« March 17, 2019 - March 23, 2019 | Main | March 31, 2019 - April 6, 2019 »

March 30, 2019

Student SCOTUS preview part three: mapping out likely votes after oral argument in US v. Haymond

6a00d83451574769e2022ad3c272a1200b-320wiI noted here back in 2017 an interesting opinion in US v. Haymond where a Tenth Circuit panel declared unconstitutional the procedures used for revocation of a sex offender's supervised release.  The Supreme Court also found the case interesting because, as reported here, the Justices in 2018 accepted the petition for certiorari filed by the federal government.  The SCOTUSblog page on Haymond has links to all the briefing.

As reported in this prior post, I have a great student, Jim McGibbon, who is drafting a series of posts on the Haymond case.  Oral argument took place last month, and Jim was there for all the action.  Following up on his introductory post, and his second post inspired by the briefing in the case, he is working on a few posts on the Justices' likely votes informed by the argument.  Here is the start of his efforts:

Oral argument for United States v. Haymond is completed and the case has been submitted.  Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog observed after oral argument that the Court seems “poised to rule for [Haymond] in dispute over constitutionality of sex-offender law."  I predict that United States v. Haymond will be decided 6-3 in favor of Mr. Haymond.  This post will analyze the predicted majority and the next post will give a breakdown of the predicted dissent.

Locks

Justice Sotomayor

Justice Sotomayor may have more than tipped her hand when she opined during oral argument that to compare supervised release with parole is “to compare apples and oranges.”  If still not convinced, consider that she has stated in Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013), that “Apprendi [is] firmly rooted in our jurisprudence.”   Not so subtly did Justice Sotomayor lay the cards on the table, when she averred during oral argument that she had a “due process concern as well as a Sixth Amendment concern” with the procedures applicable in Haymond.  The government did little to propitiate Sotomayor at oral argument, and it appears safe to say that Sotomayor will not break rank from her past holdings.

Justice Thomas

Justice Thomas wrote the concurring opinion in Apprendi v. New Jersey.  He asserted that “if the legislature defines some core crime and then provides for increasing the punishment of that crime upon a finding of some aggravating fact of whatever sort, including the fact of a prior conviction — the core crime and the aggravating fact together constitute an aggravated crime.”  Here, the 10th Circuit convicted Haymond of a violation of 3583(k) and as a result, he was subsequently exposed to “greater and additional punishment” without a jury.  Even though Justice Thomas may not believe in stare decisis and even though he did not speak during oral argument, it would seem reasonable to assume that he believes that 3583(k) is a sentencing enhancement of a sort that is based on facts that need to be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. To boot, Justice Thomas was in the majority in Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), and Alleyne v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013) both cases extending the reach of the procedural rights recognized in Apprendi.

Likely

Justice Ginsburg

Justice Ginsburg is a soldier of criminal procedural rights as she joined the ranks of the majority in Apprendi, Blakely, and Alleyne, which all affirmed Sixth Amendment and related procedural due process rights for the criminal defendant.  And in the Haymond oral argument, Justice Ginsburg may have revealed her vote when she intimated that the imposition of 3583(k) requires a “factual finding.”  She also voiced more concern over the remedy that the defendant was seeking than the merits of the argument, which although is not conclusive, is suggestive.  But, of course, Justice Ginsburg was the key swing vote that created the advisory guideline remedy in Booker, and see authored the Court opinion limiting the reach of the Sixth Amendment in Oregon vIce, 555 U.S. 160 (2009).

Justice Kagan

Justice Kagan seems quite likely to hold for the defendant.  She was among the majority in Alleyne, and during oral argument in Haymond she also resisted the government's efforts to compare supervised release to parole.  More generally, in a variety of setting for a variety of criminal defendants, Justice Kagan has been a fairly consistent voice and vote for expanding procedural rights.  It is hard to think of too many cases in which Justice Kagan has been less willing to recognize expanded constitutional rights than her colleagues. 

On the Bubble
Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh

Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Gorsuch do not have extensive enough records as Supreme Court Justices regarding Sixth Amendment or other procedural due process rights to predict with any confidence how they will vote, which is why I have them as on the bubble.  Notably, last year Justice Gorsuch was a key swing vote siding with the more liberal justices in a case where the Court held that a federal statute defining a "crime of violence" was unconstitutionally vague. See Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204 (2018). This case seems to suggest that Justice Gorsuch is not disinclined to strike down federal statutes even to benefit criminal offenders.  Notably, during oral argument, Justice Gorsuch also resisted the government’s contention that supervised release and parole were similar, and he did not question the defendant’s counsel at all during oral argument.

Justice Kavanaugh questioned both sides during the argument in Haymond, and he focused on the intricacies of the applicable statutes and a possible remedy.  Notably, while serving on the DC Circuit, in 2015 then-Judge Kavanuagh issued a notable statement in case involving a sentence enhanced on the basis of "acquitted conduct" (available here) that included the assertion that "[a]llowing judges to rely on acquitted or uncharged conduct to impose higher sentences than they otherwise would impose seems a dubious infringement of the rights to due process and a jury trial."   Given that statement, though Justice Kavanaugh could be a wild card here, I predict that he sides with the defendant.

Up next, the breakdown of the predicted dissenters.

Prior related posts:

March 30, 2019 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Encouraging developments in remarkable federal case that threatened old prison term after obvious rehabilitation

Download (13)I had been meaning to blog about this remarkable story first reported in the New Haven Independent under the headline "Glitch May Return Rehab’d Man To Prison." Here is the backstory from that piece: 

Jermaine Demetrius Anderson may have to leave his two jobs, his condo in Westville, his local “church family,” and the stable, crime-free life he has built for himself in the Elm City — and go to prison. All because of an apparent miscommunication over a decade ago between the Connecticut state judicial system and the federal court in Philadelphia.

His hope now is the federal government — maybe even President Donald Trump — will cut him a break.

On Feb. 28, Paul Diamond, a judge with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, signed a warrant for Anderson’s arrest for his failure to serve an outstanding 16-month federal sentence. The sentence dates to a crime that occurred 16 years ago.

The federal court issued that sentence to Anderson, now a 43-year-old employee for the city’s parks department, in 2005 after he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of possessing and passing counterfeit currency and one count of identity theft while living in Pennsylvania. He committed the crimes in 2003.

Anderson never served that federal sentence. Even though he thought he had. That’s because he spent three years in state prison in Connecticut after pleading guilty to similar but separate counterfeit currency charges in New Haven in 2003. He said he believed he was serving his state and federal sentences concurrently while locked up in Webster Correctional Institution in Cheshire.

After finishing that state sentence in November 2006, the state judicial system didn’t remand him to federal custody in Philadelphia. He said no one reached out to him and said he had to report to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to serve more time for the federal offense. He thought he had done his time. He set about rebuilding his life in New Haven.

Thirteen years later, U.S. marshals came pounding on his door in New Haven last week, claiming that he had evaded arrest and demanding that he report back to Pennsylvania to serve 16 months in federal prison.

Local attorney Michael Dolan said he has been in touch with Philadelphia federal attorneys, and has urged them to reconsider requiring Anderson to serve federal time so long after he was sentenced and so long after he served time in state prison on similar charges. “It would appear that the goals of the criminal justice system have been met,” he said about his thoroughly rehabilitated client....

Robert Clark, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, told the Independent that the marshals unearthed Anderson’s outstanding federal sentence and the slip-up between the Connecticut state judicial system and the Pennsylvania federal district court during a routine audit.

“During an internal audit of custody detainers by the U.S. Marshals in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania,” he said, “a case dating back to 2005 was found in which a sentenced man, Jermaine Demetrius Anderson, had been sent to Connecticut to face state charges. After a conviction and sentence served in Connecticut, Anderson should have been held for transfer back to federal custody; instead, he was mistakenly released. Upon the Marshals providing this information to a federal judge, the court issued a bench warrant for Anderson for failure to serve an outstanding federal sentence. Anderson was arrested in Connecticut March 20, released on bond and ordered to appear in U.S. district court in Philadelphia April 4. As the enforcement arm of the federal courts, the Marshals ensure that individuals with federal warrants are brought to face justice. Ultimately, the federal court system will make a determination on Anderson’s outstanding federal sentence.”

Dolan called Anderson’s case a prime example of someone who committed a crime, took responsibility by pleading guilty, served time in prison, and has subsequently successfully rehabilitated himself. “He’s been crime free, drug free, has employment,” Dolan said. “And now they want to take him back into custody.”

“It’s called corrections,” Anderson said. “I corrected myself. I don’t want pity. I just want people to be ethical.”

“I wasn’t evading,” he continued. “I wasn’t on the run.”

Encouragingly, this new CNN piece suggests an ethical outcome to this case may be in the works. The piece is headlined "Man who feared feds would finally impose sentence may have deal to avoid more prison," and here are the new developments:

A judge issued a bench warrant and Anderson was due back in court April 4, when it's possible he could be detained and sent to federal prison.

That apparently won't happen now after his lawyer said he reached a verbal agreement with prosecutors and the Bureau of Prisons to give Anderson credit for time "at liberty."

"I'm overjoyed but waiting for official paperwork," Anderson said, adding, "it's a blessing, but I want the blessing to be official. My heart is back in my chest where it should be." Attorney Michael Dolan said Friday he does not have an official agreement in writing.

CNN's efforts to reach the US attorney's office and the office of the federal judge overseeing the case were not immediately successful....

Dolan helped get Anderson released the day the marshals detained him, and he has been working with federal public defenders to keep his client from going to prison again.

"I certainly think it is cruel and unusual punishment," Dolan said Thursday.

I am pleased to see from this CNN piece that Anderson's attorney was apparently ready to argue that it would be unconstitutional to send him back to prison now under the Eighth Amendment. I do not think anyone would question a claim that this case is "unusual" and the facts described above certainly lead me to think it also "cruel" to require Anderson's imprisonment now under these circumstances. If a court were not prepared to rule that Anderson's reimprisonment was a violation of the Eighth Amendment, this case might alternatively be another setting for developing jurisprudence on what should be deemed "extraordinary and compelling reasons" warranting a sentence reduction under 18 USC 3582(c)(1)(A)(i).  This case certainly seems extraordinary and compelling to me, and modifying Anderson's federal sentence now certain seems in keeping with the "factors set forth in section 3553(a)." 

March 30, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 29, 2019

New reform reports from Florida and Ohio with broader ideas and lessons

This week I came across two notable and reader-friendly reports that each focus on developments in one (swing) state and do so in ways that suggest broader ideas and lessons for reformers working in any jurisdiction. Here are links to these reports with some of their introductory text:

From the Urban Institute, "Smart Reforms to Prison Time Served Requirements in Florida":

Florida’s criminal justice policy decisions, including strict time served requirements, have resulted in an unsustainably large prison system.  The average length of time served in Florida prisons has risen dramatically in recent decades, far outpacing increases in other states and contributing to the state’s large prison population.  Adjusting the state’s inflexible time served requirement is one approach to reducing incarceration that could allow Florida policymakers to save money and invest instead in preventing crime and helping people succeed after coming home from prison.  This brief describes the results of an analysis that shows thousands of people in Florida’s prisons could be released at lower time served requirements, and, for the time they would have been in prison, would not be arrested.

From Alliance for Safety and Justice, Americans for Prosperity-Ohio, and The Buckeye Institute, "Building on Ohio’s sentencing changes to keep prison populations in check":

Bipartisan support for criminal justice reforms such as 2011’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (HB 86), Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison (T-CAP) and probation reforms in the last biannual budget (HB 49), and SB 66 from the last general assembly allowed the state to minimally reduce the prison population and take steps to increase the use of local sentencing options to reduce recidivism and connect people to treatment.  These efforts, and reducing the use of confinement for juveniles, have garnered well-earned national attention, helped the state avoid or end costly litigation, and saved hundreds of millions of dollars on new prison construction.   

As lawmakers turn their attention to the new legislative session, the General Assembly has an opportunity to build on the success of their recent reforms to ensure Ohioans suffering from addiction have the tools necessary to become contributing members of society while potentially saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Right now, Ohio spends $1.8 billion on corrections every year and, despite promises of decreased budgets because of reforms, corrections costs have risen.  There are numerous reasons for increased spending including inflation, healthcare costs for an aging prison population, and the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction granting tens of millions of dollars back to local governments. But one of the main reasons is that recent changes in the law have not led to the big reductions in prison populations that were projected because not as many people convicted of low-level felonies are being served locally as intended. 

March 29, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable judicial hand-wringing from California Supreme Court justices about "expensive and dysfunctional [capital] system that does not deliver justice or closure"

A helpful colleague made sure I did not miss the notable short concurring opinion at the end of this long decision by the Supreme Court of California affirming a death sentence. The concurring opinion was authored by Justice Goodwin Liu and joined by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar. Here is how it gets started:

Today’s decision is our first to affirm a death judgment since Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-09-19 effecting a moratorium on capital punishment in California. Neither defendant nor the Attorney General has suggested that the Executive Order raises any new issues bearing on this appeal. We thus decide this case on the claims and arguments as submitted.

And yet, as the Executive Order underscores, our decision affirming the judgment does not alter a fundamental reality: A death sentence in California has only a remote possibility of ever being carried out.  As leaders of the judiciary have long observed, the death penalty presents serious challenges for the fair and efficient administration of justice. For decades, those challenges have not been meaningfully addressed.  As a result, California’s death penalty is an expensive and dysfunctional system that does not deliver justice or closure in a timely manner, if at all.

The opinion goes on to highlight various reasons why the California death penalty system is such a mess and why the reform initiative in 2016, Proposition 66, "did not enact or put to the voters the key reforms that leading authorities consider fundamental to a workable death penalty system."  The eight-page opinion then concludes with this paragraph:

I express no view here on the morality or constitutionality of the death penalty.  Since joining this court, I have voted to affirm scores of death judgments, and I will continue to do so when the law requires.  It is impossible to review these cases without feeling tremendous compassion for the victims and their families, who have suffered unimaginable heartbreak and loss.  But the promise of justice in our death penalty system is a promise that California has been unable to keep. We are overdue for what our Chief Justice has called “a merit-based discussion on [the death penalty’s] effectiveness and costs.” (Dolan, [California Chief Justice Urges Reevaluating Death Penalty, L.A. Times (Dec. 24, 2011)].)  In the meantime, the judiciary will continue to do its duty under the law, leaving it to the voters and our elected representatives to decide whether California should double down on the current system or chart a new course.

Because Justice Liu was a law professor before he became a Justice, I fully understand his inclination to speak his mind on this issue and his decision to do so through the medium readily available to him (namely, a judicial opinion).  But, candidly, I was hoping for a little bit more of a formal legal payoff from this formal legal opinion, perhaps in the form of a call for briefing on whether Executive Order N-09-19 impacts the legal status of death penalty cases in California or whether state judges might exercise discretion not to continue adjudicating pending capital cases while the moratorium is in place.   

March 29, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

"The Captive Lab Rat: Human Medical Experimentation in the Carceral State"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now available via SSRN authored by Laura Appleman.  Here is its abstract:

Human medical experimentation using captive, vulnerable subjects is not a relic of our American past. It is part of our present.  The extensive history of medical experimentation on the disabled, the poor, the mentally ill, and the incarcerated has been little explored. Its continuance has been even less discussed, especially in the legal literature.  The standard narrative of human medical experimentation ends abruptly in the 1970’s, with the uncovering of the Tuskegee syphilis study.  My research shows, however, that this narrative is incorrect and incomplete. The practice of experimenting on the captive and vulnerable persists, not just then but now.

Our current approach to human medical experimentation disregards informed consent and privacy, allowing the pharmaceutical and medical industries to play an outsized role in shaping clinical research.  The confusing amalgam of laws, rules and codes loosely governing such research almost entirely fail to regulate or prevent patient mistreatment and abuse.  Acquiring a true understanding of our system of mass incarceration requires us to unearth the hidden contours of our current experiments on the poor, the disabled, and the confined, and calls for a wholesale revision of the flawed legal and medical regime overseeing human medical experimentation.

March 29, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 28, 2019

SCOTUS stays Texas execution because condemned was denied Buddhist spiritual advisor in execution chamber

As reported in this local article, "hours after he was to be executed for his role in a notorious 19-year-old crime, Texas death row prisoner Patrick Murphy won a rare stay from the U.S. Supreme Court based on his request to have a Buddhist spiritual adviser next to him in the death chamber."  Here is more:

The condemned man, one of the last surviving members of the so-called 'Texas 7' crew of prison escapees, lobbed a long-shot bid for reprieve earlier this week when his attorneys raised religious discrimination claims, arguing that the converted Buddhist couldn't make it to the Pure Land for rebirth without a spiritual adviser present as he prepared to die.

But the regular prison chaplain is a Christian and, in light of that, the Texas prison system's refusal to accommodate Murphy's request could be a constitutional violation. "As this Court has repeatedly held, governmental discrimination against religion — in particular, discrimination against religious persons, religious organizations, and religious speech— violates the Constitution," Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote.

"The choice of remedy going forward is up to the State. What the State may not do, in my view, is allow Christian or Muslim inmates but not Buddhist inmates to have a religious adviser of their religion in the execution room."

Two justices — Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — dissented, while Murphy's legal team celebrated the rare win.

"We are pleased the Supreme Court acknowledged both that Mr. Murphy, as a Buddhist, is entitled to be accompanied in the execution chamber during the execution by a minister of his own faith just as a Christian would be," Houston-based attorneys David Dow and Jeff Newberry said in a statement late Thursday.

But the late-breaking decision doesn't mean that Murphy can't be executed — it just means that he gets more time to argue his appeal, unless the Texas prison system instead chooses to resolve the issue by changing their protocols to allow Buddhists the same execution chamber religious rights as Christians.

Prison spokesman Jeremy Desel said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice legal team will "be reviewing the ruling" to figure out "what, if any, impact it will have."

The Supreme Court's ruling is available at this link, and here is the official statement from the Court:

The application for a stay of execution of sentence of death presented to JUSTICE ALITO and by him referred to the Court is granted.  The State may not carry out Murphy’s execution pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari unless the State permits Murphy’s Buddhist spiritual advisor or another Buddhist reverend of the State’s choosing to accompany Murphy in the execution chamber during the execution.

Justice Kavanaugh decided to write a few paragraphs to explain his vote, and here is are a few sentences therefrom:

In this case, the relevant Texas policy allows a Christian or Muslim inmate to have a state-employed Christian or Muslim religious adviser present either in the execution room or in the adjacent viewing room.  But inmates of other religious denominations — for example, Buddhist inmates such as Murphy — who want their religious adviser to be present can have the religious adviser present only in the viewing room and not in the execution room itself for their executions.  In my view, the Constitution prohibits such denominational discrimination.

UPDATE: A number of commentors below and elsewhere have been discussing the notable difference in outcome between this case, where a dividied SCOTUS imposed a stay after the Fifth Circuit refused a stay, and Dunn v. Ray last month, where a divided SCOTUS lifted a lower court stay to allow an execution to go forward. Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy speaks to the parallels in this post, which concludes with these observations:

In my view, ... the justices saw the extremely negative reaction against their decision in Ray, and belatedly realized they had made a mistake; and not just any mistake, but one that inflicted real damage on their and the Court's reputations. Presented with a chance to "correct" their error and signal that they will not tolerate religious discrimination in death penalty administration, they were willing to bend over backwards to seize the opportunity, and not let it slip away.

And, whatever can be said about the procedural question, it's a good thing that the justices have taken a major step towards clearing up any confusion over their stance on the substantive one. Whether in death penalty cases or elsewhere, it is indeed impermissible for the government to discriminate on the basis of religion.

March 28, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Religion | Permalink | Comments (5)

"Decarcerating America: The Opportunistic Overlap Between Theory and (Mainly State) Sentencing Practise as a Pathway to Meaningful Reform"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper available via SSRN and authored by Mirko Bagaric and Daniel McCord. Here is its abstract:

Criminals engender no community sympathy and have no political capital. This is part of the reason that the United States has the highest prison population on earth, and by a considerable margin. Incarceration levels grew four-fold over the past forty years. Despite this, America is now experiencing an unprecedented phenomenon whereby many states are now simultaneously implementing measures to reduce prison numbers. The unusual aspect of this is that the response is not coordinated; nor is it consistent in its approach, but the movement is unmistakable.

This ground up approach to reducing prison numbers suffers from the misgiving that it is an ineffective solution to a complex issue. While prison numbers are reducing, it is at a glacial rate. Pursuant to current trends, it would take five decades to reach incarceration levels that are in keeping with historical levels in the United States, and which are in line with prison numbers in most other countries. The massive growth in prison numbers during the latter half of the twentieth century was as a result of a coordinated tough on crime strategy, spawned by the War on Drugs and the implementation of harsh mandatory sanctions. The response to these policy failings must be equally coordinated and systematic in order to be effective.

This Article provides the theoretical and empirical framework that can be used by lawmakers to tap into the community appetite to reduce prison numbers to make changes that are efficient and normatively sound, and which will significantly accelerate the decarceration process. In broad terms, the Article proposes a bifurcated system of sentencing, whereby sexual and serious violent offenders are imprisoned while other offenders (such as those who commit property, immigration and drug offenses) are dealt with by other forms of sanctions. The changes will especially benefit African American and Hispanics, given that they are incarcerated at disproportionately high levels. The empirical evidence also suggests that the proposed reforms will not result in an increased crime rate.

March 28, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Might White House provide "impact data" on FIRST STEP Act as Prez Trump celebrates the law next week?

Download (12)In this post last week, I wondered aloud "Might the US Sentencing Commission provide some real-time updates on the implementation of the FIRST STEP Act?".  Today, after seeing this heart-warming article in the Washington Examiner, I am now wondering and hoping that the White House might be a source of FIRST STEP data now that they have a celebration of the law in the works.  The Examiner article is headlined "Jared Kushner called Walmart to get job for first woman freed by First Step Act," and here are excerpts:

Catherine Toney began February in prison and ended the month with a job at Walmart after White House adviser Jared Kushner called the Arkansas-based retailer on her behalf.  Toney, 55, is believed to be the first woman freed by the First Step Act, which President Trump signed in December. She was released Feb. 1 after serving 16 years, benefiting from the law's retroactive crack cocaine sentence reductions.

Toney will join Trump on Monday for an event celebrating the criminal justice reform law, his first major bipartisan policy achievement. Other recently released inmates were invited to attend.

Toney met Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and an architect of the reform law, on Feb. 21 when she attended a White House Black History Month event. Kushner asked about Toney's plans — and she said she wanted to work at the Walmart in Daphne, Ala. He volunteered to call Walmart for her, according to Toney and two others in the room.

"He promised me he was going to do it," Toney said. One day later, she got a call from a woman named Becky at Walmart's corporate office, saying that Kushner had called, and that the company wanted to help. "I went to the White House, but I came home to nothing, not anything at all. By him calling corporate himself, he made sure I got in this Walmart where I asked," Toney said. "He was a man of his word and he did what he said he would."...

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a Walmart representative confirmed that Kushner personally called. The representative said Toney met the standards for employment, and that the company wanted to help other former prisoners.

Jessica Sloan, national director of the prison reform group #cut50, said Toney is part of a bigger-picture effort by Kushner to enlist businesses to hire formerly incarcerated people, including by helping reduce re-entry barriers, such as poor Internet literacy. "Catherine is a test case" for the retail giant, said Sloan, whose group offered Toney a temporary contract job, before she landed the Walmart position, to help her buy a car.

Also attending the Monday celebration is April Johnson, 40, who was freed from prison in January under a compassionate release provision to care for her daughter, who is suffering from terminal cancer, and for her daughter's two sons. "I would like to thank [Trump] for putting the new law in effect," she said.

Troy Powell, 41, wants to thank Trump, while urging a second step for others. Powell, now working at a lumber company, served nearly 16 years of a crack cocaine sentence and was freed under the same retroactive provision as Toney. In prison, Powell said there's some surprise at Trump's role.  "When the election was going, no one was looking forward to Trump being in there," Powell said. "People thought the Democrats were going to change the laws and get them out of prison, but then it was the Republicans and Trump who changed the laws."

Powell notes, however, that the First Step Act reduces certain future prison sentences, including limiting gun sentencing enhancements, without retroactively reducing the same sentences for those now in prison. Another section of the law expanding "good time" credit to give near-immediate release to about 4,000 people, a provision meant to apply retroactively, has been stalled due to a drafting error.

Amy Povah, the founder of the CAN-DO Foundation, said that despite criticism, the First Step Act "has actually exceeded some expectations," particularly with compassionate releases for elderly or ailing inmates.  Still, Povah advocates for Trump to supplement the law with more grants of clemency to prisoners.

Monday's events at the White House will feature a "strategy session" on how to move forward on reforms, a workforce re-entry event with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, and an afternoon celebration with Trump.

I am very pleased to see Amy Povah continue to urge Prez Trump to follow-up the FIRST STEP Act with clemency grants, especially because we are already getting close to a full year since Prez Trump started generating lots of clemency excitement by talking up the possibility of lots and lots of clemency grants.  I also think she is right to note that, as I discussed in this prior post, there could be a huge impact from the FIRST STEP Act allowing inmates to bring directly to court so-called compassionate release motions to "modify a term of imprisonment"  under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(C)(1)(A)

But, as the question in the title of this post hints, I find it really hard to judge whether the FIRST STEP Act is meeting or exceeding (or falling below) expectations because I have not yet seen even a partial accounting of how many persons have been released from prison thanks to various provisions of the Act.  In addition, the heart of the bill's prison reforms, both the increase in "good time" credit and the creation of an "earned time" credit system, are already having an array of early implementation challenges.  And, problematically, because the federal Bureau of Prisons lacks a permanent director and because the US Sentencing Commission lacks a quorum of commissioners, two key agencies for implementing the Act are operating at a significant deficiencies.

Put simply, I am very excited the White House will be having an exciting event to celebrate the exciting FIRST STEP Act, and now I hope that this event will help give everyone more reasons to be excited about the reality of FIRST STEP Act implementation.

A few prior related posts on FIRST STEP Act implementation:

March 28, 2019 in Data on sentencing, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

March 27, 2019

After state jury recommended 419 years plus life, feds allow Charlottesville killer to plead guilty to take capital charge off table

As reported in this NBC News piece, headlined "Driver in deadly car attack at Charlottesville white nationalist rally pleads guilty to federal hate crimes," the federal government cut a plea deal to allow a hate crime killer to avoid facing the death penalty.  Here are the basics:

The man convicted of murder in the deadly car attack on counterprotesters at the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges Wednesday in order to dodge a possible death penalty.

James Alex Fields Jr., 21, from Maumee, Ohio, pleaded guilty to 29 of 30 charges against him.  The 30th charge, which included a possible death sentence, was dropped. He's been ordered to return to court on July 3 to be sentenced.

The single charge in Count 30 was brought under a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.  It had accused Fields of racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity — counterprotesters using the public streets and sidewalks of Charlottesville — and carried a possible death penalty....

"The defendant in this case has pled guilty to 29 hate crimes which he committed by driving his car into a crowd of protesters," Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. "These hate crimes are also acts of domestic terrorism."

Barr cited the recent mosque massacre in New Zealand that left 50 dead in saying the nation must have zero tolerance for racial and religious bias.  “In the aftermath of the mass murder in New Zealand earlier this month, we are reminded that a diverse and pluralistic community such as ours can have zero tolerance for violence on the basis of race, religion, or association with people of other races and religions,” according to Barr....

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Thomas Cullen said he hopes this courtroom deal will spare survivors of reliving that day.  “Although the defendant’s guilty plea cannot undo the pain, suffering, and loss that he caused, it is my hope that it will enable these victims and our community to continue the healing process," Cullen said....

Jurors in his state case found him guilty of murder and recommended he be sentenced to life in prison, plus 419 years. Sentencing in that case is scheduled for July 15.

I am always disinclined to question a plea deal without knowing all the details, especially details related to the expressed interests of the victims and the arguments that might be made by the defense.  But, in this context, I still cannot help but note that the Trump administration, though talking up the death penalty in various ways, has not yet shown all that much of a interest in aggressively pursuing capital prosecutions or actual executions.   (This AP article from back in October 2018 indicated that the first couple years of the Trump administration involved roughly the same use of the death penalty as in the early years of the Obama administration and that "both the Trump and Obama administrations pale in comparison to that of President George W. Bush and his attorney general John Ashcroft, who in 2003 alone signed off on capital prosecutions against more than three dozen defendants.")

Prior related posts:

March 27, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Regulating Mass Prosecution"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Irene Joe now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Efforts to address our nation’s criminal justice crisis have hit a standstill; legislative solutions have proven inadequate and increased funding for public defenders is politically impractical.  Virtually everyone agrees that there is a problem: we incarcerate more people than any other developed nation and that imposes a significant cost on society.  The conventional solutions to this crisis focus on the legislative or public defense side of the equation — urging decriminalization of certain behaviors by state legislatures and increased funding for indigent defenders.  These proposed solutions are important but, alone, insufficient, for reasons that are all too predictable: a lack of political will to do right by indigent defendants.

In this paper, I advance a solution that is at the same time novel and achievable.  My proposed solution is novel because it focuses on an institutional actor that has, to this point, received comparatively little attention in the debates over mass incarceration — the prosecutor.  It is achievable because it does not require new legislation that would, in turn, depend upon political support that is unlikely to materialize. Instead, the solution is already a part of our legal backdrop: prosecutors should be required to comply with the same ethical rules that govern all other lawyers.  And those rules, I argue, are violated when prosecutors exercise their charging discretion in ways that contribute to massive public defender caseloads.

Prosecutorial discretion allows the prosecutor, with few limitations, to choose which of many potential criminal charges she will pursue.  This means that prosecutorial discretion gives prosecutors a degree of control over the size and scope of the criminal court docket that other criminal court actors do not possess.  If we seek a solution to our nation’s problem of mass incarceration, then we must recognize that public defenders with massive caseloads compromise that goal.  This Article conveys that public defender overload, and the mass incarceration to which it contributes, is not simply a constitutional crisis limited to individual rights for individual defendants.  Instead, it defines the problem as an ethical one, with central concerns about how the legal profession is situated in the criminal justice domain.

March 27, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Noticing Gov Newsom's not-so-progressive approach to parole so far

The Los Angeles Times has this notable new piece which reports on the notable reality that it seems only the serious offenders sent by juries to California's death row are getting grace from California's new governor.  The piece, headlined "Newsom seeks to halt parole for some murderers and serious offenders. What does that signal?," includes these passages:

Trenton Veches liked to suck on the toes of young boys and has spent the last 16 years in prison because of it. A jury convicted him in 2003 at age 32 in a case that shook Newport Beach, where he was a supervisor in the city’s youth recreation program. He was tried on multiple counts of child molestation and sentenced to two concurrent life terms after being caught in the act by a co-worker.

Last week — despite an attempt by Gov. Gavin Newsom to stop it — Veches won parole.

Veches’ impending release is one of 33 cases in which Newsom, since taking office, has attempted to stop a serious offender from receiving parole, according to documents provided by the governor’s office. Parole hearings usually take place in front of a two-person panel. The governor can’t revoke these paroles but can ask the state’s 15-member Board of Parole Hearings to review them.

Newsom also has stopped 46 paroles for murderers, a different process that allows him to act unilaterally through executive powers. Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for Newsom, said, “Each case that comes before the governor is evaluated on its own merits and receives careful review and consideration.”

The interventions mark a steep increase from those undertaken by former Gov. Jerry Brown and are a departure from the progressive criminal justice reform stance that Newsom has championed, including his recent moratorium on the death penalty.

In 2018, the parole board reviewed seven cases at Brown’s request and Brown reversed 28 paroles for murderers, a steady decline from his peak of 133 reversals in 2014. Newsom has more than quadrupled requests for reviews of serious offenders in three months in office and is on pace to match Brown’s peak year of reversals for murder cases.

Newsom’s spike in parole interventions has some wondering whether he is trying to keep more serious offenders in prison or just taking a cautious approach to a dicey issue. “The governor’s reversal rate [on paroles] has dramatically increased over Brown,” said Charles Carbone, Veches’ attorney and a specialist in parole hearings. “The question now becomes: Is it a matter of a new policy?”

Newsom’s active role in opposing releases might point to a growing political problem for him within the state’s parole system: rising numbers of offenders eligible for release because of criminal justice reforms, including Proposition 57, a measure championed by Brown. More so than any of his predecessors, California’s new governor likely will be responsible for overseeing tough decisions on whether certain sex offenders and criminals with multiple felonies should be freed.

California holds between 4,000 to 5,300 parole hearings each year, according to a recent legislative report. Next year, that is expected to jump to 7,200 and rise again to 8,300 the following year — changes wrought by Proposition 57 alone could add up to 4,000 new hearings, according to Michael Romano, head of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School. There are currently 34,136 California inmates serving life sentences with the possibility of parole, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “There is an incredible backlog and bottleneck,” Romano said....

While some governors, such as Gray Davis, took a hard line on parole, Brown and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger allowed an increase in releases, said Keith Wattley, executive director of an Oakland legal nonprofit that specializes in prisoners’ rights. Brown dramatically decreased the number of both reversed murder paroles and non-murder cases flagged by the governor’s office during his terms.

Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College, said Newsom is keenly aware of the potential for political danger after his controversial decision to halt executions. Many criticized Newsom for ignoring the will of California voters, who rejected a ballot measure to abolish the death penalty and approved another to speed up executions in 2016. “The thing that keeps governors awake at night is the prospect that a bad person will be let out and go on to commit heinous crimes and the governor will be held responsible,” Pitney said. “After the death penalty reprieves, he is very sensitive to that risk and does not want to be the next Michael Dukakis.”...

Newsom’s efforts to prevent the release of criminals poses little downside, Pitney said. “I think he can make a case that he’s being consistent: We should be careful of releasing prisoners and careful about the punishments we impose,” Pitney said.

Romano said some of the interventions might be leftovers from Brown’s time in office and are too few in number to judge. Wattley, head of the nonprofit that specializes in prisoners’ rights, agreed it was “too early to know … how alarmed to be,” but the possibility of parole raised by Brown gave inmates hope and created an incentive for rehabilitation. Newsom’s interventions, if ongoing, could undo that, he said.  Wattley said paroling serious offenders is necessary to decrease the number of people incarcerated, a key component of criminal justice reform.  “You can’t do that unless you find a pathway home for people convicted of serious or violent crimes,” he said.

Sex offenders in particular are politically perilous candidates for parole.  Proposition 57 backers promised it wouldn’t free sex offenders, and state prison officials wrote rules for its implementation that excluded them. But a state court ruled last year that the wording of Proposition 57 didn’t give leeway for a blanket prohibition, particularly for inmates with past sex offenses currently incarcerated on other charges.

Fifteen of the cases Newsom has flagged for reconsideration involve inmates with current or past sex offenses, according to the CDCR.  Sonya Shah, executive director of a Bay Area nonprofit that works with sex offenders, said sex crimes are left out of criminal justice reform and often lumped together in public perception despite encompassing a “spectrum of harms” to victims.  “We are not willing to have the nuance with sexual crime,” Shah said. “The way [sex offenders] are painted, they are monsters.”

March 27, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (7)

March 26, 2019

Suffolk County DA produces remarkable new prosecutorial polices memo

Around this time last year, as discussed in this post, Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner made public a remarkable five-page memo setting forth an array of remarkable progressive prosecutorial policies.  This week, Suffolk County DA has produced an even more remarkable statement of policies via this remarkable 66-page document titled simply "The Rachel Rollins Policy Memo." The document is not easily summarized, and is worth a complete read. These excerpts from the first section, titled "A New Lens," provides a feel for some of the particulars that follow:

A dramatic shift in thinking around criminal justice is occurring in the United States. Sweeping advances in data science and public health have revealed that decades of punitive incarceration are not effectively preventing recidivism and promoting public safety. A large number of criminal convictions secured by prosecutors nationally are for drug, property, and public order offenses, which are often driven by economic, mental health, and social needs....

Data show that a carceral approach to low-level, non-violent offenses can do more harm than good. A criminal record often presents barriers to education, future income, housing, and many other necessary assets and supports proven to help people thrive and succeed in society.

As a result, jurisdictions across the country are taking a smarter approach to punishment and accountability. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices are collecting and analyzing new and varied sources of data, and they are safely beginning to move all but the most serious offenses away from carceral punishment and its downstream collateral harms.

In place of traditional criminal justice system outcomes such as arrest, detention, prosecution, probation, and incarceration, criminal justice practitioners and policymakers are working in collaboration with community partners to develop and implement innovative, evidence-driven diversionary alternatives that data show are more likely to promote safer and healthier communities....

[Recent data] shows that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office can file fewer criminal charges, divert more people who need help into services and treatment, send fewer people to jail and prison, all while improving the health and public safety of Suffolk County residents.  I am pleased to announce, effective immediately, the following official guidelines and policies of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.  These guidelines and policies, as with all of our office’s policies and decisions going forward, will be grounded in science and data, modeled after the best known local and national practices, and will build upon and expand the important work and relationships begun under the leadership of my predecessors

Prior related post:

March 26, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spotlighting what the California AG could do to really change capital course in California

John Mills has this notable new Daily Journal commentary following up on recent California capital developments.  The main headline of the piece is "Newsom may have halted executions, but the machine keeps on ticking." And the subheadline carries forward the theme: "Gov. Gavin Newsom made history by declaring a moratorium on executions in California and even tweeting out images of the execution chamber being dismantled. Although I was in Sacramento, I missed the announcement. I was in court on one of my death penalty cases."

The full commentary give particular attention to what California's Attorney General might now do to really change the course of capital punishment in the state.  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

Attorney General Xavier Becerra is uniquely positioned to help bring it to a halt.  He has called Newsom's reprieve "a bold, new direction in California's march toward perfecting our search for justice."  I agree.

But Becerra's statement is remarkable because there is so much that more he could do, large and small, to support that effort beyond defending the governor's decree.  Taking up any one of them would be a much better use of state resources than defending hundreds of death sentences that will almost certainly never be carried out.

In the death penalty cases Becerra is currently defending, he could admit in court what Newsom acknowledged in his executive order: California "death sentences are unevenly and unfairly applied to people of color."  Supporters and opponents of the death penalty agree that the most obvious impact of race on death sentencing is the race of the victim. This effect is greatest when the defendant is black, and where a crime is committed is a much better predictor of a death sentence than the culpability of the perpetrator.  Tragically, we as a state have failed to divorce our country's racist history from our harshest penalties in the present.  Admitting as much would clear the way for the courts to hold that California's death penalty is inconsistent with our state's constitutional commitments to equal protection under the law.

Becerra could also confess other defects, any one of which would acknowledge the unconstitutionality of California's death penalty regime.  For example, by design, California's death sentencing statute reaches virtually every murder, as studies by preeminent experts have confirmed....

He could admit to other systemic problems, such as the inherent cruelty of languishing under a sentence of death for decades, the lack of required jury findings for aggravating circumstances, and arbitrariness in the process by which a person becomes eligible for execution.  Any one of these admissions would be well supported and, if also endorsed by the courts, would bring California's experiment with the death penalty to an end.

He could also take a more case-by-case approach.  The commentary in opposition to Newsom's moratorium has suggested that California is special, that whatever problems may be present with the death penalty in other states, just don't affect us.  That's a lie....

Even taking the modest steps of not appealing a grant of relief from a death sentence, waiving procedural defenses to claims challenging the legality of a sentence, or asking for an evidentiary hearing in cases where there are troubling claims about sentences of death would each be a leap towards ensuring that justice is done where the stakes are highest.

So far, Becerra has not taken that tack.  He has, instead, consistently opposed relief, invoked procedural barriers to reviewing the merits of constitutional claims, and failed to take steps that would expedite, rather than block the delivery of justice.

There are many other actors who could do many other things to mitigate the excesses and arbitrariness inherent to the use of the death penalty.  But the reforms proposed here could be accomplished with little or no cost and would demonstrate an executive branch unified in its determination to put justice first.  It is time for a bold new direction from the attorney general.

Prior related posts:

March 26, 2019 in Detailed sentencing data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Effects of Voluntary and Presumptive Sentencing Guidelines"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical article authored by Griffin Sims Edwards, Stephen Rushin and Joseph Colquitt.  Here is its abstract:

This Article empirically illustrates that the introduction of voluntary and presumptive sentencing guidelines at the state-level can contribute to statistically significant reductions in sentence length, inter-judge disparities, and racial disparities.

For much of American history, judges had largely unguided discretion to select criminal sentences within statutorily authorized ranges.  But in the mid-to-late twentieth century, states and the federal government began experimenting with sentencing guidelines designed to reign in judicial discretion to ensure that similarly situated offenders received comparable sentences.  Some states have made their guidelines voluntary, while others have made their guidelines presumptive or mandatory, meaning that judges must generally adhere to them unless they can justify a departure.

In order to explore the effects of both voluntary and presumptive sentencing guidelines on judicial behavior, this Article relies on a comprehensive dataset of 221,934 criminal sentences handed down by 355 different judges in Alabama between 2002 and 2015.  This dataset provides a unique opportunity to address this empirical question, in part because of Alabama’s legislative history.  Between 2002 and 2006, Alabama had no sentencing guidelines. In 2006, the state introduced voluntary sentencing guidelines.  Then in 2013, the state made these sentencing guidelines presumptive for some non-violent offenses.

Using a difference-in-difference framework, we find that the introduction of voluntary sentencing guidelines in Alabama coincided with a decrease in average sentence length of around seven months.  When the same guidelines became presumptive, the average sentence length dropped by almost two years.  Further, using a triple difference framework, we show that the adoption of these sentencing guidelines coincided with around eight to twelve-month reductions in race-based sentencing disparities and substantial reductions in inter-judge sentencing disparities across all classes of offenders.  Combined, this data suggests that voluntary and presumptive sentencing guidelines can help states combat inequality in their criminal justice systems while controlling the sizes of their prison populations.

March 26, 2019 in Advisory Sentencing Guidelines, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 25, 2019

"Theories of Prosecution"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Jeffrey Bellin now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

For decades, legal commentators sounded the alarm about the tremendous power wielded by prosecutors.  Scholars went so far as to identify uncurbed prosecutorial discretion as the primary source of the criminal justice system’s many flaws.  Over the past two years, however, the conversation shifted.  With the emergence of a new wave of “progressive prosecutors,” scholars increasingly hail broad prosecutorial discretion as a promising mechanism for criminal justice reform.

The abrupt shift from decrying to embracing prosecutorial power highlights a curious void at the center of criminal justice thought.  There is no widely-accepted normative theory of the prosecutorial role.  As a result, prosecutors are increasingly viewed as the criminal justice system’s free agents, deploying the powers of their office as they see fit to serve constituents, public safety or, most broadly, the cause of justice.

This Article uses the rapidly shifting views of prosecutors to explore normative theories of prosecution: what should prosecutors be doing?  It highlights the emptiness of the current “do justice” model, and proposes an alternative “servant-of-the-law” theory of prosecutorial behavior that could place real constraints on prosecutorial excess.  It also explores ways in which a servant-of-the-law model could, perhaps counterintuitively, contribute much-needed theoretical grounding to the progressive prosecution movement.

March 25, 2019 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Another useful reminder of the need for more criminal justice diversity on the federal bench

Long-time readers know I have been talking a long time about the prosecutorial tilt that impacts who gets nominated and confirmed for seats on the US Supreme Court and lower federal courts.  Encouragingly, the need for more balance in the courts is getting more attention as criminal justice reform continues to garner attention (especially among would-be Democratic Prez candidates).   Consider, for example, this piece on this topic at Slate by Kyle Barry under the headline "Democratic Presidential Candidates Should Promise to Appoint This Kind of Judge to the Federal Courts."  Here are  excerpts:

The lawyers who best understand the importance of [the Constitution's] basic protections, of course, are public defenders.  And the Supreme Court hasn’t had a justice with significant experience representing indigent criminal defendants since Thurgood Marshall, who founded the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, retired in 1991.  Two current justices — Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor — worked as prosecutors.  The rest have no hands-on experience with the criminal justice system, creating what Washington Post columnist Radley Balko has called a “massive blind spot” in the court’s decision-making.

This absence of experience extends beyond the Supreme Court to the entire federal judiciary.  Former public defenders are woefully underrepresented on both the trial-level district courts and the circuit courts of appeal, while experience as a prosecutor remains a common and largely unquestioned career path to the federal bench.

The issue is cross-partisan and deeply systemic.  Much like how the policies that created America’s mass incarceration crisis were bipartisan — with Republicans and Democrats competing to appear most tough on crime — so too has been the impulse to tap prosecutors over public defenders as federal judges.  According to the advocacy group Alliance for Justice, more than 40 percent of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees were prosecutors, outnumbering public defenders by three to one.

The problem has only worsened under President Donald Trump.  Trump’s judicial appointees lack diversity along any metric.  They are 91 percent white and 76 percent male.  Just one of his 91 confirmed judges is black.  Still, the lack of criminal defense experience is extreme.  By reviewing the Senate Judiciary Committee Questionnaires for all of Trump’s 143 confirmed or pending judicial nominees who have submitted one (a handful of recent nominees have not), I learned that not one has worked full-time as a state or federal public defender.  One, Clifton Corker, a pending nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, reports one year as a “volunteer” federal defender.  That’s it.

By contrast, more than one-third of Trump’s nominees have worked as prosecutors, including 38.3 percent of his district court nominees and 33.3 percent of his circuit court nominees.  And that’s with a narrow definition of “prosecutor” that excludes lawyers, like Gorsuch, who served in high-level executive branch positions but did not personally prosecute cases....

Obama’s penchant for choosing prosecutors culminated in the nomination of Merrick Garland, a former prosecutor, over Jane Kelly, a former public defender, to the Supreme Court in 2016.  Once Kelly, a judge on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was reported to be a finalist, conservative groups used her public defense experience to launch a smear campaign and paint her as a threat to law and order; an especially offensive tactic given that Kelly was herself the victim of a violent assault.  Yet it also betrayed an important truth: While Gideon’s promise of robust public defense is both celebrated and stigmatized, the stigma is baked into traditional notions of the ideal, critique-proof judicial nominee.  Prosecutors have faced no such hurdle.

For progressives, the Trump era has ignited perhaps unprecedented interest in the courts and judicial nominations.  On issues from immigration to the environment to voting rights, just to name a few, the federal courts have been the primary check on the Trump administration’s often cruel and discriminatory policies.  And Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, along with a flock of far-right and in many cases grossly incompetent nominees to the lower courts, sparked outrage that has echoed through the halls of Congress and beyond.

But what is the flip side of that outrage?  What kind of judicial nominees should progressives demand?  Part of the answer is obvious: more public defenders.  Indeed, a pledge to appoint at least as many public defenders as prosecutors to the federal bench is a tangible way for presidential candidates to show commitment to dismantling mass incarceration while at the same time charting a path forward for the courts.  There is now real opportunity to start a new narrative around judicial selection, one that rejects the stigma attached to public defenders and the mythical neutrality of prosecutors.

A few prior related posts from years past:

March 25, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Eager for input on what to cover in webinar on "The First Step Act and Other Federal Sentencing Developments"

As detailed at this link, next week I will be doing a "CLE Live Quick Webcast" for the Ohio State Bar Association under the title "Federal Criminal Law: The First Step Act and Other Federal Sentencing Developments."  Here is the "course description":

This program will cover the basics of the First Step Act, the prison reform legislation that was signed into law on December 21, 2018.  We will also discuss other related federal sentencing developments, including the case of United States v. Haymond, currently pending with the Supreme Court.

I have put together a basic outline for my presentation, and it is all too clear to me that it will be impossible to cover thoroughly in just an hour's time all aspects of the FIRST STEP Act and Haymond and related matters.  Consequently, as the title of this post indicates, I am eager for input from readers on just what I should be sure to cover in the short time I have for this OSBA program.  I have a sense of which part of the FIRST STEP Act are most important to discuss, but I really welcome thoughts from those out in the field working on these and related issues.

March 25, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5)

March 24, 2019

Interesting new TRAC data on intra-courthouse judge-to-judge differences in sentences

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University maintains lots of data on the work of federal courts and federal agencies. Seemingly inspired by the recent sentencing(s) of Paul Manafort, TRAC completed a "study of judge sentencing differences at 155 federal courthouses across the country" in which "the judge with the lowest average prison sentence was compared with the judge with the highest average sentence at each courthouse."  At this page, TRAC summarizes its findings this way:

Based upon case-by-case sentencing records, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University found that half of federal judges served at courthouse where the average prison sentence differed by at least 23 months depending upon which judge handled the case.  Sixty-six of these judges served at six courthouses where the average prison sentence length differed by more than 48 months.

The Orlando courthouse in the Middle District of Florida with seven judges had a range of over 80 months between the judge with the shortest versus the longest average prison sentence.  This was followed by the Greenbelt courthouse in Maryland with over 64 months difference among the seven judges serving there....

To examine current sentencing differences at each of the 155 federal courthouses included in the study, read the full report [at this link].

Because TRAC is comparing average sentences for each federal judge directly without controlling for the specific caseloads of these judges, variations in average sentences could reflect caseload differences as much as judicial differences. But in the full report, TRAC reasonably notes that due to "the fairly large number of defendants sentenced by each judge, where there is random assignment of cases to judges then statistically speaking each judge should have closely comparable caseloads so that differences in the nature of the offenses and defendants' histories are roughly comparable."

Ultimately, this TRAC report provides a crude and incomplete account of intra-courthouse judge-to-judge differences because just one or two outlier judges could and would make a courthouse look bad in this TRAC accounting.  Still, it is interesting and useful to be reminded statistically of what all federal criminal justice practitioners know well, namely that most judges have their own distinctive and unique approaches to sentencing decision-making.

March 24, 2019 in Booker in district courts, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

"What Is Relational Justice?"

The question in the title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Samuel Pillsbury now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

The relational harms of crimes of violence should be met with relational remedies; this is the aim of relational justice.  Sexual and other forms of violence do grave harm to personal relations and relational capacities.  Wrongdoers may, and should, be blamed for acts of disregard for the basic relational good of others.  The final aim of relational justice is the return of those hurt by violence to full belonging in community, and if possible, the return of perpetrators as well.  This will alter predominant views of punishment for serious crimes.

Adopting a relational justice perspective should change how guilty pleas are taken and sentencing hearings are structured.  Relational justice promises better recognition of sexual violence by emphasizing the relational nature of harm and wrongdoing.  Relational justice also provides a new perspective on race and class discrimination in criminal justice through its emphasis on the connectedness of persons and groups in community and basic obligations to look out for the relational good of others.

March 24, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)