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April 9, 2022

Crooked test taker gets four months in federal prison as Varsity Blues prosecutions conclude

It is now three years since I reported in this post about the first pleas in the high-profile college fraud Varsity Blues case detailed in this press release from the US Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts, headlined "14 Defendants in College Admissions Scandal to Plead Guilty."   Though I covered a number of the early and celebrity sentencings, there have been too many cases for me to keep track of them all.  Helpfully, DOJ has assembled here all the cases charged and sentenced in the Varsity Blues investigation.

But, as detailed in this AP article headlined "Test taker gets prison; coach convicted in admissions scam," the Varsity Blues prosecutions are winding down with a final jury conviction and a notable sentencing.  Here are the particulars:

A former Florida prep school administrator was sentenced to federal prison and a decorated water polo coach at the University of Southern California was swiftly convicted by a jury in a busy Friday in Boston federal court in the long running college admissions bribery scandal.

Mark Riddell, who was paid handsomely to take college entrance exams for wealthy students, was handed a four-month prison sentence, ordered to serve two years of supervised release and forfeit nearly $240,000.

Meanwhile, former USC coach Jovan Vavic, who faked the athletic credentials of rich students so they could gain admission, was convicted on all three counts of fraud and bribery he faced after a jury deliberated less than a day following his nearly monthlong trial.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins said the verdict in Vavic’s trial represents the final conviction in the headline grabbing case dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.”

The investigation announced in 2019 exposed corruption in the college admissions process at Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and other sought-after schools, and implicated wealthy and connected parents, including actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli....

Vavic, a 60-year-old, who guided USC’s men’s and women’s water polo teams to 16 national championships, strode out of the courtroom Friday with his family, declining to comment on the verdict. Prosecutors said he received about $250,000 in bribes for designating unqualified students as water polo recruits so they could attend the elite Los Angeles school....

In a separate courtroom just minutes after Vavic’s verdict was read, Riddell was contrite as he faced sentencing on fraud and money laundering conspiracy charges.  The Harvard graduate, who emerged as a key figure in the wide-ranging scandal, apologized to the many students that lost out on college opportunities because of his “terrible decision.”  He said he brought shame to his family and pleaded for leniency for cooperating with law enforcement officials and for committing to make amends now and going forward for his actions.

Riddell’s lawyers said he should serve one to two months in prison because he was neither the ringleader of the scheme nor a university insider, like the coaches and college administrators implicated.  They also noted he’s already paid nearly $166,000 toward the forfeiture obligation.

Judge Nathaniel Gorton, however, sided with prosecutors who had argued for the four-month sentence.  He said Riddell played a key role for many years in the scheme by secretly taking the ACT and SAT for students, or correcting their answers.  “And for what?” the judge said.  “You did not need the money. How could you have stooped so low?”

A few of many prior posts on other defendants in college admissions scandal:

April 9, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (3)

April 8, 2022

Rounding up some new commentary prompted by a new Justice Jackson

Though a few of these pieces were published before the official confirmation vote, all of these new commentaries rounded up here lean into criminal justice issues and are inspired by Judge Jackson becoming Justice Jackson: 

By Brakkton Booker, "What Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson means for the country"

By Garrett Epps, "Ketanji Brown Jackson Was a Public Defender. Here’s Why That’s a Great Thing."

By Shanteal Lake, "Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson will bring new perspectives on mass incarceration to U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence"

By Marc Levin, "It's Confirmed: The Constitution Isn't Tough or Soft on Crime"

By Andrey Spektor, "Ketanji Brown Jackson is confirmed. Our criminal justice system awaits the verdict"

April 8, 2022 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

A new normal?: federal prison population now growing by over 1000 persons for multiple months

In this post on March 18, I noted that the federal prison population had grown by over 1100 persons in just four weeks from mid February and mid March.  Specifically, "Total Federal Inmates," on March 17, 2022 stood at 154,194, nearly 1150 more prisoners than the total number of federal inmates on February 17, 2022, when the number stood at of 153,053.  It is now early April, and checking in at the federal Bureau of Prisons updated reporting of "Total Federal Inmates," one now sees that it has only taken three weeks for another 1000+ person surge of federal prisoners.  As of April 7, 2022, the official BOP count reads at 155,274, and so another 1080 more federal prisoners have been added to the population compared to the total on March 17.

As I have said before, I am inclined to guess that this recent spike in the number of federal prisoners reflects some "return to normal" operations for the federal criminal justice system, with fewer COVID-related delays in cases and prison admissions (and fewer COVID-related releases).  But, whatever the particulars, if this level of month-over-month growth in the federal prison population were to continue through much of the current year, 2022 could end up becoming a year for historically high increases in the federal prison population.  Such a development (especially after 2021 being a year of notable federal prison population growth) would be particularly significant given that candidate Joe Biden promised to "take bold action to reduce our prison population" and to "broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes." 

April 8, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (15)

April 7, 2022

South Carolina Supreme Court engages in notable debate over how it engages in capital proportionality review

This local article from South Carolina, headlined "‘Our system is broken.’ SC Supreme Court justice assails death sentence in Upstate case," reports on an interesting ruling from the top court in the Palmetto State. Here are the basics and the context from the press piece:

An associate justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a rare and blunt dissent Wednesday in an Upstate death penalty case about a 1999 convenience store robbery that four of the five justices agreed to uphold.

“In the nearly 13 years I have served on this Court, I have voted to affirm eleven death sentences on direct appeal and have never dissented,” Associate Justice Kaye Hearn wrote in her 14-page dissent. But the spur-of-the moment killing committed by Richard Moore in 1999 during a convenience store robbery in Spartanburg County is so different from the usual brutal premeditated slayings for which South Carolina juries give out the death penalty that condemning Moore to death is disproportional, or so far out of line, as not to be lawful, Hearn wrote.

“The death penalty should be reserved for those who commit the most heinous crimes in our society, and I do not believe Moore’s crimes rise to that level,” Hearn wrote, calling South Carolina’s system “broken.”

In Wednesday’s majority opinion, four Supreme Court justices upheld Moore’s death sentence in a case that centered on the issue of whether the sentence was proportional, or roughly the same as, other death sentences for similar crimes. The majority, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Donald Beatty, wrote that Moore’s crime had the aggravating factors set out in the law — such as killing during an armed robbery — that qualified a person for the death penalty, Moore, now 57, has been on South Carolina’s death row 21 years.

The full ruling in Moore v. Stirling, Opinion No. 28088 (S.C. April 6, 2022), is available at this link.  Here is how the majority opinion starts:

Richard Bernard Moore ("Moore") filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging the proportionality of the death sentence that was imposed for his murder conviction. The Court ordered briefing and granted Moore's motion to argue against the precedent of State v. Copeland, 278 S.C. 572, 300 S.E.2d 63 (1982).  In Copeland, the Court discussed the requirement in S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3-25(C)(3) (2015) that this Court undertake a comparative proportionality review of "similar cases" in death penalty matters.  After review of the record and applicable law and consideration of the parties' arguments, we clarify Copeland and note the Court is not statutorily required to restrict its proportionality review of "similar cases" to a comparison of only cases in which a sentence of death was imposed.  We conclude, however, that Moore has not established that he is entitled to habeas relief.

And here is how the dissent begins:

This Court has never found a single death sentence disproportionate dating back to 1977, the first time comparative proportionality review was required by the General Assembly. This includes the forty-three individuals who have been executed by the State of South Carolina during this modern era of capital punishment, and all of the thirty-five inmates currently housed on death row who have exhausted their direct appeal.  The State characterizes these statistics — currently, approximately zero for seventy-seven — as proof that our capital sentencing scheme functions as it should.  I write separately to express my view that our system is broken and to disagree with that part of the majority opinion which finds Petitioner Richard Moore's sentence proportionate to his crime.

April 7, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

By vote of 53 - 47, US Senate confirms its second former US Sentencing Commissioner to serve as a Supreme Court Justice

There are many historic elements to every Supreme Court confirmations, including the one today discussed in this USA Today article starting this way:

The Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon, making her the 116th justice — and first Black woman — to serve on the nation's highest court.

The Senate's historic vote was 53-47 with three Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah joining every member of the Democratic caucus in voting for her confirmation.

President Joe Biden nominated Jackson in February, after Associate Justice Stephen Breyer announced he would retire at the end of the current court term.  Though confirmed, Jackson will wait months to take her seat on the bench, until Breyer officially steps down.

Of course, lots of folks are especially excited for the ways in which Judge (Justice-confirmed?) Jackson represents a first.  But I could not help but highlight in this post a notable way in which she is a second: she is now the second former US Sentencing Commissioner to be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice.  The first, of course, is the man she will be replacing in a few months, namely outgoing Justice Stephen Breyer.

Am I showing too much of my nerdiness by saying I hope that someday there will be a Jeopardy question (or should I say Jeopardy answer) on this topic?  Does anyone else have any other fun SCOTUS (and/or USSC) trivia for the occasion?

April 7, 2022 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

April 6, 2022

Remaining (overly?) upbeat about bipartisan criminal justice reform

Marc Levin has this notable new Hill commentary, headlined "Confirmation combat can’t crush bipartisan criminal justice reform," making an important case for staying bulling on the prospects for bipartisan criminal justice reform efforts.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

The “soft on crime” critique of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has prompted obituaries for the era of bipartisan support for criminal justice reform, a détente that the country has enjoyed since Texas kicked off a wave of policy change 15 years ago.  While the coalition may be fragile, the prospects remain encouraging for continued progress on both public safety and justice.

Optimism stems in part from the fact that the primary responsibility for criminal justice policy rests at the state level, and the most significant reforms continue to occur there. Indeed, it was state-level reforms that first led to prison closures and reduced recidivism through treatment courts and other alternatives to incarceration, including in red states like Texas and Georgia. Those advancements, in turn, inspired the federal First Step Act signed by President Trump in 2018, a law that pared back mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and allowed low-risk individuals to shave time off their prison terms by completing rehabilitative programs.

Today, state legislators remain the most significant actors in this arena, given that about 90 percent of all criminal cases and incarcerated populations are at the state and local levels. In Oklahoma, which has the nation’s highest incarceration rate, a bipartisan measure that brings consistency and proportionality to sentencing for nonviolent offenses overwhelmingly passed the state’s Senate on March 23.... Another red state, Ohio, is advancing a handful of significant bipartisan criminal justice reforms in its current legislative session....

While continued momentum on the state level promises to have the most far-reaching impact on the justice system, strong possibilities remain this election year for bipartisan congressional action.  One area with potential for progress is marijuana policy. There are a variety of proposals for unwinding failed federal policy on cannabis with varying levels of bipartisan support....

Also, in recent weeks, additional Republican senators have become cosponsors of a bill that would end the pronounced disparity in penalties between crack and powder cocaine, which would affect some 1,500 new sentences every year....  Other bipartisan federal legislation that could reach President Biden’s desk this year include bills that abolish federal life without parole sentences for juveniles, prevent the use of acquitted conduct in sentencing, extend Medicaid to otherwise eligible individuals within 30 days of their release from incarceration, and invest in treatment for people with mental illness in the justice system.

Undoubtedly, the recent rise in some types of violent crime, most notably homicides, has strained bipartisan coalitions around sensible reforms. While fearmongering is unwarranted, rigorously evaluating the impact of recent justice system changes is not just desirable, but necessary....

Criminal justice policy is too important to leave to any one political party, and all Americans, regardless of ideology, rightly demand a system that protects both their lives and liberties. While hearings for both Republican and Democratic administration Supreme Court nominees have become circus-like, there is reason to believe that our political leaders can move from confirmation combat to considerable consensus on the next steps to achieve safety and justice for all.

This commentary effectively highlights that there is still continued momentum for some forms of criminal justice reforms on both sides of the aisle at both the state and federal levels. But, even before the SCOTUS confirmation hearings, a pandemic-era spike in homicides and other crimes concerns were already creating headwinds for many reform efforts. And the SCOTUS hearings served as a significant reminder that "tough/soft on crime" rhetoric can often still quickly become a central part of the modern political atmosphere. How these matters play out in our politics and policy-making in the months and years to come is going to be important and interesting to watch closely.

April 6, 2022 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

New letter from House CBC members urges EQUAL Act Senate floor vote ASAP

As detailed in this press release, all House Members of the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter this week "calling on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin to bring H.R. 1693, the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act to the Senate floor for a vote."  Here is part of the text of the letter:

As you know, in 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established a 100:1 sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine.  Over the years, this policy has been widely criticized for lacking scientific and penological justification.  Accordingly, Congress has taken steps to address this problem through the passage of the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, and the bipartisan First Step Act of 2018, which made those changes retroactive.  Both efforts made our drug sentencing laws fairer, but the work is not done as long as a significant and harmful disparity remains.

The impacts of these policies on communities of color across the country have been devastating.  According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, in Fiscal Year 2020, 77.1% of crack cocaine trafficking offenders were Black, whereas most powder cocaine trafficking offenders were either white or Hispanic.  Put simply, this law is unjust, unconscionable and unacceptable.  It is time to eliminate this disparity once and for all.  

That is why we write in support of bringing the EQUAL Act (H.R. 1693/S. 79) to the Senate Floor for consideration as soon as possible.  It would eliminate the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and ensure that those who were convicted or sentenced for a federal offense involving cocaine can receive a re-sentencing under the new law.  According to a recent analysis from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, approximately 827 individuals would benefit from the prospective section of the bill each year, and 7,787 offenders in BOP custody would be eligible to seek a modification of their sentence based on the retroactive section.  In total, the EQUAL Act will reduce excessive prison time by 67,800 years, and 91 percent of the individuals who will get this critical relief are Black.

A few of many prior posts on the EQUAL Act:

April 6, 2022 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 5, 2022

Brennan Center concludes is terrific essay series titled "Punitive Excess"

In this post last year, I was pleased to spotlight a new essay series unveiled by the Brennan Center for Justice, titled "Punitive Excess."  Today, I received an email noting that the series in concluding in an exciting way (links from the original):

Today the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law published the final essay plus a new video (90-second version here) in its Punitive Excess series.  The video includes voices from the essay collection, each showing a different way that the American legal system takes punishment to the extreme. Asia Johnson and Shon Hopwood speak from personal experience with being behind bars. In the last essay for the series, criminal justice experts Jeremy Travis and Bruce Western propose an “honest reckoning” with the harms of punitive excess as the path to a “new vision of justice that promotes community well-being, not oppression, and celebrates democracy, not racial domination.”...

The series will be published as a book by Columbia University Press. Lauren-Brooke Eisen, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, co-edited the series with Daniel Okrent.

April 5, 2022 in Recommended reading, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

With SCOTUS nominee now on path to confirmation, time to fret again about the lack of USSC nominees from Prez Biden

As we approach a full 15 months into the Biden Administration, I must yet again return to expressing my frustration that there has not yet been any nominations to the US Sentencing Commission.  As I have noted in a number of prior posts (some linked below), due to a lack of Sentencing Commissioners, the USSC has not been fully functional for the better part of five years, and the USSC has not had complete set of commissioners in place now for nearly a decade.  The USSC staff continues to produce lots of useful research and reports, but the FIRST STEP Act's passage in December 2018 makes it particularly problematic for the USSC to have been completely non-functional for now three+ years since that law's enactment.

Though I harped on this front a lot last year, I did not complain too much recently about the persistent lack of nominees while the Biden Administration was selecting and seeking the confirmation of a replacement for US Supreme Court Justice Breyer.  But, after yesterday's developments (news here), it seem quite clear that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be confirmed to replace Justice Breyer.  So, with this SCOTUS transition now seemingly settled, I will return to full-time fretting about the lack of USSC nominees from Prez Biden.

I have heard buzz from a variety of sources leading me to believe a slate of nominations could be imminent.  These nominations cannot come soon enough, especially given that already three month have passed since Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Barrett, issued a statement respecting the denial expressing "hope in the near future the Commission will be able to resume its important function in our criminal justice system."  As all my posts below detail, I have shared this hope, so far still unfulfilled, for quite some time.

One of many reasons sentencing fans should now hope for imminent nominations for the US Sentencing Commission is the inherently uncertain (and political) nature of the confirmation process.  I am hopeful that, because nominations to the USSC have to be bipartisan, there will be Senators from both parties eager to move the eventual nominees through the confirmation process efficiently.  But I am perhaps naive to believe that good government functioning could come before possible political opportunism in this setting (especially during an election year).  Moreover, even if the confirmation process goes quickly and smoothly, the process is still likely to take months, while more than a thousand federal defendants are getting sentenced in federal courts every week. 

A few of many prior related posts:

April 5, 2022 in Criminal justice in the Biden Administration, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Might Texas be on the verge of executing an innocent woman?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this AP article discussing the case of Melissa Lucio, who is scheduled to be executed by the state of Texas in three weeks.  Here are excerpts:

During hours of relentless questioning, Melissa Lucio more than 100 times had denied fatally beating her 2-year-old daughter. But worn down from a lifetime of abuse and the grief of losing her daughter Mariah, her lawyers say, the Texas woman finally acquiesced to investigators. “I guess I did it,” Lucio responded when asked if she was responsible for some of Mariah's injuries.

Her lawyers say that statement was wrongly interpreted by prosecutors as a murder confession — tainting the rest of the investigation into Mariah’s 2007 death, with evidence gathered only to prove that conclusion, and helping lead to her capital murder conviction. They contend Mariah died from injuries from a fall down the 14 steps of a steep staircase outside the family’s apartment in the South Texas city of Harlingen.

As her April 27 execution date nears, Lucio’s lawyers are hopeful that new evidence, along with growing public support — including from jurors who now doubt the conviction and from more than half the Texas House of Representatives — will persuade the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Greg Abbott to grant an execution reprieve or commute her sentence....

Lucio's lawyers say jurors never heard forensic evidence that would have explained that Mariah's various injuries were actually caused by a fall days earlier. They also say Lucio wasn't allowed to present evidence questioning the validity of her confession.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office maintains evidence shows Mariah suffered the “absolute worst” case of child abuse her emergency room doctor had seen in 30 years. “Lucio still advances no evidence that is reliable and supportive of her acquittal,” the office wrote in court documents last month....

Lucio, 53, would be the first Latina executed by Texas and the first woman since 2014. Only 17 women have been executed in the U.S. since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on the death penalty in 1976, most recently in January 2021.

In their clemency petition, Lucio’s lawyers say that while she had used drugs, leading her to temporarily lose custody of her children, she was a loving mother who worked to remain drug-free and provide for her family. Lucio has 14 children and was pregnant with the youngest two when Mariah died....

In 2019, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Lucio’s conviction, ruling she was deprived of “her constitutional right to present a meaningful defense.” However, the full court in 2021 said the conviction had to be upheld for procedural reasons, “despite the difficult issue of the exclusion of testimony that might have cast doubt on the credibility of Lucio’s confession.”

Three jurors and one alternate in Lucio’s trial have signed affidavits expressing doubts about her conviction. “She was not evil. She was just struggling. ... If we had heard passionately from the defense defending her in some way, we might have reached a different decision,” juror Johnny Galvan wrote in an affidavit.

In a letter last month to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and to Abbott, 83 Texas House members said executing Lucio would be “a miscarriage of justice.”...

Abbott can grant a one-time, 30-day reprieve. He can grant clemency if a majority of the paroles board recommends it. The board plans to vote on Lucio’s clemency petition two days before the scheduled execution, Rachel Alderete, the board’s director of support operations, said in an email. A spokeswoman for Abbott’s office did not return an email seeking comment.

Abbott has granted clemency to only one death row inmate, Thomas Whitaker, since taking office in 2015. Whitaker was convicted of masterminding the fatal shootings of his mother and brother. His father, who survived, led the effort to save Whitaker, saying he would be victimized again if his son was executed. Lucio’s supporters have said her clemency request is similar in that her family would be retraumatized if she’s executed.

April 5, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 4, 2022

"No Check We Won't Write: A Report on the High Cost of Sex Offender Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this new article in the journal Sexual Abuse authored by Elizabeth Letourneau, Travis Roberts, Luke Malone and Yi Sun. Here is its abstract:

Child sexual abuse is a preventable public health problem that is addressed primarily via reactive criminal justice efforts.  In this report, we focus on the cost of incarcerating adults convicted of sex crimes against children in the United States.  Specifically, we summarize publicly available information on U.S. state and federal prison and sex offender civil commitment costs.  Wherever possible, we used government data sources to inform cost estimates.  Results indicate the annual cost to incarcerate adults convicted of sex crimes against children in the United States approaches $5.4 billion.  This estimate does not include any costs incurred prior to incarceration (e.g., related to detection and prosecution) or post-release (e.g., related to supervision or registration).  Nor does this estimate capture administrative and judicial costs associated with appeals, or administrative costs that cannot be extricated from other budgets, as is the case when costs per-prisoner are shared between prisons and civil commitment facilities.  We believe information on the substantial funding dedicated to incarceration will be useful to U.S. federal, state, and local lawmakers and to international policymakers as they consider allocating resources to the development, evaluation and dissemination of effective prevention strategies aimed at keeping children safe from sexual abuse in the first place.

April 4, 2022 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (10)

SCOTUS, via 6-3 ruling in Thompson v. Clark, clarifies requirements for certain § 1983 claims for malicious prosecution

The Supreme Court handed down one opinion this morning, and it concerns criminal justice issues.  Justice Kavanaugh wrote the relatively short opinion (12 pages) for the Court in Thompson v. Clark, No. 20-659 (S. Ct. April 4, 2022) (available here), and it begins this way:

Larry Thompson was charged and detained in state criminal proceedings, but the charges were dismissed before trial without any explanation by the prosecutor or judge.  After the dismissal, Thompson alleged that the police officers who initiated the criminal proceedings had “maliciously prosecuted” him without probable cause.  App. 33–34.  Thompson sued and sought money damages from those officers in federal court. As relevant here, he advanced a Fourth Amendment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for malicious prosecution.

To maintain that Fourth Amendment claim under §1983, a plaintiff such as Thompson must demonstrate, among other things, that he obtained a favorable termination of the underlying criminal prosecution.  Cf. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 484, and n. 4 (1994).  This case requires us to flesh out what a favorable termination entails.  Does it suffice for a plaintiff to show that his criminal prosecution ended without a conviction?  Or must the plaintiff also demonstrate that the prosecution ended with some affirmative indication of his innocence, such as an acquittal or a dismissal accompanied by a statement from the judge that the evidence was insufficient?

We conclude as follows: To demonstrate a favorable termination of a criminal prosecution for purposes of the Fourth Amendment claim under § 1983 for malicious prosecution, a plaintiff need only show that his prosecution ended without a conviction.  Thompson satisfied that requirement in this case.  We therefore reverse the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Justice Alito also wrote a 12-page opinion as a dissent, and it was joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch.  Here is how it starts:

Homer described the mythical chimera as a “grim monster” made of “all lion in front, all snake behind, all goat between.” The Iliad p. 201 (R. Fagles trans. 1990).  Today, the Court creates a chimera of a constitutional tort by stitching together elements taken from two very different claims: a Fourth Amendment unreasonable seizure claim and a common-law malicious-prosecution claim.

The Court justifies this creation on the ground that malicious prosecution is the common-law tort that is most analogous to an unreasonable seizure claim.  And because a common-law malicious-prosecution claim demanded proof of a favorable termination, the Court holds that its new creation includes that element.  But this Court has never held that the Fourth Amendment houses a malicious-prosecution claim, and the Court defends its analogy with just two sentences of independent analysis and a reference to a body of lower court cases.

I cannot agree with that approach.  The Court’s independent analysis of this important question is far too cursory, and its reliance on lower court cases is particularly ill-advised here because that body of case law appears to have been heavily influenced by a mistaken reading of the plurality opinion in Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266 (1994).

What the Court has done is to recognize a novel hybrid claim of uncertain scope that has no basis in the Constitution and is almost certain to lead to confusion.

April 4, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

No new SCOTUS cert grants, though three Wooden GVRs highlights ACCA's remaining wackiness

Based on a notable number of criminal law relists flagged here at SCOTUSblog by John Elwood, I was hoping there might be something interesting for sentencing fans on this morning's Supreme Court order list.  But the Justices today added no new cases to the SCOTUS docket. 

The Justices did GVR (grant, vacate, remand) three cases based on Wooden v. US (basics here, analysis here), which I suppose serves as a reminder that all federal courts will continue to struggle with how to apply the the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) for the foreseeable future.  Sigh.  (A comment over at SCOTUSblog amusingly asked "Does sending back 3 cases for Wooden in the same order list count as one incident?"  The lawprof in me wants to correct the question to say "one occasion," but anyone who read this far likely gets the ACCA joke.)

April 4, 2022 in Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

April 3, 2022

"Invisible Victims"

the title of this post is the title of this intriguing recent paper authored by Mihailis Diamantis that I just found on SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

The halls of justice are forever closed to many who suffer grievous wrong.  They need not have done anything to forfeit their claim.  No matter how certain the evidence is or how eager prosecutors may be, no criminal court will admit them.  These victims are, for all intents and purposes, invisible to the criminal law.

Invisible victims exist because of doctrines that shield certain categories of people from any criminal justice inquiry.  These people include those whose alleged misdeeds occurred long ago, diplomats, legislators, pardon recipients, and the deceased, among many others.  Immunizing such individuals from criminal sanction often makes sound policy sense.  But criminal law has yet to reckon with the moral cost of deferring unconditionally to their interests.

This Article offers a more balanced approach.  Criminal law should permit courts to try suspects who are immune from punishment.  Trial could memorialize invisible victims’ narratives in the solemn forum of the courtroom.  Where the evidence warrants, juries could validate invisible victims by condemning the wrongs they suffered.  Familiar procedural safeguards could protect unpunishable suspects’ weightiest interests even as invisible victims finally receive the recognition they deserve.

April 3, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Another round of highlights from among many great new Inquest essays

It has now been a few months since my last blog posting highlighting piece from Inquest, "a decarceral brainstorm," but that is not a reflection of that site lacking lots of new must-read essays.  Indeed, there is so much new and important content, I am not sure how anyone can keep up.  For now, here I will spotlight a handful of the many recent pieces worth checking out (with, of course, an emphasis on sentencing and corrections topics):

From Piper Kerman, "Burn the Spot: Writing about people you encounter in prison carries special responsibilities."

From Matthew Caldwell, "The End of Public Defenders: One path to ending mass incarceration is ending our modern conception of public defense. And being transparent about our work is one way to start."

From Caits Meissner, "Finishing Sentences: Writing about the harms of the penal system from within it is a form of freedom-fighting. It is not without risks — and many rewards."

From Ariel Nelson & Stephen Raher, "Captive Consumers: How government agencies and private companies trap and profit off incarcerated people and their loved ones."

April 3, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)