosecuted millions of people, all to little real effect. Michigan has been front and center in this sad drama.
At the root of this failure is a simple error: We have treated narcotics as an issue of morality rather than business. Our efforts have been focused on punishing relatively minor actors through mass incarceration rather than on the very different goal of shutting down drug businesses. A starting point as we reconsider our efforts should be the simple recognition that narcotics trafficking is first and foremost a business.
That means that we need to put business experts in charge of the effort to close down narcotics businesses. This change might make all the difference.
A business expert, for example, would know enough to identify a proper measure of success or failure. The only real way to know if narcotics interdiction is working isn’t how much cocaine is piled up in a bust, or how many people we lock up. Rather, the best measure is an economic one: the price of narcotics on the street. If we are successful at restricting supply, the price should go up (given a rough consistency of demand). Hiking the price is important. We have learned from cigarettes that raising the price of something addictive reduces usage rates. Still, governments continue to measure success by narcotics seized, arrests made, and sentences imposed rather than the street value of illegal drugs.
Similarly, no knowledgeable businessperson would use an analytical device like the system we have in place to rank-order the importance of narcotics defendants, where the weight of drugs those defendants possess is usually used as a proxy for culpability. If you have a lot of drugs on you, you get a high sentence. In reality, important figures in narcotics organizations don’t possess drugs at all — that is left to mules, street dealers, and low-level managers. Given this false proxy, it shouldn’t be surprising that our prisons are stuffed full of mules, street dealers and low-level managers. Who keeps the profit is a better gauge of responsibility and culpability. That’s how a business works.
A businessperson would also realize the futility of sweeping up low-wage labor in an effort to close down a business. Or, for that matter, grabbing inventory periodically (which we do via drug seizures) or occasionally seizing profits (which we do when we forfeit drug dealer’s homes or cars). In real life, the way to shut down a business is to curtail cash flow, because without that there can be no labor hired, no inventory produced, and no profit generated. Conversely, so long as cash flow exists (or credit, which drug dealers generally can’t obtain), labor, inventory, and profit can be replaced. Yet, the one thing we do not focus on is cash flow, which we could capture through forfeitures. We keep the money, the business fails, and drug dealers are out of work rather than in prison.
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Unanimous Supreme Court of New Hampshire upholds state's first modern capital conviction (with proportionality review to follow)As reported in this AP piece, "New Hampshire's top court upheld the sentence of the state's only death row inmate, clearing the way for a convicted cop killer to become the first person executed in New Hampshire since 1939." Here are more of the basics:
Michael Addison, 33, was convicted of gunning down Michael Briggs in 2006 as the 35-year-old Manchester police officer was attempting to arrest him on a string of armed robbery charges. The high court's unanimous ruling came nearly a year after it heard unprecedented daylong arguments in the first death penalty appeal to come before it in 50 years....
Of all 22 issues raised by Addison's lawyers on appeal, the justices concluded, "We find no reversible error."
The Supreme Court will next schedule arguments on its fairness review — weighing Addison's sentence against those meted out in 49 cases around the country between 2000 and 2009 in which a police officer was shot in the line of duty.
Addison's lawyers objected to the scope of the comparison, saying it ignores the only other New Hampshire capital case in recent history. That case involved a wealthy white man — John Brooks — who plotted and paid for the killing of a handyman he thought had stolen from him. Brooks was spared a death sentence in 2008 — the same year Addison was sentenced to die....
Attorney General Joseph Foster said the magnitude of the court's 243-page ruling is appropriate given the magnitude of the loss suffered by the Briggs' family. He did not comment on the ruling itself, noting that aspects of the case remain pending.
Briggs was 15 minutes from the end of his shift on Oct. 16, 2006, when he and his partner — both on bicycle patrol — confronted Addison in a dark alley. Jurors found that Addison shot Briggs in the head at close range to avoid arrest. Addison was later convicted of going on a violent rampage in the days before Briggs' death, including two armed robberies and a drive-by shooting....
The last person executed in New Hampshire was Howard Long, an Alton shopkeeper who molested and beat a 10-year-old boy to death. He was hanged — still a viable form of execution in New Hampshire if lethal injection is not possible.
As the AP piece revelas, the massive ruling in NH v. Addison (available here) does not conclusively affirm the defendant's death sentence. Here is why, as the NH Supreme Court explains in the introduction to its lengthy opinion:
With respect to the issues raised by the defendant on appeal, we find no reversible error. Accordingly, we affirm the defendant’s conviction for capital murder. Furthermore, we conclude that the sentence of death was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor, and that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s findings of aggravating circumstances. We note that our review of the defendant’s sentence is not yet complete. Only after additional briefing and oral argument on comparative proportionality under RSA 630:5, XI(c) will we conclude our review of the defendant’s sentence of death, at which time we will issue a further opinion.
Senate Judiciary hearing focused on federal prisons and "Cost-Effective Strategies for Reducing Recidivism"This motning, Tuesday November 6, 2013 at 10am, as detailed at this official webpage, there will be Hearing before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary titled "Oversight of the Bureau of Prisons & Cost-Effective Strategies for Reducing Recidivism." Here is the official agenda/hearing list:
- Charles E. Samuels, Jr.,Director,
- John E. Wetzel, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
- Representative John Tilley, Chair, Judiciary Committee, Kentucky House of Representatives
- Nancy G. La Vigne, Ph.D., Director, Justice Policy Center, The Urban Institute
- Matt DeLisi, Ph.D., Professor and Coordinator, Criminal Justice Studies, Iowa State University
- Dr. Jeffrey Sedgwick, Managing Partner and Co-Founder Keswick Advisors
I am expecting and hoping that there will be written testimony from some or all of these witnesses posted via the Senate website within the few hours.
Here at The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen sets out "5 Questions for Federal Prisons Chief When He Comes to Capitol Hill"
Election outcomes in Nov 2013 keep up marijuana reform momentum
Though it would be unwise jump to too many conclusions based on off-year election results, these headlines reporting on results concerning various marijuana initiative in various jurisdictions suggest a continuing affinity for responsible reform and sensible regulation of maijuana laws, policies and practices:
From Colorado here, "Colorado voters approve new taxes on recreational marijuana"
From Maine here, "Portland voters legalize marijuana; The ‘Yes’ vote wins in a landslide, claiming 67 percent of the tally with many of the precincts reporting"
From Michigan here, "Voters in three more Michigan cities pass marijuana decriminalization proposals"
Practically speaking, the Colorado vote is probably the most important and consequential, as it ensures a significant tax revenue stream now flowing from marijuana legalization in the Mile High state. But politically speaking, the voting outcomes in Maine and Michigan, though most symbolic, could still prove important if (and when?) more politicians on both side of the aisle in the northeast and upper midwest see that there could be political upsides in 2014 and beyond from supporting responsible reform and sensible regulation of maijuana laws, policies and practices.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
Tuesday, November 05, 2013
"Looking for Answers on Overcrowded Prisons"The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article coming from Philadelphia. The piece is primarily about federal corrections and re-entry issues, as well as on-going work of AG Eric Holder and the Department of Justice. Here are excerpts:
Some ex-offenders here report to federal court twice a month so that judges can gauge their progress, from drug testing and parenting classes to education and job training. It's an attempt to address a stubborn problem: nearly 25 percent of offenders released into federal supervision were rearrested for a new offense within five years, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Another 14 percent violate the conditions of their supervision.
Attorney General Eric Holder is taking a look at the Philadelphia program Tuesday to call attention to an overburdened prison system and the high incidence of repeat criminals, the first of three such visits to promote innovative crime prevention initiatives. Holder will visit St. Louis and Peoria, Ill., on Nov. 14.
"The common thread of these programs is that it is very difficult to get out of a cycle of crime without proper rehabilitation," Holder said in an interview. "We should not be surprised" at high repeat offender rates "when we see people with education deficits, social deficits and we warehouse them and then just put them back into the same environment that they left."...
Seven years ago, federal judges in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania created a federal re-entry court that focuses on ex-criminal offenders with a significant risk of returning to a life of crime. The goal of the program is to place participants on a path to employment rather than a cycle of crime. Those who successfully complete the 52-week program can reduce their court-supervised release by a year. It aims to cut Philadelphia's high violent crime rate by addressing the social, family and logistical issues confronting ex-offenders when they return to society.
Of 186 participants in the Supervision to Aid Re-Entry, or STAR, initiative over the past seven years, 142 have successfully completed the program or remain in it. In a new change designed to keep ex-offenders on the right track, STAR will provide some participants with federal housing assistance under a federal voucher program.
"For every dollar we invest in programs like these we are going to save much more" in prison costs, an outcome that will enable spending limited law-enforcement resources on other priorities, Holder said.
While Philadelphia's program deals with high-risk offenders, the program in St. Louis is aimed at helping low-level drug offenders remain drug-free and the effort in Peoria, Ill., substitutes drug treatment for jail time for low-level drug offenders.
In all, 73 of 79 participants in the Peoria program have successfully completed it. The program operated by the U.S. Attorney's office, a federal court, the probation office and defense lawyers is designed for defendants whose criminal conduct was motivated by substance abuse. The Justice Department says over $6 million has been saved through the program — money that otherwise would have been spent on putting the defendants behind bars....
Federal prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity and almost half of the prisoners are serving time for drug-related crimes. Many of them have substance use disorders. In addition, some 9 million to 10 million prisoners go through local jails each year. "We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation," Holder told the American Bar Association in August. "To be effective, federal efforts must also focus on prevention and re-entry."
SCOTUS unanimously reverses Sixth Circuit on Sixth Amendment habeas case in Burt v. TitlowThe Supreme Court wasted no time wasting a Sixth Circuit ruling that ruling in favor of a state habeas petitioner, issuing today a reversal in Burt v. Titlow, No. 12-414 (S. Ct. Nov. 5, 2013) (available here). Here is how the opinion for the Court by Justice Alito gets started:
When a state prisoner asks a federal court to set aside a sentence due to ineffective assistance of counsel during plea bargaining, our cases require that the federal court use a “‘doubly deferential’” standard of review that gives both the state court and the defense attorney the benefit of the doubt. Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 17). In this case, the Sixth Circuit failed to apply that doubly deferential standard by refusing to credit a state court’s reasonable factual finding and by assuming that counsel was ineffective where the record was silent. Because the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 110 Stat. 1214, and Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668 (1984), do not permit federal judges to so casually second-guess the decisions of their state-court colleagues or defense attorneys, the Sixth Circuit’s decision must be reversed.
Both Justice Ginsburg and Justice Sotomayor have written short opinions in Burt v. Titlow in order to articulate their views of what the Court's opinion does not mean.
Based on a very quick review, it seems this ruling should be viewed more as a bit of habeas review error-correction rather than a significant new precedent about the Sixth Amendment's reach or application. But all habeas practitioners ought to give this a very close read to see if there might be more "there there" than immediately meets the eye.