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February 14, 2020

Call for Papers for Justice System Journal: "Justice for All: Empirical Research on Indigent Defense"

I am always happy, indeed eager, for this blog to be a forum for noting calls for papers and/or events of interest to criminal justice academics, practitioners and advocates. To that end, I am happy to be able to post this posting titled "Call for Papers! IDRA and the Justice System Journal team up":

IDRA is pleased to announce the following Call for Papers for a volume of indigent defense research in the prestigious Justice System Journal.  Please consider submitting your manuscripts, and get in touch with any questions!

Call for Papers
Special Issue of Justice System Journal
Justice for All: Empirical Research on Indigent Defense

Justice System Journal will publish a special issue titled “Justice for All: Empirical Research on Indigent Defense.” This special issue will be guest-edited by Prof. Janet Moore of University of Cincinnati College of Law, and Dr. Andrew Davies of the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at Southern Methodist University. Moore and Davies co-founded the Indigent Defense Research Association in 2015.

Empirical researchers have turned their attention to indigent defense in new ways in the last several years. Their work has revealed new insights into the nature and importance of indigent defense systems and attorneys. It has generated evidence of the impact defense services can have, expanded theoretical understanding, and occasionally called core assumptions into question. This new scholarship has generated fresh debate about the value of defenders to criminal legal systems, the scope and purpose of their work, and whether they counteract or reproduce oppressive aspects of those systems.

Authors seeking to participate in these debates are strongly encouraged to consider submitting their work for this Special Issue. Submissions of original empirical work on any topic concerning criminal defense services for those unable to afford counsel will be considered. In keeping with the theoretical and methodological diversity of the field, the editors welcome work utilizing a range of methodologies, and work which examines issues at the a local, state, national, or even international level.

Possible topics for manuscripts include, but are not limited, to:

  • Explorations and explanations of how defense policy is made across places or over time (including factors affecting resources given to defense, defense/prosecution resource disparities, policies restricting or extending access to defense counsel, etc.);
  • Evaluations of programs and policies in defense services, and comparisons of program alternatives;
  • Examinations of the impacts of caseloads, attorney training, or other resources on defense services;
  • Analyses of the importance of contextual factors such as rurality, demographic diversity, political circumstances, or courtroom dynamics, for defense services;
  • Research on the impact of defense services themselves on local legal culture and local communities, including through participation in criminal legal system reform initiatives;
  • Studies which seek to improve understanding of the experiences of people who need public defense, their lawyers, and other members of the legal team (e.g., investigators, social workers, defense system managers).

Articles intended for consideration for inclusion in this issue should be submitted by May 15, 2020, via the journal’s online submission process.  Questions about potential submissions should be directed to Andrew Davies (albdavies@smu.edu).

February 14, 2020 in Recommended reading, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Five years after problematic executions led to halt, Oklahoma plans to restart its machinery of death

As reported in this press piece, headlined "Oklahoma to resume injection executions, 5 years after drug mix-ups, national ridicule," the Sooner State is talking about getting back to carrying out death sentences. Here are the basics:

Oklahoma will resume executions by the lethal injection method, officials said Thursday.  The surprise announcement came at a news conference by Gov. Kevin Stitt, Attorney General Mike Hunter and Corrections Department Director Scott Crow.

Efforts will continue to develop a way to carry out the punishment with nitrogen gas, officials said.  However, the law allowing the state to develop a method using nitrogen gas only allows nitrogen to be used if the drugs for lethal injection are unavailable.

It has been more than five years since the last execution in the state.  The death penalty still has widespread support in Oklahoma despite the national ridicule that followed an injection mistake in 2014 and drug mix-ups in 2015.

"It is important that the state is implementing our death penalty law with a procedure that is humane and swift for those convicted of the most heinous of crimes," Gov. Stitt said. "Director Crow and Attorney General Mike Hunter have worked diligently and thoroughly to create a path forward to resume the death penalty in Oklahoma, and the time has come to deliver accountability and justice to the victims who have suffered unthinkable loss and pain."

More than 40 murderers are awaiting execution in the state.  Almost 30 have exhausted their appeals and are eligible to have execution dates set.  The last scheduled execution, on Sept. 30, 2015, was called off after a doctor discovered the wrong deadly drug had been supplied.  Executions have been on hold in Oklahoma because of that mix-up. Officials acknowledged afterward that the same mistake had been made in the execution carried out in January 2015....

The three drugs used for executions will continue to be midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Two years ago, officials announced Oklahoma would switch to using nitrogen gas because of the problems associated with the lethal injection method.  The Corrections Department director at the time complained that it was increasingly difficult to find a reliable supplier of the drugs.  "I was calling all around the world, to the back streets of the Indian subcontinent, to procure drugs," Director Joe Allbaugh said.

Since that announcement, officials have been working on a way to carry out executions with nitrogen gas, a method never used in the United States for the death penalty. Allbaugh said a year ago he had yet to find a manufacturer of a gas delivery device willing to sell it for use in executions.  Officials have discussed building a device on their own.

February 14, 2020 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 13, 2020

Just some (of lots and lots of) commentary about Roger Stone(d) federal sentencing process

Unsurprisingly, lots of folks have lots of things to say about the upcoming federal sentencing of Roger Stone and the sentencing process and controversy that has already unfolded.  Here are links and short passages from three notable pieces that recently caught my eye:

From Jacob Sullum at Reason, "Roger Stone Deserves a Lighter Sentence, but Not Because He Is Trump's Buddy":

This week President Donald Trump and his appointees at the Justice Department intervened in the sentencing of Roger Stone, a longtime Trump crony who was convicted last November of obstructing a congressional investigation, lying to a congressional committee, and witness tampering. Yesterday, the day after four prosecutors assigned to the case recommended a sentence of seven to nine years, Timothy Shea, the interim U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, overrode them, suggesting "a sentence of incarceration far less" than the one originally proposed.

That reversal, which came after Trump called the original recommendation "horrible and very unfair," is unseemly and smacks of legal favoritism. At the same time, a prison sentence of seven to nine years is disproportionate given the nature and consequences of Stone's crimes....

Regardless of its motivation, the revised memorandum is admirably measured and fair-minded, noting that prosecutors have a duty to pursue justice, not simply to clobber defendants with the heaviest penalties the law allows. It would substantially improve the quality of justice in this country if prosecutors more often took that approach with defendants who are not the president's buddies.

From Andrew McCarthy at The National Review, "The Roger Stone Sentencing Fiasco":

But for his connection to Trump, Stone would never have been pursued in a collusion fever dream that Mueller’s prosecutors knew was bogus when they charged him. Yet his crimes, while exaggerated, were real. He was convicted by a jury and, under federal law, that presumptively warrants incarceration, though he could be spared by the judge (whom the president has picked a strange time to antagonize). If the president thinks that Stone and Flynn (among others) have been given a raw deal, the Constitution empowers him to pardon them, or at least commute their sentences.

If President Trump is afraid, in an election year, to take the political hit that a pardon for Stone would entail, that is understandable. But then he should bite his tongue and click out of Twitter. The Justice Department’s job is to process cases, including Mueller cases, pursuant to law. If the president wants to make those cases disappear, he has to do it himself and be accountable. His provocative running commentary only ensures that the DOJ will be accused of kowtowing to him. It also guarantees that, if the ongoing criminal probe of the Russiagate investigation eventually yields any indictments, they will be assailed as political persecutions rather than good-faith law enforcement.

From David Oscar Marcus at The Hill, "Let's use Roger Stone's case to fix our broken justice system":

People are rightly upset that DOJ is saying that the sentencing guidelines apply to everyone — except the president’s friends.  That’s a huge problem, and it’s no wonder that the prosecutors handling the case resigned.  How can they go into court every day and ask for monster sentences across the board except for FOT (Friends of Trump)?

But the larger problem, and the one that no one is talking about, is that the system itself is fatally flawed because it is set up for prosecutors and judges to issue unjustifiably harsh sentences.  Stone shouldn’t be thrown in a cage for 7-9 years — and neither should any other first-time non-violent offender.  There are two important fixes available:

First, we should abandon the sentencing guidelines.  Often prosecutors fall back on the sentencing guidelines for cover when asking for these crazy high sentences. Those “guidelines” are a complicated point system that calculate potential sentences by adding and subtracting points based on factors like the amount of loss, whether the person is a leader, and so on.  The problem with this point system is that it is not based on any empirical data or study. The numbers are plucked out of thin air.  Further, they don’t take into account the characteristics of the individual being sentenced.  Has the defendant led a good life?  Did she serve in the military?  Donate to charity?  Raise a good family?  The guidelines don’t care.  The Supreme Court recognized these problems and said that judges should simply consult the guidelines but should not be bound by them.  That was a good start, but the truth is that they aren’t even worth consulting.  They don’t work, and — since their implementation back in 1984 — our jail population has exploded.

Second, we should eliminate the trial tax.  This case is a good example of the trial tax in action. Had Stone pleaded guilty, he would have been looking at a sentence of closer to 24 months under the guidelines.  And had he met with prosecutors and cooperated, he likely would have been sentenced to probation.  Because he had the audacity to go to trial, his sentence goes from probation to 7-9 years.  It’s no wonder that innocent people plead guilty. It’s no wonder that trials are vanishing.  Before the sentencing guidelines and the trial tax, 20 percent of cases went to trial.  Now it’s less than 3 percent.  That is pretty stark evidence that the trial tax has become too severe.

Lots of people are rightly saying that Trump was wrong to jump in for his friend and overrule the line prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation.  But what was wrong about it was not overruling an overly harsh sentence.  What was wrong about it was that he did it for a friend instead of across the board. We are in bad need of criminal justice reform. Let’s overrule all of these insane sentencing recommendations for first time non-violent offenders — not just the FOT.

Prior related posts:

February 13, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Oklahoma ballot initiative (State Question 805) seeks to block non-violent prior convictions from enhancing statutory range of punishment

Thanks to an ACLU event, I just learned that Oklahoma criminal justice reform advocates are working toward bringing a fascinating (and potentially far-reaching) new reform proposal directly to the voters.  This local press piece from a few weeks ago explains the basics:

Criminal justice reform advocates want to amend the Oklahoma Constitution to prohibit sentence enhancements based on previous felonies for nonviolent offenders. The measure would also allow nonviolent offenders serving enhanced sentences to seek a modification in court.

“A former conviction for one or more felonies shall not be used to enhance the statutorily allowable range of punishment, including but not limited to minimum and maximum terms, for a person convicted, whether by trial or plea of guilty or nolo contendere, of a felony,” reads the proposed measure [which is available here].  I This measure would not apply to those who have been convicted of a violent felony as defined by Oklahoma Statutes. This includes assault, battery, murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, child abuse, rape and human trafficking.

Oklahomans for Sentencing Reform, a bipartisan coalition championing the measure, filed the petition in November and began collecting signatures [in December]. State Question 805 requires nearly 178,000 signatures by 5 p.m. March 26 to be put to a statewide vote in 2020.

“The reality is that Oklahoma has an incarceration crisis,” said Kris Steele, executive director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR). “We have the second-highest incarceration rate per capita of any state in the United States, and we have the highest female incarceration rate in the nation. Unfortunately, we’ve held that distinction since 1991, and the disparity in the number of women we incarcerate continues to grow.”

According to a 2019 report by FWD.us, Oklahoma sends more people to prison than other states, especially for nonviolent crimes, and keeps them incarcerated for much longer. Eight in 10 women go to prison for nonviolent offenses. “Research has shown these long stays in prison have little or no effect on recidivism when people come home,” reads the report. “At the same time, these extra weeks, months and years place emotional and financial burdens on the families of those incarcerated.”

Proponents of the initiative say the state’s incarceration crisis is driven in large part by enhanced sentences, and they hope momentum from recent criminal justice reforms help the initiative succeed. “We’ve been working on responsible criminal justice reform for over a decade, and the good news is that support among voters continues to grow,” Steele said. “We have seen some tremendous momentum in recent years, and we are hoping to build on that momentum and deepen the conversation level of understanding and support statewide for a more effective approach to public safety.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt has publicly opposed the initiative, saying a constitutional amendment is the wrong way to go about criminal justice reform. Steele argues that a constitutional amendment would prevent lawmakers from trying to repeal the measure if approved by voters. He cited an attempt to repeal State Questions 780 and 781 only months after they were approved in November 2016....

District attorneys across the state have also publicly opposed the measure, saying it would negatively impact public safety. But proponents of the measure disagree because they don’t see many positives outcomes from the state’s high incarceration rates.

Some of the concerns of DAs are expressed in this local opinion piece authored by Jason Hicks, President of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association, under the headline "Proposed state question could affect domestic violence sentencing."  Meanwhile, the  "Yes on 805" campaign has this website, but not a lot of details about 

I have no sense of whether proponents of this interesting initiative will be able to get it to voters, nor do I have any sense of whether Oklahoma voters might be supportive of this proposal.  But I think those troubled by mass incarceration, extreme sentencing terms and racially disparate sentencing practices are wise to focus criticism on the often out-sized impact of (even minor) criminal history at sentencing.  I do not know if this Oklahoma ballot initiative might be just the start of a whole new front for sentencing reform efforts, but I hope it can help generate a robust discussion of the many important issues that relate to the use of criminal history at sentencing.

February 13, 2020 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 12, 2020

Legendary jurist (and sentencing Hall of Famer) Jack Weinstein finally retiring at age 98

More than 15 years ago, I did some blog musing here to add warmth to a November day by imagining a "Sentencing Judges Hall of Fame" — an institution in the mold of The National Baseball Hall of Fame — which would seek to foster an appreciation of the historical development of sentencing jurisprudence and its impact on our justice system.  (Compare the mission statement of The National Baseball Hall of Fame.)  Notably, in that original post, I suggested that Judge Jack Weinstein was surely a first-ballot member of a Sentencing Judges Hall of Fame given his many tape-measure (i.e., lengthy) sentencing opinions that were jurisprudential home runs.

I am reminded of these musing by this remarkable New York Daily News report headlined "After legendary 53-year career, Brooklyn Federal Judge Jack Weinstein hangs up his robe at age 98."  Here are excerpts that only partially cover his sentencing work through many decades:

For years, those around Judge Jack Weinstein dared not mention the R-word — retirement.  Finally, at age 98, the longest-serving federal judge in the country decided it’s time. Weinstein has shifted the 90 or so cases on his docket to his fellow Brooklyn Federal Court jurists. On Monday, he moved to inactive status, which means that except for some administrative tasks, his 53-year-career is over.

“I just about used up my reserves of energy and I felt that I could not really go on and have the assurance that I could give full attention and full energy to each one of these litigants.  That being so, it seemed to me highly desirable to turn it over to the other judges on the court,” Weinstein said in his 14th-floor chambers, which overlook Brooklyn Heights, the East River, Manhattan and New Jersey....

Weinstein, who was appointed in 1967, was the last federal judge in the country named by President Lyndon Johnson.  Still sharp, with a clear memory — but slower to speak than he used to be and relying on a walker — the judge spoke with the Daily News while his wife, stepdaughter and two clerks looked on.

The levelheaded judge denied he was sad about leaving the job he’s enjoyed for more than a half century. Asked if he’d miss being a judge, he paused. “Yes, I think so, of course. This is an excellent court. I love my colleagues. And the ability to work with them on a daily basis was one that I treasured.”

Weinstein made headlines in 2018 for saying he would not toss ex-convicts back in prison for smoking pot while on supervised release. He is also known for his lenient sentences — including one in the case of a man convicted of distributing child pornography. “We continue using the criminal law to unnecessarily crush the lives of our young,” he wrote in 2013 in a response to the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled his 30-month sentence for the child porn distributor was too lenient, based on the five-year mandatory minimum the charge carries.

Weinstein says harsh sentences are a poor idea, and that he’s always tried to give the lightest sentences he can so that people can be freed and try to build a better life. “I think our sentencing has been much too extreme, and I’ve done what I could to reduce the cruelty of it by sentencing at the lowest possible levels that I could,” Weinstein said. “Most sentences are too extreme. We keep people under supervised release much longer than they should be. They should be reintroduced to family and to jobs and creative work.”

He admitted being troubled by the case of ISIS sympathizer Sinmyah Amera Ceasar, who broke her promise to help the government after she was busted for helping the terror group’s recruiting efforts.  Prosecutors wanted Ceasar sentenced to 30 to 50 years in prison.  But Weinstein thought such a sentence would have been “excessively harsh," especially since in his view Ceasar was well on her way to rehabilitation. “We need to rule from a place of love, not hate,” Weinstein said.

Sentences in Brooklyn Federal Court are the lowest in the country, and Weinstein’s are the lowest in the court, the judge said....

Weinstein, a proud graduate of Brooklyn College, enrolled at Columbia Law School after the war. After he graduated in 1948, he clerked in 1949 for Stanley Fuld, a judge on the New York State Court of Appeals.  Soon after, Weinstein went to work for Thurgood Marshall, whom he considered a friend and mentor.  Marshall — whom President Johnson appointed to be the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice — at the time was the lead lawyer for the NAACP.

Weinstein contributed research and briefs to aid Marshall’s argument of Brown vs. Board of Education.  Marshall and his legal team won a ruling from the Supreme Court that said segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.  Weinstein said that as he worked on the Brown case, he knew it would result in a historic decision. “But unfortunately, it did not result in a vindication of African-American rights, particularly in New York City. The schools here are among the most segregated. ... It’s a great disappointment,” the judge said.

In retirement, Weinstein plans to spend more time with his wife and to help one of his three sons — who is retired himself — with a book on Jim Crow laws. He’s not worried or thinking about hitting 100 years old. “That’s just another day in my life. A very wonderful life it has been.”

February 12, 2020 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Please Tweet Responsibly: The Social and Professional Ethics of Public Defenders Using Client Information in Social Media Advocacy"

The title of this post is the title of this new short article just posted to SSRN authored by Nicole Smith Futrell. Here is its abstract:

Every day the criminal legal system hauls poor and marginalized individuals through a process wrought with trauma, indignity, and abuse.  Public defenders representing the criminally accused view their clients and the system from a unique vantage point: they bear witness to the human costs of a system that falls far short of its purported norms and ideals. For the public defender who works within this reality day in and day out, fighting for each individual client might feel limited in its wider impact.  Some public defenders have found that using online and social media platforms, such as Twitter, to provide insights and commentary on the human toll of the criminal legal system is one way to contribute to a deepened public awareness of the criminal legal system’s shortcomings.  Indeed, while statistics about mass criminalization and mass incarceration provide powerful data points, narratives about the very real ways that clients experience being arrested, charged, processed and adjudicated can influence public debate and create momentum for both an individual case and more comprehensive systemic reform.

These online and social media narratives about clients can be powerful because they help to convey to unfamiliar audiences how the law is actually being experienced by those who have been marginalized because of their economic status, ability, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or immigration status.  While this can be a compelling and effective approach, public defenders need to consider what their ethical obligations are and also what a strong sense of social and professional responsibility requires.  The deep racial disparities in the criminal legal system and the particularly unique vulnerabilities of the indigent criminal client necessitate that public defenders refrain from using client narratives in ways that may inadvertently oversimplify and exploit a client’s life experience.  This article offers public defenders practical guidance on how to ethically and responsibly draw from their specialized knowledge and the experiences of their clients in order to expose systemic injustice.

February 12, 2020 in On blogging, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Laying the Groundwork: How States Can Improve Access to Continued Education for People in the Criminal Justice System"

DownloadThe title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center that was released yesterday.  This webpage provides context and overview about the report, and here are excerpts:

New data from a 50-state report ... reveals how state policies fail to support, and often restrict, incarcerated people from accessing continued education, despite research showing that such education can significantly reduce reoffending and increase employment rates.  The report, Laying the Groundwork: How States Can Improve Access to Continued Education for People in the Criminal Justice System, shows that only 10 states allow all people behind bars to access college and employment certification courses, while the rest prohibit certain segments of the incarcerated population from participating....  

Laying the Groundwork also reveals that barriers to education aren’t confined to correctional facilities, but follow people after they’re released: half of all public universities in the U.S. require applicants for admission to disclose their criminal history.  This practice has been shown to discourage potential students from even completing their applications. 

Most states can’t attribute these challenges to a lack of resources. Only three states use all of the federal funding available specifically to support postsecondary education for people in prison; the rest leave taxpayer money on the table.  And two-thirds of states restrict state-based financial aid for currently and formerly incarcerated students, adding another barrier to continued education.

Laying the Groundwork is based on data collected through original surveys of all 50 state correctional agency education directors and parole-granting agencies, as well as extensive online research on state statutes, regulations, and administrative policies, and university application processes....  

The report outlines four essential building blocks states must have in place to make postsecondary education accessible to people impacted by the criminal justice system: making use of available funding, offering a variety of programming aligned with local employer needs, eliminating restrictions on participation, and providing incentives and supports to encourage participation and completion.  Currently, no state has all four of these basic elements in place. And less than half of states meet the criteria for each one of the building blocks, demonstrating that while states may recognize the importance of continued education, they can do much more to ensure that currently and formerly incarcerated people can access it.

To help states make continued education more effective and attainable, Laying the Groundwork includes checklists of best practices that can inform efforts to improve state statute, administrative policy, and funding practices. States can use these checklists to ensure that they are doing all they can to make their communities safer by providing people in correctional facilities and who have a criminal record the opportunity to continue their education.

The report was developed by The Council of State Governments Justice Center and funded by Lumina Foundation.  Read the full report and find every state’s factsheet here.

February 12, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Remorse and Judging"

The title of this post is the title of this new book chapter authored by Susan Bandes now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This chapter focuses on the judicial evaluation of remorse.  It is an article of faith that judges can and should evaluate remorse when determining sentence.  Although the dynamics of this evaluation are understudied, the existing literature helps illuminate the assumptions judges employ and the dangers and limitations of those assumptions.  Judges rely on evaluation of demeanor and body language and on allocution, and their interpretations are rife with implicit assumptions and unstated rules about what counts as remorse. 

Many of these assumptions (for example the link between remorse and decreased recidivism and the possibility of assessing remorse from demeanor) lack evidentiary support. These assumptions and implicit rules vary widely from judge to judge.  They often fail to account for the influence of race, ethnicity, gender and social class on the expression and evaluation of remorse.  Moreover, they put a premium on the willingness to plead guilty, and to do so at the earliest possible opportunity.  The chapter draws upon the few existing empirical studies on the topic and identifies areas that require further study.

February 12, 2020 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 11, 2020

Would it be improper for a President to write a character letter for a defendant facing federal sentencing?

The question in the title of this post is obviously precipitated by the extraordinary developments surrounding federal prosecutors' multiple sentencing submissions in the Roger Stone case (details here and here).  Prez Trump apparently told reporters today that he did not tell the Justice Department to change its sentencing advocacy, but he did claim that he would have "the absolute right to do it."  I do not know enough about DOJ rules and executive authority to weigh in on this claim, but I do know that this discussion got me to thinking about whether and how it might be proper for a President to share his or her perspective on a federal defendant facing federal sentencing.

Federal defense attorneys know how common it is, especially in high-profile, white-collar cases, to argue for sentencing leniency with the help of character letters often written by the most prominent and compelling of individuals who know the defendant well.  (I know I have seen such letters authored by elected officials in past cases.)  In this case, according to this article in The Atlantic, Roger Stone "has been a presence in the president's life for more than 30 years."  Consequently, I cannot help but wonder if Stone's defense attorneys gave any thought to seeking a character letter from Prez Trump.

Whether such a letter was sought or not, I would love to hear from thoughtful readers about whether they think it would be improper for any President to write any character letter for any defendant facing federal sentencing.  Does simply being President (perhaps because of clemency powers) serve to make it improper to share knowledge of the character of a defendant?

Prior related posts:

February 11, 2020 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

DOJ now says "sentence of incarceration far less than 87 to 108 months [for Roger Stone] would be reasonable under the circumstances"

As noted in this prior post, yesterday federal prosecutors filed this 26-page sentencing memorandum advocating for a within-guideline sentence of 7.3 to 9 years in prison for Roger Stone.  Prez Trump in the middle on the night tweeted out his displeasure with that advocacy, and today we saw filed this new 5-page supplemental and amended memorandum from federal prosecutors.  This new document is remarkable in many respects, and here are just a few excerpts that I suspect federal defendants may be keen to quote in other cases (in part because this new filing almost reads like a defense submission):

The prior filing submitted by the United States on February 10, 2020 (Gov. Sent. Memo. ECF No. 279) does not accurately reflect the Department of Justice’s position on what would be a reasonable sentence in this matter.  While it remains the position of the United States that a sentence of incarceration is warranted here, the government respectfully submits that the range of 87 to 108 months presented as the applicable advisory Guidelines range would not be appropriate or serve the interests of justice in this case.

It is well established that the prosecutor “is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935).  This axiom does not simply apply to the process of bringing charges or securing a conviction — it also “must necessarily extend” to the point where a prosecutor advocates for a particular sentence.  See United States v. Shanahan, 574 F.2d 1228, 1231 (5th Cir. 1978) (reviewing sentencing conduct of prosecutor). Applying that principle here, to the specific facts of this case, the government respectfully submits that a sentence of incarceration far less than 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment would be reasonable under the circumstances....

Here, as set forth in the government’s initial submission, the defendant’s total offense level is arguably 29 and his criminal history category is I, which would result in an advisory Guidelines range of 87 to 108 months.  Notably, however, the Sentencing Guidelines enhancements in this case — while perhaps technically applicable — more than double the defendant’s total offense level and, as a result, disproportionately escalate the defendant’s sentencing exposure to an offense level of 29, which typically applies in cases involving violent offenses, such as armed robbery, not obstruction cases. Cf. U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(a)-(b)....  Accordingly, it would be reasonable for the Court to conclude that the Guidelines range as calculated is unduly high on the facts of this case.

After calculating the Guidelines, the Court next turns to the statutory sentencing factors.  Title 18 of the United States Code Section 3553(a) states that a sentencing court should “impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary” to achieve the statutory goals of sentencing.  In doing so, Section 3553(a) delineates several factors that the court must consider when imposing a sentence, “and the sentencing range . . . as set forth in the Guidelines” is but one of those factors....  Here, there are several facts and circumstances supporting the imposition of a sentence below 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment....

Finally, the Court also should consider the defendant’s advanced age, health, personal circumstances, and lack of criminal history in fashioning an appropriate sentence. As noted above, a sentence of 87 to 108 months more typically has been imposed for defendants who have higher criminal history categories or who obstructed justice as part of a violent criminal organization....

The defendant committed serious offenses and deserves a sentence of incarceration that is “sufficient, but not greater than necessary” to satisfy the factors set forth in Section 3553(a).  Based on the facts known to the government, a sentence of between 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment, however, could be considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances.

Interestingly, as reported via The Hill, a changed sentencing recommendation is not the end of the fallout here:

The four Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors who recommended Roger Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison left the case Tuesday after top officials sought to reduce their sentencing request.

Prosecutors Michael Marando, Timothy J. Shea, Jonathan Kravis and Aaron Zelinsky all asked the judge in the case for permission to withdraw. Kravis left the DOJ entirely, announcing his resignation as an assistant U.S. attorney. The four were involved in providing the initial sentencing guidance for Stone. But in a rebuke to the career prosecutors, the DOJ on Tuesday told the judge in the case to apply "far less" to Stone's sentence....

The DOJ decision and the withdrawal of career prosecutors from the case stunned legal watchers and Washington and raised questions about potential political interference in the sentencing of a longtime Trump adviser. Reports of the DOJ reversal said top officials found the initial guidelines to be "excessive." Those reports also came after Trump blasted the guidelines on Twitter, saying that Stone was treated unfairly by prosecutors....

Speaking with reporters in the Oval Office, Trump said he didn't tell the Justice Department to amend its sentencing guidance but that he would have been within his rights to do so. “I'd be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it. I stay out of things,” Trump said.

"I didn't speak to them. I thought the recommendation was ridiculous. I thought the whole prosecution was ridiculous,” he continued. “I thought it was an insult to our country.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is calling on the DOJ's top watchdog to investigate the decision to suddenly recommend a lighter sentence for Stone, while the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is sending the Justice Department a Freedom of Information Act request for records related to the case. "The DOJ Inspector General must open an investigation immediately. I will be sending a formal request to the IG shortly," Schumer tweeted.

Prior related post:

February 11, 2020 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (7)

In speech to sheriffs, Attorney General William Barr assails "rogue DAs"

Continuing a trend of attacking locally-elected prosecutors bringing a new approach to their roles, Attorney General William Barr closed this speech at the Major County Sheriffs of America Winter Conference with a lengthy attack on the policies of what he calls "rogue DAs."  Here is the wind up and pitch from AG Barr on this topic:

Let me turn my attention to two substantial challenges to the rule of law we face today: so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions and, what I’ve been calling them, rogue DAs, who undermine — rather than advance — our ability to carry out effective law enforcement....

Another similar problem is the increasing number of district attorneys who have fashioned for themselves a new role of judge-legislator-prosecutor.  These self-styled “social justice” reformers are refusing to enforce entire categories of law, including law against resisting police officers.  In so doing, these DAs are putting everyone in danger.

Their policies are pushing a number of America’s cities back toward a more dangerous past. Under the district attorney in Philadelphia, the murder rate in that city is at its highest point in over a decade.  Other cities with these “progressive” DAs — like San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Chicago, and Baltimore — have all suffered historic levels of homicide and other violent crime.  This is while crime nationwide, generally, is going down.

The policies of these DAs strike at the very root of our law enforcement system.  Our system is based on graduated response, where we impose increasingly severe punishments based on an individual’s criminal history.  This means we have to have accurate criminal histories if we are going to be able to protect the community.  Even if we are going to treat early, and petty offenses leniently, we still need them charged and recorded so we know who we are dealing with as time goes by.  Our whole system is undermined by the practice of ignoring whole categories of criminal offenses.

The policies of these DAs also sabotage the effectiveness of community policing and “precision” policing, which depend heavily on obtaining information from members of the community.  When DAs engage in catch-and-release and revolving-door policies, people in the neighborhood who might otherwise provide information are scared to come forward.  These innocent people are rightly worried that the offender will be right back out on the street in a position to do them harm.  In some jurisdictions we are already seeing effective policing — that has taken decades of painstaking work to build — being dramatically undermined. Just in New York the other day, there was the case involving the MS-13 member who was released.  A member of the community provided evidence, and was killed by an MS-13 member who was released under new legal reforms in New York state.

These DAs think they are helping people, but they end up hurting them.  These policies actually lead to greater criminality.  Not always, but often enough, early intervention can help — with young people, in particular.  By allowing young lawbreakers entirely off the hook the first time — or the second time or even the third time — these DAs are potentially placing them on a conveyor to further and heightened criminality, which puts them at greater peril — both on the street from other criminals and from law enforcement when these young offenders graduate from petty to serious offenses, as many will if there is no intervention early on.

We have seen these policies before. They reigned supreme at the state level from the 1960s to the early 1990s. During this time, violent crime rates tripled in our country. They peaked in 1991 and 1992. By that time, the country had had enough. Following the lead of the policies of the Reagan, H.W. Bush administrations, the states started to make their systems tougher on crime.

We understood that because crime, particularly violent crime, is committed by a small segment of our population, repeat offenders need to be taken off the streets. Federal, state, and local law enforcement formed a strong partnership to get these violent offenders off our streets and keep them off.

We had tremendous success. Since 1992, violent crime was cut in half nationwide. It went up a bit in the last two years of the Obama administration, but since the beginning of the Trump administration, we have succeeded in pushing it back down. We cannot allow all our hard work over the last 30 years to be undone by the wrong-headed policies of these so-called “reform” DAs.

We have to strengthen our partnership and stand together as never before. We have to be a strong voice for sensible law enforcement policies that protect our communities from violent predators. Our freedom depends on our ability to preserve the rule of law. I thank you, the department thanks you, and the American people thank you for dedicating your lives to defending it.

As I have noted before (here and here), complaints from DOJ about local prosecutorial "practice of ignoring whole categories of criminal offenses" are pretty rich given that DOJ has itself been engaged in the "practice of ignoring" all sorts of large-scale (though state-compliant) federal marijuana offenses for many years.

Prior related posts:

February 11, 2020 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

"Fees, fines and ability to pay"

The title of this post is the title of this new Hill commentary authored by Lauren-Brooke Eisen and Matthew Menendez of the Brennan Center for Justice. Here is how the piece starts and ends:

In far too many criminal courts across the country, judges impose fees and fines on defendants without consideration for their ability to pay.  The result: people struggling financially are saddled with debt that makes it nearly impossible for them to support themselves and their families.  The devastating consequences of these practices are gaining national attention.  In fact, five of the current Democratic presidential candidates have joined the growing outcry against this approach and are trying to address the problem through their criminal justice policy platforms.

Despite promising momentum for change, some government officials hold on, partly under the belief that they need fines and fees to generate revenue.  But a hard look at the numbers shows that collecting fees and fines is highly inefficient and costs much more than many policymakers ever realized.

Compared to fines issued with sentences, court fees tend to slip past the public’s attention.  Depending on where you live, if you are arrested for low-level offenses such as loitering or possessing a small amount of drugs, you could get charged dozens of fees: a fee for filing your paperwork, a fee for the court to figure out if you qualify for a public defender, a fee for your public defender’s services, a universal fee wholly unrelated to your case (like the one that funds a DNA program), a court technology fee, and more.

We studied fees and fines, observing more than 1,000 hearings in three states and found that, in most places, courts rarely consider a defendant’s finances and what he or she might be able to pay before requiring them to pay mandatory court fees and fines [report available here and here].  For people who can’t afford the amount they owe, they become debtors whose bill collectors are judges and the police.

We assessed the costs for state and local governments to enforce and collect fees and fines by analyzing data from 10 counties in Florida, New Mexico, and Texas, as well as state-level data for the three states.  The waste that we discovered tell us that every city, county, and state government should look hard at their fees and fines policies.  The net gain might be far less than they have imagined, the losses far more damaging.

Because many low-income people can’t pay their debt, billions of dollars in fines and fees go unpaid every year while these debts hang over people, spiraling out of control as penalties pile up.  In fact, our report found that from 2012 to 2018, Florida, New Mexico, and Texas amassed a total of almost $1.9 billion in uncollected debt.  This debt is made up of millions of tiny debts owed by people who may never be financially equipped to pay them off....

State and local governments can stop placing unjust burdens on poor people and their families.  They can start to do so by enacting legislation to eliminate the fees that the court imposes on criminal defendants.  In many places, the courts rely primarily on fees for funding, as opposed to taxes, despite the fact that they operate in service to the public as a whole. States and localities should make general tax revenue the primary source of funding for the courts, rather than fees.

States should also reform how they impose fines.  To guard against assessing fines that defendants can’t afford, states should require judges to evaluate a person’s ability to pay and then apply a sliding scale to determine the amount.  After digging into the numbers, we can add fiscal irresponsibility and growing burdens to those most impacted by these debts to the reasons to dump these practices.  Every jurisdiction using fines and fees must stop and do the math — all of it.

February 11, 2020 in Data on sentencing, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

For Roger Stone, federal prosecutors advocate for within-guideline sentence of 7.3 to 9 years in prison ... which Prez Trump calls a "miscarriage of justice!"

As reported in this Politico piece, "Federal prosecutors are urging that longtime Donald Trump adviser and Republican political provocateur Roger Stone be sent to prison for about seven to nine years for his conviction on charges of lying and witness tampering during investigations of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign." Here is more about the sentencing filings in this high-profile case that emerged late yesterday:

The stern recommendation is starkly at odds with a suggestion from Stone's defense team that he should be sentenced to probation — and no jail time — in the case.

Following a weeklong trial last November, a Washington jury found Stone guilty on all seven felony counts he faced: five of making false statements to Congress, one of obstruction of Congress, and one of witness tampering with both the House Intelligence Committee inquiry and special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

In a sentencing filing Monday, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington argued that Stone's conduct was exceptionally sinister because of the importance of those investigations and the danger of overseas influence on U.S. elections. "Foreign election interference is the 'most deadly adversar[y] of republican government,'” prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington wrote, quoting Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Paper No. 68....  The argument was strikingly similar — in some cases borrowing from the exact passages from the same Constitution-era text — as that lodged by the House's prosecutors during Trump's impeachment trial. "Alexander Hamilton cautioned that the 'most deadly adversaries of republican government may come 'chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils,'" the House members argued in their trial brief....

While prosecutors tied the gravity of Stone's crimes to their impact on the electoral system, the bulk of the prison time authorities are calling for is a product of the prosecution's decision to treat hostile and vulgar messages Stone sent to longtime associate Randy Credico as genuine threats of violence, or at least as having the potential to stir up violence against Credico or others.  Prosecutors pointed, in particular, to a message Stone sent to Credico after he indicated plans to cooperate with the House committee. "Prepare to die, cocksucker," Stone wrote.  In another instance, Stone told Credico, who has a therapy dog, that he would "take that dog away from you."

Stone said during the trial his comments were in jest and part of the brash banter often exchanged between the two men, whose views are usually at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Prosecutors insisted that the barbed remarks mean Stone deserves between four and five years longer under federal sentencing guidelines than in cases involving witness tampering efforts that involve no physical threats.... Prosecutors acknowledged that Credico — a liberal New York city talk show host, comedian and activist — recently wrote to the court saying he did not think Stone was threatening him physically. Credico's letter urged that Stone get probation.  However, prosecutors also noted that during the trial, Credico said he was concerned about Stone's statements because they could encourage others to get violent.

Defense lawyers, who weighed in with U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson late Monday night, vigorously disputed the notion that Stone's statements to Credico were actual threats to do anything.  They noted that at the trial Credico called Stone's comments "hyperbole" and said Stone "loves all dogs," so he could not have actually intended to harm Credico's service dog, a tiny Coton de Tulear who's almost constantly at his side. "Stone’s indecorous conversations with Randy Credico were many things, but here, in the circumstances of this nearly 20-year relationship between eccentric men, where crude language was the norm, 'prepare to die cocksucker' and conversations of similar ilk, were not threats of physical harm, 'serious acts' used as a means of intimidation, or 'the more serious forms of obstruction' contemplated by the Guidelines," Stone's lawyers wrote....

Stone, 67, faces a maximum of 50 years in prison at the sentencing, which Jackson has set for Feb. 20. Prosecutors say federal sentencing guidelines urge between 87 to 108 months in prison for Stone.  The defense disputes several aspects of that calculation and argues that the guidelines call for just 15 to 21 months.  Judges have the right to sentence above or below the guidelines, but are required to calculate the recommended sentence and take it into account.

Stone's defense also submitted a collection of letters from his wife and acquaintances in the political sphere and elsewhere.  "I can't tell you that Roger is a saint — he pushes everything to the limit even with you," Stone's wife Nydia wrote, alluding to Stone's run-ins with the judge over her gag orders and perhaps to an Instagram post he sent during the trial that included a picture of Jackson next to what appeared to be crosshairs. She also proclaimed her husband "loyal, kind, loving, considerate, generous and good-natured," as well deeply committed to Trump's re-election.

Among others asking for leniency for Stone were Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf and former New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino.  Stone's supporters saluted him as an early backer of gay rights and marriage equality, an opponent of animal testing and a strong advocate for the easing of New York state's tough Rockefeller drug laws.

I am not surprised to see the upcoming Roger Stone sentencing to engender an interesting debate over both guideline calculations and 3553(a) factors (not to mention the real meaning of colorful phrases).  Here are the full filings from the parties:

Unsurprisingly (and I think importantly), President Donald Trump is not at all keen about the sentencing advocacy of his Department of Justice in this case. Among other tweets on the topic, Prez Trump retweeted a lament about federal prosecutors seeking "A *9 year* prison recommendation for non-violent crimes committed by a 67-year-old man." In addition, Prez Trump had this original tweet on the topic in the wee hours (just before 2am EST):

Regular readers know that plenty of extreme (and within-guideline) sentencing recommendations by federal prosecutors have kept me up at night, although I usually turn to blogging rather than tweeting to express my concerns about the banal severity and cruelty of the federal criminal justice system.  (For the record, all US Presidents — current, former and wanna-be — have an open invitation to guest-blog here about any sentencing matters!) 

Based on the submissions, I am inclined to (tentatively) predict that Judge Amy Berman Jackson will come to a lower guideline calculation than urged by prosecutors and yet still impose a below-guideline sentence.  But I still expect the sentencing judge to impose some prison time on Stone, at which point it will be interesting to see if Prez Trump will make another controversial use of his clemency power.  If Stone gets less than a year, I suspect Trump will leave him to serve his sentence at least until the upcoming election, as he has with Paul Manafort. 

As always, I welcome comments and other predictions from readers.

UPDATE: This Fox News article, headlined "DOJ expected to scale back Roger Stone's 'extreme' sentencing recommendation: official," suggests that federal prosecutors may soon be changing their sentencing tune in this high-profile case.

February 11, 2020 in Clemency and Pardons, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 10, 2020

Notable numbers in "Criminal Justice Reform" fact sheet highlighting part of Prez Trump's proposed budget

President Donald Trump delivered a proposed budget to Congress today, which this Politico article calls "another fiscally conservative dream document lawmakers will largely disregard."  I do not know enough about budget policy, politics or practice to say much about the whole document, but I did notice that the White House has also now released this one-page budget fact sheet titled "Criminal Justice Reform."  Here are excerpts:

On December 21, 2018, President Trump signed into law the First Step Act of 2018 (FSA, or “the Act”), the most significant, bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation in more than a decade....

For 2021, the Budget provides $409 million to Department of Justice’s Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to implement the FSA, an increase of $319 million over 2020 enacted budget. Major new investments in 2021 include:

  • Residential Reentry Center (RRC) Expansion ($244 million):  The FSA requires BOP to have pre-release custody available for all eligible inmates.  The FSA also greatly expands inmate eligibility for pre-release custody by allowing inmates to earn 10 days of pre-release custody time credits for every 30 days of successful participation in an evidence-based, recidivism-reduction program or productive activity.  Prerelease custody usually occurs in an RRC, commonly called a “halfway house.”  BOP currently has about 14,000 RRC beds under contract, and funding provided in 2020 will add 300 more.  The 2021 Budget supports an additional 8,700 beds, bringing the total to 23,000 RRC beds -- a level that is expected to meet the pre-release custody demand under the FSA.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) – Complete Nationwide Expansion ($37 million):  MAT combines behavioral therapy and medication to treat inmates with opioid use disorder. BOP estimates that 10 percent of its population may be eligible for MAT treatment.  BOP is investing sufficient funding in 2020 to expand MAT treatment from a small pilot program to half of all eligible BOP facilities.  The 2021 Budget continues this funding and provides an additional $37 million to complete MAT expansion to all eligible BOP facilities.
  • Recidivism-Reduction Program Expansion ($23 million):  As required by the FSA, BOP will increase access to evidence-based, recidivism-reduction programs.  BOP’s focus will be to add capacity to existing mental health, life skills, special needs, educational, vocational programs, and add new programs as they are identified and evaluated.
  • FSA Staff Support ($15 million): These funds provide for the pay and benefits of additional FSA staff hired to support 2020 investments in MAT and Recidivism-Reduction Programs.

The Budget also recurs $90 million provided in 2020 to support FSA implementation, including:

  • $38 million to expand MAT to the first half of BOP’s institutions in 2020;
  • $19 million to expand evidence-based, recidivism-reduction programs;
  • $14 million for the Innovations in Corrections program to incentivize the development of innovative, evidence-based pilot projects in reentry and recidivism-reduction approaches;
  • $9 million for the initial expansion of 300 RRC beds added in 2020;
  • $6 million for inmate-focused IT, such as upgrading the BOP’s computer-based education network; and,
  • $4 million to evaluate BOP’s recidivism-reduction programs and tools for assessing recidivism risk.

Though these budget proposals still might fall short of what is needed for full, effective implementation of the FIRST STEP Act (e.g., I think Recidivism-Reduction Programs needs a lot more money), this strikes me as a serious effort to put serious money behind the Act (especially with the RRC expansion). Though I will always be hoping for the Trump Administration to do more and more in the arena of criminal justice reform, I am pleased today to see this Trumpian effort to provide needed additional resources in this arena.

Relatedly, and covering a lot more ground, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen today delivered these remarks regarding the Department of Justice's overall portion of the FY 2021 Budget Proposal.

February 10, 2020 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Peter Parker Problem"

Standard_incredibleThe title of this post is the title of this new article authored by W. David Ball now available via SSRN.  Here is the piece's abstract:

Sandy Mayson, in her article "Dangerous Defendants," points out the ways in which pretrial detention violates the parity principle-treating those of like risk alike.  There is no justification for the preventative detention of arrestees that would not also apply to those of a similar risk level at large.  In other words, merely having an arrestee in custody does not logically change our analysis of the risk they present or what we should do with them.

But what if these views are psychological, not actuarial?  What if different decisions about these populations (and the differences in how we view them) are not based in different assessments of risk, but about the psychological heuristics we use to analyze them?  In this paper, I explore the possibility that counterfactuals — the "if only I had" scenarios that create an alternative universe where tragedy is avoided — drive decisionmaking without our being aware of it.  The human tendency to desire certainty and simplicity may help explain why our default seems to be to keep someone locked up, "just in case" — and why this desire is resistant to information and argument.

This Article adds an important dimension to the ongoing debates about whether judicial discretion or actuarial tools should govern pretrial release.  Judicial discretion may be biased towards incapacitation by operating on the "gut level" of psychology — even if these decisions result in suboptimality from a cost-benefit perspective.  It adds an additional perspective to the existing literature on the political economy of headline-grabbing crimes (the "Willie Horton" effect). 

The insights from pretrial release also apply more generally to a host of similar problems, including parole release, executive clemency, diversion programs, and removal of children from potentially abusive parents, and suggest that policymakers and reformers be cognizant of the way in which current criminal justice thinking is short-sighted, overly reactive, and biased towards incapacitation.  By applying theories of the counterfactual proposed by Roese and other behavioral psychologists to regret-minimization problems, the Article provides an explanation for why, even when regulations change, judicial decisions to release may remain low.  It suggests that experimental research specifically targeting judicial counterfactual thinking should take place.

February 10, 2020 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 9, 2020

American Journal of Public Health's supplement explores public health impact of carceral state

Download (10)I have just recently seen that the American Journal of Public Health has this big new "Supplement" with many articles under the headline "Documenting and Addressing the Health Impacts of Carceral Systems."  This short introduction to the issue closes this way:

Over the past 40 years, our society has deliberately divested from social and public goods designed to promote health and economic security while pumping resources into police, courts, and correctional systems that punish, impoverish, and dehumanize people and communities.

We conceptualized this special supplement to amplify the growing chorus of scholars, practitioners, and activists who are committed to ending mass incarceration.  As an interdisciplinary field, public health has a critical role to play by bringing our range of theoretical and analytic tools to bear on documenting and addressing the health impacts of carceral systems.  As conveyed in prior research and the articles in this supplement, mass incarceration has already caused incalculable damage to the health and vitality of our society.  As scholars working on these issues in local government, academia, advocacy, and the nonprofit world, we saw a need to further solidify recognition of mass incarceration as a sociostructural driver of health inequities in our field by devoting an entire supplement to this topic in a premier journal.

This supplement includes original research and essays that portray the myriad pathways through which carceral systems imperil the health of individuals, families, neighborhoods, and the population by compromising social determinants of health.  Collectively, it also offers visionary ideas and practical guidance for addressing these harms.  We hope it inspires public health scholars, advocates, and practitioners to continue devoting their intellect and energy to the topics covered.

We are thankful to everyone who submitted and contributed to this issue.  We are especially fortunate to have powerful pieces written by formerly incarcerated people who are working tirelessly to help those still locked down to find hope and dismantle carceral systems for future generations.  In addition, we thank the editors and staff at AJPH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for supporting this supplement and ensuring that the articles are available in an open-access format.  The aim was to ensure that the content finds its way beyond academic discourse and proves useful to all people fighting for health equity, decarceration, and racial justice.

This supplement includes nearly three dozen (relatively short) articles that ought of be of great interest to those interested in the intersections of criminal justice and public health. Here are just a few of the pieces that ought to be of particular interest to sentencing fans:

February 9, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

"A lawyer argued that plea deals are unconstitutional. Now the DA won’t bargain with her."

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting article from the Washington Post reporting on a notable squabble over plea bargaining in the Lone Star State.  Here is a excerpt from an article worth reading in full:

Inside a Tom Green County, Tex., courtroom in October, a woman facing a misdemeanor forgery charge was about to lose her appointed lawyer.  That afternoon, the woman’s soon-to-be former defense attorney, Patricia Stone, was joined by a judge to explain to the defendant why Stone could no longer represent her: The district attorney in Tom Green County was trying to enforce a policy, pertaining only to Stone, that required her to sign a waiver against her beliefs for prosecutors to discuss plea deals for her clients....

The defendant was among more than 10 clients Stone was forced to give up as a result of a targeted policy devised by Tom Green County prosecutors, according to a federal lawsuit filed in October.  The complaint names district attorneys Allison Palmer and John Best and accuses their office of silencing Stone’s First Amendment views and retaliating against her for making the argument in a separate appeals case that plea bargains are unconstitutional.  The lawsuit seeks damages, a jury trial and an injunction to prevent the county from continuing to enforce the waiver requirement against Stone.

Stone told The Washington Post in an email that the prosecutors are exercising a kind of power they were never meant to have.  “In this case, the DA is saying, ‘we are going to dictate the legal arguments you can make, and if you don’t agree we’re going to make sure that your other clients don’t have the same right to justice as everyone else,’ ” Stone wrote. “They are trying to make me sell out one of my clients to do a good job for the others, and I won’t do that.”...

According to Stone’s lawsuit, Tom Green County prosecutors soon refused to negotiate pleas unless Stone signed a so-called “additional admonishment” that included the phrase: “In no way do I believe this defendant’s plea of guilty in exchange for the State’s punishment recommendation in this case to have violated my client’s constitutional rights, including his due-process rights.”  Stone refused and said the ultimatum forced her to withdraw from her cases in the county.

February 9, 2020 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)