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November 5, 2021

SCOTUS grants cert on two (consolidated) cases to consider physician criminal liability for unlawfully dispensing prescription drugs

The Supreme Court this afternoon issued this new short order list that grants certiorari in a few new cases, including a (consolidated) pair of criminal matters involving whether and when doctors can be criminal liable for unlawfully dispensing prescription drugs.  The two cases are Ruan v. US, No. 20-1410, and Kahn v. US, No. 21-5261, and here is the question presented in the first of these:

Whether a physician alleged to have prescribed controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice may be convicted of unlawful distribution under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) without regard to whether, in good faith, he “reasonably believed” or “subjectively intended” that his prescriptions fall within that course of professional practice.

November 5, 2021 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

"Specialization in Criminal Courts: Decision Making, Recidivism, and Re-victimization in Domestic Violence Courts in Tennessee"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper now available via SSRN authored by Aria Golestani, Emily Owens and Kerri Raissian. Here is its abstract:

Local governments increasingly rely on “specialized” or “problem solving” courts as a way to improve the provision of criminal justice.  Using administrative data on misdemeanor DV cases between 2000 and 2006, we exploit the arbitrary courtroom assignment of low-income defendants to evaluate the social impact of specialized domestic violence courts in the General Sessions Court of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee.  We find that, compared to traditional court, defendants assigned to specialized court are less likely to be convicted, but no more likely to be charged with a future crime 1 to 3 years later.  This offender-focused measure of recidivism masks a potentially important increase in safety.  Police records suggest that victims in cases assigned to specialized court are less likely to be involved in a future domestic incident.  Conditional on future police involvement, these same victims appear to be more willing to cooperate with police and prosecutors.

November 5, 2021 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 4, 2021

Federal prison population has now grown more than 4,300 persons (almost 3%) in just last six month

Prez Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to "take bold action to reduce our prison population."  But I cannot think of a single action he has taken over his first 10 months in office, let alone any "bold action," to reduce the federal prison population.  And the latest numbers from the federal Bureau of Prisons tell a notably story of federal prison population growth, not reduction, so far in the the Biden era.

The day after Joe Biden was inaugurated, I authored this post posing a question in the title: "Anyone bold enough to make predictions about the federal prison population — which is now at 151,646 according to BOP?".  That post highlighted notable numerical realties about the the federal prison population (based on BOP data) during recent presidencies: during Prez Obama's first term in office, the federal prison population increased about 8%, climbing from 201,668 at the end of 2008 to 218,687 at the end of 2012; during Prez Trump's one term in office, this population count decreased almost 20%, dropping from 189,212 total federal inmates in January 2017 to 151,646 in January 2021.

At the 100 day mark of the Biden Administration, I noted in this post that the prison population in the first few months of the Biden era had held pretty steady.  Specifically, as of May 6, 2021, the federal prison population clocked in at 152,085, an increase of just over 500 persons in inauguration day.  But now the BOP update of the federal prison population as of Nov. 4, 2021 reports 156,428 "Total Federal Inmates."  Thus, over the last six months, the total federal prison population has grown nearly 3% with more than 4,300 additional inmates.

This prison growth, I suspect, is mostly a function of the federal criminal justice system returning to more case-processing normalcy as COVID concerns recede.  (The reduction in COVID concerns also likely is resulting in fewer grants of compassionate release and perhaps a greater willingness of some judges to order the start of prison terms.)  Increased concerns about violent crime might also be playing a role, directly or indirectly, in the flow of prisoners in and out of federal facilities.

Though a range of uncertain factors may be driving the significant uptick in federal prisoners over the last six months, I am certainly inclined to now predict that we will see continued increases in the federal prison population unless and until Prez Biden makes an effort to carry out his pledge to "take bold action to reduce our prison population."  I am not holding my breath.

November 4, 2021 in Criminal justice in the Biden Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

Checking in with Oregon's drug decriminalization effort one year in

Stateline has this effective piece, headlined "Oregon’s Drug Decriminalization May Spread, Despite Unclear Results," providing an update of sorts on Oregon's experience one year after a ballot initiative enacted statewide drug decriminalization.  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

Progressive lawmakers and civil rights groups want more states to follow Oregon’s recent example and drop criminal penalties for carrying small amounts of heroin, cocaine or other drugs, and to spend more money on addiction recovery services.  They say substance use disorder should be treated as a disease, rather than as a crime.

Democratic lawmakers in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont all proposed decriminalization bills this year.  Advocacy groups hope to get a decriminalization measure on the ballot in Washington in 2022 and in California in 2024, said Matt Sutton, director of public relations for the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit.  The Drug Policy Alliance helped fund the ballot initiative that resulted in Oregon’s new law, which took effect in February.

But Oregon’s experience shows that it’s easier to eliminate criminal penalties than to ramp up behavioral health services and get more people to use them.  In fact, critics of decriminalization say such policies could decrease access to treatment, because fewer low-level offenders will be pushed into court-ordered programs....

The law will use marijuana tax revenue — plus any criminal justice money saved through decriminalization — to fund organizations that help people seek and maintain sobriety. Those services could include peer support groups and transitional housing programs. Such organizations will get about $300 million over the next two years [which is estimated to be] about five times the amount Oregon is currently spending on services that aren’t provided through Medicaid, the public health insurance program for people who have low incomes or disabilities. About $30 million already has been disbursed....

Drug arrests and convictions have plummeted in Oregon since February.  The ballot measure made possessing small amounts of drugs — such as less than a gram of heroin, or less than two grams of cocaine — a civil citation punishable by a $100 fine rather than a crime.  It also downgraded felony charges to misdemeanors for possessing slightly larger amounts.

The measure established a hotline that people whom police ticket for possession can call to undergo a health assessment.  If they complete the assessment, they can get their citations waived, even without further treatment or other services.  The law also requires the state to establish addiction recovery centers to connect people who use drugs with treatment or other assistance, such as housing or overdose prevention education.

Before decriminalization, in 2019, Oregon law enforcement officers made more than 6,700 arrests and courts issued more than 4,000 convictions for drug possession in cases where possession was the most serious potential charge, according to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission....  Between February and August this year, law enforcement made 1,800 arrests for such possession crimes and courts issued 364 convictions.  Defendants most likely were arrested for carrying large amounts of drugs or for drug dealing offenses, said Ken Sanchagrin, executive director of the commission. 

Decriminalization doesn’t appear to be leading to a rise in drug-related crime, such as property crime.  Property crimes in the state actually decreased this year, according to data provided by the criminal justice commission and the judicial department.

It’s less clear whether decriminalization has led more people to seek help for substance use disorders.  Defendants failed to show up in court to make their case against about half of 1,300 citations issued through September for possession of small amounts of drugs, according to the Oregon Judicial Department.  In only seven cases did defendants submit a health assessment to get their fines waived.  To critics of the new law, the seldom-used hotline proves that decriminalization isn’t working....

Policymakers nationwide likely will be watching Oregon for policy insights, said Beau Kilmer, director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center at the RAND Corporation, a California-based research group.  But the Oregon law is so new — and is being implemented at such an unusual time, during a global pandemic — that it’s hard to tell whether it’s working as intended, he said.  “I suspect voters in other states will be considering this before we have hard evidence on it.”

November 4, 2021 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

Split Sixth Circuit panel finds multiple errors in district court's reduction of LWOP sentence via 3582(c)(1)(A)

The Sixth Circuit yesterday handed down a notable split panel opinion reversing the grant of compassionate release to a defendant who had been serving a life without parole sentence in US v. Bass, No. 21-1094 (6th Cir. Nov. 3, 2021) (available here).  Here i how the majority opinion gets started:

In 2003, John Bass, a local drug kingpin in the state of Michigan, was convicted of murdering a hitman whom Bass had hired to kill Bass’s half-brother.  Though the Government sought the death penalty, Bass was ultimately sentenced to two concurrent terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of release.  In 2020, Bass moved for compassionate release due to COVID-19.  The district court granted Bass’s request in January 2021 and ordered his immediate release.  In March, a divided panel of this court granted the Government’s emergency motion to stay the release.  In this merits appeal, the Government argues that the district court abused its discretion when it granted Bass’s request for immediate release.  Because the district court’s decision rested upon legal errors, its decision to release Bass constituted an abuse of its discretion.  On remand, moreover, the district court must reevaluate the compassionate release request based on current facts and circumstances, which have materially changed.

The "legal errors" identified by the majority relate largely to how the district court framed and balanced various 3553(a) factors, but the seriousness of the crime seems to be driving much of the analysis:

The district court also reasoned that, balancing Bass’s crimes “with the circumstances under which they were committed,” his twenty-two-year incarceration was “‘sufficient, but not greater than necessary,’ to fulfill the purposes of his punishment.” Bass, 514 F. Supp. 3d at 984 (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)).  This conclusion does not fit the facts of Bass’s case.  Bass’s crimes were so severe that the Government sought the death penalty, and Bass’s own defense counsel assured the jury that Bass would never leave prison in an effort to avoid imposition of the death penalty.  Bass, 460 F.3d at 834.  The district court justified Bass’s release by repeatedly emphasizing Bass’s commitment to rehabilitation and education.  Bass, 514 F. Supp. 3d at 984-88.  But the district court failed to square this lengthy rehabilitation analysis with the fact that Bass’s original sentence was life imprisonment without the possibility of release. This sentence would have ensured that the fifty-two-year-old Bass would remain in prison for the rest of his life, which could conceivably extend for several decades.  In deciding Bass’s original sentence, the jury and the district court had already considered and rejected the possibility that Bass could be rehabilitated, or that his capacity for rehabilitation warranted the potential for an early release.  This is not to say that compassionate release is never available for a defendant sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of release.  We assume that there are circumstances that would warrant compassionate release for a defendant so sentenced.  But the nature of Bass’s life sentence calls into question the district court’s decision to afford substantial weight to Bass’s efforts at rehabilitation after only twenty-two years in prison.

Notably, as detailed here, a few months ago in US v. Hunter, 12 F. 4th 555 (6th Cir. 2021), a unanimous Sixth Circuit panel reversed a life sentence reduced to "only" 21 years in prison based on questionable conclusions that certain factors could never permit a sentence reduction via 3582(c)(1)(A).  Here the reversal is focused on the weighing of 3553(a) factors, and that reality in part drives  the dissent that Judge White penned here.  Her opinion starts and ends this way:

I would not have granted Bass’s motion for compassionate release, but under the compassionate-release jurisprudence this court has developed over the past year and a half or so, our disagreement with a district court’s exercise of its discretion is expressly excluded as a ground for reversal. We require district courts to provide only the most minimal explanation, see, e.g., United States v. Quintanilla Navarro, 986 F.3d 668, 673 (6th Cir. 2021) (affirming a district court's single-sentence order), and we must defer to their judgment in weighing the § 3553(a) factors and not substitute our own, see United States v. Ruffin, 978 F.3d 1000, 1005 (6th Cir. 2020); United States v. Hogg, 858 F. App’x 816, 818 (6th Cir. 2021); United States v. Keefer, 832 F. App'x 359, 362–65 (6th Cir. 2020)....

As I said at the outset, I would not have granted this motion.  However, the district court adequately explained its decision and did not abuse its discretion in concluding otherwise.  We must apply the same rules on review without regard to whether the government or the inmate is aggrieved by the district court’s decision.  “Our trust in the discretion of the district court must be consistent regardless of whether the district court grants or denies a [compassionate-release motion].” Bass, 843 Fed. App’x at 740.

November 4, 2021 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Should veteran status justify reducing or increasing the sentences of January 6 rioters?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new AP piece headlined "Feds seek tougher sentences for veterans who stormed Capitol."  The piece merits a full read, and here are excerpts:

During his 27 years in the U.S. Army, Leonard Gruppo joined the Special Forces, served in four war zones and led a team of combat medics in Iraq before retiring in 2013 as a lieutenant colonel.

During his six minutes inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Gruppo joined a slew of other military veterans as a mob of pro-Trump rioters carried out an unparalleled assault on the bastion of American democracy.  He’s among dozens of veterans and active-service members charged in connection with the insurrection.

Now, cases like his are presenting a thorny question for federal judges to consider when they sentence veterans who stormed the Capitol: Do they deserve leniency because they served their country or tougher punishment because they swore an oath to defend it?

The Justice Department has adopted the latter position. In at least five cases so far, prosecutors have cited a rioter’s military service as a factor weighing in favor of a jail sentence or house arrest.  Prosecutors have repeatedly maintained that veterans’ service, while commendable, made their actions on Jan. 6 more egregious....

Prosecutors’ arguments about rioters’ military service didn’t sway one of the first judges to hear them — at Gruppo’s sentencing hearing last Friday.  “I don’t view his military service that way. I just can’t bring myself to do that,” Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said before sentencing Gruppo to two years of probation, including 90 days of house arrest....

In most criminal cases, judges typically view a defendant’s military service as a mitigating factor that favors leniency, said James Markham, a professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  But he recognizes how the Justice Department could conclude that rioters with military experience should be held to a higher standard than those without it.  “It’s obviously not related to their military service directly, but it’s also not entirely conceptually unrelated that somebody who is a veteran or had military service could be viewed as having a more refined understanding of the importance of civilian control and electoral stability,” said Markham, a lawyer and Air Force veteran.

More than 650 people have been charged in the Jan. 6 attack. Some of the rioters facing the most serious charges, including members of far-right extremist groups, have military backgrounds.  A handful of riot defendants were on active duty, including an Army reservist who wore a Hitler mustache to his job at at a Navy base.

More than 100 riot defendants have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors punishable by a maximum of six months of incarceration. Two dozen had been sentenced as of Friday.  At least three of the sentenced defendants are veterans, according to an Associated Press review of court records.

In September, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg sentenced Air Force veteran Derek Jancart to 45 days in jail for joining the riot.  Prosecutors had sought a four-month jail sentence for Jancart, an Ohio steelworker....  Another Air Force veteran, Thomas Vinson, was sentenced on Oct. 22 to five years of probation.  Prosecutors had recommended three months of house arrest for Vinson, a Kentucky resident who served in the Air Force from 1984 through 1988....

At least two other rioters who served in the military are scheduled to be sentenced in the coming days.  Prosecutors have recommended two months in jail for Boyd Camper, who served in the U.S. Marines from 1987 to 1990...  Prosecutors are seeking two months of house arrest for Air Force veteran Jonathan Ace Sanders Sr., who is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday. 

Some of many prior related posts:

November 4, 2021 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4)

November 3, 2021

First published papers from "Understanding Drug Sentencing" now available in latest issue of Federal Sentencing Reporter

A little over a year ago, I highlighted this call for papers relating to the "Understanding Drug Sentencing and its Contributions to Mass Punishment" event that I took place last month.  The original plan was to publish papers just in the Spring 2022 symposium edition of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law.  A set of longer pieces will be appearing in that volume, but response to the call was so great that we arranged for the Federal Sentencing Reporter to also serve as a home for these works.  And I am quite pleased to see that the latest FSR issue is now available here online this with great line up of pieces: 

"Sentencing Drug Offenders Justly While Reducing Mass Incarceration" by Hon. Lynn Adelman

"Supporting Responsive Federal Drug Sentencing Through Education in the Workshop on Science-Informed Decision Making" by Hon. Nancy Gertner, Dr. Judith Edersheim, Dr. Robert Kinscherff & Cassandra Snyder

"Sentencing Federal Drug Offenders: Evidence of Judicial Activism" by Melissa Hamilton

"Crack 2.0: Federal Methamphetamine Sentencing Policy, the Crack/Meth Sentencing Disparity, and the Meth/Meth-Mixture Ratio — Why Drug Type, Quantity, and Purity Remain 'Incredibly Poor Proxies' for Sentencing Culpability Under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b) and U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1." by Lex A. Coleman

"Why Are Federal Meth Sentences Getting Longer?" by Jake J. Smith

"Sentencing to Drug Court: Tailoring the Program to the Participant Through Judicial Education and Oversight" by Lizett Martinez Schreiber

"Public Support for Using “Second Chance” Mechanisms to Reconsider Long-Term Prison Sentences for Drug Crimes" by Colleen M. Berryessa

"A History of Early Drug Sentences in California: Racism, Rightism, Repeat" by Sarah Brady Siff

November 3, 2021 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Gladue Analysis: Shedding Light on Appropriate Procedures and Sanctions"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting-looking new paper about an interesting aspect of Canadian sentencing practice. This piece was authored by Marie-Andrée Denis-Boileau, is available via SSRN, and here is its abstract:

This paper intends to give practical tools to legal actors to better implement the second part of the s 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code analysis for sentencing Indigenous people, as first laid out in the Gladue case of the Supreme Court of Canada.  Following this, when sentencing an Indigenous person, judges have to pay attention to “the types of sentencing procedures and sanctions which may be appropriate in the circumstances for the offender because of his or her particular Aboriginal heritage or connection”.  Drawing from case law, research and the work of Commissions and Public Inquiries in Canada, the author intends to provide practical tools to legal actors to support them in fully engaging with it.  The paper identifies and describes three elements that must be considered by courts in this analysis: (1) the community’s perspectives, needs and alternatives to incarceration, (2) The Aboriginal Perspective, which was interpreted as including the "laws, practices, customs and traditions of the group” and (3) Culturally sensitive, appropriate and responsive sentences addressing the “underlying cause of the criminal conduct”. Its main focus is on Indigenous law and providing practical and clear ways for judges and legal actors to consider it.

The content of this paper was first developed for Legal Aid BC’s Best Practices Guide for Writing Gladue Reports and Understanding Gladue Principles, with the intent to support Gladue writers in providing more information to courts with regard to this part of the Gladue analysis and support anyone who is interested in better understanding Gladue principles.  This paper should support legal actors in better engaging with it.

November 3, 2021 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 2, 2021

Oklahoma board recommends clemency for Julius Jones who claims innocence from death row

This local article reports on a notable development in a high-profile case in Oklahoma involving the next death row inmate scheduled to be executed in the coming weeks. Here are the details:

The Oklahoma State Pardon and Parole Board on Monday recommended clemency for death row inmate Julius Jones.  The board voted 3-1 in favor of granting clemency for Jones, who has been on death row for more than 20 years for the 1999 murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell.  One board member recused themselves from the vote.

Along with clemency, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended commuting Jones' death sentence to life with the possibility of parole.

"The Pardon and Parole Board has now twice voted in favor of commuting Julius Jones’s death sentence, acknowledging the grievous errors that led to his conviction and death sentence," Jones' lawyer, Amanda Bass, said in a news release.  "We hope that Governor Stitt will exercise his authority to accept the Board’s recommendation and ensure that Oklahoma does not execute an innocent man."

"My son Julius has been on death row for over twenty years for a murder he did not commit, and every day of that has been a waking nightmare for my family," Jones' mother, Madeline Davis-Jones, said in a news release....

Gov. Kevin Stitt will now decide Jones' fate.  He has not said how he plans to decide in the case, only saying that he wouldn't decide until after the clemency hearing.  His office released the following statement to KOCO 5: "Governor Stitt is aware of the Pardon and Parole Board’s vote today. Our office will not offer further comment until the governor has made a final decision."

Jones spoke during Monday's clemency hearing, giving his account of the night Howell was killed, the days after and his trial.

The recommendation comes more than a month after the same Pardon and Parole Board recommended that Jones' sentence be commuted, which set up Monday's clemency hearing. It also came less than a week after Oklahoma resumed executions for the first time since 2015.  The state put John Grant to death last week.  Although a decision on Jones' fate is up in the air, his execution is scheduled for Nov. 18.

Jones has gained a lot of support over the past few years, especially from several high-profile celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and Baker Mayfield.  Howell's family said before the clemency hearing that they hoped the Pardon and Parole Board would vote based on facts instead of Hollywood fiction.  His daughter spoke with KOCO 5 in October, saying a lot of misinformation had spread about Jones and the case.

November 2, 2021 in Clemency and Pardons, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

On Election Day, an encouraging report about moves away from prison gerrymandering

NBC News has this new encouraging piece that seems fitting for Election Day 2021. The article is fully headlined "States rethink 'prison gerrymandering' in 2020 redistricting process: More than a dozen states are changing how they handle incarcerated Americans in redistricting maps, unwinding a practice critics call 'prison gerrymandering'." Here are excerpts:

More than a dozen states are changing how they factor incarcerated Americans in redistricting maps this year, unwinding a longstanding practice that critics call “prison gerrymandering.”

The changes were spurred by state and national advocacy over concerns on how mass incarceration and the increasingly partisan process of drawing political district lines for elections was affecting people of color in state and local elections, and research that helped indicate how much communities of color were losing because of these changes.

"When you have people sharing their stories about what it feels like to have your body counted to inflate the vote of prison staff who honestly might be abusing you on any given day, to hurt your family and community's representation back home is just so emotional and really moving," said Villanova University Professor Brianna Remster, who has studied the effects of this practice on states. "People sharing their stories is really what got lots of folks thinking about it."...

Counting incarcerated residents at the site of their prison puts large blocks of residents in districts where the vast majority cannot vote and likely have no ties.  In practice, experts say, it allocates prisoners' political representation to often rural and white districts where prisons are located at the expense of urban, more diverse districts where incarcerated people lived before their convictions.  Changing the maps so that prisoners are counted in their home districts would reverse that in many places.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonpartisan criminal justice-focused think tank, Washington, Virginia, New Jersey, Nevada, Illinois, Connecticut, Colorado, and California have all passed legislation in the last few years adding or expanding policies to count at least some prisoners in their home districts in some or all local, state, or federal district lines, instead of at the location of their prison.  Those states join Maryland and New York, which started placing incarcerated residents at their last known address in the 2010 redistricting cycle; Maryland does so for both state, federal, and county districts, while New York made the change in state and local districts.

Other states are making the change during this cycle, including Delaware, where legislation from 2010 will be implemented this year.  Pennsylvania’s redistricting commission also recently decided to return prisoners whose sentences would expire by the end of the decade to their home districts, and more states are lining up to follow.  Montana’s redistricting commission is reportedly considering similar reforms while Rhode Island’s commission has said it will address the issue soon.  In New York, voters will weigh a ballot measure on Tuesday that would expand the reform to the state’s Congressional districts and codify the change into the state constitution....

Illinois’ legislation won’t be implemented until the next redistricting cycle, but in total, at least 12 states will deploy legislative maps that put some incarcerated Americans back in their home districts this year. In total, approximately half the nation now lives in a state that's formally rejected the practice.  The laws and policies vary on the mechanics — like how prisoners are returned to their home districts within the data, which legislative district lines are affected, whether the change applies to federal or state prisoners or both — but experts say the change will have a considerable effect on communities of color....

The numbers aren't big enough to influence Congressional districts, experts said, but significant numbers are seen in state and more local level districts.  According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 40 percent of one state House district in New Hampshire is incarcerated people.  In Connecticut, state House District 59 is 14 percent incarcerated, the group said. Drill down into the smallest county-level district maps and the numbers get bigger.  In Juneau County, Wisconsin, 80 percent of the county's District 15 are incarcerated, giving the handful of eligible voters there enormous political power.

November 2, 2021 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 1, 2021

"Sentencing Guidelines Abstention"

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

A primary role of the Supreme Court is to resolve conflicts among the federal courts of appeal.  When the split concerns the federal sentencing guidelines, however, the Supreme Court has ceded this role to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, effectively allowing the Commission to act as the court of last resort in this context.  As then-Judge Alito recognized, “no other federal agency — in any branch — has ever performed a role anything like it.”

This anomaly has largely escaped academic attention because the Court’s abdication comes in the form of certiorari denials, which are buried in the Court’s long order lists.  But the consequences of the Court’s refusal to review splits involving federal sentencing policy — referred to here as “sentencing guidelines abstention” — cannot be ignored.  Sentencing guidelines abstention perpetuates uncertainty and wide-ranging sentencing disparities, meaning the length of a federal defendant’s sentence will depend on the happenstance of where the defendant is sentenced.  The principled and fair administration of justice cannot tolerate such ambiguity and randomness.

This Article argues that there is no sound basis for sentencing guidelines abstention.  It outlines reasons — grounded in precedent, congressional intent, administrative law principles, and practical considerations — why the Court should reassume its traditional role of resolving federal sentencing guideline splits, provide uniformity and consistency to the federal judiciary, and contribute thereby to the development of a reasoned and coherent federal criminal justice system.

November 1, 2021 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Some notable dissents and a statement together with SCOTUS criminal justice cert denials

The merits cases scheduled to be argued before the Supreme Court this week on topics like abortion and gun rights are rightly getting a lot of attention.  But the week has started with this order list in which Court has 5+ pages listing cases on which certiorari has been denied.  In three cases involving criminal-law related issues, some Justices penned statements concerning these denials.  Via How Appealing, here are the basics with links:

In Simmons v. United States, No. 20-1704, Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a statement, in which Justice Elena Kagan joined, respecting the denial of certiorari.

In Coonce v. United States, No. 19–7862, Justice Sotomayor issued a dissent, in which Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Kagan joined, from the denial of certiorari.

And in American Civil Liberties Union v. United States, No. 20–1499, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch issued a dissent, in which Justice Sotomayor joined, from the denial of certiorari.

The lengthiest and most notable of these separate opinions is in the Coonce case, where Justice Sotomayor starts her 11-page dissent this way:

Petitioner Wesley Paul Coonce, Jr., was convicted in federal court of murder. Facing the death penalty, he argued that his execution would violate the Eighth Amendment because he has an intellectual disability.  See Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304 (2002).  The District Court denied Coonce’s Atkins claim without a hearing, the jury sentenced him to death, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

In denying Coonce relief without a hearing, the courts relied on the definition of intellectual disability by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), which then required that an impairment manifest before age 18.  It is undisputed that Coonce’s impairments fully manifested at age 20.  After Coonce petitioned for certiorari, the AAIDD changed its definition to include impairments that, like Coonce’s, manifested before age 22.

The Government urges us to grant certiorari, vacate the judgment below, and remand (GVR), conceding that it is reasonably probable that the Eighth Circuit would reach a different result on reconsideration given the significant shift in the definition that formed the basis of its opinion. Instead, the Court denies certiorari.  Because Coonce is entitled to a hearing on his Atkins claim, and because our precedents counsel in favor of a GVR, I respectfully dissent.

One of many notable aspects of this case is highlighted by this observation in the dissent:

In light of the above, the material change in the AAIDD’s leading definition of intellectual disability plainly warrants a GVR.  To my knowledge, the Court has never before denied a GVR in a capital case where both parties have requested it, let alone where a new development has cast the decision below into such doubt.

I believe the defendant in this case will still be able to bring a 2255 motion, so the Justices voting to deny cert may be content to have these "execution competency" issues addressed in that setting. But Justice Sotomayor closes her dissent explaining why that seems to her insufficient:

I can only hope that the lower courts on collateral review will give Coonce the consideration that the Constitution demands. But this Court, too, has an obligation to protect our Constitution’s mandates. It falls short of fulfilling that obligation today. The Court should have allowed the Eighth Circuit to reconsider Coonce’s compelling claim of intellectual disability, as both he and the Government requested. I respectfully dissent.

November 1, 2021 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 31, 2021

"Bloody Lucre: Carceral Labor and Prison Profit"

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

The pursuit of profit is inextricably intertwined with America’s system of carceral labor and criminal punishment.  Along with the institution of slavery, the harnessing of involuntary carceral labor yielded enormous proceeds through transformation of human toil into financial gain.  Profit incentives have exerted a profound influence on the shape of American carceral labor.  From 16th-century British convict transportation to 21st-century private corrections companies, profitable returns from involuntary carceral servitude have been an important feature of criminal punishment.

This Article traces the coruscating power of the private profit motive within the criminal justice system, one of the first to chart the ways this focus on revenues has shaped the forced toil of those under correctional control.  By thoroughly evaluating our carceral history, and dissecting the financial currents that have shaped the many forms of involuntary inmate servitude, we will be better able to disentangle how money has influenced and warped our system into one of mass incarceration.  Moreover, a full understanding of our carceral past could help us begin to rechart the course of modern criminal justice, eliminating this kind of involuntary servitude in our system.

October 31, 2021 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)