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June 17, 2022

"Free-World Law Behind Bars"

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

What law governs American prisons and jails, and what does it matter?  This Article offers new answers to both questions.

To many scholars and advocates, “prison law” means the constitutional limits that the Eighth Amendment and Due Process Clauses impose on permissible punishment.  Yet, as I show, 'free-world' regulatory law also shapes incarceration, determining the safety of the food imprisoned people eat, the credentials of their health-care providers, the costs of communicating with their family members, and whether they are exposed to wildfire smoke or rising floodwaters.

Unfortunately, regulatory law’s protections often recede at the prison gate.  Sanitation inspectors visit correctional kitchens, find coolers smeared with blood and sinks without soap — and give passing grades.  Medical licensure boards permit suspended doctors to practice — but only on incarcerated people.  Constitutional law does not fill the gap, treating standards like a threshold for toxic particulates or the requirements of a fire code more as a safe harbor than a floor.

But were it robustly applied, I argue, free-world regulatory law would have a lot to offer those challenging carceral conditions that constitutional prison law lacks.  Whether you think that criminal-justice policy’s problem is its lack of empirical grounding or you want to shift power and resources from systems of punishment to systems of care, I contend that you should take a close look at free-world regulatory law behind bars, and work to strengthen it.

June 17, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (10)

June 16, 2022

Bipartisan group of House members introduce bill to allow judges to reduce sentences to "protect the constitutional right to trial"

This press release from the office of Representative Victoria Spartz reports on a notable new bill seeking to address concerns with so-called "trial penalties."  Here is the text of the release:

U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz (IN-05) introduced the bipartisan ‘Right to Trial Act’ with her colleagues Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), Kelly Armstrong (ND-AL), Karen Bass (CA-37), Morgan Griffith (VA-09), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05), Guy Reschenthaler (PA-14), and David Trone (MD-06). This legislation would strengthen the constitutional right to trial and mitigate abuses of prosecutorial authority in our federal justice system.

“Our Founding Fathers provided for trial by jury in our Constitution as a safeguard of our liberties,” said Rep. Spartz.“This constitutional right is essential to protect against the tyranny of government and the police state.”

Approximately 97% of defendants subject to federal charges plead guilty, up from nearly 85% in the early 1990s. Despite their constitutional right to trial, defendants face steep mandatory minimum sentences if they choose to exercise this right—driving defendants into one-sided plea negotiations.

“Throughout my time as a district judge, I saw the extreme disparities between sentences offered in plea deals and sentences given to those who went to trial. Americans shouldn’t face drastically different judicial outcomes when exercising their constitutional rights,” said Rep. Reschenthaler. “The Right to Trial Act will address the trial penalty sentencing disparity and ensure our judicial system reflects the spirit of the Sixth Amendment.”

The ‘Right to Trial Act’ seeks to temper these incentives by granting federal courts the authority to impose sentences, in some circumstances, below established statutory minimums.

The full text of the bill, which runs only three pages, is available here. The key provisions amend the sentencing instructions of 3553 to order to (1) instruct judges to consider "the need to protect the constitutional right to a trial, including by prohibiting impairment of such a right in any case in which an increased sentence is threatened or imposed based on a defendant’s decision to go to trial and not accept a plea offer," and (2) authorize judges "to impose a sentence below a level established by statute as a minimum sentence so as to protect the constitutional right to trial."

June 16, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (15)

"Letting Offenders Choose Their Punishment?"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper now available via SSRN and authored by Gilles Grolleau, Murat C. Mungan and Naoufel Mzoughi. Here is its abstract:

Punishment menus allow offenders to choose the punishment to which they will be subjected from a set of options.  We present several behaviorally informed rationales for why punishment menus may serve as effective deterrents, notably by causing people to refrain from entering a calculative mindset; reducing their psychological reactance; causing them to reconsider the reputational impacts of punishment; and reducing suspicions about whether the act is enforced for rent-seeking purposes.  We argue that punishment menus can outperform the traditional single punishment if these effects can be harnessed properly. 

Our observations thus constitute a challenge, based on behavioral arguments, to the conventional view that adding (possibly unexercised) punishment options to an existing punishment scheme is unlikely to increase deterrence or welfare.  We explain how heterogeneities among individuals can pose problems to designing effective punishment menus and discuss potential solutions.  After explaining how punishment menus, if designed and implemented benevolently, can serve socially desirable goals, we caution against their possible misuse by self-interested governments.

June 16, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

New issue of Brooklyn Law Review examines "The Role of the 'Victim' in the Criminal Legal System"

I just recently came across online the latest issue of the Brooklyn Law Review, and it is now high on my summer reading list. The abstract of the Foreword to the issue, penned by Kate Mogulescu, provides this context:

On September 24, 2021, the Brooklyn Law Review brought together scholars looking at the role of the “victim” in the criminal legal system.  Of consideration were the following questions: Who is labeled a victim and how does that impact outcomes and process?  Where does the issue of victimization emerge, how is it received and what should the system’s response be?  Who gets a voice?  And when?  Does the existing victim-offender binary further exacerbate a criminal legal system build on misogyny, xenophobia, and white supremacy?  The series of articles and essays that make up this issue reflect the symposium’s multidimensional discussion and interrogate the way the legal system recognizes, or fails to recognize, those who have experienced harm.

And here is a list of all the articles in this issue:

Giving Meaning to the Apostrophe in Victim[’]s Rights by Margaret Garvin

Should Victims’ Views Influence Prosecutors’ Decisions? by Bruce A. Green and Brandon P. Ruben

Blame the Victim: How Mistreatment by the State Is Used to Legitimize Police Violence by Tamara Rice Lave

Protecting the Constitution While Protecting Victims: Challenges to Pro Se Cross-Examination by Katharine L. Manning

Defense Counsel’s Cross Purposes: Prior Conviction Impeachment of Prosecution Witnesses by Anna Roberts

What Are Victim Impact Statements For? by Susan A. Bandes

Parole, Victim Impact Evidence, and Race by Alexis Karteron

Rotten Social Background and Mass Incarceration: Who Is a Victim? by Steven Zeidman

The Victim/Offender Overlap and Criminal System Reform by Cynthia Godsoe

June 16, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Recommended reading, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

June 15, 2022

Notable new ACLU report on prison labor in the United States

This ACLU press release provides a summary of this notable new report from the ACLU and the University of Chicago Law School Global Human Rights Clinic concerning prison labor in the US.  Here is a excerpt:

The first-of-its-kind report, Captive Labor: Exploitation of Incarcerated Workers, examines the use of prison labor throughout state and federal prisons in the U.S. and highlights how incarcerated workers’ labor helps maintain prisons and provides vital public services.  Captive Labor also calls for far-reaching reforms to ensure prison labor is truly voluntary and that incarcerated workers are paid fairly, properly trained, and able to gain transferable skills. 

“The United States has a long, problematic history of using incarcerated workers as a source of cheap labor and to subsidize the costs of our bloated prison system,” said Jennifer Turner, principal human rights researcher with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program and primary author of the report. “Incarcerated workers are stripped of even the most minimal protections against labor exploitation and abuse. They are paid pennies for their work in often unsafe working conditions even as they produce billions of dollars for states and the federal government. It’s past time we treat incarcerated workers with dignity. If states and the federal government can afford to incarcerate 1.2 million people in prisons, they can afford to pay them fairly for their work.”

Key findings include:

  • Nearly two thirds (65 percent) of incarcerated people report working behind bars — amounting to roughly 800,000 workers incarcerated in prisons.
  • More than three quarters of incarcerated workers surveyed (76 percent) report facing punishment — such as solitary confinementdenial of sentence reductions, or loss of family visitation — if they decline or are unable to work. 
  • Prison laborers are at the mercy of their employers.  They have no control over their work assignments, are excluded from minimum wage and overtime protections, are unable to unionize, do not receive adequate training and equipment, and are denied workplace safety guarantees despite often dangerous working conditions.
  • As a result, 64 percent of incarcerated workers surveyed report worrying about their safety while working; 70 percent say they received no formal job training; and 70 percent report not being able to afford basic necessities like soap and phone calls with prison labor wages. 
  • Incarcerated workers produce at least $2 billion in goods and $9 billion worth of prison maintenance services annually, but this number is not closely tracked and is likely much higher. 
  • Yet, most states pay incarcerated workers pennies per hour for their work. Seven state prison systems (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas) pay nothing for the vast majority of prison work.  Other states pay on average between 15 and 52 cents per hour for non-industry jobs.  Prison laborers often see up to 80 percent of their paycheck withheld for taxes, “room and board” expenses, and court costs.
  • More than 80 percent of prison laborers do general prison maintenance, which subsidizes the cost of our bloated prison system. Other tasks represent less than 10 percent of work assignments, including: public works projects (like road repair, natural disaster assistance, forestry work, and maintenance of parks, schools, and government offices); state prison industries, agricultural work, and coveted private company work assignments. 

June 15, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Evaluating the cumulative impact of indigent defense attorneys on criminal justice outcomes"

The title of this post is the title of this new article recently published in the Journal of Criminal Justice.  The piece is authored are Madhuri Sharma, Lisa Stolzenberg and Stewart J. D'Alessio, and here is its abstract:

This study utilizes meta-analysis to synthesize estimates of the impact of public defenders and assigned counsel on the severity of imposed legal sanction at several decision points encountered by criminal defendants as they progress through the criminal justice system.  While public defenders and assigned counsel have some notable effects on specific court outcomes such as pretrial detention and sentencing, the meta-analysis results show that they are just as successful overall as private attorneys in representing their clients' interests.  The defendant's indigent status most likely explains why the clients of public defenders and assigned counsel may sometimes confront more severe sanctioning because the effects of pretrial confinement reverberate throughout the entire criminal justice system.  The frequently observed deleterious consequences associated with pretrial confinement have engendered repeated calls to eliminate cash bail in determining pretrial release.

June 15, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Nothing for sentencing fans as SCOTUS resolves six more cases (and increases end of Term drama)

With its usual end-of-Term rush, the Supreme Court issued five more opinions and a dismissal (DIG) this morning.  But no blockbusters or sentencing rulings were among the cases resolved today, and I do not believe there will be any more opinion days until next Tuesday (June 21). 

As I have suggested in prior posts, few should be surprised that the Second Amendment case and the abortion case (Bruen and Dobbs) have not yet been released.  I am expecting both the very last week of the Term.  But I am struck that a number of criminal/sentencing cases argued months ago have not yet been resolved.  I am now almost starting to expect something really notable could be coming in cases like US v. Taylor, and Concepcion v. US and Ruan v. US.  

Stay tuned.

A few prior related posts:

June 15, 2022 in Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 14, 2022

"Recidivism And Federal Bureau Of Prisons Programs Vocational Program Participants Released In 2010"

The title of this post is the title of this new report form the US Sentencing Commission.  This USSC webpage provides this basic overview and "Key Findings":

This report is the sixth in a series continuing the Commission’s study of the recidivism of federal offenders released in 2010. In this report, the Commission provides an analysis of data on the recidivism of federal offenders who participated in Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) vocational programs while incarcerated.  The study examines whether completion of vocational programs offered by the BOP impacted recidivism among a cohort of federal offenders who were released from prison in calendar year 2010.  The report combines data regularly collected by the Commission, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) criminal history records, and data on program completion and participation provided by the BOP.

In this report, Vocational Program Participants were offenders who participated in one of the following programs:

Occupational Education Program (OEP)

  • The first group comprises 7,310 offenders who participated in at least one OEP vocational or technical training course.
  • OEP offers a variety of programs where participants can take courses in vocational and occupationally oriented areas for the purpose of obtaining marketable skills.

Federal Prison Industries (FPI)

  • The second group comprises 5,082 offenders who participated in FPI.
  • FPI provides offenders with work simulation programs and training opportunities through the factories it operates at BOP facilities.

Occupational Education Programs (OEP)

  • Although the recidivism rate for offenders who completed an OEP course was lower than that of offenders who did not participate in an OEP course (48.3% compared to 54.1%), the difference in their recidivism rates was not statistically significant after controlling for key offender and offense characteristics such as criminal history category, age at release, gender, and crime type.

Federal Prison Industries (FPI)

  • Although the recidivism rate for offenders who participated in FPI was higher than that of offenders who did not participate in FPI (55.0% compared to 52.0%), the difference in recidivism rates was not statistically significant after controlling for key offender and offense characteristics, such as criminal history category, age at release, gender, and crime type.

NOTE: This study focuses solely on recidivism reduction and is not meant to analyze whether other program goals were achieved.

June 14, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Latest issue of FSR examines "Federal Community Supervision"

M_fsr.2022.34.5.coverThe June 2022 issues of the Federal Sentencing Reporter, which is now available online here, seeks to shine a bright light on the huge (but too often overlooked) issue of community supervision in the federal criminal justice system.  As an editor FSR, I can say all the editors were deeply grateful for LawProf Jacob Schuman’s extraordinary efforts and expertise in envisioning and shepherding this issue from start to finish.  This terrific issue includes a dozen original articles, and Prof Schuman's introductory essay, titled "One Nation under Supervision," sets the tone at the outset this way: 

This Special Issue of Federal Sentencing Reporter asks whether the federal criminal justice system can reconcile the dueling purposes of community supervision: public safety and rehabilitation.  While the federal government is neither as vast nor as powerful as the Almighty, it does supervise over 100,000 people serving terms of probation, parole, and supervised release.  Combined with the approximately 25,000 federal criminal defendants on pretrial release and diversion, the total population under federal supervision equals the number of people in federal jails and prisons.  While U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services offers an array of transitional services, and nearly a quarter of the defendants under federal supervision receive judiciary-funded drug treatment, judges also revoke supervision in approximately a third of all cases, imposing an average eleven-month prison sentence and accounting for 15% to 20% of all federal sentencings.  A term of supervision offers help and support, yet the threat of revocation imposes a significant liability, offering a mixed blessing for federal criminal defendants.

The last time FSR dedicated an Issue to federal community supervision was in 1994.  Almost thirty years later, the population under federal supervision has nearly tripled.  At the same time, innovative reentry courts and other approaches to supervision have sprung up in federal districts across the country.  In 2019, the Supreme Court struck down for the first time a provision of the supervised release statute as violating the jury right, splitting 4-1-4 on the reasoning and revealing deep divisions among the justices about the law of community supervision.  The time is ripe to reflect on these developments and chart the future of community supervision in the federal criminal justice system.

Here is a list of the terrific articles and authors in this great new FSR issue

One Nation Under Supervision by Jacob Schuman

“Breach of Trust” and U.S. v. Haymond by Fiona Doherty

The Reconstruction of Federal Reentry by Scott Anders, Jay Whetzel

The Burden of Criminal Justice Debt in Federal Community Supervision by Laura I Appleman

Rethinking Supervised Release Discovery with an Eye Toward Real “Fundamental Fairness” by Alison K. Guernsey

A Tale of Two Districts: Supervised Release in the District of Arizona and the Northern District of California by Elisse Larouche, Jon M. Sands, August Sommerfeld

Reenvisioning Success: How a Federal Reentry Court Promotes Desistance and Improves Quality of Life by Maya Sosnov, Leslie Kramer

The Judicial Role in Supervision and Reentry by Jacob Schuman

What’s Missing? The Absence of Probation in Federal Sentencing Reform by Cecelia Klingele

Reducing the Federal Prison Population: The Role of Pretrial Community Supervision by Christine S. Scott-Hayward, Connie Ireland

COVID-19 Vaccination as a Condition of Federal Community Supervision by Nila Bala

Building a Fair and Just Federal Community Supervision System: Lessons Learned from State and Local Reform Efforts by Miriam Krinsky, Monica Fuhrmann

June 14, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Recommended reading, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Could the EQUAL Act get passed as part of some kind of "omnibus" federal marijuana reform bill?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting Marijuana Moment article headlined "New Details On Congressional Marijuana Omnibus Bill Emerge As Lawmakers Work For 60 Senate Votes."  Here are some of the intriguing particulars from an extended piece worth reading in full:

Two key congressmen made waves in the marijuana community on Thursday by disclosing that there are high-level talks underway about putting together a wide-ranging package of incremental marijuana proposals that House and Senate lawmakers believe could be enacted into law this year.  But multiple sources tell Marijuana Moment that issues under consideration go further than the banking and expungements reforms that were at the center of the public discussion that has emerged.

The dueling pushes for comprehensive legalization and incremental reform — a source of tension among advocates, lawmakers and industry insiders over many months — may actually result in something actionable and bipartisan by the end of the current Congress, those familiar with the bicameral negotiations say.  That said, no deal is set in stone and talks are ongoing.

In addition to the banking and expungements proposals that made waves when discussed publicly at a conference on Thursday by two key House lawmakers, there are also talks about attaching language from other standalone bills dealing with issues such as veterans’ medical cannabis access, research expansion, marijuana industry access to Small Business Administration (SBA) programs and broader drug sentencing reform....

Interestingly enough, a non-marijuana item might also be part of the deal in the works: the EQUAL Act to end the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, which experts say has exacerbated racial disparities in the criminal justice system. That legislation has passed the House in standalone form and has substantial bipartisan support in the Senate. “These talks are very serious,” a source involved in criminal justice reform said. “I would say this is one of the most serious bipartisan, bicameral conversations that we’ve seen occur in our time in this space.”

Given that I am not especially bullish on the likelihood that significant marijuana reform making it through the current Congress, I am not especially keen on the idea of tethering crack sentencing reform to marijuana reform.  But, given that the EQUAL Act seems to be stalled in the Senate (despite more than 10 GOP co-sponsors), maybe this new marijuana talk is good news for the prospects of sentencing reform.  Notably, this recent Hill commentary by Marc Levin, headlined "Bipartisan drug sentencing reform isn’t a pipe dream," argues that the EQUAL Act could still "receive a rare bipartisan embrace."  Whether with a side of weed or on its own, I sure hope the EQUAL Act gets to the desk of the President as soon as possible.

A few of many prior posts on the EQUAL Act:

June 14, 2022 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Pot Prohibition Issues, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (13)

June 13, 2022

Fascinating new AP accounting of all sentences given to January 6 rioters so far

Fittingly, with the House's on-going January 6 committee hearings, the Associated Press has this new article reviewing in some detail the nearly 200 sentences so far given to January 6 riot defendants.  I recommend the piece, and its cool interactive graphics, in full.  Here are excerpts:

As the number of people sentenced for crimes in the insurrection nears 200, an Associated Press analysis of sentencing data shows that some judges are divided over how to punish the rioters, particularly for the low-level misdemeanors arising from the attack....

[U.S. District Judge Tanya] Chutkan, a former assistant public defender who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama, has consistently taken the hardest line against Jan. 6 defendants of any judge serving on Washington’s federal trial court, which is handling the more than 800 cases brought so far in the largest prosecution in Justice Department history.  Chutkan has handed out tougher sentences than the department was seeking in seven cases, matched its requests in four others and sent all 11 riot defendants who have come before her behind bars. In the four cases in which prosecutors did not seek jail time, Chutkan gave terms ranging from 14 days to 45 days.

Overall, the 20 judges who have sentenced riot defendants have given lighter sentences than prosecutors were seeking in nearly three-fourths of the cases. The judges have exceeded prosecutors’ recommendation for about only 10% of the defendants, according to AP’s analysis.

Most judges — appointed by presidents of both political parties — have gone easier on defendants than prosecutors wanted in most or all of their cases so far.  While some judges have sentenced few Jan. 6 defendants, no other judge besides Chutkan has exceeded prosecutors’ recommended punishment in most of the cases assigned to them.

“Depending on the judge you get, the same facts could get you anything from probation to months in jail,” said [Greg] Hunter, the defense lawyer [representing some Jan. 6 defendants]. “When you can literally look at who the judge is, who has been assigned to a case, and know that every defendant is going to get more time or less time because of the judge they drew ... that doesn’t promote respect for the law,” he added.

In one case, two friends from Indiana, Dona Sue Bissey and Anna Morgan-Lloyd, both pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor offense for engaging in essentially the same conduct inside the Capitol.  Prosecutors did not seek jail time for either, noting their lack of a criminal record. Chutkan sentenced Bissey to 14 days in jail.  A different judge sentenced Bissey’s friend to probation....

But Judge Randolph Moss sentenced Matthew Ryan Miller to less than three years [when prosecutors sought more than four], noting that the man was just 22 years old on Jan. 6, 2021, was intoxicated when he stormed the Capitol and has shown remorse.  Before handing down the punishment, Moss said he believes judges have done a good job at ensuring the punishments are consistent while also weighing the individual factors of each case.  “When one looks at these sentencing decisions that have been made by this court across many judges, it’s remarkable how consistent sentencing has been,” said Moss, an Obama nominee. “When I see differences, I’m able to go back through the record and look at it and understand the basis for those differences.”...

Of the more than 190 defendants sentenced so far, about 20 admitted to felony charges, including nine who assaulted police officers. The rest pleaded guilty to misdemeanors punishable by no more than one year imprisonment. Prosecutors recommended prison terms in more than 70% of the cases. Judges have agreed to prison in about 45% of them, with terms ranging from nine days to more than five years.

Some of many prior related posts:

June 13, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (16)

Any (spicy?) speculations about why SCOTUS has not yet decided Taylor or Concepcion, two little sentencing cases?

Images (5)The Supreme Court this morning handed down an order list and five new opinions (partially blogged here and here).  Though the Court issued a number of opinions on criminal (or criminal-adjacent) procedural issues, we did not today get a ruling in any of the six notable cases that I flagged in this post last week.  As of this writing, SCOTUS has 24 more argued cases to resolve this Term, and there will be additional opinions released on Wednesday morning.  (If five opinions per day becomes the new normal for the Justices, the Court could wrap the current Term by the end of this month with just two "opinion days" during each of the last two weeks of June.)

Most Court watchers have long expected the "biggest" cases, such as the Second Amendment case and the abortion case (Bruen and Dobbs) to not be released until the very end of the Term.  But two "little" sentencing-related cases are also taking a very long time to come out.  US v. TaylorNo. 20-1459, which concerns the definition of a "crime of violence" for application of a 924(c) sentencing enhancement, was argued more than sixth months ago during the Court's December sitting.  And Concepcion v. USNo. 20-1650, which concerns proper resentencing considerations in a crack offense resentencing under Section 404(b) of the FIRST STEP Act, was argued nearly five months ago during the Court's January sitting.  Only very high-profile cases are still outstanding from the December sitting other than Taylor, and Conception is the only case from the January sitting now still unresolved.

The standard and ready explanation, of course, for why decisions in Taylor and Concepcion may be taking a long time is because the Justices are (perhaps deeply?) divided in these cases, and so we should expect multiple (and lengthy?) opinions.  And, to add a bit of spicy speculation, I am inclined to guess that the delay is also partially a function of the Justices in these cases not being divided neatly along the "standard" ideological lines.  Justice Gorsuch, of course, tends to vote in favor of (non-capital) criminal defendants more than most of his conservative colleagues and Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanaugh also can be somewhat more pro-defendant in some settings.

Notably, the SCOTUSblog accounting of who has written which majority opinions so far indicates that neither Justice Gorsuch nor Justice Kavanaugh has authored a majority opinion from the January sitting; we might reasonably expect (though cannot be certain) that one of those two was tasked with authoring the Court's opinion in Concepcion.  Cases from the December sitting are harder to game out because a few more are still unresolved; but since Justice Alito apparently had Dobbs, Justices Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are those so far without majority opinions from the December sitting and one of them might reasonably be expected to be authoring the Court's opinion in Taylor.

Of course, this analysis is all just tea-leaf-reading and speculation.  We could get other opinion authors or unanimous opinions or who knows what from the Court (especially given that various statutory construction and sentencing jurisprudence doctrines could be brought to bear in these cases).  But, especially within a Term generating so much news from other cases, I am tempted to start speculating that Taylor and/or Concepcion could prove to be sleeper cases.   (I cannot help but note that 18 years ago around this time, I started speculating about whether Blakely v. Washington might be a brewing blockbuster.  I will be truly shocked if either Taylor or Conception gets anywhere close to the jurisprudential earthquake of Blakely, but I find myself growing ever more eager to see what's what in these sentencing cases.)

Anyone else have speculations or thoughts about these lingering sentencing cases (or any other aspect of the eventful SCOTUS Term now winding down)?

June 13, 2022 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Distinctive 6-3 SCOTUS majority extends reach of "dual-sovereignty" exception to Double Jeopardy Clause in Denezpi v. US

The Supreme Court this morning handed down a criminal procedure decision in Denezpi v. US, No. 20–7622 (S. Ct. June 13, 2022) (available here), with this uncommon 6-3 combination of Justices:

BARRETT, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and THOMAS, BREYER, ALITO, and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined. GORSUCH, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SOTOMAYOR and KAGAN, JJ., joined as to Parts I and III.

Here is how Justice Barrett's opinion for the Court gets started:

The Double Jeopardy Clause protects a person from being prosecuted twice “for the same offence.” An offense defined by one sovereign is necessarily different from an offense defined by another, even when the offenses have identical elements.  Thus, a person can be successively prosecuted for the two offenses without offending the Clause.  We have dubbed this the “dual-sovereignty” doctrine.

This case presents a twist on the usual dual-sovereignty scenario.  The mine run of these cases involves two sovereigns, each enforcing its own law.  This case, by contrast, arguably involves a single sovereign (the United States) that enforced its own law (the Major Crimes Act) after having separately enforced the law of another sovereign (the Code of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe).  Petitioner contends that the second prosecution violated the Double Jeopardy Clause because the dual-sovereignty doctrine requires that the offenses be both enacted and enforced by separate sovereigns.

We disagree.  By its terms, the Clause prohibits separate prosecutions for the same offense; it does not bar successive prosecutions by the same sovereign.  So even assuming that petitioner’s first prosecutor exercised federal rather than tribal power, the second prosecution did not violate the Constitution’s guarantee against double jeopardy.

Here is how Justice Gorsuch's dissent gets started:

Federal prosecutors tried Merle Denezpi twice for the same crime. First, they charged him with violating a federal regulation.  Then, they charged him with violating an overlapping federal statute.  Same defendant, same crime, same prosecuting authority.  Yet according to the Court, the Double Jeopardy Clause has nothing to say about this case.  How can that be?  To justify its conclusion, the Court invokes the dual-sovereignty doctrine.  For reasons I have offered previously, I believe that doctrine is at odds with the text and original meaning of the Constitution. See Gamble v. United States, 587 U.S. ___, ___ (2019) (dissenting opinion) (slip op., at 1).  But even taking it at face value, the doctrine cannot sustain the Court’s conclusion.

June 13, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Justice Sotomayor pens lengthy dissent from denial of cert in Texas capital case that has previously led to SCOTUS per curiam reversal

Almost exactly two years ago, the Supreme Court issued a per curiam decision in Andrus v. Texas (discussed here) in which the Court felt compelled to find that "Andrus’ counsel provided constitutionally deficient performance under Strickland," but then remanded so Texas courts could "address the prejudice prong of Strickland in the first instance."  This case resulted in another notable opinion today, making this otherwise new SCOTUS short order list much longer.  Specifically, Justice Sotomayor authored a 25-page dissent from denial of certiorari, which was joined by Justices Breyer and Kagan.  Here is how it starts:

A state habeas court recommended vacating petitioner Terence Andrus’ death sentence after an 8-day hearing that uncovered a plethora of mitigating evidence that trial counsel had failed to investigate or present.  The court held that Andrus had received ineffective assistance of counsel at the punishment phase of his trial. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).  The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas reversed; this Court summarily vacated and remanded. See Andrus v. Texas, 590 U.S. ___ (2020) (per curiam).

This Court held that counsel had rendered constitutionally deficient performance.  That conclusion was based on an “apparent ‘tidal wave’” of “compelling” and “powerful mitigating evidence” in the habeas record, none of which counsel presented to the jury. Id., at ___, ___, ___ (slip op., at 9, 11, 18).  The Court also found counsel ineffective for several specific failures to investigate and rebut the State’s case in aggravation. Id., at ___–___ (slip op., at 13–16).  The Court remanded to allow the Texas court to evaluate in the first instance whether, in light of the Court’s holding as to deficient performance, Andrus had shown prejudice under Strickland.

On remand, the Court of Criminal Appeals, in a divided 5-to-4 decision, failed to follow this Court’s ruling.  Instead of properly weighing the habeas evidence as a whole, the Texas court concluded that Andrus failed to establish prejudice (and therefore denied habeas relief) based on its disagreement with, and rejection of, the determinations underlying this Court’s holding that Andrus’ counsel had rendered deficient performance.  As a result, the dissenting judges below explained, the Texas court’s opinion was irreconcilable with this Court’s prior decision and barred by vertical stare decisis and the law of the case.

I agree with the dissenting judges below. Andrus’ case cries out for intervention, and it is particularly vital that this Court act when necessary to protect against defiance of its precedents.  The Court, however, denies certiorari. I would summarily reverse, and I respectfully dissent from the Court’s failure to do so.

June 13, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

June 12, 2022

Iowa Supreme Court refuses to extend Eighth Amendment juve mandatory LWOP prohibition to murder committed days after 18th birthday

As reported in this Des Moines Register article, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an interesting ruling refusing to extend an Eighth Amendment right protecting juvenile murderers. Here are the basics:

Two Iowans who were sentenced to life in prison for murders committed when they were teenagers must stay incarcerated, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday. Lawyers for the Des Moines men claimed they should not have been sentenced to adult standards because the crimes were committed when they were 18 and 19 years old. Two Iowa Supreme Court decisions rejected claims that sentencing very young adults to adult sentences constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Building on U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the state court has previously held that youth who commit crimes before they turn 18, even first-degree murder, cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole. But once someone turns 18, Friday's rulings held, they face the full penalties prescribed by law.

The two cases both involve Des Moines men who've been fighting for decades to overturn their convictions and sentences for murder. In one case, the defendant was only five days past his 18th birthday at the time of the offense. James Dorsey, who was convicted of the 1984 murder of Juanita Weaver during a home invasion, argued that modern medical and social science shows the brain does not fully mature until age 25.

Justice Christopher McDonald, who wrote both majority opinions, acknowledges that the 18th birthday might be an arbitrary place to draw a line, but said a line must be drawn somewhere. He noted many areas outside criminal law where turning 18 triggers new rights and responsibilities....

In the second case, Fernando Sandoval was 19 in 2004 when he shot and killed two men during a fight outside a Des Moines bar. He was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to life in prison, and has brought multiple unsuccessful appeals and petitions for postconviction relief....

The only dissenter in both cases was Justice Brent Appel, the sole Democratic appointee on the court. Appel wrote in Dorsey's case that he would not "simply extend the categorical rule ... prohibiting life-without-possibility-of-parole sentences to young adults," but instead that such cases should be treated as other states treat death sentences, requiring an "individualized assessment" by the court whether the defendant truly merits lifelong detention....

Iowa law mandates life without parole for anyone convicted of first-degree murder, except for juveniles, who may be eligible for parole.

The full ruling in Dorsey v, Iowa, No. 19–1917 (Iowa June 10, 2022), is available at this link and here is how the majority opinion begins:

Petitioner James Dorsey shot and killed a woman when he was eighteen years and five days old. He was found guilty of murder in the first degree and was sentenced to a mandatory term of life in prison without the possibility of parole.  Dorsey contends this sentence violates his state constitutional right to be free from “cruel and unusual punishment.” Iowa Const. art. I, § 17.  He argues the state constitution prohibits imposing a mandatory punishment on a young adult offender and instead requires the district court to hold an individualized sentencing hearing before imposing any sentence. He further argues his life sentence without the possibility of parole is grossly disproportionate to the crime. For the reasons expressed below, we affirm Dorsey’s sentence.

Here is how the lengthy dissent by Judge Appel wraps up:

While an offender under the age of eighteen may be entitled to a categorical exclusion from a life-without-possibility-of-parole sentence, I would hold that an individual older than eighteen might be subject to life without possibility of parole provided that the state can make the necessary showing of incorrigibility to support the sentence.

Because of the confluence of the mitigating factors of youth and the harshness of the penalty, I would apply a different version of the gross proportionality test than has traditionally been applied under the federal caselaw. Instead, in the context of a youthful offender facing life without possibility of parole, the state should be required to show that the individual offender is so incorrigible that even considering a parole-based release at a later date is out of the question.  This heightened sense of proportionality is necessary because of the potent combination of potential mitigating factors and the irreversible and severe nature of the underlying punishment.  This extension of individualized determinations is a small but necessary evolution of our current law.

June 12, 2022 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)