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August 20, 2022

US Sentencing Commission reports on "Federal Robbery: Prevalence, Trends, And Factors In Sentencing"

The US Sentencing Commission has released this new research report that provides a "comprehensive study of robbery offenders sentenced in fiscal year 2021 provides an analysis of the characteristics of robbery offenders, their criminal history, and their sentences imposed."  Additional background and Key Findings are available at this USSC webpage, and here are some highlights from that page:

The report also provides analyses on the prevalence of robbery offenses and how they were committed, including who was robbed, what was taken, the use or threatened use of physical force, the use of a firearm or other dangerous weapon, and whether any victim was injured or killed during a robbery.

This report builds upon the Commission’s recent observations regarding the high recidivism rates among federal robbery offenders.

Key Findings

  • Robbery offenders have consistently comprised a small but increasing proportion of the federal criminal caseload.
    • During fiscal years 2012 to 2021, the proportion of robbery offenders increased from 1.9 percent to 2.3 percent of the federal caseload....
  • Robbery offenders have criminal histories that are more extensive and more serious than other violent offenders.
    • Only one-quarter (26.5%) of robbery offenders were in the least serious criminal history category, CHC I, compared to 40.7 percent of other violent offenders....
  • Robbery offenders often engaged in dangerous aggravating conduct. In fiscal year 2021, a majority of robbery offenses involved dangerous weapons and threats of physical force against a victim.
    • Over three-quarters (77.6%) of robberies involved dangerous weapons. Firearms were the predominant type of weapon — they were present in 79.8 percent of robberies involving weapons.
    • The overwhelming majority (89.7%) of robberies involved a threat of physical force against a victim, and over one-quarter (25.7%) involved the use of physical force against a victim. A victim sustained bodily injury in 11.8 percent of robberies.
  • Robbery offenders received substantial sentences—on average 105 months of imprisonment in fiscal year 2021 — but sentences varied significantly depending upon whether the offender was also convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).
    • A substantial proportion (40.6%) of robbery offenders sentenced in fiscal year 2021 also had a conviction under section 924(c) for using or carrying a firearm during the offense.
    • The average sentence imposed for robbery offenders also convicted under section 924(c) was 155 months of imprisonment, compared to an average sentence of 71 months for robbery offenders without a section 924(c) conviction.

August 20, 2022 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (4)

August 19, 2022

California about to enact broadest criminal record sealing law in the nation

As reported in this AP piece, "California would have what proponents call the nation’s most sweeping law to seal criminal records if Gov. Gavin Newsom signs legislation sent to him Thursday by state legislators."  Here are the notable details:

The bill would automatically seal conviction and arrest records for most ex-offenders who are not convicted of another felony for four years after completing their sentences and any parole or probation. Records of arrests that don’t bring convictions also would be sealed.The bill would automatically seal conviction and arrest records for most ex-offenders who are not convicted of another felony for four years after completing their sentences and any parole or probation.  Records of arrests that don’t bring convictions also would be sealed. It would take effect in July, and excludes those convicted of serious and violent felonies, and felonies requiring sex offender registration.

Proponents say about 8 million Californians have a criminal or arrest record, or about one of every five state residents. A criminal record can trigger nearly 5,000 legal restrictions in California, many of which can limit job opportunities as well as the ability to get housing and educational opportunities, supporters said.  They estimate that 70 million people nationwide face nearly 50,000 legal restrictions based on a criminal or arrest record....

While the bill would not apply to serious or violent felonies, California has a narrow legal definition of violent crimes, including about two dozen of the most serious crimes like murder, voluntary manslaughter, attempted murder, kidnapping, assaults, arson, robbery and extortion.  The bill would apply to offenses like domestic violence, said Republican Sen. Shannon Grove, who joined all Republicans in the Senate and one Democrat — Sen. Melissa Hurtado of Sanger — in voting against the bill Thursday. “These things are very violent things even though they are not listed as serious and violent in the penal code,” Grove said.

Democratic state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, the bill’s author, said in a statement that the lingering criminal records available through background checks create “a permanent underclass.” That can include, among others, “mothers that want to pursue new careers through education, fathers who want to coach, homeowners that want to join their HOA board, couples who may want to adopt, or grandchildren that want to care for their elderly grandparent.”

Seven reform organizations sponsored the bill, including Californians for Safety and Justice, which has pushed for numerous criminal justice like Proposition 47, the voter-approved ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain drug and property crimes in 2014.  Groups that opposed the bill include the 75,000-member Peace Officers Research Association of California, which argued California already offers more limited ways for lower level ex-felons to clear their records....

Aside from general criminal records, the bill would aid would-be teachers, who under current law must be denied teaching credentials if they have been convicted of a controlled substance offense.  The bill would bar the teacher credentialing commission from considering drug possession convictions that are more than five years old and have been expunged.  But the commission and school officials would still have access to other convictions dating to 2020.

The bill failed in the Assembly a year ago, with an amended version clearing the chamber in June. Among other things, supporters originally wanted records sealed after two years instead of four.  The Senate approved the amendments Thursday on an 28-10 vote, sending it to Newsom.

August 19, 2022 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (3)

"The Myth of the All-Powerful Federal Prosecutor at Sentencing"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Adam M. Gershowitz in the Summer 2022 issue of the Saint John's Law Review.  Here is its abstract:

Prosecutors are widely considered to be the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system.  And federal prosecutors are particularly feared.  While some recent scholarship casts doubt on the power of prosecutors, the prevailing wisdom is that prosecutors run the show, with judges falling in line and doing as prosecutors recommend.

This Article does not challenge the proposition that prosecutors are indeed quite powerful, particularly with respect to sentencing.  There are many structural advantages built into the system that combine to give prosecutors enormous influence over sentences.  For example, prosecutors have considerable power to bring a slew of charges that will increase the prospects of a large sentence.  Prosecutors also hold the cards in determining whether defendants should receive the benefit of substantial assistance motions for their cooperation.  The wide swath of aggravating factors in criminal statutes and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines also gives prosecutors considerable bargaining power over sentencing in plea bargaining.  Moreover, prosecutors have a strong lobbying presence to push legislatures to enact tougher sentencing regimes.  All told, there are considerable structural advantages that prosecutors hold in influencing the ultimate sentence a defendant will face.  This Article therefore does not question that prosecutors hold a lot of power with respect to sentencing.

What this Article does question however is the supposedly significant persuasive power that federal prosecutors have to influence judges at sentencing hearings.  After criminal charges have been filed, after the plea bargains ⎯ or trials ⎯ have concluded, and after the guidelines ranges have been calculated, we eventually reach the final moment in the courtroom.  Prosecutors stand in front of the judge and argue for a specific sentence that should be imposed on a defendant.  Often the sentence recommended by the prosecution varies considerably from the position advocated by the defense attorney; prosecutors sometimes base their arguments on drug quantities that are higher than were computed in the guidelines calculations, or they argue for other sentencing enhancements to apply.  Prosecutors sometimes argue strenuously against mitigating factors raised by the defense, such as poor health, family problems, or advanced age.  In short, the final event in a criminal case is a good old-fashioned, silver-tongued lawyering battle between the prosecutor and the defense attorney. 

August 19, 2022 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 18, 2022

California board, after 17 rejections, finally paroles last person convicted in 1976 school bus mass kidnapping

This Los Angeles Times article, headlined "Man behind 1976 kidnapping of 26 Chowchilla children and bus driver is granted parole," reports on a notable parole outcome this week.  Here are just some of the interesting particulars:

A parole board affirmed Tuesday that Frederick Woods, one of three men convicted of kidnapping a school bus full of 26 children and their driver in Chowchilla, Calif., in 1976 in an effort to coerce a $5-million ransom, will be released.

Woods, 70, was first found suitable for parole in a hearing at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo on March 25, marking the 18th time he appeared in front of the parole board, according to Terry Thornton, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Woods had previously been denied parole 17 times.

Gov. Gavin Newsom referred Woods’ parole grant for review by the board, which occurred Tuesday. Woods’ release date was not disclosed because of safety and security reasons, Thornton said.

Woods, with accomplices Richard and James Schoenfeld, had schemed for more than a year on a kidnap for ransom plan. An appeals court ordered Richard Schoenfeld’s release in 2012; then-Gov. Jerry Brown granted release for James Schoenfeld, Richard’s brother, in 2015.

In July 1976, farmer and bus driver Ed Ray was driving a yellow school bus carrying elementary students from Dairyland Unified when he saw a white van stopped in the road. Ray slowed the bus to see if those in the van needed assistance, and three men armed with guns jumped out, commandeering the bus and driving it into a dry canal bottom, where they had left another van.

Ray and the schoolchildren were loaded into the two vans and driven for 11 hours to a quarry in Livermore, 100 miles from Chowchilla. The kidnappers forced them to climb down a ladder into a moving trailer they buried.

Ray and some of the children started stacking mattresses, ultimately managing to get out of the trailer 16 hours later. Meanwhile, the three kidnappers left and tried to contact the Chowchilla Police Department to make their ransom demand but were unable to get through because the phone lines were busy. They napped and awoke to the news of the escape, and were captured or surrendered within weeks. Ray was hailed as a hero. He died in May 2012 at age 91.

James Schoenfeld told parole officials that he was jealous of his friends who had “his-and-hers Ferraris.” Woods, who was 24 at the time of the crime, said during an earlier parole hearing that he just “got greedy,” saying in 2012 that he didn’t need the money. Woods is the son of Frederick Woods III, who owned the quarry and a 100-acre Portola Valley Estate; the Schoenfelds came from the family of a wealthy Menlo Park podiatrist. “I’ve had empathy for the victims, which I didn’t have then,” Woods said at the March parole hearing. “I’ve had a character change since then.”...

Madera County Dist. Atty. Sally Moreno came out against Woods’ release in a statement after the hearing. “It’s hard to articulate everything I’m feeling — all the suffering that he caused to those children throughout their lives, which will continue unabated; his continuing inability to conform his behavior to the rules demonstrating his own unrepentance and lack of rehabilitation; his obvious lack of understanding of the impact his acts have on others as demonstrated by the totality of his conduct in prison,” she said....

Jennifer Brown Hyde, one of the survivors opposing Woods’ parole and who now lives in Tennessee, was 9 years old during the kidnapping. She said she and her family were “disappointed in the parole board’s decision.”...

The three men were convicted of kidnapping with bodily harm and given life sentences. Newsom’s father, state Judge William Newsom, was on the 1980 appellate panel that reduced their life sentences to give them an opportunity at parole. William Newsom advocated for the kidnappers to be released in 2011, saying no one was seriously injured in the incident. He died in 2018.

Survivor Larry Park, who supported Woods’ release during the March parole hearing, said he believes Woods “served enough time for the crime you committed.” However, Park encouraged Woods to seek help. “I’m concerned about the addiction you may have about money,” Park said.

August 18, 2022 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Traffic deaths continue to climb even as homicides seem to be declining in 2022

Amid persistent discussions and debates over public safety, I often notice that traffic harms do not garner the amount of attention or concern as traditional crimes.  This reality is on my mind again with the latest official news on traffic fatalities reported in this Hill article headlined "Road deaths rise further, hitting highest first-quarter level since 2002."  Here are excerpts:

Nearly 10,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first quarter of the year, marking the largest first-quarter level since 2002, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced on Wednesday.

NHTSA projected 9,560 traffic fatalities in the first three months of 2022, the seventh consecutive quarterly increase, as Americans increased driving that was sharply reduced during the coronavirus pandemic. But the 7 percent increase in fatalities outpaced the 5.6 percent increase in total miles traveled on U.S. roads over the same period. “The overall numbers are still moving in the wrong direction,” NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff said in a statement.

“Now is the time for all states to double down on traffic safety,” he said. “Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, there are more resources than ever for research, interventions and effective messaging and programs that can reverse the deadly trend and save lives.”...

The NHTSA projected 29 states and Washington, D.C., to experience increases in traffic fatalities in the first quarter, while 19 states and Puerto Rico saw traffic deaths decline. Delaware recorded the highest increase out of any state, roughly a 163 percent jump from the same period the previous year. Connecticut, Virginia, Vermont, D.C., Hawaii, Nebraska and North Carolina all saw increases exceeding 50 percent....

The NHTSA previously released data showing that nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest annual level in 16 years.

For a little public safety context, the FBI reported "more than 21,500 homicides" in the US for 2020; we do not have an FBI number for 2021, but most reporting suggests there may have been over 22,000 homicides. But, encouragingly, this AH Datalytics webpage with a "YTD Murder Comparison" Dashboard collecting homicide data from police in nearly 100 big cities suggests homicides are not trending down in 2022.

Returning to the disconcerting roadway data, even with the recent pandemic-era spike in US murders, there are still nearly twice as many persons killed on the roadways than by homicides throughout the US.  And while its seems homicide numbers are starting to trend in a positive direction in 2022, traffic fatalities are still headed the wrong way.  

August 18, 2022 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (8)

August 17, 2022

Texas completes only its second execution in 2022

As reported in this AP piece, "Texas on Wednesday put to death a man who fatally stabbed a suburban Dallas real estate agent more than 16 years ago, the second execution this year in what has been the nation’s busiest death penalty state." Here is more:

Kosoul Chanthakoummane, 41, received a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville and was pronounced dead at 6:33 p.m. He was condemned for fatally stabbing 40-year-old Sarah Walker in July 2006. She was found stabbed more than 30 times in a model home in McKinney, about 30 miles (48 km) north of Dallas....

Just before the execution took place and at Chanthakoummane’s request, a Buddhist monk placed his right hand on the inmate’s chest and read a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes that refers to “a time for everything.” He responded: “Amen.”

Prosecutors say Chanthakoummane entered the model home and then beat Walker with a wooden plant stand and stabbed her before stealing her Rolex watch and a silver ring, which were never found. DNA evidence showed Chanthakoummane’s blood was found in various places inside the model home, including under Walker’s fingernails....

Chanthakoummane was the ninth inmate put to death this year in the U.S. While Texas has been the nation’s busiest capital punishment state, the use of the death penalty in the state has reached near historic lows. Juries have continued to issue fewer death sentences and in the last couple of years most executions have been delayed by the pandemic or by legal questions over what spiritual advisers can do in the death chamber.

August 17, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Woman reportedly given 34-year prison term(!) for Twitter activity by Saudi Arabia's special terrorist court

I know relatively little about sentencing law and processes in other nations, but I do know that this new Guardian report about an extreme Saudi Arabian sentence is quite disconcerting.  The press piece is fully headlined "Saudi woman given 34-year prison sentence for using Twitter; Salma al-Shehab, a Leeds University student, was charged with following and retweeting dissidents and activists."  Here are excerpts:

A Saudi student at Leeds University who had returned home to the kingdom for a holiday has been sentenced to 34 years in prison for having a Twitter account and for following and retweeting dissidents and activists....

Salma al-Shehab, 34, a mother of two young children, was initially sentenced to serve three years in prison for the “crime” of using an internet website to “cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security”. But an appeals court on Monday handed down the new sentence – 34 years in prison followed by a 34-year travel ban – after a public prosecutor asked the court to consider other alleged crimes.

According to a translation of the court records, which were seen by the Guardian, the new charges include the allegation that Shehab was “assisting those who seek to cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security by following their Twitter accounts” and by re-tweeting their tweets. It is believed that Shehab may still be able to seek a new appeal in the case.

By all accounts, Shehab was not a leading or especially vocal Saudi activist, either inside the kingdom or in the UK. She described herself on Instagram – where she had 159 followers – as a dental hygienist, medical educator, PhD student at Leeds University and lecturer at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, and as a wife and a mother to her sons, Noah and Adam.

Her Twitter profile showed she had 2,597 followers. Among tweets about Covid burnout and pictures of her young children, Shehab sometimes retweeted tweets by Saudi dissidents living in exile, which called for the release of political prisoners in the kingdom. She seemed to support the case of Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent Saudi feminist activist who was previously imprisoned, is alleged to have been tortured for supporting driving rights for women, and is now living under a travel ban....

A person who followed her case said Shehab had at times been held in solitary confinement and had sought during her trial to privately tell the judge something about how she had been handled, which she did not want to state in front of her father. She was not permitted to communicate the message to the judge, the person said. The appeals verdict was signed by three judges but the signatures were illegible....

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights condemned Shehab’s sentence, which it said was the longest prison sentence to ever be brought against any activist. It noted that many female activists have been subjected to unfair trials that have led to arbitrary sentences and have been subjected to “severe torture”, including sexual harassment. Khalid Aljabri, a Saudi who is living in exile and whose sister and brother are being held in the kingdom, said the Shehab case proved Saudi Arabia’s view that dissent equates to terrorism.

“Salma’s draconian sentencing in a terrorism court over peaceful tweets is the latest manifestation of MBS’s ruthless repression machine,” he said, referring to the crown prince. “Just like [journalist Jamal] Khashoggi’s assassination, her sentencing is intended to send shock waves inside and outside the kingdom – dare to criticise MBS and you will end up dismembered or in Saudi dungeons.”

August 17, 2022 in Offense Characteristics, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Countermajoritarian Criminal Law"

The title of this post is the title of this new article now available via SSRN authored by Michael L. Smith. Here is its abstract:

Criminal law pervades American society, subjecting millions to criminal enforcement, prosecution, and punishment every year.  All too often, culpability is a minimal or nonexistent aspect of this phenomenon.  Criminal law prohibits a wide range of common behaviors and practices, especially when one considers the various federal, state, and municipal levels of law restricting people’s actions.  Recent scholarship has criticized not only the scope and impact of these laws, but has also critiqued these laws out to the extent that they fail to live up to supermajoritarian ideals that underlie criminal justice.

This Article adds to and amplifies this criticism by identifying “countermajoritarian laws.”  While some critics argue that criminal law often fails to live up to supermajoritarian ideals, this Article identifies instances in which criminal law is resistant to the will of the community, and can remain in place even if a majority of the community seeks to legalize or decriminalize certain conduct.  These instances include vetoes of decriminalization and legalization efforts, criminal provisions in federal and state constitutions, and local crimes enacted by officials who are voted into office by a tiny subset of the community.

Having identified the phenomenon of countermajoritarian criminal laws, this Article discusses how these laws may be addressed — and considers a range of potential reforms and their impact on countermajoritarian criminal laws. Countermajoritarian criminal laws should be a focal point in calls for criminal justice reform.  Addressing these laws provides a basis for arguments regarding criminal law’s larger problem of democratic illegitimacy, and helps add a level of criticism on top of existing critiques of criminal law’s broad, discriminatory, and oppressive impacts on communities. 

August 17, 2022 in Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 16, 2022

Oklahoma Gov grants 60-day execution stay for Richard Glossip while courts consider innocence claim

As reported in this AP piece, "Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt granted death row inmate Richard Glossip a 60-day stay of execution on Tuesday while a state appeals court considers his claim of innocence."  Here is more:

Stitt signed an executive order delaying Glossip’s execution for the 1997 killing of Glossip’s boss, motel owner Barry Van Treese, that was scheduled for Sept. 22. “This stay is granted to allow time for the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to address a pending legal proceeding,” the order states.

A Stitt spokeswoman declined to comment on the governor’s decision, which also means that a clemency hearing before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board that was scheduled for next week will be delayed.

Glossip asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for a new evidentiary hearing following the release of an independent investigation by Houston law firm Reed Smith that raised new questions about his guilt. The firm’s report did not find any definitive proof of Glossip’s innocence, but raised concerns about lost or destroyed evidence and a detective asking leading questions to Glossip’s co-defendant, Justin Sneed, to implicate Glossip in the slaying. Sneed admitted killing Van Treese but said he did so at Glossip’s direction. Sneed was sentenced to life in prison and was a key witness against Glossip....

Glossip, now 59, has long maintained his innocence. He has been scheduled to be executed three separate times, only to be spared shortly before the sentence was set to be carried out. He was just hours from being executed in September 2015 when prison officials realized they had received the wrong lethal drug, a mix-up that helped prompt a nearly seven-year moratorium on the death penalty in Oklahoma.

August 16, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Youth Incarceration & Abolition"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Subini Annamma and Jamelia Morgan.  Here is its abstract:

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the dangers of the juvenile legal system; this should make it harder to look away from the societal inequities that are exacerbated by youth incarceration.  Indeed, the current moment, including the unprecedented nationwide protests in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in summer 2020, has illuminated the power of social movements working to abolish the prison industrial complex, and, as legal scholars have argued, lawyers and law professors should engage with these movements and their calls for abolition and transformative change.  Yet conversations on abolition are mainly centered on adult prisons.  While appreciating and supporting the call for abolishing adult prisons, the absence of youth incarceration from abolitionist movements and discourse is concerning given the violence and disparities that are reflected in youth incarceration.  Furthermore, despite earlier calls to consider abolishing the juvenile legal system, a sustained engagement with abolitionist theory and the juvenile punishment system has not featured in the legal scholarship.  This Article discusses the urgent need to abolish youth incarceration in the context of a global pandemic, surveys arguments for abolition generally, and sets forth an abolitionist critique of youth incarceration using Disability Critical Race Theory (DisCrit) as a lens for analysis.  Applying a DisCrit lens, we discuss how COVID-19 demonstrates the urgency of addressing the harms facing incarcerated youth, particularly Youth of Color and disabled Youth of Color.

August 16, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable new polling on prison oversight and criminal justice reform attitudes

Via email I learned this morning that the organization FAMM released the results of a new national poll on various criminal justice questions.  The polling explored most fully prison oversight issues and the FAMM email about the poll stressed that "among other findings, an overwhelming 82% of respondents said they believe 'that states and the federal government should have a system of independent oversight for their prisons'."  Here are a couple of other key broader criminal justice findings from the poll:

-- 79% of respondents said that they think the criminal justice system "needs significant improvements"

-- 74% of respondents generally support "reforming the nation's criminal justice system"

The detailed poll findings about prison oversight are not easily summarized here, but they are discussed a bit more in this FAMM press release. (Notably and valuably, this survey was completed before last week's search of Mar-a-Lago.)

August 16, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 15, 2022

Disconcerting reports about what transpired during recent Alabama execution

A press report on the July 28 execution of Joe Nathan James in Alabama, reprinted in this post, noted that the "execution began a few minutes after 9 p.m. CDT following a nearly three-hourts have started to fill in some ugly details of what transpired during this delay.  For example:

From The Atlantic, "Dead to Rights: What did the state of Alabama do to Joe Nathan James in the three hours before his execution?":

James, it appeared, had suffered a long death. The state seems to have attempted to insert IV catheters into each of his hands just above the knuckles, resulting in broad smears of violet bruising.  Then it looked as though the execution team had tried again, forcing needles into each of his wrists, with the same bleeding beneath the skin and the same indigo mottling around the puncture wounds.  On the inside of James’s left arm, another puncture site, another pool of deep bruising, and then, a scant distance above, a strange, jagged incision, at James’s inner elbow.  The laceration met another cut at an obtuse angle.  That longer, narrower slice was part of a parallel pair, which matched a fainter, shallower set of parallel cuts.  Underneath the mutilated portion of James’s arm was what appeared to be yet another puncture — a noticeable crimson pinprick in the center of a radiating blue-green bruise. Other, less clear marks littered his arm as well.

From AL.com, "Joe Nathan James ‘suffered a long death’ in botched Alabama execution, magazine alleges":

Alabama prison officials spent hours searching for a vein that could be used to deliver lethal drugs in the execution of Joe Nathan James on July 28, according to a recent article in the Atlantic.  Staff punctured his hands, wrists and elbows several times before finally cutting open his arm to expose a vein, according to reporting by Elizabeth Bruenig.

Bruenig attended an independent autopsy performed several days after James’ death and funded by the human rights group Reprieve U.S. “James, it appeared, had suffered a long death,” she wrote.

From The Guardian, "Alabama subjected prisoner to ‘three hours of pain’ during execution – report":

Alabama’s execution of Joe Nathan James Jr last month may have taken longer than any other lethal injection in recorded American history, and no death penalty ever administered in the US may have taken quite as long, according to an analysis by a human rights organization.

An examination by Reprieve US of James’s execution estimates that it took Alabama officials between three and three and a half hours to carry out the lethal injection, a duration that the organization argues violates constitutional protections against inhumane punishments.

August 15, 2022 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (12)

Notable effort to link fighting climate change to fighting crime

I often preach to my students (and others) that any and every issue of public policy concern can and does become be a crime-and-punishment issue in some way.  As but one example, in recent years I have done a few posts highlighting connections between climate change concerns and crime concerns (see links below).  This new New Republic piece by Liza Featherstone connects these dots with new research under this full headline: "If Republicans Really Wanted to Fight Crime, They’d Support Climate Policy: Summer murders are a perennial problem that conservatives, despite their rhetoric, are uniquely ill-equipped to solve."  Here are excerpts (with links from the original):

We’ve known for years that violent crime increases during the summer months.  In the past, researchers weren’t always sure that it was because of heat, speculating that the summer vacation, with more young men up to no good, was the problem, or that spending time outside, as we do in warm weather, occasions more interaction, for better and for worse.  But newer research has made the links to heat waves much clearer, suggesting that without intervention global warming will lead to more murders.

Research shows that on average, violent crime increases by over 5 percent on days hotter than 85 degrees Fahrenheit compared to days below that threshold.  Studies mapping violent crime and weather in Los Angeles and Chicago show violence reliably rising with the temperature.  This effect has been found by different scholars and in countries all over the world.  A 2021 study using data from 159 countries from 1970 to 2015 even found that higher temperatures were associated with more deaths from terrorist attacksAn Australian study found that daily assault counts rose as the temperature rose, as did another study in Seoul, South KoreaFinnish researchers found that spikes in temperature explained about 10 percent of the variation in that nation’s violent crime rate.

Like many other problems associated with extreme weather, this one hits the poor hardest.  A study by University of Southern California researchers found that extreme heat was especially likely to exacerbate violence in low-income neighborhoods.

Prior related posts:

August 15, 2022 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

Call for Papers: "Drugs and Public Safety: Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing, and Prosecutorial Reforms"

Drugs-and-Public-Safety_for-social_draft-for-review_corrected-1800x1005I am pleased to highlight a new call for papers relating to an exciting event I am excited to be involved in helping to plan, "Drugs and Public Safety Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing, and Prosecutorial Reforms." Here is the full call, which is available in full at this link:

The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University and the Academy for Justice at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University are organizing a symposium titled “Drugs and Public Safety: Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing, and Prosecutorial Reforms” to examine the public safety impact of marijuana and other modern drug policy reforms.  The conference is committed to exploring, from a variety of perspectives and with the help of a variety of voices, how to better understand and assess the relationship between drug reforms (broadly defined, including clemency policy and criminal justice reform) and public safety (broadly defined, with an emphasis on violent and serious crime).  [The conference will take place at Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ from March 14-16, 2022.]


In 1996, California kicked off a new state-driven law reform era through a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana.  In subsequent decades, as dozens of states legalized marijuana use, various advocates, public officials, and researchers warned about the possibility of dire public safety consequences.  More drug crimes, more general criminality, more drugged driving, and all sorts of other public safety harms were often mentioned as the possible short- or long-term consequence of significant state-level marijuana reforms.

As of summer 2022, there are 37 states with robust medical marijuana regimes and 19 with full adult-use marijuana programs.  The continued support for state-level marijuana reforms seems to reflect, at least in part, the fact that so far, researchers have not documented direct connections between marijuana reforms and adverse public safety outcomes.  Though crime is a growing public concern given the rise in violent crimes in recent years, few advocates or researchers have documented clear connections or correlations between jurisdictions that have reformed their marijuana laws and increases in crimes.

As marijuana reforms have spread, so too has discussion of broader drug reforms such as decriminalization or legalization at both state and local level, as well as relief from drug-war excesses through clemency and expungement.  But given the increasing concern about violent crime, many advocates and lawmakers are wondering whether past and possible future drug policy reforms may be advancing or undermining the broad interest in creating safe and stable communities. As the country moves away from marijuana prohibition, a fully informed discussion of drugs, violence, and public safety is needed now more than ever.

Call for Papers

The symposium is soliciting papers from researchers to be included in the scholarship workshop.  Each paper will be assigned a discussant to provide feedback during the workshop.  The papers will be gathered and published in a symposium edition of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, a peer-reviewed publication in Spring of 2024.

Though proposed papers can and should look to explore the relationship between drug reforms and public safety in any number of diverse ways, the conference organizers are particularly interested in explorations of the impact of: (a) legalization of medical and/or adult-use marijuana, (b) drug decriminalization efforts, and (c) back-end relief efforts (e.g., clemency) — on crime and violence, the enforcement of criminal laws, and the operation of criminal justice systems.

Deadlines and Length of Paper

A proposed abstract of no more than 300 words are due on October 17, 2022.  Abstracts can be submitted to Jana Hrdinova at [email protected].

Accepted researchers will be notified by November 18, 2022.

Participants should plan to have a full draft to discuss and circulate by March 1, 2023. Papers may range in length from 10,000 words to 25,000 words.

Final papers for publication will be due on August 1, 2023.

August 15, 2022 in Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 14, 2022

"How Little Supervision Can We Have?"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Evangeline Lopoo, Vincent Schiraldi, and Timothy Ittner which is forthcoming in the Annual Review of Criminology. Here is its abstract:

Use of probation and parole has declined since its peak in 2007 but still intrudes into the lives of 3.9 million Americans at a scale deemed mass supervision.  Originally intended as an alternative to incarceration and a means of rehabilitation for those who have committed crimes, supervision often functions as a trip wire for further criminal legal system contact. This review questions the utility of supervision, as research shows that, in toto, it currently provides neither diversion from incarceration nor rehabilitation.  Analysis of national supervision, crime, and carceral data since 1980 reveals that supervision has little effect on future crime and is not a replacement for incarceration.  Case studies from California and New York City indicate that concerted efforts to reduce the scope of mass supervision can effectively be achieved through sentencing reform, case diversion, and supervisory/legal system department policy change, among other factors, without increasing crime.  Therefore, we suggest extensive downsizing of supervision or experimentation with its abolition and offer actionable steps to enact each possibility.

August 14, 2022 in Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)