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July 13, 2019

Mayor Pete Buttigeig's new "Douglass Plan" hit lots of criminal justice reform high points

Frederick-Douglass2With still so many candidates still jockeying for position, I am still not paying all that much attention to statements coming from all the contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President.  But a big, bold plan set out by one candidate this a week caught my eye.

As Vox details in this piece, this week Mayor Pete Buttigieg introduced this notable new platform titled "The Douglass Plan: A Comprehensive Investment in the Empowerment of Black America."  Here is the not-so-modest introduction from the website about the plan's name and ambition: "Inspired by American hero Frederick Douglass and comparable in scale to the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II, the Douglass Plan dismantles old systems and structures that inhibit prosperity and builds new ones that will unlock the collective potential of Black America."

The Douglass Plan quite rightly gives considerable attention to "Criminal Justice Reform," with nearly a quarter of this 18-page document focused on this topic.  Here are some of the most notable headings and stressed statements from this part of the report:

[We will] ensure more people are free by significantly reducing the number of people incarcerated in the United States at both the federal and state level by 50%....

We will double funding for federal grants for states that commit to criminal justice reform, and prioritize funding for programs aimed at pretrial reforms, decarceration, and expansion of alternative to incarceration (ATI) programs....

We will, on the federal level, eliminate incarceration for drug possession, reduce sentences for other drug offenses and apply these reductions retroactively, legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions....

We will eliminate mandatory minimums....

We will commute the sentences of people who are incarcerated in the federal system beyond what justice warrants by establishing an independent clemency commission that sits outside the Department of Justice....

We will fight the profit motive in the criminal justice system, including by abolishing private federal prisons....

We will reduce the criminalization of poverty and its link to incarceration....

We will appoint an Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, and U.S. Sentencing Commissioners who are committed to the fundamental transformation of the criminal justice system. We will ensure that the federal bench includes more women and people of color.  We will also prioritize deepening the experience of the bench by appointing former public defenders and civil rights attorneys who share a commitment to the protection and expansion of civil rights and civil liberties....

We will support a constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty....

We will reduce the over-reliance on solitary confinement and abolish its prolonged use, bringing the United States in line with international human rights standards, which view the use of solitary confinement in excess of 15 days as per se torture.

We will ensure people who are incarcerated have access to education, health care, and rehabilitation....

[We will] protect the freedom for people with criminal convictions to fully integrate into society by providing the tools necessary for success, while reducing government intrusion in people’s lives.

We will significantly reduce the use of supervised release on the federal level by limiting it to two years, cutting burdensome requirements and technical constraints, and making it harder to be sent back to prison for small violations of the terms of release.

I have cut out a lot of supportive text as well as some additional proposals, and so I highly recommend the document in full for anyone and everyone eager to see what a bold criminal justice reform platform looks like.  This CNN piece from last week reported that former VP Joe Biden was developing a reform plan that is to be "research-based and will be among the most progressive of all the 2020 candidates."  I will be quite impress if Biden comes up with something even more progressive than what Mayor Pete has now put forward.

July 13, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

All the Jeffrey Epstein news that's fit to print

My various criminal justice news feeds are chock full of stories about the prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein and its echoes.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the New York Times is giving plenty of ink to this story, and here are just some of the notable pieces from the last few days that should interest criminal justice justice fans:

A few prior related posts:

July 13, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 12, 2019

Call for Papers: "The Controlled Substances Act at 50 Years"

Call-for-PapersI am happy to highlight an exciting call for papers relating to an exciting event I am excited to be involved in.  Here is the full call, which is also posted as a pdf document at the end of this post:

Call for Papers: The Controlled Substances Act at 50 Years -- Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ

Roughly a century ago, in response to growing concerns about drug use, the federal government enacted its first drug control law in the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914.  Subsequent decades saw Congress continue to pass drug control legislation and criminalize drug abuse, but by the 1960s there was growing interest in more medical approaches to preventing and responding to drug abuse.  Upon his election, President Richard Nixon prioritized the reduction of drug use: in rhetoric, he spoke of a so-called “war on drugs”; in policy, he pushed for a new comprehensive federal drug law in the form of The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), enacted as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.

The CSA emerged from a widespread, bipartisan view that comprehensive legislation was needed to clarify federal drug laws, and its centerpiece was a comprehensive scheduling system for assessing and regulating drugs in five schedules defined in terms of substances’ potential for abuse and dependence, and possible medical use and safety.  In design, the CSA was intended to prioritize a scientific approach to drug prohibition and regulation by embracing a mixed law-enforcement and public-health approach to drug policy.  But in practice, the US Justice Department came to have an outsized role in drug control policy, especially as subsequent “tough-on-crime” sentencing laws made the CSA the backbone of a federal drug war in which punitive approaches to evolving drug problems consistently eclipsed public health responses.

Although the federal drug war has been controversial since its inception, the CSA’s statutory framework defining how the federal government regulates the production, possession, and distribution of controlled substances has endured.  As we mark a half-century of drug policy under the CSA, the Academy for Justice at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and the Drug Enforcement & Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law are together sponsoring a conference to look back on how the CSA has helped shape modern American drug laws and policies and to look forward toward the direction these laws could and should take in the next 50 years.

The conference, "The Controlled Substances Act at 50 Years," will take place on February 20-22, 2020, at Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law in Phoenix, Arizona.  As part of this conference we are soliciting papers for the February 22 scholarship workshop. Junior scholars are encouraged to submit, and will be paired with a senior scholar to review and discuss the paper.

Each paper should reflect on the past, present or future of the Controlled Substances Act and drug policy in the United States.  Participants should have a draft to discuss and circulate by February 10.  The papers will be gathered and published in a symposium edition of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, a peer-reviewed publication.  Participants should have a completed version to begin the publication process by March 15.  Final papers may range in length from 5,000 words to 20,000 words.

Deadline: Please submit a title and an abstract of no more than 300 words, to Suzanne.Stewart.1 @ asu.edu by August 15, 2019.  Accepted scholars will be notified by September 15, 2019.

Download Call for Papers- The Controlled Substances Act at 50 Years - Final pdf 

July 12, 2019 in Drug Offense Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 11, 2019

"Against the Received Wisdom: Why Should the Criminal Justice System Give Kids a Break?"

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

Professor Gideon Yaffe’s recent, intricately argued book, The Age of Culpability: Children and the Nature of Criminal Responsibility, argues against the nearly uniform position in both law and scholarship that the criminal justice system should give juveniles a break not because on average they have different capacities relevant to responsibility than adults, but because juveniles have little say about the criminal law, primarily because they do not have a vote.  For Professor Yaffe, age has political rather than behavioral significance. The book has many excellent general analyses about responsibility, but all are in aid of the central thesis about juveniles, which is the central focus of this essay review.

After addressing a few preliminary issues, the essay discusses Professor Yaffe’s negative argument against the validity of the behavioral difference rationale for giving juveniles a break.  If the negative case fails, which the essay argues it does, then the only issue is whether the book’s alternative is desirable.  Again, the essay argues that it is not, and concludes by offering three positive arguments for the traditional rationale: 1) coherence and simplicity; 2) a benignly definitional argument that survives the negative argument and supports giving juveniles a break in the exceedingly unlikely event that the empirical assumptions of the traditional rationale are proven incorrect; and 3) a proposal for individualization of the culpability assessments of juveniles so that the criminal justice system blames and punishes them proportionately to their culpability.

July 11, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

More encouraging news of how FIRST STEP Act is reorienting DOJ priorities

USA Today has this fascinating new lengthy article under the headlined "Roofing, paving, artisanal bread: Feds look to kick-start law that will free hundreds of inmates." As the headline suggests, the article is about all the interesting activity afoot to effectively implement the FIRST STEP Act. I recommend the article in full, and here are excerpt:

Set in the foothills of the soaring Rocky Mountains, the mud-colored cluster of Depression-era structures has been a fixture in the federal penal system for decades.  Although just 10 miles south of Denver, notoriety has rarely found its way here except on the occasions when the Federal Correctional Institute Englewood’s worn cellblocks have housed the likes of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling and disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich

Now, the 320-acre compound — distinguished by coils of razor wire and guard tower — is poised to play a leading role in a major criminal justice experiment.  Justice Department officials, including newly-installed Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, have cut a path to this unlikely place in recent days to tout a series of rehabilitation programs that could be key to supporting the early release and re-entry of waves of federal inmates set to be released as part of a criminal justice overhaul approved by Congress last year.

Inside Englewood, a culinary arts program is training aspiring chefs to pump out artisanal breads, pastries and cakes.  An architectural drafting operation, manned by inmates, has produced designs for hundreds of chain restaurants and is assisting with a flood prevention project for the Port Authority of New York.

The prison’s signature enterprise, however, may be its most promising.  Thirteen inmates are part of a roofing and road paving crew that travels the country more than seven months of the year tending to repairs and new construction at federal government installations scattered from the Great Lakes to New England.  The crew members, many of whom have acquired valuable commercial drivers’ licenses while in prison and the skills to operate heavy machinery, have saved the federal government nearly $30 million in labor costs during the past three years, federal authorities said.

"I never thought I would get a chance to do something like this in prison," said Littlelee Ragsdale, a 36-year-old Wyoming man who is in the midst of a nine-year term for methamphetamine and heroin distribution. "This a great opportunity for a real career outside of here. It's not just one of those jobs to get by. Re-entry (to the free world) is now a realistic goal."

Leaning on the promise of Englewood’s programs and others like them scattered across the Bureau of Prisons system, Attorney General William Barr later this month is expected to unveil a tool that could shave years from the sentences of non-violent offenders like Ragsdale as part of the First Step Act, a sweeping law designed to reduce the federal prison population while easing offenders' transition back to their communities.  Congress approved the law last year with support from both parties.  Barr is set to lay out rules on July 19 for evaluating federal inmates that could speed their path toward release. On the same day, a separate provision of the law will prompt the release of an estimated 2,200 non-violent offenders based on a re-calculation of the credit they receive for good behavior while in custody....

The vast federal prison system has long been a drag on the government, soaking up more than a quarter of the Justice Department's $28 billion budget.  Even though its prison population has dropped since 2014, with 180,664 inmates, it is still the largest penal system in the United States.  The system holds more than seven times as many inmates as it did in 1980, at the start of the nation's drug war and a "tough-on-crime" strategy that featured mandatory minimum prison sentences for repeat drug offenses that doomed some inmates to more than two decades behind bars.  More than 45% of federal inmates are now serving terms for some type of drug offense, by far the largest offense grouping in the system....

Longtime advocates for such criminal justice reforms, who also have often been the fiercest critics of the Justice Department, are encouraged by the recent action but are wary of the challenges confronting full implementation of the law.  "I think they are doing their best to get prepared," said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which has long highlighted the impact of harsh sentencing policy on families of the incarcerated. "The real test will be in the implementation of all of the different pieces."

I viewed passage of the FIRST STEP Act as such a big deal is because it created formal legal structures and reasons for the Justice Department to worry more about helping improve the prospects for people in federal prison and on their way out of federal prison rather than being only focused on putting more people in federal prison and trying to keep them in federal prison.  I find this article encouraging because it highlights how, thanks to the FIRST STEP Act, DOJ is now giving more time and attention to "a series of rehabilitation programs" (and apparently to promoting their DOJ's work to the press).

More generally, I believe Kevin Ring and other reform advocates are right to be encouraged by some aspects of DOJ's approach to the FIRST STEP Act, but the really big implementation tests are just getting started with release of the risk and needs assessment system coming next week and then BOP having up to 2.5 years to fully implement next steps.  I continue to be encouraged by big and small developments in this space, and I think we might even see the election season come to provide reform benefits rather than burdens.  If FIRST STEP Act implementation goes too slowly or poorly, Dems on the campaign trail might seek to assail the efficacy of a signature achievement of Prez Trump, and Prez Trump might in turn put added pressure on DOJ and others to do better.  (Indeed, I think DOJ's encouraging work to date and especially AG Barr's expected timely release of the risk and needs assessment system is a product of an eagerness to look good in the eyes of the President.)

A few of many prior related posts:

July 11, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Criminal Convictions, Incarceration, and the Right to Vote in South Carolina"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting study just recently posted to SSRN and authored by multiple persons. Here is part of its abstract:

Because of questions about the rationale for felon disenfranchisement, many jurisdictions have begun to re-examine laws that restrict the voting rights of persons with criminal convictions.  In the last twenty years, in particular, a number of states have made legal and administrative changes aimed both at expanding the voting rights of ex-offenders and at assuring that ex-offenders whose voting rights have been restored are not excluded from the franchise by misinformation or unnecessary administrative hurdles.

South Carolina, however, has not revisited the issue since the current law was adopted in the early 1980’s.  That law, in turn, was hurriedly adopted to replace a Jim Crow-era statute that had been challenged on equal protection grounds. Nor has implementation of the current disenfranchisement statute been carefully examined to assure that restoration of voting rights following the period of disenfranchisement is actual and not merely theoretical.

As a class project, Professor Elizabeth Patterson’s spring 2018 Voting Rights Seminar at the University of South Carolina School of Law undertook a wide-ranging study of law, policy, and practice affecting the voting rights of South Carolinians who have been convicted of crimes, or who are otherwise incarcerated.  Based on interviews with state and local officials and other interested persons, examination of state statutes from all 50 states, and review of a wide range of published material, the class identified three issues that should be addressed in order to assure that the voting rights of persons who have been convicted of crimes or are otherwise incarcerated are limited no more than is necessary to serve legitimate policy goals.

The three issues, which are discussed more fully in the report that follows, are:

1. The scope of disenfranchisement under current law. Conclusion: The scope of disenfranchisement under current South Carolina law is broader than can be justified by legitimate policy goals, impedes successful re-entry and rehabilitation of ex-offenders, and has an unacceptable disproportionate effect on black voting rights.  The state should consider relieving probationers, parolees, and misdemeanants (other than those convicted of election offenses) of the burden of disenfranchisement.

2. Practical and administrative obstacles to ex-offenders’ participation in the electorate following restoration of voting rights. Conclusion: Substantial misunderstanding and misinformation concerning ex-offenders’ voting rights exist among both ex-offenders themselves and among local election officials.  Restoration of voting rights as provided for by South Carolina law will not be a reality without more intensive efforts to inform affected persons of their voting rights and how to exercise the, together with full implementation of the system of guidance and oversight for county boards of voter registration and elections mandated in the 2014 Election Reform Act.

3. Whether the voting rights of eligible voters who are incarcerated are adequately protected.  Conclusion: The state has a duty to assure that inmates who retain the right to vote are provided with information and assistance necessary to exercise that right.

July 11, 2019 in Collateral consequences | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 10, 2019

"Criminal Justice Reform: A Survey of 2018 State Laws"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new white paper from The Federalist Society authored by Robert Alt. Here is how the document gets started:

State legislatures across the country took significant strides in reforming their criminal justice regimes throughout 2018. States revised their existing criminal codes, passed new legislation, and amended their constitutions in order to address a range of criminal justice concerns.  Several states enacted similar legislative reforms, and a survey of the changing criminal justice landscape reveals that states were most willing to modify their criminal laws in the areas related to pre-trial detention or bail reform, civil asset forfeiture, marijuana legalization, drug-induced homicide, and opioid abuse. Although not an exhaustive list of new criminal justice legislation, the most notable reforms fall generally among those categories.

Criminal justice reform did not trend in a singular direction.  Some reform measures, for example, appear designed to liberalize drug-enforcement by legalizing medical and recreational use of marijuana, while others establish more severe penalties and stricter enforcement protocols for fighting criminal drug trafficking and opioid abuse.  Two states made significant changes to their pretrial detention protocols, giving state judges more latitude to use risk-assessment tools and easing the financial burdens that the cash bail systems had placed upon low-income criminal defendants.  Several states amended their civil asset forfeiture laws to make their asset forfeiture process more transparent and to make asset forfeiture more difficult for law enforcement. Still other states, like Massachusetts, adopted sweeping reform measures across virtually their entire criminal code.

Support for and against criminal laws and punishments do not tend to break along traditional partisan lines.  Although some legislative reforms proved politically contentious, including several of the statewide ballot initiatives, others were largely bipartisan efforts that saw legislatures and governors from both ends of the political spectrum reach tenable compromises.  Some reform measures even passed their state legislatures unanimously.

July 10, 2019 in Recommended reading, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Compassionate Release Training in DC (and online) next week

This NACDL tweet flags an important training opportunity taking place in DC and online next week for folks interested in getting in on some of the most exciting legal change brought about by the FIRST STEP Act.  Here is an image with the details:

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If that image does not do the trick, here is the text of a tweet from Mary Price of FAMM with the essentials:  "Calling all pro bono lawyers!  Want to learn how to help prisoners seeking Compassionate Release? We are training (live and by webinar) on Monday, July 15!  RSVP to agprobono @ akingump.com"

July 10, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

ABA releases "The State of Criminal Justice 2019" (with capital punishment chapter online)

The American Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section produces a terrific annual review of criminal justice developments, and the latest version is now available here under the title "The State of Criminal Justice 2019."  Here is how the text is described:

This publication examines and reports on the major issues, trends and significant changes in the criminal justice system. The 2019 volume contains chapters focusing on specific aspects of the criminal justice field, with summaries of all of the adopted official ABA policies passed in 2018-2019 that address criminal justice issues.

Authors from across the criminal justice field provide essays on topics ranging from white collar crime to international law to juvenile justice. The State of Criminal Justice is an annual publication that examines and reports on the major issues, trends and significant changes in the criminal justice system during a given year. As one of the cornerstones of the Criminal Justice Section's work, this publication serves as an invaluable resource for policy-makers, academics, and students of the criminal justice system alike.

In addition, the Capital Punishment chapter from this collection is available at this link, and it starts with this interesting data on capital sentences imposed in 2018:

The number of death penalties imposed in the United States in 2018 was an estimated 42.  The number of death sentences imposed between 2015 and 2018 was half the number imposed in the preceding four years. 

To put this in context, death sentences, after peaking at 315 in 1996, declined over time to 114 in 2010, and then dropped considerably in 2011 to 85, and were 82 in 2012 and 83 in 2013, before a large drop to 73 in 2014, and a bigger drop to 49 in 2015, and then fell to 31 in 2016, before rising to 2017’s 39 and 2018’s 42.

For the first year since the death penalty resumed after Furman v. Georgia, there was not in 2018 a single county in the entire United States in which more than two death sentences were imposed.  Some states that used to be among the annual leaders in imposing death sentences have now gone years without any new death sentences.

One notable state in this regard, Georgia, as of March 2019 has gone five full years without a new death penalty.  In explaining why, Bill Rankin of the Atlanta Journal Constitution pointed to the facts that life without parole (“LWOP”) can now be imposed in Georgia without the prosecutor’s having sought capital punishment and is now recognized by jurors to really mean a life sentence with no chance of parole; that the quality of trial-level defense lawyers’ performance has greatly increased; and that it is now far more difficult to get juries to vote for death sentences -- even when the crimes are especially aggravated.

July 10, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Of note of late from the Collateral Consequences Resource Center

Regular readers know I regularly urge folks to regularly check out the work and commentary over at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, and the last few weeks have brought a number of notable posts that seemed valuable to flag here:

July 10, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 9, 2019

En banc Ninth Circuit works through Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and juvenile resentencing under federal guidelines

In this post around this time last year, I noted work on an amicus brief in support of a Ninth Circuit en banc petition in US v. Riley Briones.  The original ruling in Briones had a split Ninth Circuit panel affirming the district court's adoption of the federal sentencing guidelines as the key factor in the course imposing a life without parole federal sentence on a juvenile offender.   But after granting en banc review, the Ninth Circuit has now vacated the LWOP sentence and remanded for resentencing by a 9-2 vote.  The new majority opinion in Briones, available here, has a lot to say about Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and juvenile sentencing, and here are a few excerpts:

Taken together, Miller, Montgomery, and Pete make clear that a juvenile defendant who is capable of change or rehabilitation is not permanently incorrigible or irreparably corrupt; that a juvenile who is not permanently incorrigible or irreparably corrupt is constitutionally ineligible for an LWOP sentence; and that a juvenile’s conduct after being convicted and incarcerated is a critical component of the resentencing court’s analysis....

We reaffirm that when a substantial delay occurs between a defendant’s initial crime and later sentencing, the defendant’s post-incarceration conduct is especially pertinent to a Miller analysis. See id.; see also Montgomery, 136 S. Ct. at 736 (“The petitioner’s submissions [of his reformation while in prison] are relevant . . . as an example of one kind of evidence that prisoners might use to demonstrate rehabilitation.”).  The key question is whether the defendant is capable of change.  See Pete, 819 F.3d at 1133.  If subsequent events effectively show that the defendant has changed or is capable of changing, LWOP is not an option.

The district court’s heavy emphasis on the nature of Briones’s crime, coupled with Briones’s evidence that his is not one of those rare and uncommon cases for which LWOP is a constitutionally acceptable sentence, requires remand.  We do not suggest the district court erred simply by failing to use any specific words, see Montgomery, 136 S. Ct. at 735, but the district court must explain its sentence sufficiently to permit meaningful review.  See Carty, 520 F.3d at 992 (“Once the sentence is selected, the district court must explain it sufficiently to permit meaningful appellate review . . . . What constitutes a sufficient explanation will necessarily vary depending upon the complexity of the particular case . . . .”).  When a district court sentences a juvenile offender in a case in which an LWOP sentence is possible, the record must reflect that the court meaningfully engaged in Miller’s central inquiry.

And here is a concluding substantive paragraph from the dissent:

Thus, despite evidence of Briones’s rehabilitation, youth when the heinous crimes were committed, and youth-related characteristics, the record supports that Briones’s crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility, as opposed to transient immaturity. The district court therefore imposed a permissible sentence.  Notably, the majority does not conclude that a life without parole sentence is impermissible in this case. Instead, although the majority claims otherwise, the majority’s opinion vacates the district court’s sentence because the district court failed to find that Briones was permanently incorrigible. But as discussed above, there is no requirement for the district court to make any specific findings before imposing a life without parole sentence.  In short, the majority, citing Montgomery, states that it “do[es] not suggest the district court erred simply by failing to use any specific words,” Maj. at 19.  But in clear contravention of Montgomery, that is precisely why it has reversed. We remand for the district court to do again what it has already done.

July 9, 2019 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reminder of opportunity to author commentary for the Federal Sentencing Reporter on SCOTUS Term

With folks perhaps now fully back in (summer) work mode after the holiday week, I wanted to note again this call for papers from the Federal Sentencing Reporter:

Seeking Commentaries for Federal Sentencing Reporter Issue on “The October 2018 SCOTUS Term and the Criminal Justice Work of its Members”

In a September SCOTUSblog posting, Professor Rory Little called the criminal cases on the Supreme Court's docket for its October 2018 Term a "law professor’s dream."  He noted the Term included big constitutional cases addressing the Double Jeopardy Clause and the Excessive Fines Clause, as well as perennial hot topics involving application of the death penalty and the Armed Career Criminal Act.  With the Term now concluded, the Federal Sentencing Reporter (FSR) is eager to take stock through a call for papers for publication in a special October 2019 FSR issue.  And we are looking to publish thoughtful commentaries authored by practitioners and policy advocates as well as by law professors.

For this issue, FSR is open and interested in publishing pieces addressing an array of topics relating to the current Supreme Court's work on the criminal side of its docket.  Commentaries can focus on a single case (or even a single opinion in a single case) or they can address a series of cases or a developing jurisprudence.  Contributors are also welcome to discuss the voting patterns and rulings of a particular Justice or of the Court as a whole.  How the Court selects criminal cases for review or what topics should garner the Justices' attention in the years ahead are also fitting topics.  In short, any engaging discussion of the work of the current Court on criminal justice matters will fit the bill.

FSR pieces are shorter and more lightly footnoted than traditional law review pieces; ideally, drafts are between 2000 and 5000 words with less than 50 footnotes.  Drafts need to be received on or before August 1 to ensure a timely publication, and should be sent to co-managing editors Douglas Berman (berman.43 @ osu.edu) and Steven Chanenson (chanenson @ law.villanova.edu) for consideration.

July 9, 2019 in Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

More coverage prisoner reentry issues as FIRST STEP Act's "good time" fix approaches

Prior FIRST STEP Act implementation posts (linked below) noted the delayed application of the Act's "good time" fix, which provides that well-behaved prisoners now get a full 15% credit for good behavior amounting to up to 54 days (not just 47 days) per year in "good time."   And in this post last month, I noted press coverage and efforts surrounding this "good time" fix as it gets closer to kicking in this month (assuming the Attorney General complies with a key deadline in the Act).  This press coverage continues with this Fox News piece headlined "Thousands of ex-prisoners to reunite with their families this month as part of First Step Act," and here are excerpts therefrom:

More than 2,200 federal inmates are returning to their families this month from behind bars under the bipartisan prison reform bill President Trump signed into law last year, according to policy experts and prisoner advocates involved in the effort.

This month will see the largest group to be freed so far under a clause in the First Step Act that reduces sentences due to "earned good time."  In addition to family reunification, the formerly incarcerated citizens, 90 percent of whom have been African-American, hope to get employment opportunities touted by Trump last month at the White House as part of the "Second Chance" hiring program.

"We’re a nation that believes in redemption," the president said, noting Americans with criminal backgrounds are unemployed at rates up to five times the national average, which was around 3.8 percent earlier this year. "You're gonna have an incredible future."

The Trump Administration has asked the private sector to help the ex-prisoners reacclimate to their newfound freedom with jobs and housing in one of the largest criminal justice public-private-partnerships ever assembled.

Kim Kardashian West, who successfully lobbied President Trump to free Alice Johnson, a great-grandmother who was serving a life sentence convicted of drug trafficking for a first-time, non-violent drug offense, announced a partnership with rideshare organization Lyft to hand out gift cards for reformed criminals to get to and from job interviews as transportation can be a barrier. "I just want to thank the president for really standing behind this issue and seeing the compassion that he's had for criminal justice has been really remarkable," the "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" star said during a Second Chance Hiring and Re-entry event at the White House in June....

Matthew Charles, the first inmate released from the program and recognized by Trump for being a “model citizen,” told “America’s Newsroom” barriers to employment and housing need to be “eliminated” so former inmates don’t find themselves back in prison.  The Trump Administration has a broad amount of support across governmental departments from labor to DOJ to DOE, as well as governors across the country streamlining state services in order to reduce the barriers Charles mentioned.

This article seems to imply that ninety percent of those who will be released from prison soon thanks to the "good time" fix are African-American, but that racial statistic actually relates to the distinct group of prisoners who have received reductions in their crack sentences due to a different provision in the FIRST STEP Act.  The group getting relief thanks to the operation of the "good time" fix later this month is likely to be more closely representative of the entire federal prison population (which is, very roughly speaking, about 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 Latino).  And, as noted in another recent press article, a good number of non-citizen offenders will be deported upon their release from prison.

Prior related posts:

July 9, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 8, 2019

Two new open access articles from FSR issue on "The Tyranny of the Trial Penalty"

In this post last month, I highlighted the publication of the latest extraordinary (double) issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter titled "The Tyranny of the Trial Penalty: The Consensus that Coercive Plea Practices Must End."  As mentioned before, this FSR issue includes 16(!) original pieces on various aspects of "The Trial Penalty," and it is fully available on-line at this link

Though a full subscription to FSR is needed for full on-line access to all FSR content, the University of California Press has graciously agreed to make various articles from this special issue available to all on-line for a limited period.  Valuable, the issue's terrific introduction authored by Norman Reimer, executive director of NACDL, and his colleague Martín Sabelli, NACDL's second vice president, is to remain freely available for an extended period of time.  And this week, these two additional pieces are now accessible to all (with first paragraphs quoted here):

Two empirical facts underlie ongoing policy debates over plea-trial differences in federal punishment: defendants who are convicted at trial receive significantly harsher sentences, and the overwhelming majority of federal defendants forego their constitutional right to jury trial and enter into plea agreements.  A passel of studies finds large plea-trial differences in federal sentencing.  Across jurisdictions, offense types, and time periods, research convincingly demonstrates that defendants convicted at trial receive more severe punishments than similar defendants who plead guilty.  This “trial tax” or “plea discount” is among the most robust findings in the empirical sentencing literature (Johnson 2019).  At the same time, guilty plea rates in both state and federal courts have ballooned.  In federal court, more than 97 percent of convicted defendants plead guilty (Motivans 2019), lending credence to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s observation that “plea bargaining is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system” (Missouri v. Frye, 132 S. Ct. 1399, 1407 (2012)).

Weaponizing Justice: Mandatory Minimums, the Trial Penalty, and the Purposes of Punishment by Mary Price

The trial penalty is one of the most lethal tools in the prosecutor’s kit.  With it, the government coerces defendants to plead guilty and punishes those who don’t. It transforms what should be a defendant’s considered and informed decision about whether to exercise the constitutional right to be judged by a jury of one’s peers in open court into a backroom roll of the dice.  It is the criminal justice equivalent of a shakedown — more extortion than orderly proceeding.

Prior related posts:

UPDATE: The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has this new news release about the FSR issue, which includes these quotes from the Guest Editors who helped make it happen:

The articles included in this special issue underscore one hopeful reality: the breadth of concern with the trial penalty’s central role in perverting the U.S. system of justice reflects unprecedented consensus,” explain Editors Reimer and Sabelli in their “Editors’ Observations” introduction.  “Critics of the decline of the jury trial and the institutional coercion that is the trial penalty in action span the ideological perspective.  This is not the system of justice that the architects of this democracy envisioned, nor is it the system that people deserve, especially as the nation has evolved.  The country may still have a long way to go to purge racism and all forms of irrational disparity from its criminal justice system. But it has come far enough that it is long past time to tolerate a system that extracts years of a person’s freedom as the price to access fundamental rights. NACDL is determined to promote study and seek reform on the federal level and throughout the various states to minimize the tyranny of the trial penalty. This edition of the Federal Sentencing Reporter is an important step in that process.”

July 8, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

A critical perspective on the Lone Star State's experiences with criminal justice reform

A few months ago, as noted in this post, Marie Gottschalk had published a critical review of the achievements of the federal FIRST STEP Act.  Now, in this notable new commentary in The Baffler about the Texas experience with criminal justice reform, she provides a critical perspective on how little has changed in a big state that seems to get a lot of reform credit.  The extended piece is headlined "The Prisoner Dilemma: Texas fails to confront mass incarceration," and here are some excerpts:

The origin story of the latter-day turnaround in Texas’s criminal justice system dates back to 2007, when legislators decided against spending an estimated $2 billion on new prison construction to accommodate projections that the state would need an additional seventeen thousand prison beds by 2012.  Instead, they enacted some modest changes in probation and parole to redirect people to community supervision; they also restored some funding for substance abuse and mental health treatment.  The attempt to slow down prison construction was, in fact, a big change from the post-Ruiz era, when the state attempted to build its way out of the overcrowding problem.  And yet, even though Texas was required to face up to certain realities — first by the Ruiz case and later by budget constraints — the Texas penal system, after all these years, has not really changed its stripes.

For all the hype, Texas remains “more or less the epicenter of mass incarceration on the planet,” according to Scott Henson, author of Grits for Breakfast, the indispensable blog on criminal justice and law enforcement in Texas.  Other states have far surpassed Texas in reducing the size of their incarcerated populations and in providing safer and more humane lock-ups that are not such blatant affronts to the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Texas today incarcerates nearly one-quarter of a million people in its jails and prisons — more than the total number of prisoners in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom combined.  If Texas were a country, its incarceration rate would be seventh in the world, surpassed only by Oklahoma and five other Southern states.  Texas still operates some of the meanest and leanest prisons and jails in the country. Two meals a day on weekends during budget shortfalls.  Cellblocks without air-conditioning, fans, or even enough water to drink in triple-digit heat. Understaffed, overwhelmed, and unsafe lock-ups in isolated rural areas.

All the applause that Texas received for the prisons it did not build and the handful of prisons it closed has overshadowed the fact that the Lone Star State continues to be one of the most punitive in the country.  If you add the number of people in prison and jails to those on probation, parole, or some other form of community supervision in Texas, that quarter of a million number grows to about seven hundred thousand. This amounts to about one out of every twenty-five adults in the state.  That’s enough to fill a city the size of El Paso.

Between 2007 and 2018, the total number of people held in state prisons and county jails in Texas did fall somewhat — by about 6 percent. But while the number of incarcerated men in Texas prisons and jails has inched downward, the number of incarcerated women has continued to grow.  The state’s female incarceration rate ranks fifteenth nationwide.

Texas has yet to enact any landmark criminal justice reform legislation that would truly scale back the number of people in prisons and jails.  Meanwhile, it has created hundreds of new crimes and dozens of enhanced penalties. Unlike many other states, Texas has yet to reduce the penalties for even low-level drug crimes.  Last year, the number of new felony cases filed in Texas reached a near all-time high, “driven primarily by an increase in drug possession cases,” according to the annual report of the Texas Judiciary.

July 8, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Some news and notes surrounding latest indictment of Jeffrey Epstein

The arrest and now (not-quite-second) federal prosecution of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein is all the buzz in the criminal justice world today, and this New York Post article provides some highlights on the indictment that was unsealed and how federal prosecutors are now approaching this matter:

Convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein “sexually exploited and abused” dozens of underage girls as young as 14 at his homes in New York and Florida in the early 2000s, Manhattan federal prosecutors alleged in an indictment unsealed Monday.  The billionaire financier was charged with sex trafficking and a related conspiracy count for allegedly creating “a vast network of underage victims” for him to exploit across multiple states from 2002 to 2005, the Manhattan federal court documents say.

Aided by three unidentified employees Epstein, 66, allegedly paid the girls hundreds of dollars in cash to come to his residences in Manhattan and Palm Beach to give him nude “massages” that would become “increasingly sexual in nature,” prosecutors allege.  “During the encounter, Epstein would escalate the nature and scope of physical contact with his victim to include, among other things, sex acts such as groping and direct and indirect contact with the victim’s genitals,” the indictment alleges....  Epstein “intentionally sought out” girls under 18 — and knew the girls were underage because some told him how old they were, they allege.

“The alleged behavior shocks the conscience and while the charged conduct is from a number of years ago, it is still profoundly important to the alleged victims,” Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at a news conference announcing the charges. “They deserve their day in court and we are proud to be standing up to them by bringing this indictment.”

The indictment shows the feds want to seize Epstein’s lavish townhouse at 9 E. 71st St. — a seven-story, 21,000-square-foot Upper East Side pad that is one of Manhattan’s largest townhouses and was allegedly one of the venues for his sick sexual pyramid scheme. Authorities “seized evidence including nude photographs what appear to be underage girls,” Berman said.

Epstein’s indictment follows a controversial deal he struck in 2008 with prosecutors in Palm Beach, Florida, after cutting a non-prosecution agreement with the Miami US Attorney’s Office, as detailed last year in an expose by the Miami Herald.  Epstein was facing up to life behind bars, but got a sentence of just 13 months.  The Miami US attorney at the time was Alex Acosta, who is now President Trump’s secretary of labor, and the Justice Department launched an investigation of that agreement in February following a request from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska).

Berman said Epstein’s non-prosecution agreement “only binds the Southern District of Florida.”

“The Southern District of New York is not bound and is not a signatory,” he said.

Prosecutors will seek to have Epstein held without bail when he appears in court later Monday, Berman said. Berman called Epstein a “significant flight risk” due to his “enormous wealth” and the fact that the charges against him carry a maximum 45 years in prison, which Berman called “basically a life sentence” for someone of Epstein’s age. Berman also noted that Epstein owns two private plans and lives “much of the year abroad.”

Epstein was arrested around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, where he arrived in a private plane from Paris, officials said.

The full 14-page indictment in this high-profile matter is available at this link.

A few prior related posts:

UPDATE: This new Atlantic article by Ken White, headlined "The Jeffrey Epstein Case Is Like Nothing I’ve Seen Before: Great wealth insulates people from consequences, but not always, absolutely, or forever," is the best read on this case that I have seen of late.

July 8, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4)

Summer reading (with a Fall cover date) from the American Journal of Criminal Law

Over the holiday week, I noticed that American Criminal Law Review already has published its Fall 2019 issue, and that this issue includes a number of articles that sentencing fans may want to add to their summer reading list: 

The Biased Algorithm: Evidence of Disparate Impact on Hispanics by Melissa Hamilton

Is Mass-Incarceration Inevitable? by Andrew Leipold

Defining the Proper Role of “Offender Characteristics in Sentencing Decisions: A Critical Race Theory Perspective by Lisa Saccomano

Cruel, Unusual, and Unconstitutional: An Originalist Argument for Ending Long-Term Solitary Confinement by Merin Cherian

Pandora’s Algorithmic Black Box: The Challenges of Using Algorithmic Risk Assessment in Sentencing by Leah Wisser

July 8, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Recommended reading, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 7, 2019

"Statutory Federalism and Criminal Law'

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

Federal law regularly incorporates state law as its own.  And it often does so dynamically so that future changes to state laws affect how federal law will apply.  For example, federal law protects against deprivations of property, but states largely get to define what property is.  So when a state changes its property law, it automatically influences the effect of federal law.  This interdependence eases the tension that would otherwise arise when two different governments issue overlapping regulations.

This Article is the first to identify how rare meaningful use of dynamic incorporation is in criminal law and also how this scarcity impairs that law.  With some notable exceptions, Congress ordinarily acts alone in criminal law.  But using dynamic incorporation more often would redress two problems: the political inertia that leads to a one-way ratchet in criminal law and the limited accountability for enforcement discretion.

Marijuana laws provide a compelling example.  Federal law flatly prohibits all marijuana use.  But forty-six states now have laws that conflict with federal law, and 93 percent of Americans believe that medicinal marijuana should be lawful.  The only legislation Congress has managed to pass in response to this conflict makes heavy use of dynamic incorporation.  This example and others suggest that dynamic incorporation reduces the inertia that ordinarily makes it difficult for Congress to pass responsive legislation in criminal law.  What is more, dynamic incorporation creates additional flexibility that prevents these kinds of conflicts from arising in the first place.

Dynamic incorporation also furthers separation of powers values.  Local and federal enforcement officials have crafted joint relationships that make local officials a critical part of federal enforcement.  This relationship is efficient, but it also enables local officials to evade state law constraints.  Local officials use this ability to exacerbate, among other things, sentencing disparity.  Dynamic incorporation rebalances power by giving state legislatures the opportunity for greater oversight of enforcement discretion, enhancing enforcement accountability.

July 7, 2019 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)