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March 4, 2006

More California capital headlines

The death penalty headlines keep pouring out of California:

March 4, 2006 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Record sentence for political corruption

This New York Times article provides the highlights of yesterday's sentencing of former Representative Randy Cunningham, who received "eight years and four months in prison for taking $2.4 million in bribes from military contractors in return for smoothing the way for government contracts." According to the article, the government "said the sentence was the longest ever handed down for a member or former member of Congress in a federal corruption case."

This Washington Post account notes that District Judge Larry A. Burns selected this sentence "after prosecutors argued for the maximum 10 years and defense attorneys suggested that six years was enough."  Interestingly, this Los Angeles Times account explains that "Burns said he would have sentenced the 64-year-old Republican to 10 years in prison, as requested by prosecutors, but concluded that a measure of leniency was appropriate because of Cunningham's service in Vietnam."

March 4, 2006 in Booker in district courts, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 3, 2006

Another call for FSR commentary

As detailed here, a few months ago the Federal Sentencing Reporter solicited commentaries addressing the question "How should Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission respond to Booker?".  Some terrific pieces on that question will be published in FSR Issue 18.3 in the next few weeks.  And now, FSR is on to the next great hot sentencing topic, and my co-editor Nora Demleitner has issued this new call for commentary:

The Supreme Court is about to tackle a host of major sentencing issues in the death and non-death area.  Some have argued that the death penalty cases before the Court may herald the end of capital punishment in the United States; others view them merely as minor skirmishes.  As two stalwart opponents of Blakely and Booker have departed from the Court, the question arises whether the Court's new majority will continue to undermine guideline regimes, or rather restore a precarious equilibrium. 

A forthcoming issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter (FSR) invites you to submit a short essay arguing to the newly composed Court what should be done about sentencing in state and federal systems.  You may write on specific questions in the death or non-death area, or assist the Court in understanding the challenges the Court's jurisprudence has presented to the criminal justice system and especially the lower courts.  Alternatively, you may focus on the importance of the Court's sentencing jurisprudence in its power struggle with Congress, or analyze the role of the Chief Justice in the administration of criminal justice.  Since the members of the Judiciary Committee questioned neither of the two new Justices extensively about their position on sentencing, you should not attempt to determine how Justice Alito or Chief Justice Roberts may rule but instead you should view these essays as short amicus briefs in which you highlight issues on which neither they nor other members of the Court are likely to have focused.

Please contact Nora V. Demleitner at this link if you are interested in writing for this Issue. Submissions should be short — between 800 and 1,500 words.  Keep footnotes to a minimum.  The deadline for submissions is April 3, 2006.

Details about recent FSR issues:

March 3, 2006 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Report on IACHR hearing on mandatory minimums

As recently detailed here, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today held a hearing to explore the "Discriminatory Impact of Mandatory Minimum Sentences in the Federal Criminal System of the United States of America."  The Sentencing Project now has this terrific webpage discussing the hearing and providing links to the testimony from all the presenters.

In addition, the ACLU now has this press release discussing the hearing and providing this link to its submitted statement.  (The ABA previously released this press release about its involvement in the IACHR hearing.)

March 3, 2006 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Eighth Circuit affirms Tabor

As detailed here, last year Sentencing Hall of Famer Judge Richard Kopf in US v. Tabor, No. 4:01CR3215 (D. Neb. Apr. 18, 2005), explained why he believed "that the crack Guidelines, like all other Guidelines, should be given heavy weight after Booker."  Today, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the sentence imposed in that case through US v. Tabor, No. 05-2169 (8th Cir. Mar. 3, 2006) (available here). 

In Tabor, the Eighth Circuit says relatively little about post-Booker crack sentencing, although it does stress that within-guideline sentences are presumptively reasonable and it cites various decisions upholding and enforcing sentencing within the crack guidelines.  The Eighth Circuit concludes that "Tabor has not overcome the presumption of reasonableness applicable to a Guidelines sentence."

March 3, 2006 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More or reforming three-strikes in California

As noted here, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley has become a leading advocate of reforming California's harsh three-strikes law.  This Los Angeles Times story details that at a press conference on Thursday, Cooley "endorsed reform legislation sponsored by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) and written by defense attorney Brian Dunn."  Additional news coverage here notes that "Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton and Sheriff Leroy Baca also support the bill."

March 3, 2006 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 2, 2006

A taxonomy of legal blogs

I am so very pleased to see that Ian over at 3L Epiphany — who has the honor of being the first law student to earn academic credit for blogging — has taken up the challenge of creating a "taxonomy of legal blogs."  I think this is an extraordinarily valuable (and challenging) endeavor, which Ian previews in this thoughtful post.  (Ian got off to a running start with this funny post labeling blogs based on the number of contributors.  Apparently, I am a uniblogger.)

Notably, Dan Solove's terrific census of law professor bloggers catalogs bloggers by school and gender, but both Ann Althouse and Jim Lindgren have expressed concern about what these numbers really tell us (especially for the recent "blogs as scholarship" debate).  Moreover, I have long been interested in a rough accounting of other facets of law-prof blogging — e.g., whether bloggers are tenured or untenured, whether blogs are issue-specific (this blog) or legal-generalist (Prawfsblawg) or mostly non-law (Instapundit).

From Ian's mission statement, it appears he is trying to create a taxonomy for all legal blogs, not just law-prof blogs.  I look forward to seeing what he develops.

March 2, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More on the IACHR hearing on federal mandatory minimums

As previously noted here, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is scheduled to hold a hearing on Friday to explore the "Discriminatory Impact of Mandatory Minimum Sentences in the Federal Criminal System of the United States of America."  Yesterday I received a press release providing more these details about the scheduled hearing:

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hear testimony about the impact of current sentencing policies on communities of color within the United States, on Friday, March 3, 10:15am at the Organization of American States.... Testifying before the Commission are:

  • Judge Patricia Wald, Member of the American Bar Association's Committee on Effective Criminal Sanctions; former judge on the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague; and Chief Judge for the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit (1986-1991);
  • Professor Charles Ogletree, Executive Director of Harvard Law School's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice;
  • Gay McDougall, Executive Director of Global Rights and the first United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues;
  • Kemba Smith, who was sentenced to a mandatory minimum 24 year term for her minor role in a crack cocaine drug conspiracy and was granted clemency by President Clinton in 2000.

I have also received a copy of the written testimony of Judge Wald, who is testifying on behalf of the ABA.  Her testimony, which can be downloaded below, is a to-the-point indictment of harsh mandatory minimum sentences.  Here is just one of the passages that caught my eye:

Unduly long and punitive sentences are counter-productive, and candidly many of our mandatory minimums approach the cruel and unusual level as compared to other countries as well as to our own past practices. On a personal note, let me say that on the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal I was saddened to see that the sentences imposed on war crimes perpetrators responsible for the deaths and suffering of hundreds of innocent civilians often did not come near those imposed in my own country for dealing in a few bags of illegal drugs. These are genuine human rights concerns that I believe merit your interest and attention.

Download wald_aba_testimony_for_iachr.pdf

UPDATE:  This afternoon I also received a copy of testimony submitted to the IACHR by Families Against Mandatory Minimums entitled "Disparate Impact of Federal Mandatory Minimums On Minority Communities in the United States."  You can download this testimony below:

Download famm_iahrc_statement_fnl.doc

March 2, 2006 in Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Ninth Circuit on the minutiae of guideline calculations post-Booker

The Ninth Circuit today issues a lengthy opinion in US v. Jennings, No. 04-10343 (9th Cir. Mar. 2, 2006) (available here) to address this interesting bit of guideline minutiae: "Whether a defendant who, in the course of a bank robbery, states that he has a gun but makes no reference to his willingness to use it is subject to a two-level sentencing enhancement for a 'threat of death' pursuant to [USSG] § 2B3.1(b)(2)(F)." 

Though much of the Jennings opinion may be of great concern only to bank robbers, the court drops a notable footnote about the importance of precise guidelines calculations after Booker.  Here is part of that footnote:

There may be little point in requiring district courts to engage in the purely academic exercise of resolving complicated factual questions in order to delineate an exact Guidelines range if the court has already settled on a reasonable sentence in light of the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).  Although the Second Circuit has determined that, in such cases, a precise calculation is not always necessary, see United States v. Crosby, 397 F.3d 103, 112 (2d Cir. 2005), the Ninth Circuit has not yet reached this issue. See Cantrell, 2006 WL 73483, at *6 n.3 (noting but not deciding same issue).  Given that the threat-of-death enhancement ordinarily does not present a difficult factual issue — and that here, the defendant has conceded that the statement at issue was in fact made — this case is not a proper vehicle to consider the question.  Accordingly, as we did in Cantrell, we leave that question for another day.

March 2, 2006 in Booker in the Circuits, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Eighth Circuit vacates another below guideline sentence

Continuing an appellate pattern in which below-guideline sentences are getting far greater scrutiny than within- or above-guideline sentences (details here and here and here), the Eighth Circuit today vacated a sentence in US v. Myers, No. 05-1543 (8th Cir. Mar. 2, 2006) (available here). 

In Myers, the majority ultimately concludes the record is not sufficiently developed to support a below-guideline sentence of a year down from a guideline range of 37-46 months: "We remand for imposition of sentence following more explicit and thorough consideration of all factors enumerated in section 3553(a), without expressing any opinion on the reasonableness of the sentence that should be imposed."  Notably, Judge Bye dissents and makes repeated references to the record below in support this conclusion: "Based on the district court's careful consideration of the circumstances surrounding this case, and its thorough analysis of the § 3553(a) factors, I cannot say the sentence imposed was unreasonable."

March 2, 2006 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

South Carolina top judge calls for sentencing reform

As detailed in this interesting article, South Carolina's Chief Justice "called for a 'policy summit' on sentences in South Carolina, citing exploding prison populations nationwide."  Here are selections from an interesting read:

"Sentencing in the United States is a national disgrace," Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal said Wednesday in her annual speech to the S.C. General Assembly....  From 1970 through 2000, the nation's prison population increased six-fold, Toal said. "This is a huge drain on state and local resources."...  "We don't know the answer now as to how the system is being run because it's been such a long time since we've taken a real hard look at it," Toal said afterward. "I want to know if there are better ways to sentence and incarcerate than what we are using now."...

State Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, a former police officer, said he thinks the state should resurrect the sentencing guidelines commission.  He was a member of the group, which disbanded a few years ago.  The commission proposed uniform sentence ranges based on the severity of the crime and the defendant's criminal history....

North Carolina adopted similar guidelines in the mid-1990s. They helped reduce prison populations and saved about $1 billion over a decade, said Tom Ross, former chairman of that state's sentencing commission. The goal of structured sentencing, he said, is to keep violent criminals behind bars longer while providing alternatives to prison, such as house arrest or substance abuse counseling, for non-violent offenders.

March 2, 2006 in Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

A sentencing judge's view on Foster

I noted here and here some prosecutor and defense reactions to the Ohio Supreme Court's recent big Blakely decision in Foster (basics here, commentary here and here and here).  For more telling perspectives, check out this article from the Youngstown Vindicator entitled "Law change pleases judge."  Here is a taste:

Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court says he's pleased that he no longer has to "jump through a flaming hoop" when giving criminals sentences that he deems appropriate... "I think it's about time," Judge Krichbaum said.  "It is finally a return to allowing judges to be judges, to allow us to execute our duties as elected individuals as opposed to the computerized, plasticized Stepford wives they've tried to make us into."...

"The courts and the Legislature were putting form over substance," says Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains. If judges didn't make findings and record them in their journal entries, Gains said their sentences were at risk to be reversed in appeals court.  Now, "the courts will have more latitude when a defendant deserves more prison time," Gains said.

March 2, 2006 in Blakely in the States | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Assembling capital clemency claims

The AP has this interesting story about the on-going efforts by SUNY professors James Acker and Charles Lanier to archive capital clemency pleas.  Here is a snippet:

[T]wo researchers at the State University of New York's Albany campus have created a national death penalty archive and begun compiling such pleas in the hope they will yield valuable lessons about the workings — and failings — of the criminal justice system....

Last month, the first boxes carrying 137 clemency pleas arrived at the National Death Penalty Archives from a private donor.  The archive will be open to advocates, lawyers, journalists and others....

Bill Bowers of the Capital Jury Project, a national research effort into how juries make decisions, called the bulging files "a gold mine of things that wouldn't show up in legal papers."

Additional information about the National Death Penalty Archives can be accessed at this link.

March 2, 2006 in Clemency and Pardons, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A call for Blakely-ization in Ohio

In Foster, the Ohio Supreme Court's big Blakely decision earlier this week (basics here, commentary here and here and here), the court adopted a remedy that "Booker-ized" Ohio's sentencing laws by severing statutory requirements for enhanced sentences.  Interestingly, in this follow-up editorial, the Cincinnati Enquirer has called for a legislative response that would bring jury trial rights to Ohio sentencing:

The [Foster] court made it clear that a legislative remedy is needed.  In fact, justices came as close as they could to telling the General Assembly what to do without appearing to tell it what to do: "(T)he General Assembly may enact legislation to authorize juries to find beyond a reasonable doubt all facts essential to punishment in felony cases, but it has not yet done so," Lanzinger wrote.  Also, "it may well be that in the future the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission may recommend Blakely-compliant statutory modifications ..."

Get the hint, lawmakers?  The General Assembly should get busy and fix Ohio's felony sentencing laws now.

March 2, 2006 in Blakely in the States | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Notable corrections items

Because I cannot even keep up with all the sentencing developments, I do not often focus on issues in corrections.  But a few recent items in major papers seem to merit mention:

March 2, 2006 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 1, 2006

A prosecutor's view on Foster

I discussed in this post why prosecutors are celebrating (and defense attorneys are lamenting) the Ohio Supreme Court's big Blakely decision in Foster (basics here, commentary here), which decided to "Booker-ize" Ohio's sentencing laws by severing statutory requirements for enhanced sentences.  To reinforce these realities, today I received (and got permission to post) a memorandum from a state county prosecutor's office discussing Foster.  The memo, which can be downloaded below, provides helpful background on the Foster case and why it (and the companion Mathis case) has prosecutors so happy.  Here are some telling snippets from the memo:

The [Ohio] Supreme Court concluded: (1) Judicial factfinding is not required before a prison term may be imposed within the basic ranges of R.C. 2929.14(A) based upon a jury verdict or admission of the defendant. Foster at 38. (2) Judicial factfinding is not required before imposition of consecutive prison terms. Id. (3) Judicial factfinding is not required before imposition of additional penalties for repeat violent offenders and major drug offenders. (4) Trial courts have full discretion to impose a prison term within the statutory range and are no longer required to make findings or give their reasons for imposing maximum, consecutive, or more than the minimum sentence. Foster at 39....

[B]oth cases were unanimous decisions with Justice Resnick concurring in the paragraphs that are most pro-prosecution....  In my opinion, the background of those Supreme Court judges who formerly were common pleas court judges shines through the decision.

Good luck and unless the United States Supreme Court overrules Foster and Mathis our jobs and the jobs of our terrific secretaries will be easier.  Justice prevailed!

Download prosecutor_memo_on_ohio_sct_ruling.doc

March 1, 2006 in Blakely in the States | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Third Branch article on post-Booker sentencing

Guideline_chart2 With great thanks to Sean Sirrine at Objective Justice for this pointer, I see that The Third Branch — which is the official newsletter of the federal courts — has this article in its February 2006 Issue notably titled "A Year After Booker: Most Sentences Still Within Guidelines."   Followers of the blog will not be surprised by the reported numbers (which come from the US Sentencing Commission), but they will want to check out some of the charts and quotes.  Here is a sample:

"The data show that sentencing practices have not changed substantially. There is some variation in some cases, but it's a matter of several percentage points," said U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell (D. Utah), chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal Law.

"The question is 'What explains all that?' I think what's going on is that trial judges around the country have grown used to operating in a guidelines system," Cassell said. "It's the coin of the realm, if you will. The guidelines, although advisory, provide a starting point.  We've had almost 20 years of experience with the guidelines."

March 1, 2006 in Booker in district courts | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

More on the harsh consequences of old criminal history

As detailed here and here, federal sentencing provisions often produce quite harsh sentencing consequences from long-ago and/or relatively-minor criminal history.  (And that's principally why, as detailed here, federal defendants have a powerful incentive to re-litigate any past crimes before their sentencing.)   These realities are highlighted today in decisions from the Sixth and Eighth Circuits in US v. Hill, No. 04-6206 (6th Cir. Mar. 1, 2006) (available here) and US v. Anderson, No. 05-1830 (8th Cir. Mar. 1, 2006) (available here). 

Both Hill and Anderson uphold the application of mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years under ACCA for the offense of felon in possession of a firearm.  In Hill, this lengthy sentence is triggered by two seemingly petty burglaries (of a bolt cutter and a boat motor) that the defendant committed 13 years ago.  In Anderson, the Eighth Circuit conspicuously does not even discuss the facts surrounding the triggering felonies, though they appear to involve cases of (clothed? consensual?) sexual contact with a minor that are perhaps a decade old.

March 1, 2006 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 28, 2006

The exclusionary rule and Miranda at sentencing

In an interesting opinion that would provide a great set of facts and issues for a moot court competition, the Fourth Circuit today in US v. Nichols, No. 04-5020 (4th Cir. Feb. 28, 2006) (available here) addresses whether "the district court improperly refused to consider at sentencing a statement obtained from Nichols in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981)."  Here are a few highlights from a thoughtful opinion in Nichols:

Only one federal appellate court, the Seventh Circuit, has specifically addressed whether statements obtained by police in violation of Miranda are admissible at sentencing....

We agree with the Seventh Circuit that statements obtained in violation of Miranda, if they are otherwise voluntary, may generally be considered at sentencing....

In sum, we conclude that in cases such as this one — where there is no evidence that an illegally obtained statement was actually coerced or otherwise involuntary — the substantial burden on the sentencing process resulting from exclusion of that statement outweighs any countervailing concerns about police deterrence or unreliable evidence. As with evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the disadvantages of applying the Miranda exclusionary rule at sentencing are large, and the benefits small or non-existent.

February 28, 2006 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Second Circuit affirms above-guideline sentence

As I have noted before here and here, it seems that the circuit courts through reasonableness review are creating de facto a kind of post-Booker mandatory minimum guideline system: all within-guideline sentences and nearly all above-guidelines sentences are being found reasonable, whereas many below-guideline sentences are being deemed unreasonable.  Yesterday, as detailed here, the Eighth Circuit reversed three below-guideline sentences; today the Second Circuit affrims an above-guideline sentence in US v. Fairclough, No. 05-2799 (2d Cir. Feb. 28, 2006) (available here).  Here is a court's summary of its work in Fairclough:

The defendant-appellant argues that the District Court violated the Sixth Amendment and ex post facto principles when it applied United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), to conduct that occurred prior to that decision and sentenced him to a term above the United States Sentencing Guidelines range established by his admissions.  He also argues that his sentence is unreasonable in light of the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).  We hold that district courts do not violate ex post facto principles by applying the remedial holding of Booker to pre-Booker conduct, that the defendant-appellant's Sixth Amendment rights were not violated, and that the defendant-appellant's sentence was reasonable.

February 28, 2006 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Latest FSR Issue on post-Booker world

I am pleased to announce that another issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter has gone to press.  This latest issue continues the Booker beat —  recently covered in issues examining "The Booker Aftershock" and "Is a Booker Fix Needed?" — with a focus on "Defense Perspectives on the Post- Booker World."  (Recall that, as detailed here, another recent FSR issue zeroes in on the state Blakely scene.)

Below I have listed this latest issue's contents and also made my Editor's Observations, entitled "Perspectives on the Booker's Potential," available for download.  General information about ordering FSR can be found here and the journal can accessed electronically here.   




February 28, 2006 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Who wins from a Booker remedy? It depends.

As detailed in media reports, Ohio prosecutors are celebrating and Ohio defense attorneys are lamenting the Ohio Supreme Court's big Blakely decision in Foster (basics here, commentary here), which decided to "Booker-ize" Ohio's sentencing laws by severing Ohio's mandatory sentencing requirements for enhanced sentences.  Those familiar with only the federal sentencing system might be surprised by these reactions, since in the federal system it is prosecutors leading the charge for some sort of Booker fix.  But the Ohio realities show yet again that Blakely, Booker and structured sentencing developments are always full of nuance concerning sentencing doctrines and practices.

In the federal system, prosecutors favor having the guidelines mandatory because the federal guidelines typically drive sentences up through the application of an array of sentencing enhancements.  In contrast, Ohio's structured sentencing rules had operated to keep sentences down because judges had to give low sentences unless they made certain types of particularized findings.  Eliminating guideline mandates in the federal system gives judges more leeway to be lenient, but eliminating structured sentencing rules in Ohio gives judges more leeway to be harsh.

Of course, as Booker has shown for the federal system, a major Supreme Court ruling serves as just another chapter in an always evolving sentencing story.  The ultimate impact of Blakely and Foster in Ohio will be determined by how other Ohio institutions and sentencing players — the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission, the Ohio legislature, lower court judges and prosecutors and defense attorneys — respond to the Foster ruling.

February 28, 2006 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Coverage of Ohio Blakely ruling

Yesterday's AP story on the Ohio Supreme Court's big Blakely decision in Foster (basics here, commentary here) just barely covered the essentials.  But this morning, all of the local Ohio papers provide much fuller and more effective coverage.  This article in the Cincinnati Enquirer is especially effective, with background on Ohio law and the Foster ruling, lots of quote from key players, and this effective summary:

The decision technically is a victory for defendants who had argued that the guidelines were unfair because they allowed judges to impose sentences based on evidence not considered by a jury.  But by throwing out the old rules, the Supreme Court gave judges much more power to sentence criminals as they choose.  Prosecutors and defense attorneys say that's bad news for defendants.

Additional effective coverage appears in the Columbus Dispatch, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Akron Beacon Journal.

February 28, 2006 in Blakely in the States | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The latest Death Row USA show reduced death sentences

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund's has released its latest quarterly update of Death Row USA, which can be accessed here.  As noted by the DPIC here, this latest report "indicates that the number of people sentenced to death last year was 65% fewer than in 1998. The ... report showed that 106 people received a death sentence in 2005, down from 125 in 2004 and dramatically lower than the 300 per year recorded in the late 1990s."  The DPIC also notes here that the report "shows an 8% decline in the country's death row population during the past 5 years, down from 3,652 in 2000 to 3,373 at the end of 2005."

Recent related posts:

February 28, 2006 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Scrubbing clean criminal history

The Baltimore Sun has this fascinating article about defendants in Maryland using a state law procedure to wipe prior state convictions off their records so that these convictions will not impact future federal sentencings.  Here's a taste:

Years after a defendant walks out of prison, state law allows a judge to reopen the case and throw out a conviction on a technicality.  For [some] convicted criminals in Maryland identified by The Sun, the defense strategy could drastically reduce their prison sentences in federal court.

Tossing out state convictions has deeply troubled federal prosecutors.  In federal court, sentencing guidelines are based in large part on the length and severity of a defendant's criminal record.  When state convictions disappear, so does eligibility for some of the harshest federal penalties, including mandatory life sentences. 

Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein plans to ask state prosecutors at a meeting next month to fight these motions, known as writs of error coram nobis.  "There has to be some finality," Rosenstein said.... Rosenstein confirmed that in some plea agreements, prosecutors are now requiring defendants to pledge that they won't go back and try to change their criminal history before sentencing....

"All too often, with the resource problems in the courts, there are unconstitutional convictions on our clients' records," Maryland federal public defender James Wyda said. "To complain about challenging a prior unconstitutional conviction that now serves to double a federal sentence to me is to complain about too much justice."

February 28, 2006 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 27, 2006

More on California sentencing

Though I am most intrigued by the Blakely fate of California's sentencing system (background here and here), the traditional media continues to follow other interesting California sentencing stories:

February 27, 2006 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What is exactly the Blakely remedy in Ohio?

Upon a quick read, I was impressed with many parts of the Ohio Supreme Court's decision today in Foster, the state's big Blakely case (basics here), and not only because this blog got a nice plug in footnote 3 (details here).  Portions of the opinion were thoughtful, especially when the Court surveys the basics of Ohio law and the national post-Blakely landscape in the states.

However, when the Blakely rubber hits the Ohio sentencing road, Foster becomes far less appealing.  Some reasons for concern about Foster are already effectively detailed by commentors here, and for me the big head-scratcher is the exact remedy adopted by the Ohio Supreme Court.  Though it is clear that Foster did not adopt or endorse a remedy incorporating jury findings into Ohio's sentencing scheme, it is not at all clear exactly what remedy Foster did adopt or endorse.

The key remedy discussion of the Foster opinion, starting at page 36, carries the heading "Applying the Booker remedy."  However, the discussion that follows does not state or even suggest that the previously mandatory findings required by Ohio law are now advisory.  Likewise, the Foster opinion does not embrace or even suggest that appellate review for reasonableness (or for anything else) is now a component of Ohio's sentencing system.

A little more guidance emerges from the companion decision Mathis, and especially through this final paragraph:

Although after Foster, the trial court is no longer compelled to make findings and give reasons at the sentencing hearing since R.C. 2929.19(B)(2) has been excised, nevertheless, in exercising its discretion the court must carefully consider the statutes that apply to every felony case.  Those include R.C. 2929.11, which specifies the purposes of sentencing, and R.C. 2929.12, which provides guidance in considering factors relating to the seriousness of the offense and recidivism of the offender.  In addition, the sentencing court must be guided by statutes that are specific to the case itself.

I read this opaque paragraph as suggesting the mandates of Ohio's statutory sentencing system remains important now as an advisory system, although other parts of Mathis raise doubts about whether the Ohio sentencing system preserves any serious role for appellate review.

February 27, 2006 in Blakely in the States | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Eight Circuit reverses three below-guideline sentences

The Eighth Circuit today issued three opinions which continue the ugly look of post-Booker reasonableness review: US v. Gatewood, No. 05-1865 (8th Cir. Feb. 27, 2006) (available here); US v. Shafer, No. 05-2049 (8th Cir. Feb. 27, 2006) (available here); US v. Claiborne, No. 05-2198 (8th Cir. Feb. 27, 2006) (available here).  As I have noted before here and here, it seems the circuit courts are creating de facto a kind of post-Booker mandatory minimum guideline system: all within-guideline sentences and nearly all above-guidelines sentences are being found reasonable, whereas many below-guideline sentences are being reversed as unreasonable. 

In the troika from the Eighth Circuit today, the same panel led by Chief Judge Loken reverses three post-Booker below-guideline sentences.  All three opinions are similar in tone and content, and it seems that the Eighth Circuits is especially (and, in my view, appropriately) focused on the extent of the departures or variances in these cases.  (For example, the facts in Claiborne seem to support leniency, but the panel assails the "extraordinary reduction" given by the district court.) Now, if only the Eighth Circuit and other circuit courts would apply the same sort of scrutiny to within- and above-guidelines sentences as they are applying to below-guideline sentences.

February 27, 2006 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Blogs as scholarship and a nice plug

Thanks to Howard, I see that this week's issue of The National Law Journal has this interesting article entitled "Blogging law profs assault ivory tower; Is it scholarship, or a cyber chit-chat?".  Needless to say, I think blogs (at least some of them) are a form of scholarship, but Texas Professor Kate Litvak apparently does not agree.  She is quoted as saying: "They have nothing to do with scholarship."

Joyfully, this morning I can respond to Kate's assertion by noting that the Ohio Supreme Court is apparently in the camp that thinks blogs have at least something to do with scholarship.  In its big Blakely decision today (basics here), the Ohio Supreme Court gives this blog this nice little plug in footnote 3:

See, also, Douglas A. Berman's legal blog, Sentencing Law and Policy, at http://sentencing.typepad.com for updates on Blakely and current source material on sentencing.

I cannot help but also note that traditional law review articles do not appear to be cited anywhere in the opinion.

UPDATE: Dan Solove has terrific additional coverage and commentary on the NLJ article here at Concurring Opinions.

February 27, 2006 in Blakely in the States | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Ohio applies Blakely and the Booker remedy!

The Ohio Supreme Court finally released its (long-in-gestation) decisions concerning Blakely's applicability to Ohio's sentencing system.  I have previously highlighted that Ohio's sentencing laws and practices make the state a Blakely bellwether because Blakely's impact on Ohio's sentencing scheme could be extreme or extremely minor (background here and here).  It seems the Ohio Supreme Court went the extreme route.

The main decision, State v. Foster, 2006-Ohio-856 (Ohio Feb. 27, 2006) (available here), and a companion ruling, State v. Mathis, 2006-Ohio-855 (Ohio Feb. 27, 2006) (available here), have many facets, including what seems to be a ground-breaking ruling on consecutive sentencing.  This will justify much commentary in the days ahead (and I hope Ohio readers will get a running start in the comments).  Here is the Ohio Supreme Court's official syllabus in Foster (with cites omitted):

1. Because R.C. 2929.14(B) and (C) and 2929.19(B)(2) require judicial factfinding before imposition of a sentence greater than the maximum term authorized by a jury verdict or admission of the defendant, they are unconstitutional.

2. R.C. 2929.14(B) and (C) and 2929.19(B)(2) are capable of being severed.  After the severance, judicial factfinding is not required before a prison term can be imposed within the basic ranges of R.C. 2929.14(A) based upon a jury verdict or admission of the defendant.

3. Because R.C. 2929.14(E)(4) and 2929.41(A) require judicial finding of facts not proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt or admitted by the defendant before the imposition of consecutive sentences, they are unconstitutional.

4. R.C. 2929.14(E)(4) and 2929.41(A) are capable of being severed. After the severance, judicial factfinding is not required before imposition of consecutive prison terms.

5. Because the specifications contained in R.C. 2929.14(D)(2)(b) and (D)(3)(b) require judicial factfinding before repeat violent offender and major drug offender penalty enhancements are imposed, they are unconstitutional.

6. R.C. 2929.14(D)(2)(b) and (D)(3)(b) are capable of being severed. After the severance, judicial factfinding is not required before imposition of additional penalties for repeat violent offender and major drug offender specifications.

7. Trial courts have full discretion to impose a prison sentence within the statutory range and are no longer required to make findings or give their reasons for imposing maximum, consecutive, or more than the minimum sentences.

UPDATEMore details about Ohio's sentencing system and the rulings in Foster and Mathis can be accessed here and here from the Ohio Supreme Court's website.

February 27, 2006 in Blakely in the States | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

A bit more Cunningham coverage

The San Francisco Chronicle has this article which highlights the importance of the Supreme Court's cert grant in Cunningham, the California Blakely case, and details that SCOTUS involvement has already had an impact on California sentencing practices:

Uncertainty surrounds thousands of prison sentences in California after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would decide whether the state's 29-year-old sentencing system violates a defendant's right to a jury trial....

Some California prosecutors are changing their practices to cushion the impact of a possible ruling declaring the current procedures unconstitutional, said David LaBahn, executive director of the California District Attorneys Association.  He said such a ruling would probably shorten some sentences but would not require wholesale changes.

Recent related posts:

February 27, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 26, 2006

Interesting report on California's Prop 36

It seems all the sentencing stories these days are coming from California, whether its lethal injection litigation or Blakely cases in the Supreme Court or three-strikes reform.  And, thanks to this fascinating article from the Sacramento Bee, drug sentencing can be to the mix.  The article, "Breaking a cycle, or broken system?", appears to be the first in a series.  Here's a taste:

Nearly five years after voters made sweeping changes in California's drug sentencing laws to emphasize treatment over jail, The Bee found that the system can fail to protect those it's intended to help.  A Bee review of some 5,000 pages of state reports and court records since voters approved Proposition 36 found more than 40 instances in which patients died, suffered injuries, overdosed on drugs or were otherwise at risk in poorly regulated programs or with unlicensed, unethical or careless drug counselors....

Since Proposition 36, drug treatment in California has gone from a mostly voluntary system serving addicts who could leave at any time to mandated treatment for those sentenced under the initiative.  The 50,000 offenders sentenced to drug programs each year under Proposition 36 are straining a system that already had long waiting lists.

More than 200,000 Californians enter treatment annually, including those who voluntarily seek help....  The influx of drug offenders into treatment since Proposition 36 has increased the workload for state investigators examining these programs.  Since 2001, the annual number of complaints they investigate has risen from 240 to 363 in fiscal 2005.

February 26, 2006 in Drug Offense Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

LA's DA as three-strikes reformer

In 2004, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley opposed Proposition 66, the state initiative that would have amended California's harsh three-strikes law.   But now, as detailed in this opinion piece, DA Cooley is the champion of new proposal to reform the three-strikes law.  Cooley's commentary provides effective background on California's three-strikes history, and explains his interest in a reform initiative known as The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2006:

Experience has revealed some inequities in the original law. The best way to ensure that the three-strikes law retains public support and confidence is to make modifications that will dispense justice while preserving the valuable public safety features of the law.

The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2006 is the joint product of prosecutors, private attorneys and other interested parties working together to ensure a realistic approach to prevent unjust sentencing without compromising the ability to remove serious and dangerous recidivist criminals from our communities....

The criminal justice system needs to retain the very beneficial provisions of the three-strikes law. However, the state should not allow the misallocation of limited penal resources by having life prison sentences for those who do not pose a serious criminal threat to society.  The punishment should fit the crime.  California can assure public safety and achieve the interests of justice in all counties and courts with The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2006.

February 26, 2006 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lots more capital headlines

As I lamented here, though the biggest sentencing news last week was the Supreme Court's cert grant in the California Blakely case, all the media wants to talk about is the death penalty and lethal injection.  Here are some more examples:

In addition, California's struggles to kill death row defendant Michael Morales (basics here and here), continues to produce interesting editorials.  Check out: "It's a cruel and unusual battle on death penalty" and "The death of the death penalty?".

UPDATE:  How Appealing has some additional lethal injection coverage here.

February 26, 2006 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack