Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Is it foolish to hope, after now 35 years, that Congress will soon fix the crack-powder federal sentencing disparity?

My twitter feed this morning was full with folks noting that today marks officially a full 35 years(!) since Congress enacted the notorious 100-1 crack/powder cocaine ratio disparity.  The full story of 35 years of federal crack sentencing injustice and dysfunction cannot be recounted in a blog post.  But a few highlights document that a complete fix is long in the making, long overdue, and cannot come to soon. 

The US Sentencing Commission sent a report to Congress in 1995  — 26 years ago! —  highlight the myriad flaws with the crack-powder sentence scheme and proposed guidelines changes to partially fix the 100:1 crack/powder disparity by adopting a 1:1 quantity ratio at the powder cocaine level.  But Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed, legislation rejecting the USSC’s proposed guideline changes (see basics here and here), thereby ensuring decades of disproportionately severe crack sentences and extreme racial inequities in cocaine offense punishments.

Barack Obama gave a 2007 campaign speech assailing the crack/powder disparity, and in 2009 the Obama Justice Department advocated for "Congress to completely eliminate the crack/powder disparity."  Despite strong DOJ advocacy for a 1:1 ratio in April 2009, it still took Congress more than a year to enact only a partial reduction in crack sentences rather than the parity advocated by the USSC in 1995 and by DOJ in 2009.  Specifically, the Fair Sentencing Act enshrined a new 18:1 crack/powder quantity disparity ratio into federal drug sentencing statutes and guidelines, and even this modest reform did not become fully retroactive until eight years later with the 2018 FIRST STEP Act.

Excitingly, as noted here, the US House voted 361-66 last month to pass the EQUAL Act to end, finally and completely, the statutory disparity between powder and crack cocaine sentences.  In this new Hill commentary, Aamra Ahmad And Jeremiah Mosteller make the case that Congress should finally get this long overdue reform to the finish line.  Here is the start and end of their piece:

Thirty-five years ago today, while the country was still reeling from the tragic death of Len Bias — a University of Maryland basketball star who, just days after being drafted by the Boston Celtics, died from a drug overdose — Congress passed and President Reagan signed into law the Anti-Drug Abuse Act.  Assuming that the drug that killed Len was crack, Congress drafted a law that would impose harsher penalties on crack offenses.  It would impose the same mandatory prison sentence for five grams of crack cocaine as 500 grams of powder cocaine.  Even after it became known that the drug that killed Len was powder cocaine, not crack, the narrative had taken off that crack is more dangerous than powder, and Congress established the 100-to-1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine in federal law.

Over the years, this sentencing disparity has become emblematic of both the ineffectiveness of reactionary criminal justice policy and the racial disparities existing in our criminal justice system....

The EQUAL Act recently passed the House of Representatives with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 361 to 66.  It is rare to see Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), a former Texas judge and nationally-recognized staunch conservative, agree with Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), one of the leading progressive voices in the leadership of the Democratic Party, on criminal justice reform, but that is just what happened on the House floor when they both spoke in support of the EQUAL Act.  It is now up to the Senate to pass this long-overdue legislation and send the EQUAL Act to President Biden’s desk for his signature.  Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are the sponsors of the Senate companion legislation (S. 79) and have taken the lead in building a coalition to pass this legislation during the 117th Congress.  The time is now for the Senate to take action and rectify this long-standing injustice in our criminal legal system.

A few prior recent related posts:

October 27, 2021 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Pathways to Success on Probation: Lessons Learned from the First Phase of the Reducing Revocations Challenge"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new research brief from Arnold Ventures and the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance which is part of the Reducing Revocations Challenge, a national initiative on probation supervision seeking to reduce its impact on mass incarceration. Here is part of the research brief's introduction:

There has been growing agreement among practitioners, policymakers, and the general public that there are far too many people under probation supervision in the United States.  Since 1980, the number of people on probation has increased more than 215 percent, from 1.2 million to 3.5 million in 2018.  Today, approximately one in 57 adults (roughly two percent of the U.S. adult population) is under community supervision on any given day, and unnecessarily long probation terms are required by law in many states around the country.  Indeed, together with parole, probation supervision accounts for the large majority of individuals under correctional control in this country....

Probation was designed to be an alternative to incarceration, yet for many people under supervision it turns out to be a pathway that inevitably leads them there.  Although research has highlighted a range of evidence-based strategies over the years, from graduated responses to risk-needs-responsivity supervision models to reporting kiosks for low-risk individuals, success rates have not improved over time.  We still know very little about how to most effectively manage and support people on probation in a manner that reduces revocations, maximizes success, and works to achieve community safety and well-being.  This is in part because our understanding about the factors, circumstances, and behaviors that drive probation revocations to jail or prison — including the role of technical violations and new criminal activity and what is considered in decisions to violate and/or revoke — remains limited.  We also know very little about how to respond to people on probation in ways that prevent new criminal activity without over-punishing less harmful behaviors or exacerbating racial and ethnic disparities....

With this in mind, in 2019 the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance (ISLG) launched the Reducing Revocations Challenge (Challenge), a national initiative that aims to increase the success of those on probation by identifying, piloting, and testing promising strategies grounded in a robust analysis and understanding of why revocations occur. With the support of Arnold Ventures, over the past two years, the Challenge has supported research in 10 jurisdictions around the country to explore three key questions about local probation practices:

  1. Who is most likely to have a violation of their probation filed or have their probation revoked?
  2. Which types of noncompliance most often lead to probation revocation?
  3. What factors are driving these outcomes and what are the potential solutions? In each jurisdiction, the work was carried out by an action research team composed of a probation agency and a local research partner.
This brief summarizes the findings from the research work across jurisdictions. It begins with an overview of the Challenge and participating sites.  From there, we present key themes that emerged from the research in two subsections.  The first discusses trends that reaffirm prior learnings or assumptions about supervision revocations, especially with respect to factors and circumstances that influence who has probation violations filed and/or is revoked.  The second highlights new insights that emerged in key areas that have been more difficult to explore in the past despite being critical for enhancing success on supervision.  The brief ends with a discussion of policy and practice implications.

October 27, 2021 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

More executions postponed in Texas as SCOTUS considers religious liberty in death chamber

As reported in this post, the Supreme Court last month stayed the execution of John Ramirez and granted certiorari to consider Ramirez’s request that his pastor be allowed to physically touch him and pray aloud in the execution chamber while Ramirez is put to death by the state of Texas.  In this follow-up post, titled "A short de facto execution moratorium?: could other condemned inmates secure a stay until SCOTUS decides new Ramirez case on religious liberty?", I wondered if the SCOTUS cert grant in Ramirez could produce a short de facto execution moratorium based on other death row inmates making a religious liberty claim like Ramirez’s request. 

Since those posts, as noted here, Texas has been able to complete one execution, but a number of others have been postponed.  And this new AP report, headlined "Texas executions delayed over religious rights claims," details that the last two executions scheduled in Texas have now been postponed.  Here are the details:

The unresolved legal debate over whether spiritual advisers can touch inmates and pray aloud as condemned individuals are being put to death has delayed the final two executions scheduled this year in Texas. The delays come as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments next month in the case of another Texas death row inmate on the role of spiritual advisers in the death chamber.

Judges last week rescheduled the executions of Kosoul Chanthakoummane, who was set to die Nov. 10, and Ramiro Gonzales, who was set for Nov. 17. Gonzales’ new execution date is July 13 while Chanthakoummane’s new date is Aug. 17. Both inmates claimed that Texas was violating their religious freedom by not allowing their spiritual advisers to pray aloud and place a hand on their bodies at the time of their deaths.

“Litigation pending in the United States Supreme Court regarding the defendant’s right to the free exercise of religion warrants the withdrawal of the present date of execution and the setting of a new date of execution,” Medina County prosecutor Edward Shaughnessy wrote in a motion asking a judge to reschedule Gonzales’ execution.

In all, six executions that were scheduled this year in Texas were delayed or rescheduled due to religious freedom claims related to spiritual advisers.

Executions in Texas have been sporadic in the last two years, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with just three lethal injections carried out last year, and three executions so far this year. In comparison, Texas carried out 13 executions in 2018 and nine in 2019.

Prior related posts:

October 26, 2021 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (5)

"How to be a Better Plea Bargainer"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Cynthia Alkon and Andrea Kupfer Schneider recently posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Preparation matters in negotiation.  While plea bargaining is a criminal lawyer’s primary activity, the value of this skill is discounted by law schools and training programs.  A systemic model can be used to improve plea bargaining skills.  This Article offers a prep sheet for both prosecutors and defense attorneys and explains how each element of the sheet specifically applies to the plea bargaining context. 

The prep sheet is designed as a learning tool so that the negotiator can learn from the sheet and then make their own.  The sheet highlights important considerations such as understanding the interests and goals of the parties, the facts of the case, the law, policies behind the law, elements of an agreement, how to communicate with the other parties, and more.  The serious power imbalances and constraints inherent in the plea bargaining process make preparation crucial. Alkon and Schneider urge lawyers, scholars, and clinicians to become part of the ongoing conversation so that the practice of law can be improved for the benefit of all.

October 26, 2021 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Two states restarting their death machinery with Fall 2021 lethal injections scheduled for long-dormant execution chambers

In this post last month, I noted that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals had set execution dates for seven persons.  Long-time readers may recall that Oklahoma last decade had two problematic executions, of Clayton Lockett in 2014 and Charles Warner in 2015, and the state has not had an execution for nearly seven years.  A new Oklahoman piece provides details and background regarding the Sooner machinery of death getting restarted under the headline "What we know about Oklahoma resuming executions for the first time since 2015":

Starting Thursday, the state of Oklahoma has scheduled seven execution dates for inmates on death row.  It would be the state's first execution in more than six years.  In 1977, Oklahoma was the first state to adopt lethal injection, through which an inmate is injected with a fatal mixture of drugs as its primary method for carrying out executions....

The case of Julius Jones has attracted nationwide interest in recent years.  No legal defense has disputed the guilt of the other six inmates, but Jones has long maintained his innocence....

The last time Oklahoma executed a death row inmate was Charles Warner in January 2015.  Warner and Clayton Lockett, executed in 2014, both died by what were widely criticized as "botched" lethal injections, in which the inmates were not administered the correct mixture of drugs to bring about a quick and humane death.

After Warner's execution, investigators discovered Warner had not been administered the proper drugs.  The state's supplier of lethal injection drugs had replaced the heart-stopping drug potassium chloride with potassium acetate, the wrong chemical.  Upon this discovery, the state halted all scheduled lethal injections, including that of death row inmate Richard Glossip, who received a stay of his execution from then-Gov. Mary Fallin hours before he was scheduled to die.

The controversy worked its way to the U.S. Supreme Court after Glossip and 20 other death row inmates sued in federal court, arguing against the constitutionality of the sedative midazolam.  A divided Supreme Court ruled that the state's drug mixture for lethal injections did not violate the "cruel and unusual punishment" amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Glossip, who also has long maintained his innocence for the murder that placed him on death row, has exhausted his appeals but has gained support from bipartisan lawmakers for an independent reinvestigation into his case....

Since the hiatus in 2015, Oklahoma has explored alternative methods of administering the death penalty.  Fallin signed legislation allowing nitrogen gas to be used, if lethal injection is rendered unfeasible.  After struggling for years to design a proper device and protocol for the use of nitrogen gas, Oklahoma abandoned the idea in 2020 and reverted back to lethal injection, once another supplier for the drugs had been reportedly secured.  Oklahoma is one of only three states (the others being Mississippi and Utah) that allow for firing squads to be used as an alternative method, although this has not been done in the state for any of its executions since 1915.

Notably, recent news stories report now on another state gearing up to restarted its execution chamber after nearly a decade.  From the AP, "Mississippi prepares for first execution since 2012, corrections commissioner says":

Mississippi prison employees will conduct once-a-week rehearsals as the state prepares for its first execution since 2012, Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain says.  Cain told The Associated Press on Friday that the rehearsals for a lethal injection are usually done once a month at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, following a protocol that's about 20 pages long.

The Mississippi Supreme on Thursday set a Nov. 17 execution date for David Neal Cox, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to killing his wife, Kim, in 2010 in the northern Mississippi town of Shannon.  Cox withdrew his appeals and once filed court papers calling himself "worthy of death.”  Mississippi has not had an execution since 2012, and it had six that year.

Cain confirmed Mississippi has obtained lethal injection drugs, but he declined to say how.  “I’m not supposed to talk about the drugs too much,” Cain said.  Mississippi is still facing a lawsuit filed in 2015 by the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center on behalf of two inmates.  The suit argues Mississippi’s lethal injection protocol is inhumane.

October 26, 2021 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 25, 2021

"A crisis of undertesting: how inadequate COVID-19 detection skews the data and costs lives"

The title of this post is the title of this new report authored by Erika Tyagi, Neal Marquez, and Joshua Manson of the UCLA Law COVID Behind Bars Data Project. Here is part of the report's introduction:

Earlier this month, our team co-authored an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association on our findings that, during the first year of the pandemic, the COVID-19 infection rate for people incarcerated in state and federal prisons was 3.3 times higher than the rate for the U.S. population as a whole, and the COVID-19 death rate was 2.5 times higher.

These disparities are stark but not surprising — in an earlier study, we found that, in the first months of the pandemic, incarcerated people faced even more disproportionate infection and death rates.

There is reason to believe, however, that actual outcomes have been far worse than these data reveal.  That is because calculating infection rates that reflect the true prevalence of COVID-19 requires adequate testing.  If tests are not widely administered in prisons and jails, and, by many accounts, they have not been, then infections will go undetected.  As a result, infection and death rates will appear lower than they actually are....

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance recommending testing “at least weekly” of unvaccinated, asymptomatic employees of all workplaces, even those without known or suspected exposures.  Even before vaccines became available, many schools, universities, nursing homes, and other workplaces mandated weekly — or even daily — testing.

In nearly all jails and prisons, however, officials have been conducting orders of magnitude fewer tests than congregate settings with much lower risks of transmission. This provides strong evidence that more testing behind bars would reveal many more infections.

Similarly, COVID-19 deaths are often only recorded as such if individuals test positive before dying.  Because undertesting for COVID-19 results in many infections going undetected, it also increases the likelihood that individuals in prison may have died of COVID-19 without the cause of death being accurately recorded.  As a result, the true number of people who died from COVID-19 behind bars may be higher than the figures officially reported.

In the following pages, we break down three important public health metrics — testing rates, test positivity rates, and case fatality rates — that provide critical context to officially reported infection and death data and reveal just how unreliable reported infection and death data may be.  These three metrics suggest that, in many places, true infection and death numbers may be much higher than those officially reported.

October 25, 2021 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (1)

Notable survey results about violent crime perceptions and partisanship

This new release discusses the interesting (but not all that surprisng) results from an Axios/Ipsos poll conducted last week with a series of questions about perceptions of violent crime. Here are some of the details:

A new Axios-Ipsos poll finds that Americans’ concern about crime is high, but for most it is a more abstract than immediate concern.  For instance, three-quarters of Americans say they feel mostly or very safe when out in their communities, and among that one-quarter who report feeling less safe, only half cite crime as a major reason why (or about one in eight Americans).  However, a majority of Americans feel violent crime is on the rise since last year — which is broadly accurate — but also feel it is higher than observed 30 years ago — which is incorrect.  Potentially because concerns about crime are more abstract for most people, opinions about what to do about crime tend to fall along lines of national politics.  Democrats broadly support gun control and investment in social services while Republicans support a more armed populace and more spending on police....

There is some consensus on what steps could reduce gun violence and violent crime in the U.S. Just over six in ten (61%) Americans believe tighter gun laws would have an impact.

A large majority believe increased funding to police (70%) would curb gun violence and violent crime, while nearly as many (63%) also believe diverting police budget to community policing and social services would do this.

Over two thirds (68%) believe increased funding to social safety net programs would have an impact on combatting violent crime.

However, partisanship is central to what and who Americans believe is the cause of increased violent crime and which solutions would be most impactful.  Majorities of Republicans say Democrats in Congress (59%), reduced police funding (58%), and President Joe Biden (54%) are most responsible for increases in violent crime. Meanwhile, majorities of Democrats blame loose gun laws (54%) and rising gun sales (52%). 

When it comes to solutions, a majority of Republicans believe increased police funding (59%) would have a major impact on reducing violent crime compared to roughly a third of Democrats (31%).  Conversely, a majority of Democrats (63%) think tighter gun control regulations and increased funding to social programs that combat poverty (54%) would have a major impact on reducing violent crime — compared to 16% and 18% of Republicans, respectively.

The full poll is available at this link.

October 25, 2021 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Open Prosecution"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now on SSRN authored by Brandon L. Garrett, William Crozier, Elizabeth Gifford, Catherine Grodensky, Adele Quigley-McBride and Jennifer Teitcher. Here is its abstract:

The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized, where the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved without a trial, that: “criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials.”  While a plea, its terms, and the resulting sentence entered in court are all public, how the outcome was negotiated remains almost entirely nonpublic. Prosecutors may resolve cases for reasons that are benign, thoughtful, and well-calibrated; or discriminatory, self-interested, and arbitrary, with very little oversight or sunlight.

For years, academics and policymakers have called for meaningful plea-bargaining data to fill this crucial void.  In this Article, we describe opening the “black box” of prosecutorial discretion by tasking prosecutors with documenting detailed case-level information concerning plea bargaining.  This is not a hypothetical or conceptual exercise, but rather the product of theory, design, and implementation work by an interdisciplinary team.  We began collecting systematic data in two prosecutor’s offices, with a third to follow shortly.  We describe how the data collection system was designed, piloted, and implemented, and what insights it has generated.  The system developed can readily be adapted to other offices and jurisdictions.  We conclude by developing implications for prosecutors’ practices, defense lawyering, judicial oversight, and public policy.  Open prosecution has further constitutional and ethical implications, as well as still broader implications for democratic legitimacy.  An open prosecution approach is feasible, and, for the first time in the United States, it is in operation.

October 25, 2021 in Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 24, 2021

"Staying Off the Sidelines: Judges as Agents for Justice System Reform"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Yale Law Journal Forum piece authored by Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack. I recommend the full piece and here is an excerpt from its introduction:

For two years, I co-chaired Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Jail and Pretrial Taskforce, which collected data, research, best practices, and public comments to make recommendations to reduce Michigan’s county jail populations. The legislature acted on many of these proposals, and the Governor signed nineteen bills in January 2021 that will decriminalize many low-level offenses and divert people from the criminal-justice system.  I am hardly alone.  I have lots of company in states across the country.

These developments present an important question: what is a judge’s ethical obligation to address inequities in the system over which she presides?  From one view, the answer is little or nothing.  This view holds that the judge has a limited role in the justice system.  Her job is to interpret and apply the law, not to create it, change it, or work toward its improvement.  To the contrary, the argument goes, a judge who engages in such activities is overreaching and involved in ethically questionable behavior.

In this Essay, I maintain that this line of thinking is wrong on every count.  In Part I, I argue that judges are uniquely valuable contributors to reform efforts precisely because they are exposed to the day-to-day workings of the justice system and the flaws within it.  In Part II, I contend that there is no formal ethical obstacle to judges working toward the improvement of the law and the justice system.  Although there are some ethical constraints on how judges may do so, a wide range of plainly permissible activities remain.  And in Part III, I make the case that judges are not only permitted to engage in reform efforts, but also have an ethical obligation to do so.  That is, a judge cannot ignore inequities once she becomes aware of them.  To borrow Brendan Sullivan’s phrase, in the dynamics of reforming and improving the justice system, a judge should not be a potted plant.

October 24, 2021 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Should I give up hoping Prez Biden will soon make long needed nominations to US Sentencing Commission?

As we reach a full nine months into the Biden Administration, I must yet again express my frustration that there has not yet been any nominations to the US Sentencing Commission.  As I have noted in a number of prior posts (some linked below), due to a lack of Sentencing Commissioners, the USSC has not been fully functional for most of the last five years, and the USSC has not had complete set of commissioners in place now for the better part of a decade.  The USSC staff continues to produce lots of useful research and reports, but the FIRST STEP Act's passage in December 2018 makes it particularly problematic for the USSC to have been completely non-functional for now nearly three years since that law's enactment.

In this post months ago, I highlighted that all the openings on the USSC provide the Biden Administration with an opportunity to appoint transformative commissioners who could make the US Sentencing Commission a potent criminal justice reform leader.  Especially at a time when there is broad bipartisan interest in continued federal sentencing reforms, but Congress is consumed with a number of other concerns, there are an array of large and small improvements to the federal sentencing system that the USSC could and should be able to advance.  Effective appointments to the US Sentencing Commission could provide the foundation for advancing badly needed structural and institutional federal sentencing reforms for years and even decades to come.

During the 2020 presidential race, Biden’s campaign included a commitment that "Biden will take bold action to reduce our prison population."  To date, Prez Biden has not taken any tangible action to reduce prison populations.  Indeed, after a number of years of decline, official data show that the federal prison population is growing again.  Though a properly staffed US Sentencing Commission could not immediately ensure reductions in the federal prison population, the USSC can be an effective agent of decarceral reforms. As I have stressed before, shrewd and bold nominations to the US Sentencing Commission could and would serve as an effective way for Prez Biden to signal a real commitment to criminal justice reform while also reviving an agency with a long history of impactful work on the federal sentencing system.  

A few of many prior recent related posts:

October 24, 2021 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (17)

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Making the case for bringing back parole in Illinois and elsewhere

A few years ago I wrote an essay, titled "Reflecting on Parole's Abolition in the Federal Sentencing System," which in part lamented the federal sentencing system's decision to abolish parole back in 1984.  That essay came to mind as I read this new New York Times commentary authored by Ben Austen and Khalil Gibran Muhammad headlined "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime."  Here are excerpts:

Senate Bill 2333 would entitle people imprisoned in the state who serve at least 20 years to a parole review.  There are 2,500 people who have already spent two decades in prison in Illinois; many thousands more will eventually surpass that mark.  Under the proposed law, they wouldn’t be automatically released; a parole board would evaluate them, assessing the risks and benefits of restoring their freedom.

Both of us have visited and studied prisons in other Western countries, where 20-year sentences are considered extreme and are exceptionally rare.  In Germany, according to a 2013 Vera Institute of Justice report, fewer than 100 people have prison terms longer than 15 years; in the Netherlands, all but a tiny percentage are sentenced to four years or less.  In U.S. prisons, life sentences are routine. 

The pending Illinois law, if passed, might lead other states to follow suit, chipping away at one of the many pillars of mass incarceration. The legislation is a hopeful sign of changing sensibilities about people whose transformed lives have meant very little in the machinery of mass punishment.

Parole has a complicated history in this country, one that helps explain how we got into the crisis of mass incarceration and maybe how we might find a way out. When it began in the United States in the 19th century, parole was envisioned as a means of rehabilitating people in prison by encouraging good behavior with the possibility of early release.

By the 1970s, though, parole boards were under attack. Conservatives pointed to rising crime and civil disorder and denounced parole as overly lenient. They said discretionary release invariably sent dangerous people back onto the streets and encouraged more crime, since soft punishments failed as deterrents.

On the other end of the political spectrum, people behind bars were busy protesting prison conditions. They said parole boards lacked transparency and systematically discriminated against petitioners of color. They and their supporters believed that clearly defined fixed prison terms would be less susceptible to a parole board’s bias, racism and indifference, and that as a result these sentences would be shorter. They were wrong.

Sixteen states and the federal government eventually got rid of or severely curtailed their existing parole systems. Other states soon restricted parole eligibility to a small subset of their prison populations. But eliminating and restricting parole turned out to be the first of the sentencing reforms in the country’s punitive turn.

The floodgates opened onto mandatory minimums, truth-in-sentencing, three strikes and you’re out. More people were sentenced to prison, and the fixed terms grew longer and longer. The number of people in state and federal prisons ballooned to a peak of 1.6 million in 2009 from 200,000 in the 1970s. The numbers have fallen moderately since.

A large body of evidence has documented the destruction caused by long prison terms. Not only are people over 50 the fastest-growing segment in U.S. prisons, but they are also exposed to ever-greater mental and physical health risks with each passing year — a crisis made even more apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of us was a contributor to a 2014 National Research Council report on the creation and consequences of mass incarceration. The report recommends a return to a principle of parsimony, the sensible idea that a punishment should be only as severe as is required to prevent future offending. Too much punishment, the report noted, can have the opposite effect, when “justice institutions lose legitimacy.”

Many legal scholars and criminologists now agree that whatever prisons are supposed to accomplish — whether it’s incapacitation, accountability, rehabilitation or deterrence — it can be achieved within two decades. The nonprofit Sentencing Project argues that the United States should follow the lead of other countries and cap prison terms at 20 years, barring exceptional circumstances. The Model Penal Code of the American Law Institute, a century-old organization led by judges, law professors and legal experts, proposes reviewing long sentences for resentencing or release after 15 years.

In Virginia, there’s also a movement to reinstate parole eligibility. A bill in New York State would grant those 55 and older who have served at least 15 years the right to a hearing. Expanding parole consideration in Illinois and elsewhere won’t be enough to roll back the destructive effects of mass incarceration. But it would be an important step in continuing efforts to reduce prison numbers, and it could usher in other necessary changes.

October 23, 2021 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Still more great Inquest pieces, including a timely commentary on reproductive justice

I continue to hope readers are not tired of all my blogging about Inquest, "a decarceral brainstorm," because the site continues to publish must-read essays and other great materials that remain so  blogworthy.  Here are some new great new reads from the site since the last time I blogged about it, concluding with an excerpt focused on the intersection of incarceration and reproductive rights:

From James M. Binnall, "Carceral Wisdom: Like the value they bring to the classroom, people who have experienced the harms of the penal system have much knowledge to bring to our nation’s jury trials."

From Felix Sitthivong, "Divide and Conquer: For those of us on the inside who believe in prison abolition by any means necessary, prison closures really mean prison closures. The state and some of my fellow prisoners don’t like that."

From Inez Bordeaux, "Radicalized at the Workhouse: The criminal legal system almost took my life from me. The anger that came after now fuels my life’s work."

From Angel Parker, "The True Jailers of Rikers: As demands grow louder for decarcerating and shutting down New York City’s deadly jail complex, judges and prosecutors have escaped accountability. But they’re the ones driving the crisis."

"Saying Their Names: How public defenders in New York City organized to speak up for those who have died on Rikers — and to keep others from going there."

From Crystal Hayes, Carolyn Sufrin & Jamila Perritt, "Where Choice Ends: Unless and until mass incarceration is ended, Roe v. Wade, and reproductive freedom writ large, will never be safe." An excerpt:

Mass incarceration is a system that wields enormous control and power over people’s lives and violates every single tenet of reproductive justice.  Reproductive justice, a theory first coined in 1994 by 12 Black women, maintains that all people, especially communities that have been historically excluded and marginalized — Indigenous women, Black women, trans people, and other women of color — should have access to the material resources necessary to fully realize the range of reproductive, sexual health care, and technologies available to them, unencumbered by any barriers.

Reproductive justice includes four main tenets holding that everyone has a human right to decide if and when they will have a child and the conditions under which they will give birth; to decide if they will not have a child and their options for preventing or ending a pregnancy; to parent the children they already have with the necessary social supports in safe environments and healthy communities, and without fear of violence from individuals or the government; and to possess bodily autonomy free from all forms of reproductive oppression.  Black women who pioneered reproductive justice were seeking a broader way to understand and frame the need to access reproductive health care.  Their efforts included a racial analysis, and critique, of the idea that all women have access to the same resources to make healthy decisions about their own bodies and fertility — while assailing the flawed assumption that all women who choose to have children get to do so and even parent their own children.

For people in prison and jail, all these tenets are beyond reach.  Once incarcerated, people are stripped of bodily autonomy and the freedom and capacity to make healthy decisions over their own bodies in nearly all respects, including reproductive health.  In these environments, it is well documented that abortion access is heavily curtailed and in some cases non-existent, despite legal precedent that incarcerated people retain their right to abortion.  Protecting abortion care and access, contraception, and other sexual health care as part of a holistic approach to reproductive health care, for people in Texas and beyond, demands that we go beyond pushing the courts and political actors to protect Roe v Wade.  Protecting Roe is woefully insufficient in a society where any person is denied basic reproductive healthcare, including those who are incarcerated.  We must protect Roe while also ensuring it is a reality for incarcerated people. To do so, fighting to end mass incarceration altogether is critical.

October 23, 2021 in Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 22, 2021

Oregon Gov uses clemency power to give certain juve offenders opportunity for parole after non-retroactive statutory reform

As reported in this HuffPost piece, "Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) commuted the sentences of dozens of people convicted of crimes they committed as kids on Wednesday, potentially reducing their prison time by hundreds of years and marking major progress in a broader reform effort that recognizes people who committed crimes before they were adults have a unique capacity for change." Here is more (with links from the original):

Brown’s clemency order lists more than 70 people who committed crimes before they were 18 years old and are serving sentences of 15 years or more in prison.  They were selected because they were excluded from a 2019 juvenile justice reform bill that dramatically changed the way the state punishes people who commit crimes when they are kids.  Those individuals, many of whom were previously facing life sentences — some without the chance of parole — now have the opportunity to petition the state’s Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision for release after 15 years in prison.  Brown instructed the board to consider each individual’s age and immaturity at the time of the crime and whether they have subsequently shown maturity and rehabilitation.
The clemency order excludes individuals who are serving sentences for crimes they later committed as adults and those who have a release date of 2050 or later — although these individuals can still petition the governor for clemency.

The governor’s move comes months after a HuffPost story about Kipland Kinkel, one of Oregon’s most infamous juvenile offenders, and the ways his high-profile case has been used to justify extreme sentencing for other people who committed crimes when they were kids.  In 1998, when Kinkel was 15 years old and experiencing symptoms of a severe undiagnosed mental illness, he killed his mother, his father, two students at his school, and wounded 25 others.  He was sentenced to nearly 112 years in prison without the chance of parole.

With a projected release date of 2110, Kinkel is not part of Brown’s clemency order.  The 2050 cutoff in Brown’s order appears to be designed specifically to exclude him, although it does impact a handful of other people....

Brown’s clemency action is an effort to correct some of the sentencing inequities created by the state legislature with the non-retroactive reform bill....  Juvenile justice reform advocates praised Brown’s decision to give a second chance to people who have grown up and dramatically changed since the time of their crimes....

Brown outlined her clemency plan in a September letter to Oregon’s Department of Corrections in which she requested a list of names of people in its custody for crimes they committed as juveniles who were sentenced before S.B. 1008 went into effect and who met a set of criteria. 

“SB 1008 takes into account the fact that these youth are capable of tremendous transformation,” Brown wrote in the letter, citing the fact that many who commit crimes during their youth complete college degrees and treatment programs while in youth custody before they even age into adult prison. “For these reasons, I have no doubt that the above-referenced list will be comprised of many individuals who have demonstrated exemplary progress and considerable evidence of rehabilitation, and who — unfairly — did not benefit from the effects of SB 1008.”

Brown’s juvenile clemency plan is two-pronged, according to the September letter.  One part involves providing clemency that enables individuals who are serving a sentence of 15 years or more to get a parole board hearing — which she did on Wednesday.  The second part involves reviewing the sentences of people who were under 18 at the time of their crime and who will have served 50% of their sentences by next December.

For the roughly 200 people in that group, the governor’s office “will engage in an individualized review process to determine whether the youth has made exemplary progress and if there is considerable evidence of rehabilitation, as well as taking into account input from the [district attorney] and victims, if any,” Merah wrote in an email. “If the Governor determines that a commutation is warranted, the youth will be granted a conditional release.”  Both parts of Brown’s clemency plan exclude individuals who are currently in prison for a conviction they subsequently committed as adults.

October 22, 2021 in Clemency and Pardons, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Alabama completes execution of intellectually disabled man 30 years after his robbery/murder

As detailed in this lengthy local article, an execution was completed in the Yellowhammer State on Thursday night bringing to a conclusion a capital case raising a host of modern legal issues.  Here are some of the details:

Alabama Death Row inmate Willie B. Smith III was executed by lethal injection Thursday night at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, even as the state did not dispute that Smith had significantly below-average intellectual functioning, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The execution date was set by the Alabama Supreme Court last month and came after several months of delay, due to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from February saying Smith could not be executed without his personal spiritual advisor present in the room with him.  That ruling came on the evening Smith was first set to be put to death, on Feb. 11.

Smith was sent to death row after being convicted of killing 22-year-old Sharma Ruth Johnson, the sister of a police detective, on Oct. 27, 1991 in Birmingham.  Prosecutors said Smith abducted Johnson at gunpoint from an ATM, stole $80 from her and later took her to a cemetery, where he shot her in the back of the head.

The execution was set to happen at 6 p.m. but did not start until shortly after 9:30 p.m. because the state was waiting on a ruling from the nation’s highest court.  Smith’s official time of death was 9:47 p.m....  The state allowed a personal pastor in the chamber, Pastor Robert Wiley, who appeared to pray with Smith and put hand on his leg at the beginning of the execution....

The U.S. Supreme Court denied Smith’s request for a stay of execution and petition for a writ of certiorari, or a request to review the case, at approximately 8:30 p.m.  Justice Sonia Sotomayor released a statement respecting the denial of the petition.  She said she shared the same concerns as a lower court judge, who “identified serious concerns with the way the ADOC has administered the Alabama Legislature’s directive to allow those on death row to choose nitrogen hypoxia as their means of execution.”...

Issues of Smith’s mental capacity have been brought up several times throughout the years-long appeals process.  Smith’s lawyers, Allyson R. du Lac, Spencer Hahn and John Palombi of the Federal Defenders for the Middle District of Alabama, said in a recent court filing that Smith has an IQ in or below the 70s and should have received help under the ADA to understand a form related to the selection of an execution method.  Previous appeals in Smith’s state case showed that a state expert put his IQ at 72; a defense expert placed it at 64.

In the 11th Circuit’s ruling, the court stated: “In making its determination, the district court found that: (1) Mr. Smith is a qualified individual with a disability, (2) Mr. Smith failed to demonstrate that he lacked meaningful access to the ADOC’s Election Form service, and (3) Mr. Smith did not request an accommodation from the ADOC or show that his need for an accommodation was so obvious and apparent that the ADOC should have known he required one.”...

Lawyers for the state have argued that Smith never gave any indication that he wanted to request nitrogen; but according to the defense attorneys, “(the state) clearly violated Mr. Smith’s rights when they failed to provide him with an accommodation when handing out the form in June 2018.”  The filing continues, “Mr. Smith has submitted an affidavit making clear that ‘[i]f he had understood the Election Form, [he] would have signed it and handed it in in June 2018.’”

In a different matter last month, the ADOC agreed to allow Smith’s pastor to hold his hand during the lethal injection -- a settlement made to end litigation over the issue.  The issue of allowing inmates’ personal spiritual advisors in the execution chamber has been a point of contention.  Before April 2019 the ADOC required its Christian chaplain to be in the execution chamber.  That policy was changed after a Muslim inmate, Domineque Ray, requested and was denied the presence of his imam (an Islamic spiritual advisor) when he died.  He was executed anyway.

October 22, 2021 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, October 21, 2021

"Data update: As the Delta variant ravages the country, correctional systems are dropping the ball (again)"

The title of this post is the title of this new briefing from the Prison Policy Initiative authored by Emily Widra.  Here is how it starts and ends:

The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, particularly inside prisons and jails.  The death rate from COVID-19 in prisons is more than double that of the general U.S. population. In state and federal prisons across the country, over 2,800 people have died of COVID-19 and almost 438,000 people in prison have been infected, and thousands of additional cases are linked to individual county jails.  As the more contagious Delta variant ravages parts of the nation, public health officials continue to recommend prison population decreases as a primary method of risk reduction.  Our data show that with just a few exceptions, state and local leaders are continuing to fail to reduce their prison and jail populations.

The federal Bureau of Prisons, state governments and departments of corrections, and local officials have a responsibility to protect the health and lives of those who are incarcerated.  After 18 months of outbreak after outbreak in prisons and jails, it is clear correctional authorities must be held accountable for their failure to reduce their populations enough to prevent the illness and death of those who are incarcerated and in surrounding communities....

Even before COVID-19, prisons and jails were a threat to public health and considered notoriously dangerous places during any sort of viral outbreak.  And yet, correctional facilities continue to be the source of a large number of infections in the U.S.  The COVID-19 death rate in prisons is almost three times higher than among the general U.S. population, even when adjusted for age and sex (as the prison population is disproportionately young and male).  Since the early days of the pandemic, public health professionals, corrections officials, and criminal justice reform advocates have agreed that decarceration is necessary to protect incarcerated people and the community at large from COVID-19. Decarceration efforts must include releasing more people from prisons and jails.  Despite this knowledge, state, federal, and local authorities have failed to release people from prisons and jails on a scale sufficient to protect incarcerated people’s lives — and by extension, the lives of everyone in the communities where incarcerated people eventually return, and where correctional staff live and work.

October 21, 2021 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable (re)sentencing of another former Minnesota police officer for another notable homicide

Though not anywhere as high-profile as the conviction and sentencing of Derek Chauvin, another Minnesota police officer was just subject to state sentencing (actually a resentencing) for homicide. This local article, headlined "Judge resentences ex-officer Mohamed Noor to almost 5 years on manslaughter count," reports on an interesting sentencing process and outcome. Here are excerpts:

Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor received a new sentence of 4 3/4 years on Thursday for his manslaughter conviction after the state's high court overturned the more serious murder conviction for the 2017 shooting of an Australian woman who had called to report a possible crime.

Noor, who turned 36 Wednesday, was resentenced by Judge Kathryn Quaintance on second-degree manslaughter because the Minnesota Supreme Court set aside his third-degree murder conviction last month.  The decision vacated a prison term of 12 1/2 years Noor was already serving on the murder count for shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond.

Quaintance, in sentencing Noor to the high end as suggested by state sentencing guidelines, said she wasn't surprised Noor has been a model prisoner, but he had fired his gun across the nose of his partner, endangering a bicyclist and others in the neighborhood on a summer evening.  "These factors of endangering the public make your crime of manslaughter appropriate for a high end sentence," she said.

Noor has served 29 1/12 months since he entered prison in May 2019.  With credit for time served, Noor would be scheduled for release after serving 2/3 of his sentence, meaning he must serve another 8 1/2 months. He is likely to be released next May.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy read a statement from Maryan Heffernan, the victim's mother, who was watching from Australia.  The family sought the maximum for Noor. "We should expect complete accountability from our public institutions and their staff," Heffernan's statement said.  The longest sentence would send a message to police "that we require respect for their badges," Heffernan's statement said.  "We will be outraged if the court is unwilling to respect the will of the people and demand that justice be heard, be seen and be done."

The victim's fiance Don Damond appeared via Zoom and took a different tact, saying the Supreme Court's decision, "Does not diminish the truth which was uncovered during the trial.  The truth is that Justine should be alive." Damond said his comments should not be construed that he wasn't still grieving, but his departed wife "lived a life of love, she modeled a life of joy for all and she stood for forgiveness."

"Given her example, I want you to know that I forgive you Mohamed," he said. "All I ask is that you use this experience to do good for other people.  Be the example of how to transform beyond adversity.  Be an example of honesty and contrition. This is what Justine would want."

Second-degree manslaughter is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but state sentencing guidelines recommend a term between about 3 1/3 and 4 3/4 years in prison for defendants with no criminal history, such as Noor.  The presumptive term is four years, according to the guidelines.

In her comments, Sweasy asked for the maximum, noting this will be the only time a police officer will be sentenced for this offense.  "By every measure ... this is worse-than-typical for a second-degree manslaughter case," Sweasy said, adding that Noor wore the badge of Minneapolis police officer, a social contract that provides privilege to use deadly force to protect other civilians.

Noor's attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said Noor was young and had overreacted. "He was operating with the mistaken belief that he needed to protect his partner," Plunkett said, adding that Noor had wanted to make the world better and chose a career as a police officer to bridge the gap between the police, the justice system and the Somali-immigrant community.

In prison, he was an award-winning inmate for his commitment and respect to others.  Plunkett requested a sentence at the low end of the guidelines, 3 1/3 years.  There is little doubt that Mr. Noor's time in prison was "more punitive" than anyone could have imagined before the pandemic, Plunkett said.  In Noor's brief comments, he said he was "deeply grateful" for Damond's forgiveness and "deeply sorry" for the family's loss. Of Damond, Noor said, "I will take his advice and be a unifier."

Plunkett had asked the judge to give Noor credit for time he's already served in prison and to place him on supervised release, which typically requires regular check-ins with the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC), regular drug and alcohol testing, and restrictions on certain activities.  It can also include electronic home monitoring.  Violations of such terms can result in a defendant being sent back to prison.

Defendants in Minnesota must serve 2/3 of their prison term before becoming eligible for supervised release.  Noor entered prison on May 2, 2019 and was first sentenced in June 2019.  He originally served his time in administrative segregation at Oak Park Heights prison in Minnesota, but was transferred on July 11, 2019 to facility in North Dakota for his own safety.

October 21, 2021 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

"The policy lessons learned from the criminal justice system response to COVID-19"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new essay authored by Alex Piquero just published by Criminology & Public Policy.  Here is part of the essay's introduction (with cites removed):

Since the onset of the novel coronavirus, criminologists have researched how the virus and its policy responses have affected crime and criminal justice, with the most significant findings indicating: (1) a steady increase in specific forms of violence, including primarily homicides/community gun violence and domestic violence; (2) reductions or stability in virtually all property crimes, but the acceleration of certain types of offending, such as fraud and cybercrime, due in large part to increased reliance on the internet and related platforms; (3) the emergence of new crime types, such as public health violations for breaking COVID-19 safety protocols; (4) a reduction in prison and jail populations — especially in the first 6–9 months of the pandemic; (5) a rapid spread of viral infections in jails and prisons; (6) a substantial increase in opioid use and fatalities; (6) the creation of gaps in the delivery of needed medical and mental health screening and treatment; and (7) an initial reduction in police stops, citations, and arrests — particularly in the first few months of the pandemic as many departments pulled back on patrol and limited contact with the public in large part due to viral spread, lockdowns — leading to fewer persons out in public, and a lack of protective equipment.

These research efforts have been important in documenting changes in crime and the criminal justice response and have provided important baseline information to compare against as criminologists continue to track changes in crime in the COVID-19 era.  Yet, one of the glaring omissions from the research accumulated thus far — and not necessarily the fault of criminologists per se — has been the lack of policy-relevant discussion surrounding the effects of all-things-COVID on the criminal justice system.  This essay takes a step in that direction.

In the sections that follow, I highlight what was the nonexistent policy playbook and initial response by the various actors of the criminal justice system and the subsequent policy decisions and lessons learned as the system navigated the viral outbreak in real time with little — or constantly changing guidance — from state and federal officials.  Not only were communities ravaged by the virus — and the racial/ethnic health injustices brought to light, but so to were police, court, and correctional systems and personnel as many became infected, hospitalized, and died — all the while the wheels of the justice system continued at a slower pace (with respect to policing) and in some cases stalled or stopped altogether for a period of time (such as the court system).  Following this section, I turn to some of the early experiences as to how policing, courts, and corrections made decisions to adapt to the spread of the virus.  The essay closes with some lessons learned by criminal justice agencies, some policy considerations, and importantly how the COVID-19 pandemic in concert with calls for social and racial justice within the justice (and health) system(s) have hopefully moved the dial to reform and reimagine what criminal justice could look like and should like with respect to trust, legitimacy, accountability, and transparency.

October 20, 2021 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Will guilty pleas and apology reduce odds that Nikolas Cruz is sentenced to death for Parkland school mass murder?

The question in this post is prompted by today's events in a Florida courtroom covered in this CNN article headlined "Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to murder charges and apologizes for Parkland high school massacre."  Here are excerpts:

Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who carried out the massacre of students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, pleaded guilty in a Florida courtroom Wednesday to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.  Cruz, 23, faces a minimum of life in prison and maximum of the death penalty, which will be decided by a jury in the upcoming sentencing phase of the trial.  The prosecution has said they plan to seek the death penalty.

In court, Cruz wore a collared shirt, black vest, face mask and large, thick-framed glasses. He stood at the court lectern and answered Judge Elizabeth Scherer's series of questions with a "yes ma'am" or "no ma'am," and assured her, "I know what's going on." He said he had depression and anxiety, and that he was experiencing anxiety in court, but he said he was able to proceed.

Cruz then responded "guilty" when each of the 34 charges were read to him. Afterward, he apologized to the victims in a short speech.  "I am very sorry for what I did, and I have to live with it every day.  If I were to get a second chance, I would do everything in my power to try to help others," he said. "I am doing this for you, and I do not care if you do not believe me.  And I love you, and I know you don't believe me, but I have to live with this every day, and it brings me nightmares and I can't live with myself sometimes, but I try to push through because I know that's what you guys would want me to do.

"I hate drugs, and I believe this country would do better if everyone would stop smoking marijuana and doing all these drugs and causing racism and violence out in the streets," he continued.  "I'm sorry, and I can't even watch TV anymore.  And I'm trying my best to maintain my composure, and I just want you to know I'm really sorry, and I hope you give me a chance to try to help others.  I believe it's your decision to decide where I go, and whether I live or die.  Not the jury's.  I believe it's your decision. I'm sorry."

The judge then asked Cruz if he understood that a jury, and not the victims' families, would have the legal power to decide his sentence, and he confirmed that he understood. "What I meant was I believe they should have the right to choose, the victims themselves, on whether I should take life or death," Cruz said.

He was then placed in handcuffs, fingerprinted and escorted from the courtroom.  Jury selection in the penalty phase is scheduled for January 4.

The plea comes more than three and a half years after the Valentine's Day shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which he killed 17 students and faculty members and injured 17 others in what is the deadliest high school shooting in US history.  A dozen law enforcement officers filled the courtroom Wednesday while media, victims, and the family of victims watched the proceedings, some of whom were seen wiping their eyes as the judge detailed the counts and penalties to Cruz.

Tony Montalto, the father one of the slain students, Gina Montalto, called Cruz's apology "ridiculous." "If he wanted to apologize, he shouldn't have murdered Gina and 16 other people that day," Tony Montalto told CNN. Asked about the prospect of the death penalty for Cruz, Montalto said, "We need to deprive these mass murderers of the notoriety they seek. . . . We need to remember the victims for the wonderful and vibrant people that they were.  I think he deserves as much of a chance as he gave my daughter and everyone else on February 14 of 2018."

In court the prosecution laid out the harrowing timeline of the shooting, which began when Cruz, then 19, grabbed his AR-15-style rifle and magazines and rode in an Uber to his former high school. There, he took out his rifle and loaded it, and when a student walked near, Cruz offered a warning. "You better get out of here," he told the student. "Something bad is about to happen." Cruz then wandered through the halls of the school and fired indiscriminately at various students and staff in hallways and classrooms, prosecutors said. He eventually left the school and was taken into custody several miles away....

Cruz's defense team had long ago offered a guilty plea in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole -- but only if prosecutors took the death penalty off the table. Prosecutors had rejected that, saying they were seeking the death penalty....

Cruz's guilty plea comes just after a $25 million settlement was reached between the Broward County School Board and 52 victims of the massacre, according to an attorney for some of the victims.  Attorney David Brill said the settlement of the lawsuit includes all of the families of the 17 who died, 16 of 17 victims who were shot but survived, and 19 victims who suffer from PTSD or other ailments.

Some prior related posts:

October 20, 2021 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Rounding up some recent postings from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

I have not done a round-up of posts from my blogging over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform in quite some time, so here is a sampling of some posts in recent months at intersection of criminal justice reform and marijuana reform from MLP&R:

October 19, 2021 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

New report examines aftermath of Baltimore's no-prosecution policy for minor drug possession and prostitution

As reported in this new release, a "new report from researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Heath found that Baltimore’s no-prosecution policy for minor drug possession and prostitution, enacted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, led to fewer new low-level drug and prostitution arrests, almost no rearrests for serious crimes for those who had charges dropped, and fewer 911 calls."  Here is more:

The findings suggest the new policies did not result in increased public complaints about drug use or sex work, and that those who had charges dropped did not go on to commit serious crimes.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that Baltimore would stop prosecuting low-level drug and drug paraphernalia possession and prostitution in March 2020, chiefly as an infection-reduction measure at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  A year later she announced that the policy would remain in place — even after the pandemic winds down — as a way of reducing the burdens on city police and on the poorer, predominantly Black city residents who are traditionally arrested for such crimes....

The report’s key findings, covering the 14 months following the policy change (April 2020 to May 2021), include:

  • An estimated 443 new drug/paraphernalia-possession and prostitution arrests were averted as a result of the new no-prosecution policy, 78 percent of which were averted in the Black community. This analysis was based on Baltimore Police Department arrest data.
  • Of the 741 people whose drug and prostitution charges were dropped, six—less than 1 percent—had new arrests for serious crimes during the study period. This analysis was based on Maryland Courts Judicial Information System data.
  • Calls to 911 about drug/paraphernalia and prostitution declined significantly in the post-policy change period.

The full report, titled Evaluation of Prosecutorial Policy Reforms Eliminating Criminal Penalties for Drug Possession and Sex Work in Baltimore, Maryland,” is available at this link.

October 19, 2021 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)