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December 14, 2019

A Kentucky clemency controversy captured in headlines

Just under two decades ago, Prez Bill Clinton created a huge stir when granting 140 pardons and a few commutations on his very last day of office.  That controversy comes to mind as I see news about former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin's clemency spree as he relinquished power in the last few weeks.  This Kentucky clemency controversy has many elements, so I figured I would use headlines of numerous press pieces to provide an overview:

From NPR, "Outgoing Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin Issues 428 Pardons, Many Which Are Controversial"

From CNN, "Former Kentucky governor pardons convicted child rapist"

From the Louisville Courier Journal, "Kentucky governor pardons convicted killer whose brother hosted campaign fundraiser for him"

Also from the Louisville Courier Journal, "Senate President Robert Stivers wants feds to investigate Matt Bevin's pardons"

From The Hill, "McConnell: Bevin pardons 'completely inappropriate'"

Also from The Hill, "Former Kentucky Gov. Bevin defends pardons amid backlash"

Also from NPR, "Kentucky Lawmaker Wants Constitutional Amendment to Reform Governor's Pardoning Power"

December 14, 2019 in Clemency and Pardons, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

"Solitary Confinement in the Young Republic"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by David M. Shapiro just published in the December 2019 issue of the Harvard Law Review.  Here is its abstract:

America’s first system for punishing criminals with solitary confinement began at the Walnut Street Jail, an institution that stood right behind Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Historical and archival evidence from that facility demonstrates that the unchecked use of solitary confinement in today’s correctional facilities contravenes norms that prevailed in the Constitution’s founding era.  In the 1790s, a robust array of checks and balances cabined the discretion of corrections officials to isolate prisoners.  Judges, legislatures, and high public officials regulated human isolation at the jail, leaving prison administrators relatively little power over solitary confinement.  Most importantly, long periods of seclusion could be imposed only by courts acting pursuant to criminal sentencing statutes.  Jail officials had the power to impose solitary confinement for disciplinary violations, but only for a matter of days or weeks.  Today, however, deference to prison officials has swallowed these constraints.  In the present regime, some prisoners remain isolated for years and decades based on decisions by prison officials that courts hesitate to second-guess.  The historical record casts doubt upon any originalist argument that the founding generation would have embraced the contemporary regime of judicial deference in matters of human isolation.

December 14, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

Terrific new editorial about Ohio Gov DeWine's terrific new "Expedited Pardon Project"

Because I am directly involved in Ohio Governor Mike DeWine's exciting new "Expedited Pardon Project," I had an inkling I would like this new Columbus Dispatch editorial when I saw the headline "For those deserving pardons, relief is better sooner than later."  Wonderfully, not only does the editorial rightly praise Gov DeWine for his vision and leadership, it also captures in a few paragraphs why this new program is so valuable for everyone involved.  I recommend the editorial in full, and here are excerpts:

We welcome a movement in Ohio to make the criminal justice system more compassionate and pragmatic, and the Expedited Pardon Project recently announced by Gov. Mike DeWine is another positive development.  The goal is to make it easier and much faster for nonviolent former felons who have stayed out of trouble for at least a decade to receive formal pardons.

It’s not just a matter of pride; a felony conviction is a shackle that can keep people from reaching a good job, safe housing, an education loan or any number of things that could make the difference between getting ahead and giving up....

DeWine’s idea is to enlist the help of law students and educators at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law and the University of Akron School of Law to vet applications and zero in on those who do have a chance: those who have committed no further crimes for at least 10 years; have paid any court-ordered fines and restitution; are working or have a good reason not to be; and have done volunteer or community service work. Those whose applications meet the criteria are expected to get a hearing before the parole board within six months.

The law schools deserve thanks for lending much-needed manpower to such a worthy cause, but they also are likely to benefit. Delving into those applications should give students and seasoned lawyers alike a better understanding of how the criminal justice system affects the lives of the human beings caught up in it.  That can’t help but make for more-enlightened lawyers and judges down the road, and that benefits everyone....

Punishment for a single nonviolent criminal episode should end when the prison sentence ends. Society has nothing to lose and much to gain by helping reclaim lives.

Related posts and links:

December 14, 2019 in Clemency and Pardons, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 13, 2019

Reviewing LWOP populations in Louisiana and nationwide

5deadab9df7fc.imageI am just finding time to blog about this lengthy terrific piece from last weekend in The Advocate under the headline "Louisiana's life without parole sentencing the nation's highest — and some say that should change." I recommend the piece in full, and here are some excerpts:

About 15 percent of Louisiana's prison population consists of people serving life without parole, which is the highest percentage among all states. Those numbers are the result of sentencing laws enacted decades ago — including mandatory minimums and a 1979 decision from state legislators to abolish parole for all life sentences, creating a rigid structure that critics argue limits opportunities to ensure the punishment fits the crime.

Perhaps the biggest outlier is Louisiana's response to second-degree murder, a broad statute that treats getaway drivers and lookouts the same as trigger pullers. It allows prosecutors to sidestep proving intent in some cases, but nonetheless carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole....

Louisiana has more inmates serving life without parole than Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee combined: about 4,700 people behind bars with no chance at release.

Those convicted of second-degree murder make up the largest subset — 51 percent of the total — compared to 19 percent for aggravated rape and 16 percent for first-degree murder, according to Department of Corrections data analyzed by researchers at Loyola University. More than half were under 25 when convicted and about 75 percent are black. When factoring in other long sentences too, almost one in three Louisiana prison inmates will die behind bars, according to the national nonprofit The Sentencing Project.

Many places, including Southern states, make most lifers eligible for parole after 20 or 30 years. But in Louisiana "life means life." People convicted of certain crimes are automatically locked up forever, with no input from judges, juries or the state's parole board.

Opponents of Louisiana's sentencing practices cite extensive research showing people "age out" of crime, meaning their likelihood of getting rearrested decreases the older they get. LSU research published in 2013 shows extremely low — almost nonexistent — recidivism rates among former Louisiana lifers who were released on commuted sentences after decades behind bars. "Giving lifers a chance at parole is about creating a world in which people still keep a little hope," said Jamila Johnson, an attorney with the New Orleans nonprofit Promise of Justice Initiative. "That glimmer of hope changes how people interact in our criminal justice system."

Louisiana lawmakers considered major changes after pledging to pass a criminal justice reform package during the 2017 legislative session. They discussed making lifers eligible for parole after serving at least 30 years and reaching age 50, excluding those convicted of first-degree murder, which carries either death or life without parole.

But the Louisiana District Attorney's Association came out in opposition to all proposals addressing serious and violent offenses. The association, which represents the state's prosecutors, argued that releasing inmates convicted of the bloodiest crimes would pose a real threat to public safety and break promises to victims and their families. Some crimes are so heinous, and cause so much trauma, prosecutors said, that they essentially demand retributive justice.

Those negotiations in the legislature produced a series of reforms that softened sentences and changed parole requirements for minor and nonviolent crimes alone. The changes reduced Louisiana's prison population, but in doing so raised the percentage of inmates serving life sentences.

Other states and the federal government have similarly limited recent prison reform efforts to nonviolent offenses, but advocates now argue that truly addressing mass incarceration must include rethinking the American response to violent crime.

Leaders of the Louisiana Department of Corrections have also argued that keeping aging prisoners behind bars is both expensive and unnecessary, though officials failed to comment further for this story. Some have become vocal critics of Louisiana's most extreme sentencing practices, which often leave the state responsible for the medical treatment and burgeoning healthcare costs of geriatric inmates.

"Part of the challenge is getting the general public to endorse the idea of rehabilitation for violent convicted criminals," corrections department Executive Counsel Natalie LaBorde said during a seminar in Baton Rouge earlier this year. "It is not about absolving anyone of the consequences of crime. … But it is also not about making a decision based on a set moment in time and throwing away the key forever."...

Louisiana hasn't always pursued such harsh sentencing laws despite the current rhetoric surrounding crime and punishment in the Pelican State. For five decades starting in 1926, most people sentenced to life were released on parole after serving just 10 years and six months.

That started to change following the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the death penalty nationwide. Louisiana lawmakers responded to the ruling with new policies to keep former death row inmates behind bars longer, delaying parole eligibility for lifers — first to 20 years and then 40. Finally in 1979, the state legislature abolished parole for lifers entirely. 

While Louisiana stands out among other states, America itself is an outlier within the Western world for its use of both life without parole and the death penalty, according to a 2015 article in the Ohio State Law Journal. The author, a University of Mississippi law professor, also asserts a "worldwide consensus against the use of life without parole sentences."

I was not aware that extensions of prison terms in Louisiana were so directly linked to Supreme Court restrictions on the death penalty, but I suppose that story is not all that surprising and may well be a big part of the story in other jurisdictions.

December 13, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (5)

"Incapacitating Errors: Sentencing and the Science of Change"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Eve Hanan and recently posted to SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Despite widespread support for shifting sentencing policy from “tough on crime” to “smart on crime,” reflected in legislation like the federal First Step Act, the scope of criminal justice reform has been limited.  We continue to engage in practices that permanently incapacitate people while carving out only limited niches of sentencing reform for special groups like first-time nonviolent offenders and adolescents.  We cannot, however, be “smart on crime” without a theory of punishment that supports second chances for the broadest range of people convicted of crimes.

This Article posits that the cultural belief that adults do not change poses a major impediment to “smart on crime” policies.  Current sentencing policies focus on long-term incapacitation of adults with criminal records because of our folk belief that adult personality traits are immutable.  Whereas adolescents are expected to mature over time, and thus can rarely be determined to require permanent incapacitation, adults lack the benefit of the presumption of change.

Standing in contrast to our folk belief that adults do not change is a growing body of neuroscientific and psychological literature that this Article refers to as, “the science of adult change,” which demonstrates that adult brains change in response to environmental prompts and experience.

The science of adult change has powerful implications for punishment theory and practice. In its broadest sense, the science of adult change supports an empirically grounded, normative claim that sentencing should not attempt to identify the true criminal to permanently exclude.  Rather, sentencing policy should engage in only modest predictions about future behavior.  The presumption of reintegration as a full member of society should be the norm.  Moreover, because adult change occurs in response to environmental stimuli, the science of adult change supports both public accountability for the conditions of confinement and, ultimately, a challenge to incarceration as our primary means of responding to social harm.

December 13, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Reviewing two notable SCOTUS sentencing oral arguments finishing up the 2019 calendar

I flagged here a few days ago the SCOTUSblog argument previews before SCOTUS talked to counsel Tuesday in Holguin-Hernandez v. U.S.No. 18-7739 and Wednesday in McKinney v. ArizonaNo. 18-1109.  The SCOTUSblog folks now have posted reviews of both the arguments, and here are links and their starts:

"Argument analysis: Court likely to rule that a defendant preserves appellate challenge to length of sentence merely by arguing for lower one, but precise wording of opinion will be important" by Rory Little:

Justice Byron White, who as a retired justice hired a law clerk named Neil Gorsuch, once wrote that “a prime function of this Court’s certiorari jurisdiction [is] to resolve” conflicts between the federal circuits.  Yesterday the court heard argument in Holguin-Hernandez v. United States to review a sentencing rule of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that is out of step with nine other circuits. The argument was unusually brief, just over 45 minutes, and the transcript reads as somewhat desultory.  It seems clear that the 5th Circuit will be reversed; indeed, one can wonder why the court even bothered with briefing and argument (but see below).  A need to fill the argument calendar?  Or perhaps Gorsuch, who asked no questions, is imbued with White’s circuit-split-correction spirit.  In any case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked the only really difficult question: “How do we write this opinion?” in order to offer the doctrinal “clarity” that the solicitor general has requested.

"Argument analysis: Justices debate impact of 'do-over' in capital case" by Amy Howe:

[On Wednesday] the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of James McKinney, who was sentenced to death for two murders in 1991.  After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit threw out McKinney’s death sentence four years ago, the Arizona Supreme Court reinstated it.  The state court first rejected McKinney’s argument that a jury, rather than a judge, should resentence him. It then concluded that the mitigating evidence — that is, the evidence why McKinney should not receive the death penalty — was not “sufficiently substantial” to warrant a lesser sentence.  Although it wasn’t entirely clear, after an hour of debate ..., McKinney appeared to face an uphill battle in convincing the justices to overturn the Arizona Supreme Court’s most recent ruling.

With the holiday season upon us, the Supreme Court now does not have any other oral arguments scheduled for a full month. When the Court is back to hearing arguments in January 2020, it will have on its calendar a notable white-collar crime case in Kelly v. US (January 14) and yet another of the never-ending ACCA cases with Shular v. US (January 21).

December 13, 2019 in Booker in the Circuits, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 12, 2019

Prison Policy Initiative releases "Winnable criminal justice reforms" providing a "briefing on promising state reform issues for 2020"

The folks at Prison Policy Initiative have released this new eight-page report setting forth "24 high-impact policy ideas for state legislators looking to reform their criminal justice systems."  This PPI webpage provides this overview of what you can find in the full report:

State legislatures can determine the future of mass incarceration. That’s why we just published — as we do every December — a report on 20+ winnable criminal justice reforms that state legislators can take on.

We publish this report as a PDF with links to more information and model bills, and we’ll soon send it to state legislators across the country. This year, our list of reforms ripe for legislative victory includes:

  • Eliminating probation fees and regulating privatized probation services
  • Banning Departments of Corrections taking kickbacks from prison retailers
  • Decreasing state incarceration rates by reducing jail populations
  • Repealing ineffective and harmful “sentencing enhancement” zones
  • Offering medication-assisted opioid treatment to reduce deaths in prison
  • Protecting in-person visits and letters from home in local jails
  • Ending automatic driver’s license suspensions for nonpayment of fines and fees, and for drug offenses unrelated to driving
  • Capping maximum probation terms
  • Reducing or eliminating jail time for technical violations
  • Reducing barriers to housing for formerly incarcerated people

Our full report on winnable criminal justice reforms includes more ideas for reducing state prison populations, eliminating burdensome costs for incarcerated people, supporting people leaving prison, and promoting public health and community safety.

December 12, 2019 in Recommended reading, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Second Looks & Criminal Legislation"

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

This Essay explores the relationship between second look sentencing and retributive theory by focusing on the primary vehicle for authorizing and distributing punishment in most American jurisdictions: criminal legislation.  Looking beyond debates over the import of evolving norms to desert judgments, the Essay argues that the central retributive issue presented by post-conviction judicial sentencing reductions is whether the long-term punishments imposed by criminal courts live up to the proportionality standards of any time period. 

Using the District of Columbia’s criminal statutes as a case study, the Essay explains how three pervasive legislative flaws — statutory overbreadth, mandatory minima, and offense overlap — combine to support (and in some instances require) the imposition of extreme sentences upon actors of comparatively minimal culpability.  The Essay argues that this code-based sentencing reality, when viewed in light of structural forces driving prosecutorial and judicial decisionmaking, provides very strong reasons to doubt the systemic proportionality of the severe punishments meted out in the District, as well as in other jurisdictions that suffer from similar legislative and structural problems.  And it explains why this epistemic uncertainty offers a compelling reason to authorize courts to reevaluate (and in appropriate cases reduce) severe punishments through second look sentencing reform — both in the District of Columbia and beyond.

December 12, 2019 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 11, 2019

Texas completes last scheduled execution for 2019

As reported in this local article, a "Texas inmate was executed by lethal injection Wednesday evening for killing a supervisor at a state prison shoe factory in Amarillo nearly 17 years ago."  Here is more:

Travis Runnels, 46, was convicted of slashing the throat of 38-year-old Stanley Wiley on January 29, 2003. Runnels was the state’s final execution in 2019.

Runnels, belted to the death chamber gurney, responded “No” when the warden asked if he had a final statement.  As the lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital began, he smiled and mouthed words and a kiss toward three female friends and two of his attorneys who watched through a window a few feet from him.  Then he blurted out “Woof, woof!” just before taking four quick breaths and snoring four times before all movement stopped.

Runnels was pronounced dead at 7:26 p.m., 22 minutes after the drug began flowing into his arms, making him the 22nd inmate put to death this year in the U.S. and the ninth in Texas.

He never looked at the sister and brother-in-law of his victim, who watched through a window in an adjacent witness room.  Outside the Huntsville Unit prison, several hundred Texas corrections officers stood in formation, and Wiley’s sister, Margaret Robertson, hugged or shook the hands of many of them as she and her husband left the prison.

Prosecutors say Runnels killed Wiley at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Clements Unit because he didn’t like working as a janitor at the shoe factory.  They said Runnels had wanted to transfer to a job at the prison barber shop and was angry at Wiley because that hadn’t happened....

He had been serving a 70-year sentence for an aggravated robbery conviction from Dallas when he killed Wiley with a knife used to trim shoes.  The factory makes shoes for inmates in the state prison system.

Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down an appeal by Runnels’ attorneys, who said a prosecution witness at his 2005 trial provided false testimony and that no defense was presented because his lawyers advised him to plead guilty and called no witnesses....  Lower courts and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had also turned down Runnels’ attorneys’ requests to stop his execution.

Four inmates who were convicted in the deaths of state correctional officers or other prison employees have been put to death since 1974, while three others remain on death row, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

With only 22 total executions in the US, the year 2019 marks the third lowest total number of executions in a year in the last three decades. (There were only 20 executions in 2016 and only 14 in 1991.)

Also, as we close out the third year of the Trump administration, we have now had a total of only 70 executions in the United States. In comparison, the first three years of Prez Clinton's first term saw 125 executions; the first three years of Prez GW Bush's first term had 202 executions; the first three years of Prez Obama's first term saw 141 executions.

December 11, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Eighth Circuit panel explains the reach of FIRST STEP Act retroactivity eligibility

A helpful readers made sure I did not miss the helpful opinion from an Eighth Circuit panel today in US v. McDonald, No. 19-1221 (8th Cir. Dec. 11, 2019) (available here) concerning the retroactivity provision of the FIRST STEP Act.  I have not consistently kept up with this part of FIRST STEP jurisprudence, but I am consistently pleased when a circuit opinion seeks to bring simple clarity to a complicated issue.  So, here are a few paragraphs from ole McDonald:   

McDonald’s Count 39 conviction is a “covered offense” under § 404 of the First Step Act because (1) it is a violation of a federal statute; (2) the statutory penalties for which were modified by section 2 or 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act; and (3) it was committed before August 3, 2010.  Consequently, McDonald is eligible for a sentence reduction on Count 39: the district court may “impose a reduced sentence as if sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act . . . were in effect at the time of the covered offense was committed.”  First Step Act § 404(b). 

It is true, as the district court noted, that McDonald’s base offense level under the Sentencing Guidelines was based on more than 150 kilograms of powder cocaine, not cocaine base.  But this Guidelines calculation does not change the fact that he was convicted on Count 39 for distributing cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii) (1996). The First Step Act applies to offenses, not conduct, see First Step Act § 404(a), and it is McDonald’s statute of conviction that determines his eligibility for relief, see, e.g., United States v. Beamus, No. 19-5533, 2019 WL 6207955, at *3 (6th Cir. Nov. 21, 2019); United States v. Wirsing, No. 19-6381, 2019 WL 6139017, at *9 (4th Cir. Nov. 20, 2019).

The government does not argue that McDonald did not commit a “covered offense.”  Instead, it contends the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying McDonald’s motion because it had already reduced his sentence in 2016.  But the fact that McDonald received a sentence reduction based on a retroactive Guidelines Amendment does not affect his eligibility for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act.  A court considering a motion for a reduced sentence under § 404 of the First Step Act proceeds in two steps.  First, the court must decide whether the defendant is eligible for relief under § 404. Second, if the defendant is eligible, the court must decide, in its discretion, whether to grant a reduction.  That the court might properly deny relief at the discretionary second step does not remedy any error in determining ineligibility at the first step....

Because McDonald is eligible for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act, we remand for the district court to exercise its discretion whether to grant relief.

December 11, 2019 in Drug Offense Sentencing, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sentencing recommendation for Rick Gates highlights what a difference a guilty plea and lots of cooperation can make

All federal practitioners know, and all federal defendants should know, that what a defendant actually did can often matter a lot less in the sentencing process than whether that defendant pleads guilty and cooperates with authorities.  The latest reminder of this reality comes from the upcoming sentencing of Rick Gates, who was indicted two years ago in a 31-page indictment of  available via this link in which he was portrayed as a "partner in crime" with Paul Manafort. 

Manafort, of course, fought the charges and after being found guilty (on less than half of the charges given to the jury), federal prosecutors calculated his applicable guideline range as nearly 20 to 25 years in prison and seemed to argue that Manafort deserved a 20-year prison term for his criminal behaviors.  (Matters get complicated thereafter because Manafort pleaded guilty to another set of charges and he ultimately received 7.5 years in total imprisonment after two sentencings.) 

Gates, in telling contrast, decided to plead guilty and cooperate with authorities.  Doing so contributed to a guideline calculation setting this advisory Guidelines range at 46 to 57 months of imprisonment.  And, as this Politico article highlights, it has now also led the federal prosecutors not to oppose Gates' request for a sentence of probation and no fine in this 19-page sentencing memo.  Here is part of the Politico piece providing highlights:

Rick Gates should be rewarded with probation after serving as a critical high-profile government witness whose testimony helped net convictions against two of President Donald Trump’s campaign aides, the Justice Department and an attorney for the former Trump deputy campaign chairman said in a pair of new court filings.

Gates — who pleaded guilty in February 2018 to financial fraud and lying to investigators — quickly became a fountain of information for Robert Mueller’s investigators, eventually testifying against both former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, Trump’s long-time political whisperer.

The 47-year-old GOP operative spent more than 500 hours with federal and state prosecutors, both before and after he officially flipped on Trump and his allies. He also responded to three congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony. Gates’ voice dominates the final Mueller report, as he recounts details about how Trump and his 2016 campaign coordinated and planned for the release of stolen Democratic emails at critical moments of the White House race.

In a filing Monday, Gates’ attorney pleaded with U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson to give his client probation and impose no fines when she sentences him Dec. 17. “We believe that the parties are in agreement that Mr. Gates has fulfilled every obligation he agreed to (and then some) and that he has devoted enormous energy and commitment to this task while telling the truth and maintaining his composure,” wrote Gates’ attorney, Tom Green.

Federal prosecutors — who inherited the Gates case from Mueller — said in a filing Tuesday that they wouldn’t oppose the request for probation. The former Trump deputy had “provided the government with extraordinary assistance,” wrote Molly Gaston, an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington D.C.  That included 50 meetings with investigators, during which Gates provided “truthful information” to Mueller and several other DOJ offices, as well as a vow to testify in any ongoing cases.  "Gates’ cooperation has been steadfast despite the fact that the government has asked for his assistance in high-profile matters, against powerful individuals, in the midst of a particularly turbulent environment," Gaston added.

Without elaborating, Gaston also said Gates had "received pressure not to cooperate with the government, including assurances of monetary assistance."  Gates has already helped the government at several high-profile moments.  In August 2018, he incriminated Manafort from the witness stand in several crimes, including multimillion-dollar tax evasion, bank fraud and hiding offshore accounts.  A jury later convicted Manafort, who is now serving a 7 1/2-year prison sentence. Gates also appeared last month as a star witness in the trial against Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks in the 2016 presidential race.

For so many reasons, the crimes and subsequent behaviors of Manafort and Gates are unique in many ways.  But federal practitioners know well that it is actually quite common for one defendant who goes to trial to be facing a prosecutorial recommendation of decades in prison while a cooperating co-defendant involved in comparable criminal behavior receives a recommendation for only probation.

December 11, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Collateral Consequences Resource Center produces "Model Law on Non-Conviction Records"

I am please to see via this posting that the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC) has now officially published an important new model law on a topic that I suspect even many criminal justice actors do not realize is a big problem.  Specifically, CCRC has now produced a "Model Law on Non-Conviction Records," and the posting helps explain the background and why this is so timely and valuable:

An advisory group drawn from across the criminal justice system has completed work on a model law that recommends automatic expungement of most arrests and charges that do not result in conviction.  Margaret Love and David Schlussel of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center served as reporters for the model law.  It is available in PDF and HTML formats.

“Many people may not realize how even cases that terminate in a person’s favor lead to lost opportunities and discrimination,” says Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and one of the advisors of the model law project.  “Over the years, my legal aid program has seen thousands of cases where non-convictions cost people jobs.”

In proposing broad restrictions on access to and use of non-conviction records, the project aims to contribute to conversations underway in legislatures across the country about how to improve opportunities for people with a criminal record.  Already in 2019, states have enacted more than 130 new laws addressing the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction.  The group regards its model as the first step in a broader law reform initiative that will address conviction records as well.

Law enforcement officials make over 10 million arrests each year, a substantial percentage of which do not lead to charges or conviction.  Records of these arrests have become widely available as a result of digitized records systems and a new commerce in background screening and data aggregation.  These checks often turn up an “open” arrest or charges without any final disposition, which may seem to an employer or landlord more ominous than a closed case.

Very few states have taken steps to deal with the high percentage of records in repositories and court systems with no final disposition indicated.  Paul McDonnell, Deputy Counsel for New York’s Office of Court Administration and a project advisor, noted: “Criminal records that include no final disposition make it appear to the untrained eye that an individual has an open, pending case, which can have serious results for that person. New York has recently made legislative progress in addressing this problem, though more can be done.”

Current state and federal laws restricting access to and use of non-conviction records have limited application and are hard to enforce.  Eligibility criteria tend to be either unclear or restrictive, and petition-based procedures tend to be burdensome, expensive, and intimidating.  In recent years, lawmakers and reform advocates have expressed a growing interest in curbing the widespread dissemination and use of non-convictions, leading some states to simplify and broaden eligibility for relief, reduce procedural and financial barriers to access, and in a handful of states to make relief automatic.

Rep. Mike Weissman, a Colorado State Representative and model law project advisor, noted that Colorado has recently overhauled its laws on criminal records with broad bipartisan support.  “It is heartening to see similar reforms underway in other states, both red and blue, as well.  I commend the practitioners and researchers who helped formulate the model law for illustrating avenues for further progress in reducing collateral consequences.”

The model law would take this wave of criminal record reforms to a new level.  It recommends that expungement be immediate and automatic where all charges are terminated in favor of an accused.  Uncharged arrests should also be automatically expunged after a brief waiting period, as should dismissed or acquitted charges in cases where other charges result in conviction.  Cases that indicate no final disposition should also be expunged, unless there is indication that they are in fact pending.

The model law also recommends that expunged non-conviction records should not be used against a person in a range of criminal justice decisions, including by law enforcement agencies.  It would prohibit commercial providers of criminal background checks from disseminating expunged and dated non-conviction records, and civil decision-makers from considering them....

The Collateral Consequences Resource Center organized this model law project.  An early draft of the model law was discussed at an August 2019 Roundtable conference at the University of Michigan that was supported by the Charles Koch Foundation.  The model law report was supported by Arnold Ventures.

December 11, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Missing Link: Jail and Prison Conditions in Criminal Justice Reform"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Andrea Armstrong now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

At any given moment in the United States, approximately 2.3 million people are behind bars, at least a quarter of whom have not been convicted of a crime.  Louisiana was second in the nation — and the world — in incarceration rates in 2018, but it is last nationwide in other relevant rankings: health care, infant mortality, economy, education, and infrastructure.  Louisiana only lost its title of “Incarceration Capital of the World” to Oklahoma following bipartisan state legislation enacted in 2017, which lowered our per capita incarceration rate.  Louisiana still far outpaces the nation, incarcerating 712 people per 100,000, compared to a national average of 450 people per 100,000.

The goal of this article is simple: to connect the dots between conditions in jails and prisons and broader criminal justice reform efforts.  This Article looks at conditions in Louisiana jails and prisons, examines recent reforms, and draws from other states and national data to establish broader trends.  It discusses recent criminal justice reform efforts, summarizes some of the key features of prison and jail conditions, with particular attention to how these conditions impact both the people incarcerated and their broader communities, and recommends several strategies to improve prisons and jails based on the relationships between their conditions and existing criminal justice reforms.

December 11, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 10, 2019

"Guiding Presidential Clemency Decision-making"

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

The Article II Pardon Clause grants the president authority to grant clemency to any offender for any reason he deems justified.  The clause contains only two limitations. The president cannot excuse someone from responsibility for a state offense, nor can he prevent Congress from impeaching and removing a federal official.  Otherwise, the president’s authority is exclusive and plenary.  It is, perhaps, the only surviving aspect of the royal prerogatives.

What the clause does not do is give the president a standard, a guideline, or a decision tree for making clemency decisions.  Presidents have used that power for legitimate, traditionally accepted reasons, such as freeing someone who was wrongfully convicted, who is suffering under an unduly onerous punishment, or who has atoned for his crimes and turned his life around.  Nevertheless, neither the president nor the Department of Justice Pardon Attorney, who is responsible for managing the government’s clemency process, has devised a standard for the president to use when making clemency decisions.  The Pardon Attorney has compiled a list of relevant factors, but has not identified which ones are necessary and sufficient, nor has that official assigned those factors an ordinal relationship or different weights.  The result is that a president is left to act like a chancellor in equity by relying on his subjective assessment of the “the totality of the circumstances.”

This Article discusses the need to make pardon and commutation decisions in a reasonable, orderly manner that would systematize and regularize the Pardon Attorney’s recommendation process and the president’s decision-making. An objective approach would help the president make decisions consistent with longstanding rationales for punishment.  The hope is that, in so doing, the president will be able act justly as well as to persuade the public that the federal clemency system is open to all, not merely to the president’s financial or political allies, cronies, supporters, or people he knows.  At one time, presidential clemency was a way to wipe the slate clean and give the average person a second chance.  It no longer serves that role.  Clemency is a subject where we should turn back the clock.

December 10, 2019 in Clemency and Pardons, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 9, 2019

Two notable SCOTUS sentencing arguments to finish up 2019

In this post last week I flagged the criminal cases on the Supreme Court's argument schedule for this month.  The next two days close with a sentencing bang with arguments scheduled for Tuesday in Holguin-Hernandez v. U.S.No. 18-7739 and for Wednesday in McKinney v. ArizonaNo. 18-1109.  The SCOTUSblog folks have great previews of these cases, and here are links and their starts: 

"Argument preview: What arguments are preserved, and how, in federal sentencing appeals?" by Rory Little:

When a federal criminal defendant has already requested a lower sentence than the judge ultimately imposes, must that defendant again note an objection after the sentence is announced, to preserve anything other than “plain error” appellate review?  The general doctrine that a failure to object can forfeit an appellate claim is well-established.  Thus Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b) provides that an “error … not brought to the [trial] court’s attention” may be reviewed only for “plain error.”  On the other hand, Rule 51(b) explains that “[a] party may preserve a claim of error by informing the court — when the court ruling is made or sought — of the action the party wishes the court to take.”

Tuesday the justices will hear argument in Holguin-Hernandez v. United States to resolve a circuit split about how these two rules play out in federal sentencing proceedings.  It is an unusual case because the solicitor general has conceded that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit erred, so the court has appointed an amicus to argue in support of the judgment.

"Argument preview: Justices to take on procedural – but important – questions in case of Arizona death-row inmate" by Amy Howe:

It has been nearly 30 years since James McKinney and his half-brother killed two people while robbing the victims at their homes.  A judge in Arizona sentenced McKinney to death, but in 2015 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit threw out McKinney’s death sentence.  On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the dispute between McKinney and the state over how his case should proceed.

McKinney was convicted by a jury for the 1991 murders of Christine Mertens and Jim McClain, but he was sentenced to death by a judge.  Although McKinney’s lawyers offered evidence that McKinney suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the horrific abuse that he experienced as a child, the judge did not take that evidence into account when making his decision, because the law in effect at the time barred him from considering mitigating evidence that was not linked to the cause of the crime.

The Arizona Supreme Court upheld McKinney’s sentence, but in 2015 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the sentencing judge and the Arizona Supreme Court should have considered the evidence of McKinney’s PTSD, as required by Supreme Court’s 1982 decision in Eddings v. Oklahoma, in which the justices ruled that a sentencer in a capital case cannot decline to consider relevant mitigating evidence.

After the 9th Circuit’s decision, Arizona asked the Arizona Supreme Court to fix the error that the 9th Circuit had identified by reviewing McKinney’s death sentence again.  The state supreme court rejected McKinney’s argument that the Supreme Court’s recent cases required a jury, rather than a judge, to resentence him.  And it upheld McKinney’s death sentence, concluding that the mitigating circumstances in his case were not “sufficiently substantial” to warrant a lesser sentence.  McKinney asked the justices to weigh in on that ruling, which they agreed to do earlier this year.

There are two questions before the justices.  The first is whether the Arizona Supreme Court was required to apply current law — rather than the law that was in effect when McKinney’s conviction became final in 1996 — when weighing the mitigating and aggravating evidence to determine whether a death sentence was warranted.... The second question before the justices is whether, regardless of whether he is resentenced under the law in effect in 1996 or the law in effect now, McKinney is entitled to a new sentencing in the trial court, rather than the Arizona Supreme Court.

December 9, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Lots worth reading at Law360 "Access to Justice" section

I am not quite sure when I started subscribing to Law360's  "Access to Justice" section, but I am quite sure that a lot of recent content in the section should be of great interest to sentencing fans.  Here are just some of the recent headlines and stories that caught my eye in no particular order:

"‘Scot-Free’: What Happens When Prosecutors Behave Badly"

"Time To Rethink License Suspensions Without Due Notice"

"Changing The Way We Dialogue About Justice Reform"

"As Parole Drives Incarceration, Can NY’s Bar Spur Reforms?"

"Appearances Matter If Jurists Want To Talk Justice Reform"

"Book Review: Who's To Blame For The Broken Legal System?"

December 9, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Recommended reading, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Problem of Problem-Solving Courts"

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

The creation of a specialized, “problem-solving” court is a ubiquitous response to the issues that plague our criminal legal system.  The courts promise to address the factors believed to lead to repeated interactions with the system, such as addiction or mental illness, thereby reducing recidivism and saving money.  And they do so effectively — at least according to their many proponents, who celebrate them as an example of a successful “evidence-based,” data-driven reform.  But the actual data on their efficacy is underwhelming, inconclusive, or altogether lacking.  So why do they persist?

This Article seeks to answer that question by scrutinizing the role of judges in creating and sustaining the problem-solving court movement.  It contends problem-solving courts do effectively address a problem — it is just not the one we think.  It argues that these courts revive a sense of purpose and authority for judges in an era marked by diminishing judicial power.  Moreover, it demonstrates that the courts have developed and proliferated relatively free from objective oversight.  Together, these new insights help explain why the problem-solving court model endures.  They also reveal a new problem with the model itself — its entrenchment creates resistance to alternatives that might truly reform the system.

December 9, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Third Circuit panel finds error where district court "improperly relied on [defendant's] bare arrest record in determining his sentence"

I just saw the Third Circuit panel ruling from late last week in US v. Mitchell, No. 17-1095 (3d Cir. Dec. 5, 2019) (available here), which makes a strong statement against the reliance on an arrest record at sentencing.  Here is how the opinion starts and key passages thereafter:

A jury found Tyrone Mitchell guilty of seventeen drug distribution and firearms offenses.  Mitchell appeals his judgment of conviction and sentence of 1,020 months’ imprisonment, raising eight arguments nearly all of which are unavailing.  We do, however, agree with Mitchell as to one sentencing-related argument — that the District Court plainly erred by relying on Mitchell’s bare arrest record to determine his sentence.  We therefore affirm Mitchell’s judgment of conviction, vacate the judgment of sentence, and remand for resentencing....

Under the Due Process Clause, “[a] defendant cannot be deprived of liberty based upon mere speculation.”  Accordingly, in determining a sentence, although a court can mention a defendant’s record of prior arrests that did not lead to conviction, it cannot rely on such a record.  As we recognized in United States v. Berry, “a bare arrest record — without more — does not justify an assumption that a defendant has committed other crimes.”...

Contrary to the Government’s assertions, Mitchell did not just demonstrate that the District Court “noticed that he had a number of arrests that did not result in convictions.”  To the contrary, Mitchell has “bridge[d] the gap between reference and reliance,” and has thus shown plain error.  Looking at the record below in its entirety, we conclude that the District Court improperly relied on Mitchell’s bare arrest record in determining his sentence.  For example, the Court interrupted the prosecutor to highlight Mitchell’s arrests and later recited all 18 of Mitchell’s arrests.  The Court also explicitly referred to Mitchell’s arrests when describing his “long and serious” criminal record and identified Mitchell’s “extensive criminal history” as the sole justification for his sentence.  Resentencing is therefore required.

December 9, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Justice Sotomayor continues her practice of issuing statements on denials of certiorari in criminal cases

The Supreme Court this morning issued this order list this morning. The Court denied certiorari in a long list of cases, but two of those denials prompted short statements respecting the denial of certiorari. Here are the cases with the concluding paragraphs from these short statements:

Concerning the denial of cert in Schexnayder v. Vannoy, No. 18-8341, Justice Sotomayor stated, inter alia:

Petitioner, who was pro se during various stages of the lower court proceedings, did not clearly set forth his claim that he was entitled to habeas review without AEDPA deference when he sought a certificate of appealability from the District Court and, later, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals was not fairly presented with the opportunity to resolve the issue that petitioner now presents to this Court. For this reason, I do not dissent from this Court’s denial of certiorari. The re-review procedure adopted by the Louisiana courts, however, raises serious due process concerns.  I expect that lower federal courts will examine the issue of what deference is due to these decisions when it is properly raised.

Concerning the denial of cert in Cottier v. United States, No. 18-9261, Justice Sotomayor stated, inter alia:

On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit observed that the court in which Cottier was prosecuted “routinely” sends unredacted factual-basis statements into the jury room.  908 F.3d 1141, 1149 (2018).  I agree with the Eighth Circuit that this practice is “troubling.” Ibid.  By presenting the jury with a factual-basis statement signed by the Government, the prosecution improperly expresses its “‘personal belief ’” in the truth of the witness’ statements — a stamp of approval, an assurance from the Government itself, that the witness is to be believed.  United States v. Young, 470 U.S. 1, 7–8 (1985).  In this case, however, Cottier’s attorney did not object to the statements’ admission and used them as part of Cottier’s defense.  For that reason and others expressed by the Eighth Circuit in affirming Cottier’s convictions, I do not dissent from the denial of certiorari but instead echo its admonition that the admission of such statements “is not a favored practice.” 908 F.3d, at 1149.

December 9, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 8, 2019

"From Warfare to Welfare: Reconceptualizing Drug Sentencing During the Opioid Crisis"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Jelani Jefferson Exum now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

The War on Drugs officially began in 1971 when President Nixon decried drug abuse as “public enemy number one.”  The goal of the war rhetoric was clear — to cast drug abuse and the drug offender as dangerous adversaries of the law-abiding public, requiring military-like tactics to defeat.  Criminal sentencing would come to be the main weapon used in this pressing combat.  In continuation of the war efforts, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was passed under President Reagan, establishing a weight-based, and highly punitive, mandatory minimum sentencing approach to drug offenses that has persisted in some form for the last thirty years.  When the Act passed, crack cocaine was touted as the greatest drug threat, and crack cocaine offenders — the vast majority of whom were Black — were subjected to the harshest mandatory minimum penalties.  Like any war, the consequences of the War on Drugs has had widespread casualties, including (but not limited to) the devastation of many communities, families, and individuals; the increase in racial disparities in punishment; and fiscal catastrophe in penal systems across the country.  What the War on Drugs has not done is eradicate drug abuse in the United States.  And now, nearly fifty years after drugs became our national enemy, we have a new face of drug crime — the opioid addict.

The current Administration has recognized that “[d]rug addiction and opioid abuse are ravaging America.”  However, rather than ramping up punishment for opioid offenders through lengthier drug sentencing, in October 2017 the opioid crisis officially became a Public Health Emergency under federal law.  And while it is largely understood that this was mostly a symbolic statement with little practical effect, the rhetoric is markedly different than it was during the purported crack epidemic of the 1980s. Rather than drug offenders being the enemy, the opioid addict has been cast as the American Everyman, and the opioid addiction problem has become known as the “crisis next door” that “can affect any American, from all-state football captains to stay-at-home mothers.”

Now that the drug emergency is portrayed as destroying wholesome American communities — as opposed to poor, crime-ridden communities of color — the tone has changed from punishment toward treatment and rehabilitation.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has described opioid misuse and addiction as “a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.”  While we are in the midst of this shift in messaging about drug addiction, it is an ideal time for drug sentencing as a whole to be reconceptualized from use as a weapon — designed to destroy — to having a public welfare agenda.  To do this it requires recasting potential drug offenders as community members, rather than enemies.  This change in perspective and approach also necessitates understanding drug crime as undeterred by incarceration.  The tasks must be to decide on a goal of drug sentencing, and to develop multifaceted approaches to address and eradicate the underlying sources of the drug problem.  When this is done, we may find that more appropriate purposes of punishment — rehabilitation and retribution — compel us to think beyond incarceration, and certainly mandatory minimum sentencing laws, as the appropriate punishment type at all.

December 8, 2019 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)