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March 2, 2019

Spotlighting the role of prosecutors as the death penalty fades away in Pennsylvania

Mc-1551374127-s7rtr2h4xf-snap-imageThis lengthy local article, headlined "Death penalty has fallen out of favor with Pennsylvania prosecutors," reports on the steady decline in capital prosecutions and death sentences in the Keystone state in recent decades. Here are excerpts:

Pennsylvania’s death penalty is, by all accounts, embattled.  There hasn’t been an execution in two decades, even before Gov. Tom Wolf imposed a moratorium on them in 2015. The courts have long scrutinized death sentences, throwing out scores of them at appeal.  And juries have become more hesitant to impose the state’s ultimate punishment.  A long-awaited legislative study recently called for a host of reforms.

But a surprising factor is quietly contributing to the death penalty’s decline in Pennsylvania: Prosecutors are increasingly reluctant to pursue capital murder charges, given the high financial cost and lengthy legal battles they guarantee, and the improbability the sentences will ultimately be carried out.

In 2004, 40 percent of murder convictions in Pennsylvania started as death-penalty cases, according to a review of state data by The Morning Call.  By 2017, that number had dropped more than threefold, to 12 percent of murder convictions, the lowest rate in 14 years....

The Morning Call’s figures offer a first accounting of the waning frequency with which the state’s 67 elected district attorneys pursue capital punishment, data that state government does not track.  For its analysis, the newspaper reviewed 4,184 murder convictions in Pennsylvania from 2004 to 2017, using docket sheets, appellate court records and local media accounts to determine whether they were ever listed as capital cases....

The findings showed that in 2004, there were 309 murder convictions statewide, of which 123 started as death-penalty prosecutions.  In 2017, there were 271 murder convictions, of which 33 saw the filing of capital charges.

The downward trend held generally year to year, though there were occasional bumps.  It was driven by Philadelphia, which has long dominated Pennsylvania’s death-penalty cases, but was also seen in the rest of the state, though some individual counties such as Bucks, Chester and Lancaster saw little or no change.  And the numbers should only fall further in the coming years, amid the tenure of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a self-described progressive who took office in 2018 vowing to never pursue the death penalty....

Death sentences are falling across the nation, said Robert Dunham, a former federal public defender in Pennsylvania who now heads the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit.  “Pennsylvania reflects that pattern,” Dunham said. “What we’re seeing is that prosecutors have realized these cases are likely to not result in a death sentence.”...

Amid that, the governor’s moratorium remains in effect, with little movement in the Legislature to take up capital punishment.  Wolf tied his decision to a Senate-commissioned report on the death penalty, a long-delayed study that was released in June after seven years of preparation.  The report offered a raft of potential reforms, including calls for a state-funded capital defender’s office, and more protections to prevent the execution of the mentally ill and intellectually disabled.

Wolf will continue blocking executions until the death penalty’s problems are corrected, said J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for the governor.  “He looks forward to working with the General Assembly on their plans to address the report and its recommendations for legislative changes, all of which he believes should be debated and considered,” Abbott said in a prepared statement.

Whether there is momentum to take up the death penalty — either to repeal it or to fix it with an eye to resuming executions — remains unclear.

State Rep. Rob Kauffman, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he is open to re-examining capital punishment, considering its cost to taxpayers and the lack of executions.  But he said it just isn’t a big topic in Harrisburg.  “There’s a lot that has been talked about regarding criminal justice reform, but this is not one of those front-burner issues,” said Kauffman, R-Franklin.

In the meantime, the number of inmates on death row continues to fall, as do the number of new death sentences.  In 2018, juries added only one killer to death row in Pennsylvania.

March 2, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Mitigations: The Forgotten Side of the Proportionality Principle"

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

In the first change to the Model Penal Code since its promulgation in 1962, the American Law Institute in 2017 set blameworthiness proportionality as the dominant distributive principle for criminal punishment.  Empirical studies suggest that this is in fact the principle that ordinary people use in assessing proper punishment.  Its adoption as the governing distributive principle makes good sense because it promotes not only the classic desert retributivism of moral philosophers but also crime-control utilitarianism, by enhancing the criminal law’s moral credibility with the community and thereby promoting deference, compliance, acquiescence, and internalization of its norms, rather than suffering the resistance and subversion that is provoked by perceived violations of blameworthiness proportionality.

Such a principle has been commonly used as the basis for criticizing improper aggravations, such as the doctrines of felony murder and “three strikes,” but the principle also logically requires recognizing a full range of deserved mitigations, not as a matter of grace or forgiveness but as a matter of entitlement.  And given ordinary people’s nuanced judgments about blameworthiness proportionality, maintaining moral credibility with the community requires that the criminal law adopt an equally nuanced system of mitigations.

Such a nuanced system ideally would include reform of a wide variety of current law doctrines as well as, especially in the absence of such specific reforms, adoption of a general mitigation provision that aims for blameworthiness proportionality in all cases.  Such a general mitigation ought not be limited to cases of “heat of passion” or limited to cases of murder, as today’s liability rules commonly provide.  It ought to be available whenever the offense circumstances and the offender’s situation and capacities meaningfully reduce the offender’s blameworthiness, as long as giving the mitigation does not specially undermine community norms.

March 2, 2019 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 1, 2019

"The Lingering Stench of Marijuana Prohibition: People with pot records continue to suffer, even in places where their crimes are no longer crimes."

The title of this post is the title of this great new article by Jacob Sullum at Reason. I recommend the article in full, as it goes through the expungement law of each state which has now fully legalized marijuana for adult use and tells stories of individuals still stuggling with the lingering impact of marijuana prohibition. Here is part of the start of the piece:

Franklin Roosevelt, who took office in the final year of Prohibition, issued some 1,300 pardons for alcohol-related offenses during his first three terms. As a 1939 report from the Justice Department explained, "pardon may be proper" in light of "changed public opinion after a period of severe penalties against certain conduct which is later looked upon as much less criminal, or as no crime at all." The report cited Prohibition as "a recent example."

That logic made sense to governors as well. When Indiana repealed its alcohol prohibition law in 1933, Gov. Paul McNutt (D) issued pardons or commutations to about 400 people who had been convicted of violating it. "If these men were kept in prison after the liquor law is repealed," he said, "they would be political prisoners."

Alcohol prohibition lasted 14 years. Marijuana prohibition has been with us almost six times as long. Police have arrested people for violating it about 20 million times in the last three decades alone. Many of those people were ultimately convicted of felonies that sent them to prison, although the vast majority were charged with simple possession and spent little or no time behind bars. Either way, marijuana offenders have had to contend with the lingering effects of a criminal record, which can shape people's lives long after they complete their sentences.

Depending on the jurisdiction and the classification of the offense, people who were caught violating marijuana laws may lose the right to vote, the right to own a gun, the right to drive a car (for up to a year), the right to live in the United States (for noncitizens), and the right to participate in a wide variety of professions that require state licenses. They may find it difficult to get a job, rent an apartment, obtain student loans, or travel to other countries. They may even be barred from coaching kids' sports teams or volunteering in public schools.

The employment consequences can be explicit, as with state laws that exclude people convicted of felonies from certain lines of work, or subtle, as with private businesses that avoid hiring people who have criminal records, possibly including arrests as well as convictions, because of liability concerns....

Such ancillary penalties seem especially unjust and irrational in the growing number of U.S. jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. In those places (which so far include 10 states, the District of Columbia, and the Northern Mariana Islands), people convicted under the old regime continue to suffer for actions that are no longer crimes.

California has gone furthest to address that problem. The state's 2016 legalization initiative authorized expungement of marijuana records, and a 2018 law will make that process easier. Demanding expungement as a remedy for injustice, activists in California emphasized the racially disproportionate impact of the war on weed: Black people are much more likely to have pot records than white people, even though they are only slightly more likely to be cannabis consumers.

Other states offer various forms of relief, ranging from generous to nearly nonexistent. All of them put the onus on prohibition's victims to seek the sealing or expungement of their criminal records, a process that can be complicated, expensive, and time-consuming....

People with marijuana records are looking for a way out in every state that has legalized recreational use, as the stories below show.

As some readers may recall, I wrote a paper last year on this topic under the title "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices".  I have also covered these issues a whole lot over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform, and here is just a small part of that coverage:

March 1, 2019 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 28, 2019

Texas completes execution of triple killer ... and his family gets arrested

This local article, headlined "Texas death row inmate's son arrested for outburst during father's execution," reports on an execution and its remarkable aftermath. Here are details:

Billie Wayne Coble's son pounded on the execution chamber windows, cursing and shouting "no" as he watched his father die. It was just after 6:20 p.m., and the 70-year-old triple killer was about to become the oldest Texan executed in the modern era of capital punishment.

The aging Vietnam veteran who murdered his in-laws in an apparent rash of vengeance offered a only a short final statement before he was pronounced dead, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "That will be five dollars," he said. "I love you, I love you, and I love you."...

But as soon as he finished speaking, the witness room erupted into chaos.  Gordon Coble started banging on the glass, and his son Dalton joined in the furor.  Both men — along with another relative — were removed from the room before the execution ended, and the two ended the night in the Walker County Jail, facing resisting arrest charges....

It was a dramatic and unexpected end to a decades-long saga. Back in the summer of 1989, Coble was distraught over the disintegration of his third marriage when he kidnapped his estranged wife and killed her parents and brother before attempting to kill himself.

But the Waco man, now 70, had no priors and, as he racked up years of good behavior in prison, his attorneys argued that a pair of experts for the state got it wrong at trial when they offered testimony claiming he'd be a future danger even behind bars....

This year, Coble's lawyer filed a plea for clemency.  "He is now 70 years old, in poor health, and has an almost blemish-free prison record for the past 30 years," attorney Richard Ellis wrote.  "His execution would serve no valid purpose."

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles turned his request down on Tuesday, leaving him with a final appeal in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.  In that claim, Coble's attorney argued that the Waco man's trial attorneys shouldn't have admitted his guilt because Coble asked them not to.  Last year, the same concern came up in a Louisiana case — and the high court sided with the condemned prisoner.  In Coble's case they did not....

Coble was the second man executed in Texas in 2019. There are five more executions on the calendar, including a June death date for Harris County killer Dexter Johnson.

February 28, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Clemency as the Soul of the Constitution"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Mark Osler in the latest issues of the Journal of Law & Politics.  Here is part of the piece's introduction:

In this essay, I will not call for the abolition or restriction of the Pardon Power, even as we struggle with the seeming unfairness of some recent grants of clemency.  Instead, I argue that we must embrace what the Pardon Power is, and recognize the true nature of this tool of mercy.  We don’t need to drive a stake through its heart.  Rather, it requires a more consistent and committed public attention than we have given it, which among other things should include a discussion of its use by those who seek the office of president.

Section II below will offer an overview of the more striking employments of the Pardon Power, with a focus on its uses and abuses by more recent presidents.  The controversial aspects of clemency often precisely track the controversial aspects of a president’s personality; that is one reason that we see a discontinuity not only in whether clemency is used or not, but in the way that its use reflects different values in different administrations.

Section III will then look backward at the Constitution’s soul and its roots.  Clemency drew on English precedents, but its core idea of mercy was woven into the culture of the time.  For example, it is a primary theme in Shakespeare’s The Tempest — and George Washington went to see The Tempest during the Constitutional Convention.   At that Constitutional Convention, the Pardon Clause was actively debated, and its final form survived a direct challenge that proposed the power be shared with the legislature.

Finally, Section IV will consider the arguments for and against maintaining the Pardon Power as an unalloyed tool of the president. In the end, the use of clemency has been a net good, in that the positive uses have outweighed the controversies.  The institution continues to connect us to the core value of mercy, maintains the intent of the Framers, and gives hope to those who are incarcerated.  This section closes by considering what we can do when we are dismayed by the exercise of clemency, as will happen when an action follows a conscience not our own.

February 28, 2019 in Clemency and Pardons, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Terrific new Yale Law Journal collection: "Critical Voices on Criminal Justice: Essays from Directly Affected Authors,"

The Yale Law Journal has this terrific new collection of papers under the banner "Critical Voices on Criminal Justice: Essays from Directly Affected Authors." Here is how the collection is introduced and titles with links:

People who have experienced incarceration have unique insights into the criminal system—insights that are often missing from legal scholarship and criminal justice policy. This Collection begins to bridge that gap.

Reginald Dwayne Betts, "What Break Do Children Deserve? Juveniles, Crime, and Justice Kennedy’s Influence on the Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment Jurisprudence"

Tarra Simmons, "Transcending the Stigma of a Criminal Record: A Proposal to Reform State Bar Character and Fitness Evaluations"

Andrea James, "Ending the Incarceration of Women and Girls"

Shon Hopwood, "The Effort to Reform the Federal Criminal Justice System"

February 28, 2019 in Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 27, 2019

SCOTUS, ruling 6-3, refuses to let appeal waivers impact ineffectiveness claims when attorney improperly fails to appeal

The Supreme Court this morning handed down an opinion in Garza v. Idaho, No. 17-1026 (S. Ct. Feb. 27, 2019) (available here), a case concerning the distinctive Sixth Amendment jurisprudence addressing whether defense counsel has been constitutionally deficient when failing to appeal upon a defendant's instructions.  The ruling in the case is 6-3, with Justice Sotomayor delivering the opinion of the Court, which was joined by the Chief Justice as well as Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Kavanaugh.  Here is how the opinion gets started:

In Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470 (2000), this Court held that when an attorney’s deficient performance costs a defendant an appeal that the defendant would have otherwise pursued, prejudice to the defendant should be presumed “with no further showing from the defendant of the merits of his underlying claims.” Id., at 484. This case asks whether that rule applies even when the defendant has, in the course of pleading guilty, signed what is often called an “appeal waiver” — that is, an agreement forgoing certain, but not all, possible appellate claims. We hold that the presumption of prejudice recognized in Flores-Ortega applies regardless of whether the defendant has signed an appeal waiver.

Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, which Justices Gorsuch joined in full and Justice Alito joined in part. (The last part of the dissent reviews originalist approaches to the Sixth Amendment, and only Justice Gorsuch joined that part). The dissent starts this way:

Petitioner Gilberto Garza avoided a potential life sentence by negotiating with the State of Idaho for reduced charges and a 10-year sentence. In exchange, Garza waived several constitutional and statutory rights, including “his right to appeal.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 44a, 49a.  Despite this express waiver, Garza asked his attorney to challenge on appeal the very sentence for which he had bargained.  Garza’s counsel quite reasonably declined to file an appeal for that purpose, recognizing that his client had waived this right and that filing an appeal would potentially jeopardize his plea bargain. Yet, the majority finds Garza’s counsel constitutionally ineffective, holding that an attorney’s performance is per se deficient and per se prejudicial any time the attorney declines a criminal defendant’s request to appeal an issue that the defendant has waived.  In effect, this results in a “defendant-always-wins” rule that has no basis in Roe v. Flores-Ortega, 528 U.S. 470 (2000), or our other ineffective-assistance precedents, and certainly no basis in the original meaning of the Sixth Amendment. I respectfully dissent.

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

SCOTUS, ruling 5-3, clarifies execution competency standards and remands in Madison v. Alabama

The Supreme Court this morning handed down an opinion in Madison v. Alabama, 17-7505 (S. Ct. Feb. 27, 2019) (available here), a case concerning the distinctive Eighth Amendment jurisprudence addressing whether a defendant is competent to be executed.  The ruling in the case is 5-3, as Justice Kavanaugh had not yet joined the Court at the time the case was argued.  Justice Kagan delivered the opinion of the Court, which was joined by the Chief Justice as well as Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor.  Here is how the opinion gets started:

The Eighth Amendment, this Court has held, prohibits the execution of a prisoner whose mental illness prevents him from “rational[ly] understanding” why the State seeks to impose that punishment. Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930, 959 (2007). In this case, Vernon Madison argued that his memory loss and dementia entitled him to a stay of execution, but an Alabama court denied the relief.  We now address two questions relating to the Eighth Amendment’s bar, disputed below but not in this Court.  First, does the Eighth Amendment forbid execution whenever a prisoner shows that a mental disorder has left him without any memory of committing his crime?  We (and, now, the parties) think not, because a person lacking such a memory may still be able to form a rational understanding of the reasons for his death sentence. Second, does the Eighth Amendment apply similarly to a prisoner suffering from dementia as to one experiencing psychotic delusions?  We (and, now, the parties) think so, because either condition may — or, then again, may not — impede the requisite comprehension of his punishment.  The only issue left, on which the parties still disagree, is what those rulings mean for Madison’s own execution.  We direct that issue to the state court for further consideration in light of this opinion.

Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion, which Justices Thomas and Gorsuch joined, and starts with these pointed passages:

What the Court has done in this case makes a mockery of our Rules.

Petitioner’s counsel convinced the Court to stay his client’s execution and to grant his petition for a writ of certiorari for the purpose of deciding a clear-cut constitutional question: Does the Eighth Amendment prohibit the execution of a murderer who cannot recall committing the murder for which the death sentence was imposed? The petition strenuously argued that executing such a person is unconstitutional.

After persuading the Court to grant review of this question, counsel abruptly changed course. Perhaps because he concluded (correctly) that petitioner was unlikely to prevail on the question raised in the petition, he conceded that the argument advanced in his petition was wrong, and he switched to an entirely different argument, namely, that the state court had rejected petitioner’s claim that he is incompetent to be executed because the court erroneously thought that dementia, as opposed to other mental conditions, cannot provide a basis for such a claim.  See Brief for Petitioner 16.

This was not a question that the Court agreed to hear; indeed, there is no mention whatsoever of this argument in the petition — not even a hint. Nor is this question fairly included within those on which the Court granted review.  On the contrary, it is an entirely discrete and independent question.

Counsel’s tactics flagrantly flouted our Rules.  Our Rules make it clear that we grant certiorari to decide the specific question or questions of law set out in a petition for certiorari. See this Court’s Rule 14.1(a) (“Only the questions set out in the petition, or fairly included therein, will be considered by the Court”).  Our whole certiorari system would be thrown into turmoil if we allowed counsel to obtain review of one question and then switch to an entirely different question after review is granted. In the past when counsel have done this, we have dismissed the writ as improvidently granted.  See, e.g., Visa, Inc. v. Osborn, 580 U.S. ___ (2016); City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan, 575 U.S. ___ (2015). We should do that here.

Instead, the majority rewards counsel’s trick.  It vacates the judgment below because it is unsure whether the state court committed the error claimed in petitioner’s merits brief.  But not only was there no trace of this argument in the petition, there is nothing in the record showing that the state court ever adopted the erroneous view that petitioner claims it took.

As all Court watchers know, "death is different" not only for Eighth Amendment jurisprudence but also for how the Justices approach these cases procedurally. I suspect Justice Alito is not surprised that some fellow Justices are approaching a capital case in a unique way, but I wonder if he is surprised that the Chief Justice provides the key swing vote for the defendant here.

February 27, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Failure should not be an option: Grading the parole systems of all 50 states"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from the Prison Policy Initiative.  Here is how this report gets started:

From arrest to sentencing, the process of sending someone to prison in America is full of rules and standards meant to guarantee fairness and predictability.  An incredible amount of attention is given to the process, and rightly so.  But in sharp contrast, the processes for releasing people from prison are relatively ignored by the public and by the law.  State paroling systems vary so much that it is almost impossible to compare them.

Sixteen states have abolished discretionary parole, and the remaining states range from a system of presumptive parole — where when certain conditions are met, release on parole is guaranteed — to having policies and practices that make earning release almost impossible.

Parole systems should give every incarcerated person ample opportunity to earn release and have a fair, transparent process for deciding whether to grant it.  A growing number of organizations and academics have called for states to adopt policies that would ensure consistency and fairness in how they identify who should receive parole, when those individuals should be reviewed and released, and what parole conditions should be attached to those individuals.  In this report, I take the best of those suggestions, assign them point values, and grade the parole systems of each state.

Sadly, most states show lots of room for improvement.  Only one state gets a B, five states get Cs, seven states get Ds, and the rest either get an F for having few of the elements of a fair and equitable parole system or a zero — for having passed laws to eliminate the option of release on parole.

February 27, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 26, 2019

FBI reports on encouraging crime data from the first half of 2018

This FBI press release, titled "Preliminary Semiannual Crime Statistics for 2018 Released; Report Shows Overall Crime Declined in First Half of Last Year," provides heartening news about recent crime trends.  Here are the basics from the release:

Preliminary statistics show declines in both violent crime and property crime in the first half of 2018 when compared to statistics from the first half of the previous year, according to the FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report, released today.

The report contains data from more than 14,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide that voluntarily submitted crime data to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. The report showed nearly all offenses in the violent crime category declined. Robbery offenses decreased 12.5 percent, murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses decreased 6.7 percent, and aggravated assault offenses declined 2 percent.  Rape (revised definition), however, increased 0.6 percent.

When comparing data from the first six months of 2018 with the first six months of 2017, all property crime categories showed a decrease. Burglaries were down 12.7 percent, larceny-thefts decreased 6.3 percent, and motor vehicle thefts declined 3.3 percent.

The full Crime in the United States, 2018 report will be released later this year.

The data follow reports from last year that the first-half of 2017 crime data also reflected a decline in most categories of crime. This FBI table providing year-to-year trends of the last four years provides a little more context for this latest data.  It is especially encouraging to see violent crime move down significantly after increases in 2015 and 2016 and a small decline in 2017.  And the continued huge decline in property crime remains remarkable.

February 26, 2019 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haymond seemingly to become major Apprendi progeny altering federal supervised release revocations

Though I have not yet had time to read the full transcript of oral argument in United States v. Haymond, which is now available here, reading Amy Howe's argument analysis at SCOTUSblog suggests the tea-leaves are easy to read after the oral argument. The posting is titled "Court poised to rule for challenger in dispute over constitutionality of sex-offender law," and here are snippets:

This morning the Supreme Court heard oral argument in a dispute over the constitutionality of a federal law that requires convicted sex offenders to return to prison for at least five years – and possibly for the rest of their lives – if a judge finds that they have committed certain crimes. The defendant in the case, an Oklahoma man who served time for possessing child pornography and was then sent back to prison after he violated the terms of his supervised release, argues that the law violates his right to have his sentence determined by a jury, rather than a judge, beyond a reasonable doubt. Today the justices seemed overwhelmingly likely to agree with him, even if it was not entirely clear how they will remedy the constitutional violation....

Eric Feigin, an assistant to the U.S. solicitor general, defended the law on behalf of the federal government. But he was quickly interrupted by a skeptical Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who asked him whether there was any other area of the law in which the United States allows a defendant to be sent to prison based on the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard.

Feigin responded that both parole and probation operate in a similar way, but Sotomayor dismissed that analogy as comparing “apples and oranges.” With parole, she stressed, the state gives a benefit by cutting a sentence short. Where do we allow more prison time based on the preponderance of the evidence, she repeated?

Justice Brett Kavanaugh echoed Sotomayor’s thinking toward the end of Feigin’s initial stint at the lectern. When the government revokes an inmate’s parole, Kavanaugh suggested, it is simply denying a benefit. But when the government revokes an individual’s supervised release, he continued, that’s more like a penalty: The government is “adding a chunk of time on.”

Several justices also questioned the government’s contention that a jury was not required to find the facts leading to the conclusion that Haymond had violated the terms of his supervised release and the imposition of the new five-year sentence....

Only Justice Samuel Alito seemed to be squarely on the government’s side, warning that a ruling for Haymond could potentially “bring down the entire supervised release system.” As a result, much of the second half of the oral argument focused less on whether the law was unconstitutional and more on what should happen next.

I am not surprised, but I am still pleased, to learn that there may now be eight Justices prepared to extended Apprendi/Blakely rights to supervised release revocation. Now we wiat to see just how big the ultimate opinion will be (and how loudly Justice Alito will complain about more procedural rights for criminal defendants).

Some prior related posts:

February 26, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

New letter urges Prez Trump "to make lasting reforms to the clemency process by removing its administration from the Department of Justice"

A number of notable folks signed on to this new letter urging Prez Trump to make changes to the federal clemency process.  Here are excerpts from the letter:

Last year, you achieved a historic accomplishment when you signed the First Step Act into law.  This new law will reduce the imposition of unjust sentences for thousands of Americans, allowing people who make a mistake the opportunity to make amends and turn their lives around.

The law primarily addresses future sentencing, however, and does little to correct the unjust nature of past sentences that have left many behind bars for far longer than their crimes warranted.  But you can deliver justice for those Americans by making full use of the pardon power for as many deserving individuals as possible and by reforming the structure of the federal clemency process to improve presidential exercise of this important constitutional authority.

During the last administration, former law enforcement officials and criminal justice reform advocates urged President Barack Obama to use his pardon power aggressively.  While President Obama's clemency initiative did lead to hundreds of deserving individuals receiving commutations, he left thousands more behind when he left office.  When President Obama’s term expired, approximately 9,400 clemency petitions remained pending.  Thousands of other individuals saw their petitions denied, despite many of them meeting most or all of the conditions the Obama administration laid out for clemency eligibility.  Furthermore, his administration never even fully considered granting sweeping clemency to broad categories of people who also deserved clemency but may not have known how to obtain an attorney or petition for relief....

[W]e urge you to make lasting reforms to the clemency process by removing its administration from the Department of Justice.  The Constitution grants the clemency power solely to the president.  There is no constitutional or legal requirement that it be overseen by DOJ.  While DOJ should be able to comment on clemency petitions, there is an obvious conflict of interest when the same agency responsible for prosecuting individuals is asked to supervise their petitions for clemency.  By changing the management of the clemency process, you could improve a process not only for your time in office, but also for your successors.  President Obama failed to fix the clemency process and instead opted to for an ad hoc approach, leaving behind thousands of people who otherwise met the stated criteria.  You can succeed where he did not and leave a lasting legacy in this area.

February 26, 2019 in Clemency and Pardons, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Paul Manafort's sentencing memorandum in DC makes pitch for a sentence "significantly below" ten years

As reported in this Politico piece, counsel for "Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, pleaded on Monday for a federal judge to spare their 69-year-old client from a sentence that would essentially send him to prison for the rest of his life."  Here is more about the latest sentencing filing:

In a 47-page filing, Manafort’s attorneys described a client who has been “personally, professionally, and financially” broken by special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and who deserves a sentence “significantly” below the statutory maximum of 10 years he faces after pleading guilty in Washington to a pair of conspiracy charges.

“Mr. Manafort has been personally and financially devestated [sic] as a result of his conduct and the forfeiture he has agreed to,” his lawyers wrote. “There is no reason to believe that a sentence of years in prison is necessary to prevent him from committing further crimes.”

Manafort’s lawyers added that he “poses no risk to the public, which itself has certainly been generally deterred from engaging in similar conduct based on the widespread negative publicity this case has garnered, as well as his incarceration in solitary confinement.”

Two federal judges are scheduled to sentence Manafort twice next month over criminal charges brought by Mueller’s office, including tax and bank fraud, as well as witness tampering and unregistered lobbying for a foreign government. U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III is scheduled first in Virginia, on March 8, and U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington goes second, on March 13.

The memo that Manafort’s attorneys submitted Monday aims to rebut Saturday’s filing from Mueller, who told Jackson that the longtime Republican operative “repeatedly and brazenly violated the law” for more than a decade and should be considered for a total sentence in the roughly 17-to-22-year range by stacking her sentence on top of the one Ellis issues.

The full filing is available at this link, and here is an excerpt from its introduction:

Mr. Manafort, who over the decades has served four U.S. presidents and has no prior criminal history, is presented to this Court by the government as a hardened criminal who “brazenly” violated the law and deserves no mercy.  But this case is not about murder, drug cartels, organized crime, the Madoff Ponzi scheme or the collapse of Enron.  Rather, at its core, the charges against the defendant stem from one operable set of facts: Mr. Manafort made a substantial amount of income working as a political consultant in Ukraine, he failed to report to the government the source and total amount of income he made from those activities, and he attempted to conceal his actions from the authorities. He has accepted full responsibility by pleading guilty to this conduct....

Mr. Manafort has been punished substantially, including the forfeiture of most of his assets. In light of his age and health concerns, a significant additional period of incarceration will likely amount to a life sentence for a first time offender.

Some prior related posts:

February 26, 2019 in Booker in district courts, Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

February 25, 2019

Will Haymond argument generate any haymaker questions as SCOTUS takes up supervised release?

Tomorrow the Supreme Court has a day of sentencing arguments scheduled, as the Justices will from counsel in United States v. Haymond and Mont v. United States.  Here are the questions presented and argument previews via SCOTUSblog:

United States v. Haymond Issue: Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit erred in holding “unconstitutional and unenforceable” the portions of 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) that required the district court to revoke the respondent’s 10-year term of supervised release, and to impose five years of reimprisonment, following its finding by a preponderance of the evidence that the respondent violated the conditions of his release by knowingly possessing child pornography.

Mont v. United States Issue: Whether a period of supervised release for one offense is tolled under 18 U.S.C. § 3624(e) during a period of pretrial confinement that upon conviction is credited toward a defendant’s term of imprisonment for another offense.

For hard-core sentencing fans, the Haymond case could be the sleeper of the Term because a major ruling on constitutionally required procedures for revocation of supervised release could have profound implications not only for the federal system, but also potentially for some state systems. 

I doubt that oral argument will provide any big indication of just how big a ruling Haymond could produce, but I will be particular eager to see what the newer Justices might have to say about the kind of judicial factfinding that landed Andre Haymond back in prison for a (mandatory) five years after a judge found by only a "preponderance of the evidence" that he had violated the terms of his supervised release.  I think serious originalists should be troubled by the kinds of procedures used to deprive Haymond of his liberty, but the modern tradition of lax procedures at the "back-end" of sentencing systems is considerable.  I am hoping a number of Justices might take big swings with their questions in Haymond, but lately I am thinking I should not be expecting too much from the Justices.

Some prior related posts:

February 25, 2019 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Making the conceptual and statistical case for going well beyond the FIRST STEP Act

UZU3HWQVUVE2JH5FXAH56P5MMMKeith Humphreys has this notable new Washington Post piece headlined "The new criminal justice law will modestly shrink prison populations. Should we go further?".   The piece has an important little chart that speaks interestingly to the reality of federal prison populations,and I recommend this piece in full.  Here are excerpts:

The recently enacted First Step Act reduces criminal sentences and promotes rehabilitative programs within the federal justice system. Combined with earlier reforms implemented during the Obama administration, the law should return the federal imprisonment rate back to what it was a generation ago.  But that would still leave the federal prison system with about seven times as many inmates as it had in 1980.  Could the United States ever return to a federal prison population that small, or would that unleash a horrific crime wave?

Questions about how big or small the federal prison system should be are part of the ongoing debate about mass incarceration. But they also have a unique dimension because even though the Constitution assigns most law enforcement powers to states, the federal role in prosecution and incarceration expanded in recent decades (e.g., to include many white-collar crimes, carjacking, DVD piracy, street-corner drug dealing).  As a result, the federal prison system went from accounting for only 7.4 percent of all imprisonment in 1980 to 12.6 percent of all imprisonment in 2016.  Even a decade before the federal prison system reached its peak size, a bipartisan American Bar Association task force argued that the expansion of federal law enforcement and corrections were “inconsistent with the traditional notion that prevention of crime and law enforcement in this country are basically state functions.”

Sometimes it is helpful in public policy to ask questions about first principles: Why should the federal government ever imprison anyone at all?  A common fear — which some opponents of the First Step Act stoked — is that the United States would be overwhelmed with violent crime if not for federal law enforcement and incarceration.  In reality, virtually every murder, rape, assault and battery is charged under state law and results in imprisonment at the state or local level.  The federal prison system holds only 1.8 percent of U.S. inmates serving time for violent crimes.

Federal law enforcement and imprisonment thus do not serve as the nation’s primary bulwark against violence.  But they are important in three defined contexts.

Combating state and local corruption....

Battling criminal organizations that overwhelm state and local law enforcement....

Punishing crimes specifically against the federal government....

All of the above types of crimes are destructive, and those who commit them and are sent to federal prison do not deserve our sympathy.  But it is implausible that the number of and deserved sentence length for such offenses are seven times greater than they were before the federal prison population exploded.  That reality, combined with the fact that the generational cutback in the size of the federal prison system has caused no evident problems, suggest the First Step Act should be considered just that — a first step.  The extremely broad coalition that supported the First Step Act can reasonably aim higher in its next round of proposed reform, returning the federal prison system to its traditional role as an important — but small — part of the U.S. correctional system.

February 25, 2019 in Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Excited for "The Prohibition Era and Policing" at Ohio State on March 4

As detailed at this link (where folks can register), the Drug Enforcement & Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law has a very exciting event scheduled for next Monday afternoon (March 4, 2019).  The event is titled "The Prohibition Era and Policing"  and here are the basics:

The legal precedents created during Prohibition have lingered, leaving search-and-seizure law much better defined than limits on police use of force, interrogation practices, or eyewitness identification protocols.  Please join us as Professor Wesley M. Oliver discusses his latest book, The Prohibition Era and Policing: A Legacy of Misregulation, followed by a discussion with:

February 25, 2019 in Drug Offense Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

After swift cert denial in Rivera-Ruperto, should I just give up hoping for an improved Eighth Amendment to check extreme non-capital sentences?

Intrepid readers may realize that I have paid close attention to a case out of the First Circuit, US v. Rivera–Ruperto, because I thought it involved extraordinarily facts that made for a compelling Cruel and Unusual Punishments argument if that clause was to function as even the most minimal check on the imposition of extreme prison sentences on adult offenders.  But, frustratingly, today's Supreme Court order list has under a long list of cert denials "18-5384  Rivera-Ruperto, Wendell v. United States."  Grrrr.

Of course, I was not the only one who thought this was was exceptional: as noted here, the entire First Circuit issued a remarkable opinion last year while denying en banc review (available here) in which Judge Barron spoke for all his colleagues in urging the Justices to take up the Rivera-Ruperto to reconsider its Eighth Amendment jurisprudence.  I was sincerely hoping that this unusual statement from an entire circuit might at least get Rivera-Ruperto a single relist from the Supreme Court or maybe just a short statement from some Justices about the issue.  A single relist or a statement about a denial of cert would suggest that there was at least a single Justice who might think that a toothless Eighth Amendment is a problem in an era of mass incarceration.  (Tellingly, the legal press and criminal justice twitterverse has also entirely ignored this case, confirming my fears that one need to be a murderer on death row before just about anyone gets interested in an Eighth Amendment claim.)

I still want to hope that maybe a district court or the First Circuit could find a way to do better in this case when Wendell Rivera-Ruperto eventually brings a 2255 claim (which could now juice an Eighth Amendment argument, as I suggested here, on the fact that the FIRST STEP Act has changed the federal law that lead to his 130 years of mandatory-minimum prison time).  But even if Rivera-Ruperto is able to get some relief eventually, I am still this morning left deeply troubled by the notion that not a single Justice seems to be at all concerned about modern Eighth Amendment jurisprudence relating to extreme non-capital sentences.  Sigh. 

A few prior related posts:

February 25, 2019 in Gun policy and sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

February 24, 2019

After special favors and CVRA violation, what should happen to Jeffrey Epstein and his problem prosecutors?

The Miami Herald has done extraordinary work looking behind Jeffrey Epstein too-sweet deal, and it reports effectively here on the significant federal court ruling last week that prompts the question in the title of this post.  Here are the details:

Federal prosecutors, under former Miami U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, broke the law when they concealed a plea agreement from more than 30 underage victims who had been sexually abused by wealthy New York hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein, a federal judge ruled Thursday [available here].

While the decision marks a victory for crime victims, the federal judge, Kenneth A. Marra, stopped short of overturning Epstein’s plea deal, or issuing an order resolving the case.  He instead gave federal prosecutors 15 days to confer with Epstein’s victims and their attorneys to come up with a settlement. The victims did not seek money or damages as part of the suit.

It’s not clear whether the victims, now in their late 20s and early 30s, can, as part of the settlement, demand that the government prosecute Epstein. But others are calling on the Justice Department to take a new look at the case in the wake of the judge’s ruling.

"As a legal matter, the non-prosecution agreement entered into by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida does not bind other U.S. Attorneys in other districts. They are free, if they conclude it is appropriate to do so, to bring criminal actions against Mr. Epstein and his co-conspirators," said lawyer David Boies, representing two of Epstein’s victims who claim they were trafficked by Epstein in New York and other areas of the country.

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice announced it was opening a probe of the case in response to calls from three dozen members of Congress. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Oversight Subcommittee, on Thursday asked the DOJ to re-open Epstein’s plea deal. "The fact that it’s taken this long to get this far is heartbreaking and infuriating," said Sasse. "The Department of Justice should use this opportunity to reopen its non-prosecution agreement so that Epstein and anyone else who abused these children are held accountable."...

Brad Edwards, who represents Courtney Wild — Jane Doe No. 1 in the case — said he was elated at the judge’s ruling, but admitted he is troubled that it took 11 years to litigate. He blamed federal prosecutors for needlessly dragging it out when they could have remedied their error after it was brought to their attention in 2008. "The government aligned themselves with Epstein, working against his victims, for 11 years,’’ Edwards said. "Yes, this is a huge victory, but to make his victims suffer for 11 years, this should not have happened. Instead of admitting what they did, and doing the right thing, they spent 11 years fighting these girls."

Marra, in a 33-page opinion, said prosecutors not only violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by not informing the victims, they also misled the girls into believing that the FBI’s sex trafficking case against Epstein was still ongoing — when in fact, prosecutors had secretly closed it after sealing the plea bargain from the public record.

The decision follows a three-part series published by the Miami Herald in November, "Perversion of Justice," which detailed how federal prosecutors collaborated with Epstein’s lawyers to arrange the deal, then hid it from his victims and the public so that no one would know the full scope of Epstein’s crimes and who else was involved.

The 66-year-old mogul lured scores of teenage girls from troubled homes — some as young as 13 — as part of a cult-like scheme to sexually abuse them by offering them money to give him massages and promising some of them he would send them to college or help them find careers. Future president Donald Trump, former president Bill Clinton, lawyer Alan Dershowitz, Prince Andrew and other world leaders, scientists and academics were friends with Epstein, who also owns a vast home in Manhattan, a private jet, and an island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he now lives....

Instead of prosecuting Epstein under federal sex trafficking laws, Acosta allowed Epstein to quietly plead guilty in state court to two prostitution charges and he served just 13 months in the Palm Beach County jail. His accomplices, some of whom have never been identified, were not charged.

Epstein’s victims were not told the case was closed until it was too late for them to appear at his sentencing and possibly upend the deal. Two of them filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in 2008, claiming that prosecutors violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, which grants victims of federal crimes a series of rights, including the ability to confer with prosecutors about a possible plea deal....

Acosta, who was nominated as labor secretary in 2017, issued a written statement through a spokesman: “For more than a decade, the actions of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida in this case have been defended by the Department of Justice in litigation across three administrations and several attorneys general. The office’s decisions were approved by departmental leadership and followed departmental procedures. This matter remains in litigation and, thus, for any further comment we refer you to the Department of Justice.”

Michelle Licata, who was molested by Epstein when she was 14, said the judge’s decision was "a step for justice." But she still questions why federal authorities have failed to open a new case against Epstein, given that more victims and evidence has come to light in recent years. "They should see if they can prosecute him for something. I mean, really prosecute him — instead of giving him 13 months where he was allowed to come and go as he pleased. I just want to see him face some consequences for what he did."

Francey Hakes, a former federal prosecutor, said the Crime Victims’ Rights Act doesn’t spell out any punishment for violating its terms, so it would set a precedent to re-open Epstein’s agreement. "Epstein will surely argue he complied with the agreement, relied upon it, and plead guilty under it so it can’t be overturned in fairness to him," she said. "I will be very interested to see what the parties say the remedy for the violation should be. Ultimately, it is simply shocking the Government went to the lengths they did to keep the victims in the dark in order to make a serious predator’s high priced defense team happy. Justice should not, and does not, look like this."

This commentary by two former federal prosecutors asserts that there should be lots of consequences from the new ruling in this matter:

Outside of the Justice Department, it also seems untenable for Acosta to be allowed to remain in his position as head of the Department of Labor — a federal agency with significant role to play in combating and prosecuting human trafficking cases and protecting the rights of minors. He should be fired or resign.

Most significantly, Epstein and anyone else involved in this crime need to be held fully accountable and the rights of the victims fully vindicated. Judge Marra has already ruled that the CVRA authorizes “the rescission or ‘reopening’ of a prosecutorial agreement, including a non-prosecution agreement, reached in violation of a prosecutor’s conferral obligations under the statute.” Judge Marra seems to be suggesting that Epstein’s agreement be voided and the federal investigation reopened. (Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has called for DOJ to do just that.)

It is always tricky to Monday morning quarterback another prosecutor’s decision: There are often facts and circumstances known only to the prosecutors that factor into whether to proceed with charges, take a case to trial or even enter into an NPA. However, given the many deficiencies in the NPA — most notably the systematic exclusion of victims from the resolution of this case, DOJ should reopen the investigation, and assign it to another U.S. attorney’s office or an arm of the DOJ.

The only way to preserve the integrity of this case is for a clean set of eyes to review the facts and ensure that justice is done.

UPDATE: For some additional commentary on this case and the latest CVRA opinion, check out Paul Cassell's posting at The Volokh Conspiracy, "Prosecutors Violated the Rights of Jeffrey Epstein's Victims" and Kent Scheidegger's posting at Crime and Consequences, "The Crime Victims Rights Act and the Epstein Case."

February 24, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Another reminder that substantive reasonableness review has very little bite

A helpful reader made sure I saw a notable little federal sentencing ruling handed down by an Eighth Circuit panel in US v. Johnson, No. 17-2572 (8th Cir. Feb 22, 2019) (available here). The start of the main opinion sets out the basics for the reasonableness review discussion that follows:

Michael Johnson pleaded guilty in 2016 to possession with intent to distribute cocaine base.  Police arrested Johnson after a traffic stop and found him in possession of two baggies that contained rocks of crack cocaine.  A search of Johnson’s pocket discovered 22.9 grams of cocaine base and $895 in cash.

At sentencing, the district court calculated an advisory guideline range of 57 to 71 months’ imprisonment, but concluded that several factors justified an upward variance from the advisory range and imposed a sentence of 204 months.

The panel ultimately rejects the defendant's various claims that his sentence is unreasonable, but Judge Grasz write separately to lament the conclusion.  Here are excerpts from a short opinion worth reading in full:

While I believe the sentence here was excessive, I cannot conclude it is reversible error under the standard of review mandated by Supreme Court precedent.  This precedent makes the substantive reasonableness of a sentence nearly unassailable on appeal and renders the role of this court in that regard somewhat akin to a rubber stamp in all but the rarest cases....

So, what is left for appellate courts to review in terms of substantive reasonableness in sentencing when they cannot meaningfully police compliance with the Guidelines? Of course, sentences must still comply with the sentencing factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), but these “sentencing factors . . . are so broad that they impose few real restraints on sentencing judges.” Gall, 552 U.S. at 63 (Alito, J., dissenting).  Thus, appellate review of substantive reasonableness is usually an exercise in futility.

There is no doubt that maximizing sentencing court discretion has its benefits.  See, e.g.,Kimbrough, 552 U.S. at 101–05 (allowing sentencing courts to depart based on a disagreement with the Guidelines’ unjustified disparity in treatment of powder and crack cocaine).  But the downside, in other contexts, is the resulting disparities and inconsistencies in sentencing. In the Sentencing Reform Act, Congress sought to reduce sentencing disparities by placing some limitations on the discretion of sentencing courts by means of the mandatory Guidelines.  However, “[i]t is unrealistic to think [the goal of reducing sentencing disparities] can be achieved over the long term if sentencing judges need only give lipservice to the Guidelines.” Gall, 552 U.S. at 63 (Alito, J., dissenting).  In reality, the result of Gall and Kimbrough is that “district judges have regained most of the unconstrained discretion that Congress eliminated in 1984.” Feemster, 572 F.3d at 470 (Colloton, J., concurring).

February 24, 2019 in Booker in the Circuits, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1)