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July 23, 2022

Notable debate over access to sentencing data as Ohio builds out new sentencing data platform

In a few posts over the last few years (linked below), I have flagged the work of some Ohio jurists and others in the development of a statewide sentencing database.  I have had the honor of playing a small role in this work, and I have found fascinating many of the challenges and debates surrounding efforts to build out the Ohio Sentencing Data Platform.  One big lurking issue all along is now spotlighted by this new local article headlined "Statewide judges’ group wants sentencing data collected under proposed database kept secret."  Here are the excerpts from a lengthy article worth reading in full: 

A group that represents Ohio’s common pleas court judges does not want the public to see data that would be collected under a proposed statewide sentencing database for fears it could be cherry-picked and lead to criticism of the courts.  The head of the Ohio Common Pleas Judges’ Association wrote in a letter to the Ohio Supreme Court’s sentencing commission last month that judges recognize the value in the creation of a database for their own use.

Judges, however, are concerned that attorneys, journalists and other organizations could selectively pull data from the database to use “as a basis to critique imposed sentences and advocate for an overhaul to Ohio’s sentencing statutes.”  “In short, the OCPJA has significant concerns that broad public accessibility to the data would negatively impact the independence of the judiciary and interfere with its discretion in sentencing decisions,” the group’s president, Morrow County Common Pleas Court Robert Hickson, wrote.

The letter urged the seven justices to scrap proposed changes to the rules of superintendence that govern the state’s courts.  That would allow the court to run the project through the sentencing commission and come up with new proposals. In the alternative, state lawmakers should pass legislation mandating the data be exempt from Ohio’s public record laws, the letter said.... Hickson wrote that the letter represents the “unanimous position” of the group’s board.  Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan is the group’s first vice president....

Sheehan’s colleague on the bench and predecessor as administrative judge wrote a letter of his own to the Ohio Supreme Court justices in which he said the views of the state judges’ group “cannot be farther from my own.” “In my opinion, the fears and skepticism expressed in the OCPJA letter are unfounded,” Judge John J. Russo wrote.  Russo, who was elected in 2006 and served as administrative judge from 2014 to 2020, told cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer that keeping the data secret and available only to the judges was akin to creating a “secret club” and would only harm the public’s confidence in the justice system more than making it public....

Russo also said that the letter by the judges’ group does not reflect the stance of the majority of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.  The Ohio Public Defender’s Office, Ohio Bar Association, Black Lives Matter and Common Cause Ohio all urged the commission to make the data available to the public.

The leader of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney Association expressed a similar concern that the data would not paint a complete picture of all of the factors that go into each sentencing decision, and it would be open to manipulation.  While the group stopped short of calling for the data to remain hidden from the public, it did challenge that the legislature would have to create the commission, rather than the court.

The letters are in response to the Ohio Supreme Court’s sentencing commission’s call for public comment on proposed rule changes that would create a uniform sentencing entry, a lengthy document that judges would fill out after each sentencing hearing that articulates why judges imposed each sentence.  Each county’s common pleas court uses its own system to document the sentences judges there hand down, and they vary widely.  Some courts in small, rural counties still use handwritten sentencing documents, the Supreme Court said in a 2021 article published in the court’s news letter.

The commission would take data from the document and enter it into a database kept by the court that would give those who can access it the ability to see what the average sentence each person convicted of a particular crime received in each county’s common pleas court.  The sentencing commission hopes that creating a central database for the entire state that is populated by a single, uniform document that each judge fills out will make it easier for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.  It would allow the prison system to keep track of the sentences each inmate is serving and prevent trial court judges from committing errors during sentencing that appellate courts would later overturn....

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Michael Donnelly, a former judge in Cuyahoga County who served on the bench alongside Sheehan and Russo, told cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer that the database will help judges make sure they’re doling out similar sentences.  “That’s not just a good idea. That’s what the law mandates now,” Donnelly said. “It’s just that, how do you do that with the lack of information and the lack of data that we have?”

Donnelly also said that the public has a right to know how their courts are operating and that he believes the data should be made public. “We all serve at the pleasure of the public,” Donnelly said of judges in state court. “Everything else about our decisions is reviewable. Why should the most important decision we make as judges, whether to incarcerate someone, be any different than any other decision we make in this system of checks and balances?”

Prior related posts:

 

UPDATE:  Cleveland.com has published this notable new opinion piece authored by Judge Ronald B. Adrine under the headline "Ohio’s Black judges support public release of criminal-sentencing database information." Here are excerpts:

The Ohio Black Judges Association Inc. (OBJA) voices its strong support for the Supreme Court of Ohio’s plan to allow public access to a proposed criminal sentencing database compiled by, among other things, race, as referenced in a recent article which appeared in The Plain Dealer.  Regrettably, our support puts us at odds with the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association, which opposes public access to the database....

Our members across the state are acutely aware of the fact that the lack of data impedes legitimate inquiry into the degree to which racial justice is, or is not, a reality in Ohio.  At minimum, the existence of an open-access criminal sentencing database will sensitize all judges who make sentencing decisions to the potential for implicit bias, where it exists, and to reassure them of their positive practices, where it does not!

The position taken by the Common Pleas Judges Association calls for worst-case speculation concerning the occasional misuse of the database, while overlooking the overwhelming benefits to be realized in the majority of situations where the database is accessed.  Aggressively promoting viable efforts to increase the public’s confidence in our courts and to seek justice system accountability for all are OBJA’s primary motivators for supporting public access to the database.

We would like to assume that the vast majority of the members of the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association have nothing to fear from public access to their sentencing practices.  If that assumption is incorrect, then the case for creating and maintaining the database is made even stronger.

There may be legitimate reasons for racial or other disparities that have nothing to do with bias.  If that is the case, having the database will assist in identifying them. By the same token, if the sentencing practices of individual judges suggest the need for practice adjustments, then that fact should be brought to the attention of those judges and the public should be able to monitor their progress in eliminating any explicit or implicit bias uncovered.

July 23, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 22, 2022

Should "pardoned conduct" be part of Steve Bannon's sentencing after his convictions for contempt of Congress?

Regular readers know that I have long been troubled by the use of so-called "acquitted conduct" in federal sentencing, but today's news of Steve Bannon's conviction on two federal criminal charges brings an interesting twist on what conduct a federal judge should or should not consider at sentencing.  First, here are the basic's of Bannon's convictions and coming sentencing via NBC News:

A jury on Friday found former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon guilty on two counts of contempt of Congress for blowing off the Jan. 6 select committee.

Bannon's sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 21 when he will face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 30 days and up to one year behind bars. He could also be fined $100 to $100,000. He is expected to appeal....

Judge Carl Nichols repeatedly refused to delay Bannon's trial despite the defense team's contention that publicity from the Jan. 6 committee hearings would affect the jury pool and their contention that Bannon was barred from testifying due to Trump's purported claims of executive privilege.  A jury was seated on Tuesday morning.

Second, here is the full text (with sentencing terms) of the federal statute, 2 USC § 192, which served as the foundation for Bannon's convictions:

Every person who having been summoned as a witness by the authority of either House of Congress to give testimony or to produce papers upon any matter under inquiry before either House, or any joint committee established by a joint or concurrent resolution of the two Houses of Congress, or any committee of either House of Congress, willfully makes default, or who, having appeared, refuses to answer any question pertinent to the question under inquiry, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 nor less than $100 and imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months.

Third, recall that Bannon was indicted by federal prosecutors back in August 2020 on fraud and money laundering charges, but Prez Trump pardoned Bannon on this last day in office before the case had moved significantly forward.  This Washington Post article made note of notable comments by the federal judge who dismissed the charges following the pardon:  

A federal judge on Monday formally dismissed the fraud case against Stephen K. Bannon, the conservative provocateur and ex-adviser to President Donald Trump, ending months of litigation over how the court system should handle his pardon while related criminal cases remain unresolved.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres, citing examples of other cases being dismissed following a presidential reprieve, granted Bannon’s application — saying in a seven-page ruling that Trump’s pardon was valid and that “dismissal of the Indictment is the proper course.”...

In her decision Tuesday, the judge pointed to past judicial discussions on pardons and what they imply about individuals who receive one.  She quoted from a New Jersey court that, in 1833, found that “pardon implies guilt.”

“If there be no guilt, there is no ground for forgiveness. … A party is acquitted on the ground of innocence; he is pardoned through favor,” it says, according to Torres’s ruling.

Putting all these pieces together leads me to the question in the title of this post, namely whether folks think it would be proper (perhaps even obligatory) for Judge Carl Nichols to consider and give significant attention to the prior (and now pardoned) allegations of fraud involving Bannon. 

Of course, 18 USC § 3553(a)(1), calls upon a court at sentencing to consider "the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant."  The past (alleged and pardoned) fraud conduct certain has part of Bannon's history and characteristics, and a pardon is arguably the antithesis of an exoneration and does not undercut historic jury trial rights like the use of acquitted conduct at sentencing.  Nevertheless, because I think better practice for all purposes is for pardons to be honored and respected through a complete wiping away of all criminal justice sanctions and consequences, I am inclined to want Judge Nichols to not give attention to "pardoned conduct."

July 22, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Victim's family opposing death sentence as Alabama prepares for execution next week

I have long hoped (but have never been confident) that the application of the death penalty can bring some measure of catharsis and closure to family members and other victims of a murder.  For example, as recently mentioned in this post, it seems many victims of the Parkland school shooter are quite eager to see the capital sentencing process move forward.  But, as this local article from Alabama reveals, in some cases the death penalty advances against the wishes of a murder victim’s family.  Here are the details:

Toni and Terryln Hall were just three and six years old when their mother, Faith Hall, was shot to death by Joe Nathan James, Jr., in August 1994. James, who’d dated Hall, was eventually convicted of her murder and sentenced to death.

Now, nearly three decades later, the State of Alabama has scheduled the execution of Joe Nathan James, Jr. for July 28.  But Toni and Terryln Hall, as well as Faith’s brother Helvetius, said they’re opposed to James being put to death. The planned execution has unnecessarily reopened old wounds, the family said, and won’t bring them closure.  James’ death is yet another trauma for all involved, and Gov. Kay Ivey should halt the execution, they said.  Forgiveness should prevail, the family argued, not vengeance....

Each member of the Hall family said their feelings towards James have evolved over time.  Helvetius said that if he’d seen Joe Nathan James the night he murdered Faith Hall, he may have killed him.  “But God was in me,” he said. “And I thank him for it.”

Toni and Terryln both said that for a while, they hated Joe Nathan James.  Toni said that what happened to her mother has impacted her life in ways seen and unseen. James’ actions have had “trickle-down effects,” she said, effects that she’s still trying to cope with today.  She’s more guarded when it comes to intimate relationships.  She’s careful about whom she lets around her children, ages two and four. “It made me hate him,” Toni said.

“For years, I hated him, too,” Terryln added. “But as I got older and started living my life and raising my own kids, I had to find it in my heart to forgive this man.”  And she did forgive him. So did Toni and Helvetius. “I forgive him,” Terryln said. “But I’ll never forget what he did to us.” Toni echoed her sister. “I couldn’t walk around with hate in my heart,” she said.

In the days leading up to Joe Nathan James’ scheduled execution, the Hall family said they feel as though an old wound has been ripped open.  “It’s really bothering me,” Toni said. “To know that someone is going to lose their life.”

The Halls said they are opposed to Alabama executing Joe Nathan James for the murder of Faith Hall.  Toni said she’s even expressed to prosecutors in the case that the family does not want the death penalty carried out against James. “We shouldn’t be playing God,” Toni said. “An eye for an eye has never been a good outlook for life.”

“At the end of the day,” Terryln said, “I feel like no human has to power to kill anyone whether they’re right or wrong.” She said it took her time to come to that conclusion, but she believes it’s the right one.  “I had to look within myself,” she said. “Who am I to judge?”

The Halls said they believe that Faith would not have wanted James executed. “She would’ve forgiven him,” Helvetius said.

The Halls said they plan to travel to Holman Correctional Facility on the evening of the scheduled execution to witness James’ last words.  They said they hope James apologizes for his actions, but that they’ll exit the witness room before the execution takes place either way. “It ain’t going to make no closure for us,” Helvetius said of the execution.

The family said they want Joe Nathan James to know that they do not hate him. If she had the opportunity to speak with James, Toni Hall said she’d make that point clear: “I don’t want you to feel like children grew up hating you,” she said. “And I wish this wasn’t happening to you now.”...

The Halls said that they believe Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey should step in and commute James’ death sentence to life in prison.  They believe their views should hold weight in deciding whether to execute James, although they admit they feel powerless in the situation. “I don’t want it to go forward,” Terryln said. “We’re not God. The Governor is not God.”

James’ blood will not be on their hands, the family said, but on the hands of the state, the governor, and lawmakers who enacted the death penalty. Still, James’ execution will be another trauma for a family that’s already lost so much, they said. “I’ll see him at nighttime when I sleep,” Helvetius said of James. “I don’t need that.”

July 22, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (9)

July 21, 2022

Spotlighting legal fight over revocation of CARES Act releases to home confinement

USA Today has this lengthy article discussing the revocation of home confinement for hundreds of persons released under the CARES Act. The piece is headlined "They were released from prison because of COVID. Their freedom didn't last long." Here are excerpts:

[Eva] Cardoza and two other women are at the center of federal lawsuits saying that people released from prison because of COVID-19 are now being sent back over minor infractions, such as not picking up a call from staffers overseeing their home confinement. The lawsuits come as the Bureau of Prisons is facing scrutiny for re-incarcerating people in home confinement over minor offenses, even as the agency has increasingly relied on the program to help reduce recidivism and prison populations....

During the pandemic, Cardoza was one of more than 43,000 people nationwide who were released from prison to home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic. The BOP website said around 50,000 people incarcerated at its facilities had recovered from coronavirus and around 300 had died.

The massive CARES ACT granted then-Attorney General Bill Barr the option to broaden the use of the home confinement program, which had previously only been allowed to be used at the very end of a person's sentence. Barr opted to allow thousands of people to receive home confinement much earlier, shaving off years from a person's sentence in some cases....

Last year, more than 3,000 people were released to CARES ACT home confinement, according to a records request put in by the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonpartisan public think tank.

Those who were released to home confinement were told they must follow specific rules. They have to keep re-entry professionals — specialists who are often working for companies contracted by the BOP — updated on their whereabouts. They often wear electronic monitoring and receive special permission to visit stores or other locations. They can go to work or school. But if someone on home confinement was found to have an infraction, such as missing a check-in or a failed drug test, they could be returned to prison.

The Bureau of Prisons told USA TODAY that 407 people had their home confinement revoked. Of those, 212 were returned due to misconduct in violation of program rules, such as alcohol use and drug use; 69 were returned after an escape, such as an unauthorized absence from custody; and 11 were for new criminal conduct and other violations.

The Bureau of Prison's Inmate Discipline Program requires several steps before returning a person in home confinement to prison, including a disciplinary hearing, written notice of the allegations and the ability to present evidence. The BOP told USA TODAY its Administrative Remedy Program allows people to have "any issue related to their incarceration formally reviewed by high-level" officials.

But lawyers involved in the lawsuits said their clients did not have hearings, written notice or the ability to present evidence. They said their pleas for review were ignored and noted that the cumbersome, months-long process can lead to collateral damage, such as a child going back into foster care while the parent is in prison.

July 21, 2022 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

One officer involved in George Floyd's killing sentenced to 30 months on federal charges

As reported in this AP article, a "federal judge sentenced former Minneapolis police Officer Thomas Lane to 2 1/2 years in prison Thursday for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, calling Lane’s role in the restraint that killed Floyd 'a very serious offense in which a life was lost' but handing down a sentence well below what prosecutors and Floyd’s family sought." Here is more:

Judge Paul Magnuson’s sentence was just slightly more than the 27 months that Lane’s attorney had requested, while prosecutors had asked for at least 5 1/4 years in prison — the low end of federal guidelines for the charge Lane was convicted on earlier this year.  He said Lane, who faces sentencing in September on state charges in Floyd’s killing, will remain free on bond until he must turn himself Oct. 4.

Lane, who is white, held Floyd’s legs as Officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd for nearly 9 1/2 minutes on May 25, 2020. Bystander video of Floyd, who was Black, pleading that he could not breathe sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the world in a reckoning over racial injustice over policing. Two other officers, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, were also convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights and will be sentenced later.

Floyd family members had asked Magnuson to give Lane the stiffest sentence possible, with brother Philonise Floyd rejecting the idea that Lane deserved any mercy for asking his colleagues twice if George Floyd should be shifted from his stomach to his side. “Officer Lane did not intervene in one way or another,” he said.

Prosecutor Manda Sertich had also argued for a higher sentence, saying that Lane “chose not to act” when he could have saved a life. “There has to be a line where blindly following a senior officer’s lead, even for a rookie officer, is not acceptable,” she said.

Magnuson told Lane the “fact that you did not get up and remove Mr. Chauvin when Mr. Floyd became unconscious is a violation of the law.” But he also held up 145 letters he said he had received supporting Lane, saying he had never received so many on behalf of a defendant. And he faulted the Minneapolis Police Department for sending Lane with another rookie officer on the call that ended in Floyd’s death.

Gray argued during the trial that Lane “did everything he could possibly do to help George Floyd.” He pointed out that Lane suggested rolling Floyd on his side so he could breathe, but was rebuffed twice by Chauvin. He also noted that Lane performed CPR to try to revive Floyd after the ambulance arrived. Lane testified at trial that he didn’t realize how dire Floyd’s condition was until paramedics turned him over. Sertich countered that his expressions of concern showed he knew Floyd was in distress but “did nothing to give Mr. Floyd the medical aid he knew Mr. Floyd so desperately needed.”

When Lane pleaded guilty in state court in May, Gray said Lane hoped to avoid a long sentence. “He has a newborn baby and did not want to risk not being part of the child’s life,” he said.

July 21, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Via voice vote (with some objections), Senate Judiciary Committee advances entire slate of US Sentencing Commission nominees

The US Senate Committee on the Judiciary today held a meeting (which can be watched here) to consider the nominees by President Biden to the US Sentencing Commission (and other nominees). The entire slate of nominees were voted forward to consideration by the full Senate by a single voice vote, though a group of GOP Senators noted objections to all four of the Democratic nominees to the Commission and a couple of Democratic Senators noted objections to a couple of the GOP nominees.

After the vote, I received an email from FAMM with this reaction to this encouraging news:

FAMM President Kevin Ring issued the following statement after the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today voted to advance President Biden’s seven nominations to serve on the U.S. Sentencing Commission: “It’s been three years since the U.S. Sentencing Commission has met due to a lack of a quorum,” said Ring. “Thanks to today’s vote, we are one step closer to the Commission being able to work on pressing issues such as implementing the First Step Act. FAMM calls on the full Senate to confirm this slate of nominees as soon as possible.”

A few of many prior recent related posts:

July 21, 2022 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Cruel and Unusual Youth Confinement"

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

In a series of cases known as the Miller trilogy, the Supreme Court recognized that children are both less culpable and more amenable to rehabilitation than adults, and that those differences must be taken into consideration at sentencing.  Relying on the principle that kids are different for constitutional purposes, the Court abolished capital punishment for minors and significantly limited the extent to which minors can be subject to life-without-parole (“LWOP”) terms.  Equally important, the Miller trilogy was predicated on the concept of inherent human dignity, and it recognized the youthful prisoner’s need for “hope” and “reconciliation with society.”  While scholars have grappled with the implementation of these cases for nearly a decade, there has been no comprehensive analysis of what these cases mean for conditions of confinement.  That is, if children are different for constitutional purposes at the moment of sentencing, surely, they are still different when transported to a correctional facility and confined by the state. This Paper seeks to close that gap in the literature by making two specific contributions: first, by arguing that the Court’s juvenile sentencing decisions impose affirmative obligations upon states regarding youth conditions of confinement; and second, by articulating a standard for measuring when youth conditions of confinement violate the Eighth Amendment.  As long as the United States persists in its extreme juvenile sentencing practices, the project of articulating what constitutes cruel and unusual youth confinement remains crucial.

July 21, 2022 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 20, 2022

Council on Criminal Justice releases "Long Sentences by the Numbers"

In this post a couple of month ago, I noted the formation of the Council of Criminal Justice's impressive Task Force on Long Sentences. Today, I was alerted to the release are this fascinating new resource from CCJ titled "Long Sentences by the Numbers."  The full resource merits a deep dive, and here are excerpts:

Launched by the Council in Spring 2022, the Task Force on Long Sentences is assessing our nation’s use of long prison terms and formulating recommendations to advance safety and justice.  This series of charts serves as a foundation for the deliberations of the group, a diverse set of experts from varied sectors of the criminal justice field and across the ideological spectrum.

The data below address three fundamental questions.  Each provides a different perspective on the nature and extent of long prison sentences, which the Task Force defines as a court-imposed prison term of 10 years or more, independent of the time people actually serve.

  • Admissions: What are the number and share of people admitted with a long prison sentence? Admissions data show changes in the frequency with which courts impose long sentences.
  • Population: What is the size of the prison population serving long sentences, and what share of the total population do these individuals represent?  Prison population data, based on a snapshot of people incarcerated at a moment in time (typically at year’s end), reveal how many people behind bars are serving long sentences.
  • Releases: What are the number and share of people released from prison after serving a long sentence and how much time did they actually serve?  Every jurisdiction has statutes and policies such as discretionary parole and credits for good behavior that permit people to be released prior to serving their maximum sentence. Release data enable us to discern how many people are released after having served 10 or more years, independent of the upper limit of their sentences.

[These data are drawn] from varying combinations of up to 29 state prison systems submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice's National Corrections Reporting Program (NCRP) from 2005 through 2019.  Council researchers selected the states and time period because they offered the most complete and consistent set of relevant national-level data to describe basic trends in long sentences....

Key Takeaways

  • People with long sentences account for a relatively small share of state prison admissions and releases, but because they serve long periods, their numbers stack up over time.  In 2019, 17% of people admitted to prison were sentenced to 10 years or more, and 3% of those released had served 10 years or more.  At year-end, 57% of people in prison were serving a long prison sentence, up from 46% in 2005.

  • The length of time served by people sentenced to 10 years or more has grown. Between 2005 and 2019, the average amount of time served by this group increased from 9.7 years to 15.5 years.

  • The share of people convicted of a violent crime who received long sentences grew from 7% in 2005 to 10% in 2019. The percentage of people convicted of property and drug offenses who received long sentences remained stable, at 3% and 2%, respectively.

  • The shares of Black and White people receiving long sentences have grown over time and the gap between those shares has widened, from 1 percentage point in 2005 to 4 percentage points in 2019. When accounting for conviction offenses, Black people are more likely to receive long sentences for violent crimes while White people are for some property crimes. White people convicted of drug crimes were more likely than Black people to get a long sentence in 2005 but less likely by 2019.

  • Compared to other age groups, people aged 55 and over are the fastest-growing age group serving long sentences. Between 2005 and 2019, the share of people serving long sentences who were aged 55 and over grew from 8% to 20%.

  • Men are more likely than women to receive and serve a long sentence. On average, men are about 72% more likely to receive a long sentence and over three times more likely to serve a long sentence than women, mostly because men are convicted of more serious, violent crimes. Greater shares of both men (up 4%) and women (up 3%) received sentences of 10 years or more in 2019 than in 2005.

July 20, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Federal Sentencing of Illegal Reentry: The Impact of The 2016 Guideline Amendment"

Cover_illegal-reentryThe title of this post is the title of this notable new US Sentencing Commission report. This relatively short report (only 38 pages) is summarized on this USSC webpage providing an "Overview" and a bunch of "Key Findings." Here is that overview and some of the key findings:

Overview

In 2016, the United States Sentencing Commission promulgated an amendment that comprehensively revised the guideline covering illegal reentry offenses — §2L1.2 (Unlawfully Entering or Remaining in the United States).  The amendment, Amendment 802, became effective November 1, 2016, and represented the most comprehensive revision of a major guideline in the last two decades.  This report examines the impact of Amendment 802 by looking back at sentencings under §2L1.2 over the last ten fiscal years.  The report first describes the concerns leading to the amendment, including that §2L1.2’s 12- and 16-level increases were overly severe and led to variances, and that using the “categorical approach” to apply enhancements was overly complex, resource intensive, and increased litigation and uncertainty.  After outlining the changes made by Amendment 802, the report assesses its impact on guideline application for §2L1.2 offenders and on appeals involving §2L1.2.

Key Findings

  • Over the last ten fiscal years, immigration offenders have represented either the highest number or second-highest number of offenders sentenced annually.  The vast majority of immigration offenders were sentenced under §2L1.2.
     
  • Amendment 802 to the Guidelines Manual ameliorated concerns about the severity of §2L1.2’s enhancements.
    • While variance rates for §2L1.2 offenders remained largely consistent before and after the amendment, courts imposed sentences within the applicable guideline range at a higher rate on average (66.0%) in the five fiscal years after the amendment than the five fiscal years before the amendment (56.6%). Furthermore, the difference between the average guideline minimum and the average sentence imposed decreased from at least three months before the amendment to no more than one month between fiscal years 2017 and 2020, and slightly over two months in fiscal year 2021.
    • These sentencing trends likely are attributable to the decreasing severity of the sentencing enhancements applicable to offenders sentenced under §2L1.2. The number of offenders who received sentencing increases of 12 or more offense levels decreased substantially from 26,094 in the five fiscal years before the amendment to 5,497 in the five fiscal years after the amendment. The average sentencing increase similarly decreased from seven to four offense levels.
       
  • Amendment 802 significantly simplified guideline application and reduced appeals.
    • In the five fiscal years before the amendment, 31,824 offenders sentenced under §2L1.2 (37.1%) received a sentencing enhancement that potentially required courts to analyze predicate offenses using the categorical approach. That number decreased considerably to only 59 offenders (0.1%) in the five fiscal years after the amendment.
    • After Amendment 802, the number of opinions on §2L1.2 appeals decreased by 90 percent, from 239 in fiscal year 2017 to 24 in fiscal year 2021. Notably, this decline occurred even while the number of immigration sentencings rose steadily from fiscal year 2017 to a ten-year high in fiscal year 2019. By contrast, before the amendment, appellate courts issued 249 opinions on §2L1.2 appeals in fiscal year 2016 alone, and two-thirds of the appeals raised application issues relating to the categorical approach.

July 20, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 19, 2022

"Carceral Intent"

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

For decades, scholars across disciplines have examined the stark injustice of American carceralism.  Among that body of work are analyses of the various intent requirements embedded in the constitutional doctrine that governs the state’s power to incarcerate.  These intent requirements include the “deliberate indifference” standard of the Eighth Amendment, which regulates prison conditions, and the “punitive intent” standard of due process jurisprudence, which regulates the scope of confinement.  This Article coins the term “carceral intent” to refer collectively to those legal intent requirements and examines critically the role of carceral intent in shaping and maintaining the deep-rooted structural racism and sweeping harms of America’s system of confinement.

This Article begins by tracing the origins of American carceralism, focusing on the modern prison’s relationship to white supremacy and the post-Emancipation period in U.S. history.  The Article then turns to the constitutional doctrine of incarceration, synthesizing and categorizing the law of carceral intent.  Then, drawing upon critical race scholarship that examines anti-discrimination doctrine and the concept of “white innocence,” the Article compares the law’s reliance on carceral intent with the law’s reliance on discriminatory intent in equal protection jurisprudence.  Critical race theorists have long critiqued the intent-focused anti-discrimination doctrine as incapable of remedying structural racism and inequities.  The same can be said of the doctrine of incarceration.  The law’s preoccupation with an alleged wrongdoer’s “bad intent” in challenges to the scope and conditions of incarceration makes it ill-suited to remedying the U.S. prison system’s profoundly unjust and harmful features.  A curative approach, this Article asserts, is one in which the law focuses on carceral effect rather than carceral intent, as others have argued in the context of equal protection.

July 19, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Might Prez Biden wisely focus on marijuana offenders for his next clemency efforts?

It has now been almost a full three months since, as noted here, Prez Biden in April 2022 made his first and only use of his historic clemency powers.   Though I was disappointed that it took Prez Biden 15+ months in office before using his clemency pen, I was hopeful the large number of grants (three pardons and 75 commutations) might be a sign of things to come.  But now, three months later, I am fearful that Prez Biden will continue to fail to live up to his campaign promise to "broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes."

Still, as the question in the title of this post is meant to suggest, there would seem to be a unique opportunity for Prez Biden to focus clemency efforts on a particular group of individuals convicted of "non-violent and drug crimes," namely marijuana offenders.  This group is on my mind in part because of this recent press release which highlights the "the ongoing collaboration between The Weldon Project, National Cannabis Roundtable and other partners to secure clemency for individuals convicted on federal marijuana offenses."  Here is the start of the release:

The Weldon Project’s MISSION [GREEN] and The National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR) today announced the launch of the Cannabis Clemency Campaign, an initiative that will encourage the Biden Administration and Congress to advance policies that would grant clemency to qualifying individuals who have been convicted on federal cannabis charges. The campaign will also facilitate collaboration with marijuana clemency experts and academics, kicking off with a marijuana clemency symposium in Washington, D.C. on July 20th.

“Through clemency, President Biden has an opportunity to deliver justice for the thousands of Americans who have been impacted by federal cannabis prohibition and punitive sentencing practices,” said Weldon Angelos, President and co-founder of The Weldon Project. “This would fulfill one of President Biden’s campaign pledges and send a powerful message about this Administration’s dedication to criminal justice reform. I’m proud to formally launch this campaign alongside the National Cannabis Roundtable, and look forward to working together to redress the harm done by federal marijuana prohibition.”

I have the great honor of participating in the symposium mentioned in this release, and I am hopeful that it will help Prez Biden come to see that it is never too late and always the right time for sound use of his clemency powers. 

A few on many prior related posts:

July 19, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Pot Prohibition Issues, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

July 18, 2022

Spotlighting notable (and constitutionally suspect?) aspects of federal firearm prohibition enforcement

I noted in this post last week the new report from the US Sentencing Commission titled "What Do Federal Firearms Offenses Really Look Like?".  Following up on that report, Jacob Sullum has this interesting post at Reason.com headlined "A New Report Casts Doubt on the Assumption That Gun Law Violators Are a Public Menace: The vast majority of federal firearm offenses involve illegal possession, often without aggravating conduct or a history of violence."  I recommend that post in full, and here are excerpts (with links from the original):

new report on federal firearm offenses shows that the vast majority involve illegal possession, often without aggravating circumstances or a history of violence. The data undermine the assumption that people who violate gun laws are predatory criminals who pose a serious threat to public safety. They also highlight the racially disproportionate impact of such laws, which is especially troubling given their excessive breadth....

[T]he federal prohibition of gun possession by people with felony records (technically, people convicted of crimes punishable by more than a year of incarceration) is a lifetime ban except in rare cases where people manage to have their Second Amendment rights restored.

That policy, which threatens violators with up to 10 years in prison, is hard to justify unless you assume that people convicted of violent crimes cannot be rehabilitated and do not change their ways as they mature.  That assumption does not seem reasonable in light of research indicating that recidivism declines sharply with age.  Yet federal law is based on the premise that, say, a man convicted of assault in his early 20s can never be trusted with a gun, even if he stays out of trouble for decades.  Because of that youthful crime, he forever loses the right to armed self-defense.

Furthermore, the USSC's numbers indicate that two-fifths of firearm offenders had never been convicted of a violent crime.  Many prior convictions involved drug trafficking (31.6 percent) or previous weapon offenses (44.2 percent). Five percent of the defendants were disqualified from owning a gun because they were illegal drug users.  If a decades-old assault conviction seems like a thin pretext for permanently depriving someone of his constitutional rights, a decades-old drug conviction, involving conduct that violated no one's rights, seems even thinner.

The irrationality and injustice of this policy look even worse when you consider the demographics of federal firearm offenders. In FY 2021, 55 percent of them were black. A similar racial disparity is apparent at the state level. According to FBI data, African Americans, who represent about 14 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for 42 percent of arrests for weapon offenses in 2019....  If those restrictions made sense, you might dismiss the disparities, citing cross-racial differences in crime rates.  But those restrictions do not make sense, since they apply to millions of people who either are not currently dangerous or never were.

Importantly, as I have noted in some prior posts linked below, whether or not one agrees with Sullum's policy criticisms of broad federal firearm prohibitions, the constitutionality of some aspects of federal enforcement must be subject to new questions in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent Second Amendment ruling in Bruen.  As I noted in those posts, Bruen makes clear that to "justify its [gun] regulation, the government may not simply posit that the regulation promotes an important interest. Rather, the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation."  And the historical record, as I have seen it, seems to make quite debatable whether broad bans on gun possession by non-violent offenders or drug users is "consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation."

Prior recent related posts:

July 18, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (19)

"Reimagining Restitution: New Approaches To Support Youth And Communities"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from the Juvenile Law Center. Here is part of the report's executive summary:

Across the country, juvenile courts impose restitution orders on youth too young to hold a job, still in full-time school, and often living in families already struggling to get by. This process doesn’t work for anyone.  Because children can’t make restitution payments, people owed restitution often don’t get paid or face long delays before they are compensated. Meanwhile, restitution is linked to higher recidivism rates for children, family stress, and deeper justice system involvement. In short, no one wins.

Restitution laws also heighten racial and economic disparities in the juvenile justice system. Most young people who make mistakes, including those who damage property, don’t end up in the justice system at all. Instead, schools, families, and communities solve the problem in ways that work for everyone involved. Because of structural racism, discrimination, economic disparities, and persistent bias, however, certain groups of youth are disproportionately pulled into the justice system for the same types of mistakes. The risk of system involvement is particularly high for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other youth of color, young people in poverty, youth with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ youth.1 As described in this publication, young people then face a rigid and unforgiving set of restitution laws, including severe consequences for nonpayment.

This report provides an overview of the legal framework for restitution in juvenile court, examines the impact on youth, families, and people owed restitution, and highlights key recommendations as jurisdictions across the country begin to reimagine restitution.

July 18, 2022 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (3)

July 17, 2022

What is the price (for victims and taxpayers) of a four-month(!) capital trial for Parkland mass murderer Nikolas Cruz?

The question in the title of this post is my (crass?) reaction to the news that the penalty-only capital trial of Nikolas Cruz is scheduled to formally get started this week.  This AP piece, headlined "Life or death for Parkland shooter?  Trial will take months," provides lots of background.  Here are some excerpts:

Four years, five months and four days after Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, his trial for the deadliest U.S. mass shooting to reach a jury begins Monday with opening statements.  Delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and legal wrangling, the penalty-only trial is expected to last four months with the seven-man, five-woman jury being exposed to horrific evidence throughout.  The jurors will then decide whether Cruz, 23, is sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole.

“Finally,” said Lori Alhadeff, who wants Cruz executed for murdering her 14-year-old daughter Alyssa. “I hope for swift action to hold him responsible.”  All victim parents and family members who have spoken publicly have said directly or indirectly they want Cruz sentenced to death.

The former Stoneman Douglas student pleaded guilty in October to the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre and is only challenging his sentence. Nine other U.S. gunmen who fatally shot at least 17 people died during or immediately after their attacks by suicide or police gunfire.  Cruz was captured after he fled the school.  The suspect in the 2019 killing of 23 at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart is awaiting trial.

Lead prosecutor Mike Satz will give his side’s presentation.... Craig Trocino, a University of Miami law professor, said Satz will likely emphasize the shooting’s brutality and the story of each victim lost. The prosecution’s theme throughout the trial will be, “If any case deserves a death sentence, this is it,” he said....

Trocino said ... Cruz’s attorneys will likely want to plant the seed in jurors’ minds that he is a young adult with lifelong emotional and psychological problems. The goal would be to temper the jurors’ emotions as the prosecution presents grisly videos and photos of the shootings and their aftermath, the painful testimony of the surviving wounded and tearful statements from victims’ family members....

Satz’s team will be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Cruz committed at least one aggravating circumstance specified under Florida law, but that should not be an issue.  Those include murders that were especially heinous or cruel; committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner; or committed during an act that created a great risk of death to many persons. Cruz’s team can raise several mitigating factors that are also in the law.  Before the shooting, Cruz had no criminal history.  The attorneys can argue he was under extreme mental or emotional disturbance, and his capacity to appreciate his conduct’s criminality or conform it to the law was substantially impaired....

For each death sentence, the jury must be unanimous or the sentence for that victim is life.  The jurors are told that to vote for death, the prosecution’s aggravating circumstances for that victim must, in their judgement, “outweigh” the defense’s mitigators.  A juror can also vote for life out of mercy for Cruz.  During jury selection, the panelists said under oath that they are capable of voting for either sentence.

It is possible Cruz could get death for some victims and life for others, particularly since he walked back to some wounded victims and killed them with a second volley. That might swing any hesitant jurors on those counts. “The prosecution only needs for the jury to come back (for death) on one,” Trocino said.

There is always much to say about the unique dynamics of capital trials, but I must flag here the remarkable contrast between capital and non-capital sentencing procedures.  Though guilt is not disputed in any way with respect to Nikolas Cruz's 17 murders, he can receive a death sentence only if all 12 jurors unanimously decide he should be executed for his crimes.  Contrast that jury-centric process to the non-capital case flagged in this recent post involving a federal defendant who was acquitted of a murder by 12 jurors and yet still had a lone judge sentence him based on the judge's view that he did the killing.  Cruz's case is but one of many examples of the very worst of murderers getting the very best legal protections because we require "super due process" for the imposition of the death penalty even when there is no shred of doubt about guilt.

Notably, in this post 3.5 years ago on the one-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting, I expressed my hope that "someone is keeping track of what this prosecution is costing the taxpayers of the state of Florida."   As I sometimes mention in this space, I view the extraordinary expense of many capital cases (with their super due process) to be a notable argument against the death penalty since it rarely seems the penalty's (debatable) benefits measure up to its (considerable) economic costs.  I can only imagine the taxpayer resources involved in a trial for which jury selection took three months and which is already forecast to last nearly the rest of this year.  Parkland victims are sure also to pay an emotional price as they endure an agonizing trial experience sure to be heavily covered by local and national media.

That said, the AP article asserts that all "victim parents and family members who have spoken publicly have said directly or indirectly they want Cruz sentenced to death."  I sincerely hope all these victims get some measure of satisfaction or catharsis from this particular capital trial.  Sadly, it seems awfully unlikely that this trial will lead to, in the words of one victim, "swift action to hold him responsible."  With nearly 5 years needed to even get to a trial verdict, there are surely years (if not decades) of appeals to follow if Cruz is sentenced to death.  

Some prior related posts:

July 17, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)