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November 11, 2006

Thinking about sentenced troops on Veterans Day

On Veterans Day, I am thinking about all the veterans who, after serving our country in the military in support of our nation's commitment to liberty and freedom, discover that our sentencing laws give little or no credit for their service.  I specifically have in mind the decorated soldiers Patrick Lett (story here) and Victor Rita (story here), both of whom now have their futures in the hands of appellate courts trying to figure out what Booker really means for federal sentencing.

More broadly, I wonder how many thousands of veterans are subject to all the severe collateral consequences that can often follow a conviction.  For example, I wonder how many veterans are unable to vote because they are disenfranchised by state law or how many veterans cannot live where they want because of residency restrictions or how many can no longer purchase a firearm because of a prior felony.

Some related posts:

November 11, 2006 in Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 10, 2006

Is GPS tracking a better way?

I spoke at a sentencing seminar this morning, and the terrific speaker after me reviewed all the reasons why residency restrictions for sex offenders likely endanger, rather than enhance, public safety.  (Astute readers will recall that Iowa's prosecutors, who have the most experience with these laws, came to this conclusion long ago as documented here.)   Beyond the public safety consequences, the California experience with residency restrictions in Proposition 83 (details here and here) spotlights that these laws always engender copious litigation.

But another facet of Proposition 83 may not be quite as bad, though it is sure to also stir up some litigation: GPS tracking of certain offenders.  Thanks to Crime & Consequences, I saw this interesting article at Wired News about GPS monitoring, titled "Attack of the Perv Trackers."  Here are parts of a fine piece:

Just a few years ago, satellite tracking of convicts was a newfangled alternative to house arrest.  Now, the number of American ex-offenders tracked through GPS-equipped ankle bracelets will likely triple to more than 30,000, thanks to the passage of a California ballot measure. California's Proposition 83, which easily passed Tuesday by a margin of 70 percent to 30 percent, requires many convicted sex offenders to be monitored by GPS for life....

At least 11 other states have recently considered GPS tracking legislation, with some inspired by the 2005 murder of a Florida girl, allegedly by a registered sex offender.... But there's a hitch: The ankle bracelets -- usually accompanied by digital-pager-size transmitters -- are hardly criminal-proof.  Convicts can easily cut the bracelets off and run away as their probation officer gets an alarm and tries to contact the local police. For health reasons, the bracelets aren't designed to be permanent.

"GPS will not prevent a crime," said Steve Chapin, CEO of Pro Tech Monitoring, a manufacturer of GPS tracking devices. "It's a crime deterrent. It has proven to be a good tool, but you can't oversell it -- there's no physical barrier that it creates that can prevent a crime." Chapin said his Florida-based company tracks about 10,000 people, and he thinks other companies track a few thousand more. Offenders wear an ankle bracelet -- Chapin said it can be hidden under a sock -- and keep the transmitter nearby. 

There are an estimated 63,000 to 90,000 sex offenders convicted of felonies and misdemeanors in California. According to Chapin, it's possible that about 20,000 of them will need GPS monitoring under the new law.  Chapin expects the state to adopt "active" monitoring, which tracks offenders in real time and sends out alerts if they go somewhere they're not supposed to, such as a school. The alternative is "passive" tracking, which produces reports about where offenders have been, not where they are right now.  Currently, Pro Tech charges $6 to $8 a day for active monitoring, and $4 to $5 a day for passive monitoring, equipment included. At that rate, California can expect to fork out between $80,000 and $160,000 per day to watch its sex offenders.... 

GPS tracking technology allows users to create "geofences" to mark forbidden "hot zones."  The monitoring systems can even be programmed so that alarms only go off if an offender spends a certain amount of time in an outlawed area instead of, say, simply driving through it at high speed on the way to somewhere else.

GPS tracking has its critics. The American Civil Liberties Union has been skeptical, although at times intrigued by an alternative to incarceration.... [A] new study of more than 75,000 Florida convicts found that both GPS monitoring and old-fashioned, house-arrest electronic monitoring (the kind Martha Stewart endured) made convicts more likely to toe the line.  "Our conclusion is that it does help protect public safety, that these offenders are less likely to get in trouble," said study co-author Kathy Padgett of Florida State University.

November 10, 2006 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Lots of crack testimony now posted by USSC

As discussed here and here, the US Sentencing Commission has scheduled for next week a Public Hearing on "Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy — 2006."  The USSC's website now has links to much of the submitted testimony along with the hearing agenda at this link

Unsurprisingly, most of the posted testimony — all of which merits a read for folks interested in these issues — is critical of the existing federal structure for crack and powder cocaine sentencing.  But Chuck Canterbury of the Fraternal Order of Police in this written testimony sets out the arguments for preserving the status quo or even raising penalties for powder cocaine offenses to deal with any disparity concerns.

November 10, 2006 in Drug Offense Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

California's defense of its lethal injection protocol

As detailed in this Los Angeles Times article, California officials are robustly defending their lethal injection protocol in the federal litigation that has halted executions in the state.  Here are the basics:

The California attorney general's office issued a ringing defense of the state's lethal injection procedure Thursday, maintaining in a court brief that "there is no evidence that any prior execution resulted in the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." The state's brief was filed with U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel, who conducted a four-day hearing in September examining the contentions of death row inmate Michael Morales that California's lethal injection protocol violates the constitutional bar against cruel and unusual punishment.  Fogel is expected to rule this year on the constitutionality of the state's procedure.

November 10, 2006 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

FAMM's view of the new political lanscape

I have discussed here and here the new (and uncertain) federal sentencing dynamics in the wake of Tuesday's election results.  Over at the website of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), Julie Stewart has this message on the topic.  Here are some highlights:

Many Democratic members of Congress with whom FAMM works were re-elected and will assume powerful leadership positions when Congress reconvenes in January.  Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) will become Chair of the House Judiciary committee, replacing sentencing reform foe Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who orchestrated attacks on judicial discretion and sponsored the egregious “Booker-fix” bill, among many other costly and punitive sentencing bills.  Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) will become Chair of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, which is the committee where sentencing bills begin.

The positive relationships we have built with Republican lawmakers like Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) and Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who were re-elected, will also continue.  And, of course, we will keep reaching out to more Republicans to build a broad consensus for sentencing reform, which is still necessary to win reforms.  The changing of the guard in judiciary and subcommittee leadership may be the key to opening doors for increased bipartisan collaboration on smart sentencing bills.  There seems to be growing support for cost effective, fair and proportionate sentencing laws among some Republicans and Democrats. 

H.R. 1704, the “Second Chance Act,” has bipartisan support and has already cleared the House Judiciary committee, although some of the provisions FAMM was most eager to see enacted were stripped from the bill. As previously reported, the likelihood of the Second Chance Act’s passage during the upcoming “lame-duck” session remains uncertain. But even if does fail, its broad bipartisan support will likely continue in the 110th Congress, hopefully carrying it towards final passage.

There is renewed hope for bipartisan collaboration on other sentencing reform issues: crack cocaine sentencing, broader mandatory and sentencing guideline reform and perhaps even a second look at parole.  For the first time in many years, FAMM will be able to dedicate more of our time and resources to furthering bills that can bring relief to thousands of FAMM members affected by harsh federal sentencing laws, rather than constantly battling to stop harmful legislation, like Rep. Sensenbrenner’s “Booker-fix” legislation.

November 10, 2006 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 9, 2006

Tenth Circuit affirms two above-guideline sentences

Providing an interesting compliment to the Third Circuit's two affirmances of within-guideline sentences today (details here), the Tenth Circuit this evening has affirmed two above-guideline sentences in US v. Bishop, No. 05-3173 (10th Cir. Nov. 9, 2006) (available here) and in US v. Valtierra-Rojas, No. 05-3390 (10th Cir. Nov. 9, 2006) (available here).

As I have previously documented here, on appeal the circuits judging reasonableness care a lot about sentencing within the guidelines range ... unless the sentence imposed is higher than that range.

November 9, 2006 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More on Proposition 83 in California

I suspect that the development and application of California's Proposition 83, the ballot measure that passed overwhelmingly and seeks to crack down on sex offenders, will be a great story to watch.  As noted here, one provision has already been enjoined, and the new Sex Crimes blog has these posts covering all the developments:

In addition, this post at Crime & Consequences reminds me of an intriguing wrinkle: the newly elected Attorney General is former California Governor Jerry Brown.  This newspaper story provides some background on new AG Brown, aka "Governor Moonbeam."

November 9, 2006 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Booker pair from the Third Circuit

The Third Circuit today issued two notable opinions, both authored by Judge Ambro, about post-Booker sentencing and reasonableness review. Here are the basics from the decisions' initial paragraphs:

US v. Jackson, No. 05-4091 (3d Cir. Nov. 9, 2006) (available here): "We address in this case further aspects of the sentencing process for our Circuit in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005).  In so doing, we affirm the sentence imposed by the District Court."

US v. Charles, No. 05-5326 (3d Cir. Nov. 9, 2006) (available here): "Randolph Charles appeals his sentence from a conviction in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania for possession of a prohibited object by an inmate. At issue is whether his sentence—a prison term of 46 months, which is at the highest end of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines range for the underlying offense—is reasonable in light of United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). We review the sentence for reasonableness and, for the reasons set forth below, affirm it."

Notably, in both cases, within-guideline sentences were imposed and affirmed over the defendants' objections.

November 9, 2006 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Pondering the USSC's upcoming crack/powder hearing

As first noted here, the US Sentencing Commission has scheduled for next week a Public Hearing on "Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy -- 2006."  This USSC press release details that this important hearing will be all day on Tuesday, November 14 at the Georgetown University Law Center.  I still have not seen information about who will be testifying, but the press release says the USSC plans to "hear from representatives of law enforcement, the legal community, the judiciary, interested community groups, and the scientific community to address issues associated with federal cocaine sentencing policy." 

This hearing was sure to be interesting even without new wrinkles from current events.  But, just in the last week, the Supreme Court has taken up a crack sentencing case in Claiborne and now control of Congress has changed hands.  I cannot help but wonder how the Justice Department's approach to this hearing might be impacted by these recent developments.  Similarly, what the US Sentencing Commission wants and hopes to achieve through this hearing may be a lot different today than it was just last week.

Some recent related posts:

UPDATE:  The USSC's website now has the agenda for its crack hearing at this link.  The agenda shows eight panels and over 20 speakers (all of whom are leaders on these issues).  Should make for quite a day.  I am hoping this event will end up getting a lot of press, but only time will tell.

November 9, 2006 in Drug Offense Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 8, 2006

California's new sex offender law enjoined

As detailed in articles here and here, a federal judge in California today "blocked enforcement of key provisions of Proposition 83, the ballot measure passed overwhelmingly by voters that's meant to crack down on sex offenders, including limiting where they may live."  Here are some more details:

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, ruling on a lawsuit filed a day after the election, said the measure "is punitive by design and effect" and likely unconstitutional.  The so-called Jessica's Law prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park — effectively prohibiting parolees from living in many of California's cities. It also would require lifetime satellite tracking for paroled rapists, child molesters and other felony sex criminals upon their release from prison....

The scope of the initiative's impact largely hinged on whether it would apply retroactively to the state's roughly 90,000 registered sex offenders. Supporters and critics had expected the expanded residency requirements to be challenged in court.  Judge Illston issued a temporary restraining order against the residency requirements of Proposition 83....

John Doe, as the plaintiff was named in court documents, argued that the measure could only apply to sex offenders registered after the law was passed.  Illston did not address whether it could apply to those who registered after Nov. 7. Another unknown is what to do with registered sex offenders who violate the law.  The measure does not add any crimes to the state's criminal statutes. "There are a million questions left open," said Dennis Riordan, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit.

Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer, said the state would vigorously defend the law. "We won't know the true scope of Prop. 83 until the courts have resolved all the litigation," Barankin said. "Our goal is to make sure those questions get answered as quickly as possible."

Under the measure's language, most suburban and metropolitan areas of the state would be off limits to sex offenders. The proposition, according to the suit, "effectively banishes John Doe from his home and community for a crime he committed, and paid his debt for, long ago."  The suit says the proposition forces the former convict "from the home that he owns with his wife and his community of over 20 years."

It looks like California voters have ensured that the new Sex Crimes blog will have plenty of legal developments to cover and discuss.

UPDATE: Jonathan Soglin at Criminal Appeal has more here on developments in Califonia surrounding Proposition 83, aka Jessica's Law.

November 8, 2006 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Fanfan's guideline sentence affirmed by First Circuit

Ducan Fanfan is not quite a name that will live in Supreme Court history, but sentencing fan(fan)s surely recall that his case was the companion to the Booker case that brought down the mandatory federal guidelines.  Of course, the remedy selected by SCOTUS in Booker was not all that Fanfan might have hoped(hoped): the magical advisory guideline remedy enabled the district court to change Fanfan's initial sentence of 78 months to a new sentence of 210 months' imprisonment.

Today, in US v. Fanfan, No. 05-1826 (1st Cir. Nov. 8, 2006) (available here), the First Circuit affirms the 210-month within-guideline sentence.  Notably, most of the arguments on appeal are mostly about guideline calculations and legal issues.  It appears that Fanfan did not on appeal effectively attack the reasonableness of his long sentence in light of the 3553(a) factors.  The Fanfan decision at one point says simply "Fanfan makes no showing that the outcome was unreasonable," and finishes with this notable (and questionable) assertion:

That the new sentence is much longer than the old proves nothing; the old one was constrained by a view of sentencing law from which the Supreme Court has retreated.  That the sentence is quite long is a result of determinations made by Congress, which we are not free to ignore.

I suspect that Fanfan may appeal again to the Supreme Court, and I also suspect that the Court might GVR this case once it resolves its new Claiborne and Rita cases on the dynamics of Booker appellate review.  Put another way, the case of Fanfan likely is still not yet completely done(done).

November 8, 2006 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Could Ohio and Wisconsin chart a path to a better death penalty?

One of many interest sentencing stories within the election results concerns the future of the death penalty, especially in states outside the deep south.  Specifically, new days may be dawning for the death penalty in two Midwestern states, Ohio and Wisconsin.

As detailed in this article, the new day in Wisconsin results from voters' approval of a non-binding referendum supporting the idea of capital punishment in Wisconsin.  The article explains why this referendum is unlikely to result in a new death penalty law in the near future.  But the referendum does ensure continued discussion of a "modern" death penalty statute in a state with a long anti-death-penalty history.

The story in Ohio is less visible, but no less interesting.  Over the last three years, Ohio has been second only to Texas in the number of executions.  This has partly resulted from Republican state officials pushing hard on post-conviction litigation against the backdrop of a large death row population.  But now, for the first time since Ohio resumed executions in 1999, a Democrat will be Ohio's governor and Ohio's attorney general.  Though I doubt Ohio's new democratic executive branch will seek to undue the death penalty in Ohio, the pace of execution could be greatly influenced by the change in personnel.  Also, there might be new opportunities for death penalty abolitionists in Ohio to join forces with some pro-life Republicans in the state legislature who have previously expressed concerns about state killing (details here).

UPDATE:  Karl Keys has some death-penalty-focused assessments of the election results here at Capital Defense Weekly.  And ODPI here has some very notable quotes concerning the Ohio's death penalty from Ohio's new Attorney General Marc Dann made during an April 2006 debate.

November 8, 2006 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The big other branch questions after the election

In response to prior posts here and here, commentators have suggested that Democrats now in power in Congress are unlikely to push significant sentencing reform that could subject them to attacks for being "soft on crime."  Though I am hopeful that split federal government might lead to a more balanced sentencing policy discussion, I think the really big questions now are how the sentencing work of other branches are impacted by the changes in Congress:

1.  Will DOJ continue to push for topless guidelines?  Though I was never sure the Justice Department really wanted a topless guidelines system, its express advocacy for this sort of Booker fix has influenced both the politics and practices of the post-Booker world.  I am eager to see if, when and how DOJ might change its Booker fix tune in light of the new balance of power in Congress.

2.  Will the Sentencing Commission and federal judges be bolder?  Over the last two years, I have repeatedly heard the USSC and federal judges express concerns about possible congressional backlash to any pro-defendant changes in the federal sentencing system.  Sentencing Commissioners have suggested Congress would might react poorly if the USSC made a bold move on the crack/powder guidelines.  The high within-guideline sentencing rate after Booker reflects, in part, district judges' concerns about Congress's response if judges too frequently varied from the guidelines.  Might these inter-branch dynamics change significantly now?

November 8, 2006 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A prosecutorial perspective on Booker

I was recently sent this link to a fascinating Booker resource: the September 2006 issue of the US Attorneys' Bulletin, which has a series of articles on Booker written from a prosecutorial perspective.  Here are the articles you will find:

November 8, 2006 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Figuring out election results for sentencing fans

It is now officially the day after election day, and right now I am probably the only person on the planet currently interested in finding out how this set of sentencing-related direct democracy initiatives fared at the polls.  As of this writing (just after midnight), I cannot find any results for any of these intriguing initiatives, but I hope to update this post with results in the morning.  Readers are, of course, encouraged to post result in the comments.

On another front, it appears that the Democrats will be taking over the House of Representatives.  As suggested here, this could have an impact not only on the prospects for some sort of Booker fix, but also on the post-Booker work of judges and the US Sentencing Commission.  Can anyone report who will likely take over as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee and whether that person may have a serious interest in sentencing issues?

UPDATE:  Here is a report on two of the initiatives I was watching from a helpful reader:

In Rhode Island, voters approved Question 2, which automatically restores voting rights to people with felony convictions upon leaving prison.  Previously, felons on probation or parole were also disenfranchised.  This is probably the most sweeping change we've seen in this area in decades, since most of the changes in recent years have involved reforms to post-sentence restrictions (not that those aren't important, of course). And to my knowledge, this is the first time a public referendum has endorsed expansion of voting rights in this area.

Also, on sentencing, Arizona voters approved Question 301 by 58% to 42%, which prohibits persons charged with methamphetamine offenses from being diverted into the state's treatment diversion program adopted by the voters in 1996.  Thus, methamphetamine is the only drug excluded from this option.

November 8, 2006 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

November 7, 2006

Latest OSJCL issue with lots of sentencing coverage

As first noted here, the Fall 2006 issue of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law includes a symposium on state sentencing after Blakely.  I am now pleased to report that the entire Fall 2006 OSJCL issue is available on-line here.  As detailed below, among a number of terrific pieces in this issue, there are some death penalty articles (as well as the Blakely symposium articles) that ought to be of great interest to sentencing fans:

Blakely Symposium Articles:

Death Penalty Articles:

November 7, 2006 in Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Oral argument in Burton retroactivity case

Now the Supreme Court oral argument transcript in Burton v. Stewart is available online at this link.  Once again I will update this post if/when any parts jump out as extra significant, and readers should feel free to use the comments for this purpose.  Also, the National Appellate Journal's on-line blog edition has these helpful summaries of both James and Burton along with links to the transcripts.

UPDATE: This AP report on the two arguments in the Supreme Court today has this telling lead to set up its discussion of Burton:

The Supreme Court was asked Tuesday to lop 21 years off the 46-year sentence of a Washington state man for raping a teenager, in one of two cases the court dealt with involving long prison terms.

I am pretty sure the question presented in Burton technically was not "Should this Court lop 21 years off the 46-year sentence of a Washington state man for raping a teenager?"  But as well all know, in the media, if it bleeds it leads.

November 7, 2006 in Apprendi / Blakely Retroactivity | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Oral argument in James ACCA case

Thanks to How Appealing, I now see that today's Supreme Court oral argument transcript in James v. United States is now available online at this link.  I will update this post if/when any parts jump out as extra significant, and readers should feel free to use the comments for this purpose.

UPDATE: Tony Mauro alerted me to this intriguing passage in the James transcript:

JUSTICE BREYER: Why doesn't anybody -- you know, it sounds to me if you're worried about whether there's a specific serious risk of harm, you could find out. Look at the convictions in Florida for attempted burglary, look at the convictions for burglary, and see if there are involved a number of cases in which people are harmed is roughly similar. We have all these law professors who like statistics. Now they like law in economics and everything. So why don't they go out there and count, and then we'd actually know, instead of sitting here and trying to figure out something I know nothing about. I've never been involved in the law of burglaries. I don't know how burglaries operate. I suspect some people are hurt, but rather than my suspicious why don't we find out what the facts are?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: We're not going to be able to do that in time to decide this case.

JUSTICE BREYER: But wouldn't it be, as a matter of approaching --

JUSTICE SCALIA: It would also keep the professors from other mischief.

As famously said by Travis Bickle, the Robert DeNiro character in the 1976 movie Taxi Driver, "You talkin' to me?".

November 7, 2006 in Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Seventh Circuit reverses another below-guideline sentence

The Seventh Circuit today in US v. Repking, No. 06-1410 (7th Cir. Nov. 7, 2006) (available here), reversed another below-guideline sentence as unreasonable.  In Repking, a bank president faced an advisory guidelines range of 41 to 51 months' imprisonment, and a government recommendation of 24 months due to substantial assistance, but "the district court ultimately sentenced him to just one day of imprisonment, a total of three years' supervised release, and a $100,000 fine" along with an order requiring the defendant to serve "six months on home confinement and perform 900 hours of community service." 

The government appealed and here is how the Seventh Circuit concludes its extended analysis of the district court's sentencing work:

In the end, although Judge Reagan did recite and apply the § 3553(a) factors, the sentence imposed cannot stand.  The factors Judge Reagan gave the most attention to — Repking's charitable works and restitution — were overstated, and the other reasons the judge gave —including the social stigma of being a convicted felon and the bar on obtaining federal jobs — are normal incidents of committing bank fraud.  The ordinariness of Repking's case makes it more like United States v. Wallace, in which we vacated the probation-only sentence given for a defendant who faced a guidelines range of 24 to 30 months for a fraud offense that involved $400,000 of intended loss, and United States v. Crisp, in which the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court provided insufficient reasons to justify a five-hour term of imprisonment for a defendant who defrauded a small bank out of close to $500,000. See also United States v. Godding, 405 F.3d 125, 125, 127 (2d Cir. 2005) (expressing concern that oneday term of imprisonment did not reflect magnitude of theft of nearly $366,000).  As we said at oral argument, we leave open the possibility that a one-day sentence of imprisonment might be justifiable for a defendant who rivals Robin Hood; but Repking, a millionaire who stole for himself and his friends, is not that defendant.

November 7, 2006 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Early report on Burton

Over at SCOTUSblog, Lyle Denniston has this early report on today's Burton argument.  Lyle's report suggests that Burton may become a major ruling on habeas law rather than a major ruling on the meaning of Blakely and Apprendi.  We should have a transcript later today so we can see first-hand how the Justices are approaching this case.

November 7, 2006 in Apprendi / Blakely Retroactivity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lovely Rita, SCOTUS case...

The Supreme Court's decision to grant cert in Rita to consider reasonableness review for within-guideline sentences will sure lead to a lot of riffs on one of my favorite songs by The Beatles.  And I am now pleased to report that, thanks to the fine folks running the Middle District of North Carolina Federal Public Defender website, the cert petition in Rita, the Government's cursory 3-page response, and Rita's reply brief are all available at this link

The cert petition and other papers in Rita, just like the papers in Claiborne (provided here), should make fans of rigid guidelines quite concerned about the cases that SCOTUS selected for cert.  The underlying crime is Rita involves only mis-statements to a grand jury investigating the sale of machine-gun kits, and the defendant, Victor Rita, apparently still maintains his innocence.  Perhaps even more importantly, Victor Rita, according to the cert. petition, served 24 years in the Marine Corps, had tours of duty in Vietnam and the first Gulf war, and has received over 35 military metals and awards!  Also, Victor Rita is 57 years old and suffers serious health problems.  Talk about a sympathetic defendant.

November 7, 2006 in Claiborne and Rita reasonableness case | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Going retro...

As noted here, today the Supreme Court this morning will hear arguments in Burton v. Waddington, the case addressing Blakely retroactivity.  Kent Scheidegger here at Crime & Consequences points to this Criminal Justice Legal Foundation press release explaining why he is hoping for a decision that will "prevent the retroactive application of Blakely." 

Because I am a big fan of Blakely, I believe justice is served by not completely shutting out defendants from Blakely claims just because it took the Supreme Court a long time to finally and fully develop Apprendi/Blakely principles.  That said, I would be quite concerned about the impact of Blakely retroactivity if the Supreme Court last term in Recuenco had indicated that Blakely errors required automatic reversals.  But since Blakely errors can (and surely often will) be subject to harmless error analysis, I am rooting for the Supreme Court to give Blakely some retroactive application.  But I am not betting on it.

Some related posts on Blakely retroactivity:

November 7, 2006 in Apprendi / Blakely Retroactivity | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A sentencing view of election day

The polls just opened today in Ohio, and I will mark the moment by encouraging everyone to go vote.  In addition, I see that Capital Defense Weekly has this effective review of how certain candidates with notable death penalty records might fare today.  Also, below I have assembled some of my recent Election 2006 sentencing commentary:

November 7, 2006 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The blogosphere on shame and banishment

The blogosphere can often adding interesting insights to debates over alternatives to incarceration, and here are some recent examples:

UPDATE: Corey Yung at the blog Sex Crimes has this thoughtful extended entry on banishment punishments in the US.

November 7, 2006 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 6, 2006

Super (sentencing) Tuesday

Even though even this blog has been overtaken by election fever (see posts here and here and here), the real excitement on Tuesday for sentencing fans is in the Supreme Court.  Fortunately, SCOTUSblog has posts to keep everyone up on the sentencing excitement at the High Court tomorrow.

This post discusses the issues in James v. United States (No. 05-9264), which asks "whether the Eleventh Circuit erred in ruling that a prior conviction for attempted burglary under Florida law qualifies as a 'violent felony' under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act."  This post discusses the issues in Burton v. Waddington (05-9222), which "considers whether to make retroactive, to earlier cases, its 2004 decision in Blakely v. Washington." In his post on Burton, Lyle Denniston astutely notes  that "a good deal of the argument Tuesday may focus on just how vital the reasonable doubt standard is to guaranteeing fair criminal trials."

I am very much looking forward to having same-day transcripts from James and Burton to keep me occupied while we await firm election results Tuesday night.

November 6, 2006 in Apprendi / Blakely Retroactivity , Offender Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The district court sentencing in Claiborne and cert briefing

A terrific reader sent me an electronic copy of the district court sentencing transcript in Claiborne, the case in which the Supreme Court will examine whether a below-guideline sentence is reasonable (basics here and here and here).  I have provided that transcript for downloading below, and it is a fascinating read.

As the transcript details, Mario Claiborne was given a 15-month sentence for two relatively minor crack offenses.  Especially because it appears that Claiborne was a non-violent first offender, one can readily assert that his sentence is clearly reasonable for his offenses.  And yet, in part because of how harshly the guidelines treat crack quantities, Claiborne's guideline range was 37-46 months' imprisonment.  Especially because there does not appear to be anything special about Claiborne, one could also readily assert (as did the Eighth Circuit) that nothing extraordinary about this case clearly justified a sizable deviation from the guideline range.

In the transcript, Claiborne's attorney indicates that his guideline range would have been only 6-12 months' imprisonment if his offense had involved powder cocaine.  So Claiborne was still given a sentence harsher than what the guidelines would have advised for a powder offense, but less harsh than what the guidelines advised for a crack offense.

Download claiborne_transcript.pdf

I am still trying to get my hands on a copy of the the district court sentencing transcript in Rita, the case in which the Supreme Court will examine the reasonableness of a within-guideline sentence.  In addition, I am also still seeking electronic copies of the cert petitions in both cases.

UPDATE: Another helpful reader has sent along the cert briefing in Claiborne, which I set forth below:

Download claiborne_cert.pdf

Download claiborne_bio.pdf

Download claiborne_reply_brief.rtf

November 6, 2006 in Claiborne and Rita reasonableness case | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More on the modern politics of the death penalty

I noted here the usual death penalty dynamics in the Maryland Senate race, in which a Republican candidate criticizing the Democratic candidate for not being against the death penalty.  There is, of course, a lot more to be said about the current national pulse on the death penalty, and Ward Campbell, a state prosecutor in California, has allowed me to post his recent e-mail to me on the topic:

The South Dakota poll supporting the death penalty is of a piece with what is going on in Wisconsin -- a state that has not had a death penalty since the middle of the 19th century.  Tomorrow, Wisconsin voters will actually vote on a non-binding, advisory referendum concerning imposing the death penalty if the defendant is convicted of first degree murder on the basis of DNA evidence.

It is significant that Wisconsin is voting on this issue at all. What is even more remarkable is that polls show the referendum passing easily. On a similar note, New Hampshire (which has a Death Penalty law, but no one on Death Row) is now gearing up for its first death penalty prosecution in about 70 years. 

These events are worth noting because of the recent efforts of death penalty opponents.  The focus on the number of alleged exonerations of Death Row inmates, for instance, has not provoked a movement to abolish the death penalty.  Rather, Wisconsin's referendum shows that the reaction will be to simply heighten the standards by which guilt and eligibility are assessed in imposing the death penalty.

November 6, 2006 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The politics of judges and judging

It is hard not to be in an political mood today, and How Appealing feeds this hunger with links to two interesting pieces noting the relationship between judges and politics in this election cycle.  First, at the National Review Online, Byron York has this thought-provoking essay wondering, "Senate 2006: Why Hasn't the GOP Made Judges an Issue?".  Second, over at The Pocket Part of the Yale Law Journal, one can now find this intriguing essay by Jaynie Randall entitled "Federal Judicial Supremacy on the Ballot."

November 6, 2006 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

How could and will this election impact federal sentencing policy?

I have previously blogged here and here on some state sentencing issues that have arisen, and some state sentencing proposals that are on the ballot, this election season.  Now my thoughts are turning to how the mid-term election might impact federal sentencing policy.

The current betting line predicts that Democrats are likely to be taking over the House, but suggests the Senate is likely to stay (barely) in the hands of Republicans.  Whatever the exact outcome, I think any shifts in federal sentencing policy will be subtle, but still consequential.  Here's my rough take.

I think the prospect of a "topless" guidelines Booker fix is diminished if Democrats gain control of either or both houses of Congress.  Also, I hope (but I am not confident) that there will be less emphasis on statutory mandatory minimums if Democrats are in power.  Yet, because many Democrats still embrace the Clintonian strategy of being "tough on crime," I doubt we will see any truly major shift in federal crime policy even if Democrats win both houses of Congress.  Ultimately, what may matter most are the concerns and priorities of those persons who take over key leadership positions on judiciary committees.

UPDATE: Reflecting on these matters over my morning coffee led me to perhaps the two biggest federal sentencing questions that could follow the Democrats gaining more power in Congress:

  1. Would the chance of a fix to the 100:1 crack/powder ratio improve?
  2. Would federal judges and the US Sentencing Commission feel a bit freer to embrace Booker discretion based on the belief that Congress would be less likely to respond negatively to less harsh and rigid sentencing rules?

November 6, 2006 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 5, 2006

Recapping reasonableness review rush

Friday afternoon brought the exciting news that the Supreme Court has finally decided to take up Booker reasonableness issues through cert grants in Claiborne and Rita.  Here is a recap of the Friday rush of posts (many with valuable comments) that this news produced:

I still have not yet seen the cert petitions in these case or the transcripts of the sentencings in the district courts.  I'll be grateful to anyone sending these materials my way, and I'll be sure to post anything significant I receive electronically.

November 5, 2006 in Claiborne and Rita reasonableness case | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Might as well claim it, you're addicted to...

I could not resist a riff on Robert Palmer after reading this interesting article from the Houston Chronicle about white-collar offenders seeking counseling in prison to reduce their sentence.  Here are some snippets:

When former Enron executive Andrew Fastow was sentenced to six years in federal prison this fall, he asked for drug treatment, citing dependency on anti-anxiety medication that helped him cope with the implosion of his company, the imprisonment of his wife and his prosecution.  If the Bureau of Prisons grants his request, Fastow could reduce his time behind bars by up to one year....

Fastow and other Enron executives are joining a growing trend of white-collar criminals trying to reduce their sentences by entering prison-based drug or alcohol rehabilitation — an option not open to violent offenders who go through the same treatment.  Critics question whether Fastow and other white-collar criminals really need drug treatment or whether they are simply trying to game the system.  Critics also complain that corporate criminals are taking up precious slots in prison rehab that could be better used to treat convicts with severe addictions that played a major role in their crimes.

November 5, 2006 in Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sunday morning death penalty headlines

As is true many Sunday mornings, today there are a number of interesting stories from around the country on death penalty topics.  Here are headlines and links:

How Appealing here collects headlines of stories covering the death sentence given today to Saddam Hussein.  And the Law Librarian Blog has more resources here.

November 5, 2006 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack