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March 9, 2005

Booker meets Roper and the rehabilitation of rehabilitation

The fascinating Booker work being done in the district courts merits as much attention as the Supreme Court's work in Shepard (basics summarized here, commentary here and here) and the steady stream of circuit dispositions (discussed and linked here).  I see on-line this morning two remarkable district court rulings, each of which provides intriguing justifications for refusing to follow the federal guidelines' severe career offender enhancements.

In US v. Naylor, 2005 WL 525409 (W.D. Va. Mar. 07, 2005) (also available here), Chief US District Judge James Jones discusses and quotes from the Supreme Court's recent Roper decision to discount the defendant's prior convictions for robberies committed as a juvenile.  In a thoughtful ruling (which echoes points I made here about Roper's possible impact on non-capital sentencing), Judge Jones carefully explains in Naylor why only legal technicalities suggest the application of the career offender enhancements and thus "a reasonable sentence for Naylor is 120 months imprisonment, within the sentencing range had he not been determined to be a career offender."

In US v. Carvajal, 2005 WL 476125 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 22, 2005), Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein explains, when imposing a 14-year sentence, his rationale for "departures from the strictures of Career Offender punishments that I considered not entirely applicable to Carvajal's offenses and criminal history."  Judge Hellerstein carefully explains that career offender enhancements would raise the defendant's sentence from a range of 63 to 78 months to a range of 262 to 327 months.  He then decides that neither range is appropriate in light of 3553(a) and Booker's instructions:

In my opinion, a 168 month (14-year) term of custodial punishment of 168 month would be just punishment.  Joseph Carvajal is 34 years old, and will be 48 years old when he emerges from prison (or 15% less if he wins reductions for good behavior).

Rehabilitation is also a goal of punishment.  18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2)(D).  That goal cannot be served if a defendant can look forward to nothing beyond imprisonment.  Hope is the necessary condition of mankind, for we are all created in the image of God.  A judge should be hesitant before sentencing so severely that he destroys all hope and takes away all possibility of useful life.  Punishment should not be more severe than that necessary to satisfy the goals of punishment.

March 9, 2005 at 07:30 AM | Permalink


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"Hope is the necessary condition of mankind..."

That is eloquent, especially in a sentencing context. Thank you Judge Hellerstein.

Posted by: Jeannie | Mar 9, 2005 11:29:58 AM

I disagree that rehabilitation is the goal of punishment. The goal of punishment is to make people stop doing bad things. The majority of crimes are committed by the same minority of people, so obviously we are not rehabbing anyone. Prison should do two things: Keep bad guys safely behind bars, and serve as an unpleasant consequence to bad behavior. That way people in prison can't commit crimes and people outside of prison won't want to commit crime for fear of imprisonment.

It's prison, not bed-wetting camp! I don't care if criminals grow and mature or not. I don't see a kinder gentler approach to incarceration as an answer to recidivism. By being kinder and gentler to career criminals, we are totally missing the boat.

I don't want criminals to have hope. I want a life of crime to be a hopeless soul-crushing experience. I want every moment to be filled with fear and trepidation. These people have broken their contract with society and it should really suck for them!

But what do I know...

Posted by: Phil Aldridge | Mar 9, 2005 1:30:26 PM

You must not know too much about the guests of federal prisoners. A large majority of the people in federal prison are not "career criminals" and have not lived a "life of crime". Most are low level drug offenders. These people most likely can be rehabilitated. As you probably also know nearly all the people in our prisons are going to back on the street someday, and may even be your next door neighbor. Would you rather have them be more hardened and angered criminals who simply sat in prison day after day after day with no chance to rehabiliTate themselves? Or would you rather know that your "neighbor" went to prison, but was able to take drug rehab classes, job training classes, and college classes in order to make them a better human being and give them a better chance of making it on on the outside?

You are entitled to your opinion. Some people in prison probably shouldn't be given a lesser sentence in order to rehabilitate themselves and some probably wouldn't want to rehabilitate themselves even if offered the opportunity. But those who have not truly hurt any individuals and those who truly want to improve their standing in society and actually try to rehabilitate themselves into a better person should be offered the opportunity.

Crime is never going to go away and we will never live in a society where every individual is a saint. Some people will break the law and those that want a second chance and the ability to rehabilitate themselves while serving their sentence should be given the opportunity. The United States is supposedly renowned as the "land of second opportunity" but unfortunately many of the poor souls being warehoused in federal prisons are simply rotting, with little hope of making a better life for themselves and their families.

So, possibly take a second look at your logic and you decide for yourself if you still believe your above statement to be true..............


Posted by: Nick Hanson | Mar 9, 2005 3:18:35 PM

Can someone please email me US v. Carvajal, 2005 WL 476125 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 22, 2005)? I would really like to read it. Thank you!

Posted by: jason | Mar 9, 2005 4:11:04 PM

I found the sentencing memorandum from Hellerstein\, no need for it to be emailed now, thanks.

Posted by: jason | Mar 9, 2005 5:26:16 PM

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