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October 8, 2022

"The Problematic Structure of Indigent Defense Delivery"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Eve Brensike Primus now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

The national conversation about criminal justice reform largely ignores the critical need for structural reforms in the provision of indigent defense.  In most parts of the country, decisions about how to structure the provision of indigent defense are made at the local level, resulting in a fragmented patchwork of different indigent defense delivery systems.  In most counties, if an indigent criminal defendant gets representation at all, it comes from assigned counsel or flat-fee contract lawyers rather than public defenders.  In those assigned-counsel and flat-fee contract systems, the lawyers representing indigent defendants have financial incentives to get rid of assigned criminal cases as quickly as possible.  Those incentives fuel mass incarceration, because the lawyers put less time into each case than their public defender counterparts and achieve poorer outcomes for their clients.  Moreover, empirical research shows that assigned-counsel and flat-fee contract systems are economically more costly to the public fisc than public defender systems.

This Article collects data from across the country to show how prevalent assigned-counsel and contract systems remain, explains why arguments in favor of substantial reliance on the private bar to provide for indigent defense are outdated, argues that more states need to move toward state-structured public defender models, and explains how it is politically possible for stakeholders to get there. 

October 8, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 7, 2022

"Retributivism"

The title of this post is the title of this new book chapter by Mitchell Berman which I just came across via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Retributivism is a family of theories that purport to justify criminal punishment by reference to a wrongdoer’s negative desert.  Individual members of the family differ from one another on many issues, including what it is that wrongdoers deserve and what is the character and force of the fact that they deserve it.  This chapter lays out one retributive theory and sketches defenses of that theory against prominent anti-retributivist objections, including objections grounded in determinism.  According to the theory this chapter dubs 'prospect retributivism', culpable wrongdoers deserve to experience their wrongdoing as personally costly to them, and the state assumes a pro tanto duty to cause wrongdoers to experience those costs in virtue of barring retaliation by victims and their surrogates.

October 7, 2022 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

In the wake of historic pardons, noticing the federal prison population keeps growing during the Biden years

As a matter of pardon practice and marijuana policy, President Joe Biden's actions yesterday (basics here and here) qualify as both historic and consequential.  But, because nobody receives significant federal prison time for just simple marijuana possession, his mass pardon has absolutely no direct impact on the federal prison population.  I suspect some persons imprisoned for marijuana trafficking might cite the pardons in compassionate release motions, but I doubt these pardons alone will significantly impact how judges thinking about compassionate release issues.

More broadly, the same day as this pardon announcement, I thought to check the prison population numbers that the federal Bureau of Prisons updates weekly at this webpage.  As of October 6, 2022, the federal prison population clocks in at 158,949, which is the highest it has been since July 2020.   

The day after Joe Biden was inaugurated, I authored this post posing this question in the title: "Anyone bold enough to make predictions about the federal prison population — which is now at 151,646 according to BOP?".  That post highlighted notable recent realities about the the federal prison population (based on BOP data); there I highlighted that during Prez Trump's one term, the federal population count decreased almost 20%, dropping from 189,212 total federal inmates in January 2017 to 151,646 in January 2021. 

The dramatic federal prison population drop in the Trump years was largely a function of the FIRST STEP Act and especially COVID dynamics.  So, with COVID disruptions easing, it should not be too surprising to see some growth in the federal prison population.  Still, over the course of 21 months, we have now had the federal prison population grow over 7,300 persons, which amounts to federal population growth of almost 5%.  So, while I am eager to celebrate Prez Biden for getting out his clemency pen, there is still plenty more work to do.

October 7, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 6, 2022

A few more details about President Biden's mass pardon of federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana

As noted in this prior post, Prez Biden today granted a mass pardon to "all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana."  This official proclamation, titled "A Proclamation on Granting Pardon for the Offense of Simple Possession of Marijuana," provides some who and how details:

Acting pursuant to the grant of authority in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution of the United States, I, Joseph R. Biden Jr., do hereby grant a full, complete, and unconditional pardon to (1) all current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents who committed the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, as currently codified at 21 U.S.C. 844 and as previously codified elsewhere in the United States Code, or in violation of D.C. Code 48–904.01(d)(1), on or before the date of this proclamation, regardless of whether they have been charged with or prosecuted for this offense on or before the date of this proclamation; and (2) all current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents who have been convicted of the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, as currently codified at 21 U.S.C. 844 and as previously codified elsewhere in the United States Code, or in violation of D.C. Code 48–904.01(d)(1); which pardon shall restore to them full political, civil, and other rights. 

My intent by this proclamation is to pardon only the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of Federal law or in violation of D.C. Code 48–904.01(d)(1), and not any other offenses related to marijuana or other controlled substances.  No language herein shall be construed to pardon any person for any other offense, including possession of other controlled substances, whether committed prior, subsequent, or contemporaneous to the pardoned offense of simple possession of marijuana.  This pardon does not apply to individuals who were non-citizens not lawfully present in the United States at the time of their offense.

Pursuant to this proclamation, the Attorney General, acting through the Pardon Attorney, shall administer and effectuate the issuance of certificates of pardon to eligible applicants who have been charged or convicted for the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, as currently codified at 21 U.S.C. 844 and as previously codified elsewhere in the United States Code, or in violation of D.C. Code 48–904.01(d)(1).  The Attorney General, acting through the Pardon Attorney, is directed to develop and announce application procedures for certificates of pardon and to begin accepting applications in accordance with such procedures as soon as reasonably practicable.  The Attorney General, acting through the Pardon Attorney, shall review all properly submitted applications and shall issue certificates of pardon to eligible applicants in due course. 

Helpfully, the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney has this extended Q&A about the reach of the pardon proclamation, and here are some interesting parts:

Does the proclamation apply to convictions under state law?  

No. President Biden’s proclamation does not pardon convictions under state law, although it does apply to possession of marijuana convictions under the District of Columbia’s criminal code.  

Does the proclamation apply to all types of federal marijuana offenses?  

No. President Biden’s proclamation applies only to simple possession of marijuana offenses. Conspiracy, distribution, possession with intent to distribute, and other charges involving marijuana are not pardoned by the Proclamation.  

Do I qualify for a pardon if I was convicted under 21 U.S.C. § 844 of possessing marijuana and another drug in a single offense?  

No. The proclamation does not apply to persons who were convicted of possessing multiple different controlled substance in the same offense. For example, if you were convicted of possessing marijuana and cocaine in a single offense, you do not qualify for pardon under the terms of President Biden’s proclamation. If you were convicted of one count of simple possession of marijuana and a second count of possession of cocaine, President Biden’s proclamation applies only to the simple possession of marijuana count, not the possession of cocaine count.  

Does the proclamation apply to charges that are currently pending as of October 6, 2022? 

Yes. President Biden’s Proclamation applies if the qualifying offense occurred on or before October 6, 2022, even if a conviction has not been obtained by that date.  

Does the proclamation protect me from being charged with marijuana possession in the future? 

No. The proclamation pardons only those offenses occurring on or before October 6, 2022. It does not have any effect on marijuana possession offenses occurring after October 6, 2022. 

In various press reports, I keep seeing some version of this accounting of the impact from this ABC News piece:

The executive action will benefit 6,500 people with prior federal convictions and thousands of others charged under the District of Columbia's criminal code, according to senior administration officials.  Elaborating on the number of people affected, officials said "there are no individuals currently in federal prison solely for simple possession of marijuana."

I presume that the US Pardon Attorney will keep detailed records of how many people end up acquiring certificates of pardon (though all these people have been pardoned, a certificate just serves as a way to get an official memorialization of that fact).  And I would love to see more details, now or later, about some of the demographics of the estimated population who got these pardons.  Someone has clearly run the numbers, though I suspect any accounting here is a bit of a guess and also lacks as much demographic information as might be really interesting.

UPDATE: Thanks to commentor atomicfrog, I just saw that the US Sentencing Commission has produced this three-page analysis of "data relating to offenders sentenced between fiscal year 1992 and fiscal year 2021 convicted of at least one count of simple possession involving marijuana."  The analysis merely details yearly convictions since 1992 with number of convictions of US citizens and lawful permanent residents.  The data is more than a bit inscrutable in part because there are three charts for which the relationship to each other is unclear and because of a note stating that "2,085 cases were excluded from the three analyses in this report due to missing information relating to citizenship."

Since these data are from the US Sentencing Commission, the data sets used for these analyses ought to have race and gender and age and criminal history information.  Perhaps in time the US Sentencing Commission or the White House will look to provide additional demographic information here.   Also, now seeing that the mid-1990s brought as many as 500 federal marijuana possession convictions per year, I suspect there were at least few thousand more prior relevant convictions not captured in these data but subject to coverage by the mass pardon from Prez Biden.  I am tempted to start saying that it looks like 10,000 or more pardons were actually announced by the President in this initiative.

October 6, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Pot Prohibition Issues, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

October surprise: Prez Biden announces he is "pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession"! Wow!

DownloadAbout a half hour ago as of this writing, President Joe Biden has announced a set of remarkable new marijuana policy moves on this Twitter thread, which starts this way:

President Biden @POTUS

As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.

Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach. Allow me to lay them out.

First: I’m pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession.  There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result.  My pardon will remove this burden.

Second: I’m calling on governors to pardon simple state marijuana possession offenses.  Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely for possessing marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.

Third: We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin – and more serious than fentanyl.  It makes no sense.  I’m asking @SecBecerra and the Attorney General to initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.

This is very big news (though not quite massive news), with lots of formal and informal ripples for criminal justice systems and sentencing.  The legal, policy, political and practical consequences of these moves are going to be fascinating (and a bit unpredictable, I suspect).

Wow!

UPDATE: Here is a fuller official statement from the White House, with the federal pardon talk at the start:

As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.  Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit.  Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.  And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.
 
Today, I am announcing three steps that I am taking to end this failed approach.
 
First, I am announcing a pardon of all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana.  I have directed the Attorney General to develop an administrative process for the issuance of certificates of pardon to eligible individuals.  There are thousands of people who have prior Federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result.  My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.

According to this New York Times piece, headline "Biden Pardons Thousands of People Convicted of Marijuana Possession Under Federal Law"  the promised pardons have already been issued:

President Biden on Thursday pardoned all people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and said his administration would review whether marijuana should still be a Class 1 drug like heroin and LSD.

The pardons will clear about 6,500 people who were convicted on federal charges of simple possession of marijuana from 1992 to 2021 and thousands more who were convicted of possession in the District of Columbia, officials said. Officials said the president would urge governors to follow his lead for people convicted on state charges of possession.

October 6, 2022 in Criminal justice in the Biden Administration, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (16)

Reminder on a call for papers for "Drugs and Public Safety: Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing, and Prosecutorial Reforms"

As first flagged here a couple of months ago, 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.” The deadline for the new call for papers for this event is approaching, so I wanted to provide another link to the full call here and also report the basics:

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.]

Background

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 hrdinova.1@osu.edu.

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.

October 6, 2022 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Effective Communication with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind, and Low Vision Incarcerated People"

The title of this post is the title of this new article available via SSRN and authored by Tessa Bialek and Margo Schlanger.  Here is its abstract:

Tens of thousands of people incarcerated in jails and prisons throughout the United States have one or more communication disabilities, a term that describes persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, low vision, deaf-blind, speech disabled, or otherwise disabled in ways that affect communication.  Incarceration is not easy for anyone, but the isolation and inflexibility of incarceration can be especially challenging, dangerous, and further disabling, for persons with disabilities.  Correctional entities must confront these challenges; persons with communication disabilities are overrepresented in jails and prisons and the population continues to grow.  Federal antidiscrimination law obligates jails and prisons to avoid discrimination, promote integration, and ensure effective communication.  This requires adequate resources and preparation, joined by a shift in policy, practice, and values: to meet their antidiscrimination obligations, jails and prisons must offer choice, flexibility, and individuation well beyond what is typical in carceral environments. This white paper offers a starting point for such efforts.

October 6, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 5, 2022

Texas executes John Henry Ramirez, months after SCOTUS win on RLUIPA execution claims

John Henry Ramirez earlier this year prevailed in the Supreme Court, by an 8-1 vote, with his claim that Texas was required by federal law to allow his long-time pastor be allowed to pray with him and lay hands on him during his execution.  (SCOTUS ruling discussed here.)  This evening, as reported in this AP article, that execution went forward:

A Texas death row inmate whose case redefined the role of spiritual advisers in death chambers nationwide was executed Wednesday, despite the efforts of a district attorney to stop his lethal injection.

John Henry Ramirez, 38, was executed at the state penitentiary in Huntsville. He was convicted of killing 46-year-old Pablo Castro in 2004, as he took out the trash while working at a convenience store in Corpus Christi.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Ramirez, saying states must accommodate the wishes of death row inmates who want to have their faith leaders pray and touch them during their executions.

In the execution chamber, his spiritual adviser, Dana Moore, placed his right hand on the inmate’s chest, and held it there for the duration. With his back to witnesses, Moore offered a brief prayer. “Look upon John with your grace,” he prayed. “Grant him peace. Grant all of us peace.” As Moore’s prayer ended, Ramirez responded: “Amen.”

After the prayer, Ramirez addressed five of Castro’s relatives -- including four of his children -- as they watched through a window a few feet from him. “I have regret and remorse,” he said.” This is such a heinous act. I hope this finds you comfort. If this helps you, then I am glad. I hope in some shape or form this helps you find closure.”

Ramirez expressed love to his wife, son and friends, concluding with: “Just know that I fought a good fight, and I am ready to go.”

As the lethal dose of pentobarbital took effect, he took several short breaths then began snoring. Within a minute, all movement stopped. Ramirez was pronounced dead 14 minutes later, at 6:41 p.m. CDT.

Prosecutors said Ramirez robbed Castro of $1.25 then stabbed him 29 times. Castro’s killing took place during a series of robberies conducted by Ramirez and two women following a three-day drug binge. Ramirez fled to Mexico but was arrested 3½ years later....

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously declined to commute Ramirez’s death sentence to a lesser penalty. According to his attorney, Ramirez had exhausted all possible appeals and no final request to halt the execution was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The lead prosecutor at Ramirez’s trial in 2008, Mark Skurka, said it was unfair that Ramirez had someone praying over him as he died when Castro didn’t have the same opportunity. “It has been a long time coming, but Pablo Castro will probably finally get the justice that his family has sought for so long, despite the legal delays,” said Skurka, who later served as Nueces County district attorney before retiring....

Ramirez’s case took another turn in April when current Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez asked a judge to withdraw the death warrant and delay the execution, saying it had been requested by mistake. Gonzalez said he considers the death penalty “unethical.”

During a nearly 20-minute Facebook live video, Gonzalez said he believes the death penalty is one of the “many things wrong with our justice system.” Gonzalez said he would not seek the death penalty while he remains in office....

Also in April, four of Castro’s children filed a motion asking that Ramirez’s execution order be left in place. “I want my father to finally have his justice as well as the peace to finally move on with my life and let this nightmare be over,” Fernando Castro, one of his sons, said in the motion....

In June, a judge declined Gonzalez’ request to withdraw Wednesday’s execution date. Last month, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declined to even consider the request.

Ramirez was the third inmate put to death this year in Texas and the 11th in the U.S. Two more executions are scheduled this year in Texas, both in November.

October 5, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Religion, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Oklahoma criminal justice reform include expanding parole eligibility to reach nearly 15% more of its prison population

The Sooner State might have some current prisoners securing release from incarceration a bit sooner after today's signing of a notable state criminal justice reform bill.  This local piece, headlined "Gov. Kevin Stitt signs bill aimed at tackling criminal justice reform," provides some of the details:

Gov. Kevin Stitt on Wednesday signed a criminal justice reform bill to help inmates qualify for parole. "I firmly believe we should be locking up people that we’re afraid of, not that we’re mad at," Stitt said. "And that’s something that we’re pushing in our state."

House Bill 4369 gives those convicted of non-violent crimes more opportunities for parole. "What it does is it reduces the time on parole, but it also saves taxpayer dollars," state Rep. Brian Hill said.

Lawmakers introduced the Sarah Stitt Act along with House Bill 4369. A key part of the bill is making sure people can re-enter society successfully. "Like obtaining an ID, Social Security card, even a resume," Stitt said. "Isn’t that what we want? We want them back reunited with their children and involved in society, paying taxes and contributing."

The bill also helps connect people to jobs. "Through this initiative, you’ll now be able to work with the DOC to do the interview before someone comes out of incarceration so on day one you’re coming out with a job," Hill said....

About 3,600 inmates will be eligible once the law goes into effect, according to lawmakers.

This tracker indicates that there were just over 21,000 persons in Oklahoma prisons as of June.  So, if the new law makes 3600 eligible for earlier parole, perhaps as much as 15% of the Oklahoma prison population should benefit from these reforms.  And many more should benefit from other aspects of these seemingly "smart-on-crime" measure.  (I hope folks who know more about Oklahoma law will let me know if I have any of these details wrong.) 

October 5, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Latest, but not greatest, FBI crime numbers show murders up in 2021, but overall violent and property crime down

This Time article, headlined "Homicides Continued to Increase in 2021, According to the FBI's Flawed Crime Report," highlights the challenges of reporting on the challenging latest crime data from the FBI.  (This Brennan Center Explainer, titled "Understanding the FBI’s 2021 Crime Data: Changes to the way the FBI reports national crime data may significantly complicate public understanding of recent crime trends," provides context.")   Here are the essentials from the Time piece:

The pandemic surge in violence continued across the U.S. in 2021, with homicides rising by 4.3% over the previous year, according to estimates from the FBI’s annual crime report, released Wednesday.  The estimated 22,900 murders and other killings last year would bring the nation’s homicide rate to 6.9 per 100,000 — the highest in almost 25 years. The 2021 increase is on top of the nearly 30% spike in homicides the U.S. experienced between 2019 and 2020.

However, the FBI report—the most comprehensive picture of crime rates and trends in the U.S. — comes with a giant asterisk this year. Because the FBI switched how it collects crime data from local law enforcement agencies, up to 40% of police departments — including major ones like the New York Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department—are missing from the report.

As a result, the FBI used estimates to calculate national crime figures. The FBI’s range of estimates means that homicides, for instance, may have increased more than 4.3% in 2021, or may have actually decreased.

According to the FBI’s data, overall violent crime decreased by 1%, led by a drop in robberies.  Property crime decreased by 3.8%However, rape increased by 3.4%. Reported drug crimes also increased for all drug categories, except marijuana.  Methamphetamine saw the biggest jump, surging by 17.8%.

It is quite discouraging that the spike in murders in 2020 was apparently not only a one-year ugly reality.  But somewhat encouragingly, this AH Datalytics dashboard focused on murder in large cities suggests that murders are generally down nationwide nearly 5% in 2022 compared to 2021 in our larger cities.  So there is at least some basis to hope that 2021 represented a recent murder peak (assuming the FBI data is right that there was an increase in 2021).  

October 5, 2022 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Expanded Criminal Defense Lawyering"

The title of this post is the title of this new article recently posted online and due to be published in the January 2023 issues of the Annual Review of Criminology. The article is authored by Ronald Wright and Jenny Roberts, and here is its abstract:

This review collects and critiques the academic literature on criminal defense lawyering, with an emphasis on empirical work.  Research on criminal defense attorneys in the United States has traditionally emphasized scarcity of resources: too many people facing criminal charges who are “too poor to pay” for counsel and not enough funding to pay for the constitutionally mandated lawyers.  Scholars have focused on the capacity of different delivery systems, such as public defender offices, to change the ultimate outcomes in criminal cases within their tight budgetary constraints.  Over the decades, however, theoretical understandings of the defense attorney's work have expanded to include client interests outside the criminal courtroom, reaching the broader social conditions connected to the alleged criminal act.  Researchers have responded by asking a broader range of questions about the effectiveness of defense counsel outside the courtroom and by using improved data to study the effectiveness of lawyers at discrete procedural stages.

October 5, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 4, 2022

Intriguing report on intriguing "equitable criminal sentencing technology" being formally adopted in Florida county

This local article out of Florida, headlined "Alachua County makes history with approval of equitable criminal sentencing technology," report on an interesting new development with some interesting sentencing technology. Here are the developments:

With the finalization of its budget Tuesday evening, Alachua County made the joint-effort of state attorney Brian Kramer and public defender Stacy Scott a historic reality: Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit will become Florida’s first judicial circuit to integrate equitable sentencing software as an official part of its case management system and plea-bargaining process. Roughly 95% of cases are settled in plea negotiations.

“We feel like this is an important step forward in trying to create more parity in our criminal justice system so that there aren’t these disparate sentences that exist today,” Scott said when she and Kramer presented the system to county commissioners Aug. 2.

Known as the Equity in Sentencing Analysis System (ESAS), this fairly new software provides legal practitioners with a searchable database of statewide sentencing data from the Florida Department of Corrections going back to 1998. It enables them to analyze past sentences that people with similar criminal backgrounds have received for similar crimes.

“That dataset is going to provide the lawyer things like the mean, the mode, the median,” Kramer told WUFT. “So that’s giving the lawyer data upon which to say, ‘OK, is this situation that I’m looking at, is it less serious than the average? Is it more serious than the average? And it gives them a starting point from which to develop a sentence that hopefully eliminates some of the inequities in the criminal justice system.”

Scott further reiterated this, adding that the sentencing data would allow for more honesty and consistency in plea negotiations, “instead of the way we’ve always done it, which is just sort of somebody’s gut feeling about what should happen.”

Its initial integration into the current system will cost Alachua County $73,000, followed by an annual subscription cost of roughly $23,000 for each office. But the software’s owner, Al Barlow, said he didn’t create it to make money. An attorney with 37 years of legal experience, Barlow was motivated by unfair sentencing he had encountered first-hand and presented the concept behind the sentencing analysis system to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017. He was looking to give the software to the state of Florida if the committee set him up with a programmer, but he didn’t receive the response he had hoped for. “They thought I was an alien. They kind of blew me off,” Barlow said. “I came back to Jacksonville, and I got with this programmer and another guy, and we built the software ourselves.”

And so his company, Technologies for Justice, was born along with his sentencing database. Barlow’s ensuing analysis, powered by this new software, showed him that the sentencing guideline system established by the Criminal Punishment Code in 1998 fails to ensure equitable sentencing across Florida. And he said ESAS could serve as a means to audit it....

Some attorneys, Scott and Kramer included, said ESAS is not the end-all-be-all. To them, it’s one of many factors worth considering when determining fair sentences. Still, Kramer saw something in Barlow’s software that other state attorneys haven’t acted on: the potential to combat intrinsic bias. “Does it eliminate bias? No, not at all, because you can’t eliminate bias,” Kramer said. “But what it would do is give us an unbiased starting point. And then we could work from there to try and make those adjustments upward or downward as appropriate.”

Until now, Florida prosecutors have almost entirely avoided this sentencing analysis system: Barlow said there was one other state attorney’s office that contacted him, piloted ESAS but ultimately never used it. Defense attorneys are generally the ones who use it to reduce sentences, according to a spokesperson for the Eighth Judicial Circuit.

Even among all Florida attorneys, the software isn’t well-known. Only 150 are currently registered to use it, with some others occasionally performing one-time searches, Barlow said. (Note that over 100,000 people are currently registered to practice law in Florida, according to the Florida Bar.) And he estimated two-thirds aren’t even aware of it.

Barlow also said software like ESAS doesn’t seem to exist outside of Florida. He said he receives calls from lawyers in Washington, New York, Seattle and all over the nation who are shocked to hear about such technology. “Florida is on the cusp of doing something very, very special,” Barlow said. “If it works half as good as we know it can, Gainesville will set a precedent for equitable sentences that the whole nation can follow.”

I have never previously heard of Equity in Sentencing Analysis System (ESAS) or Technologies for Justice, no doubt because it seems ESAS is a propriety technology that has not been widely used (or even widely known) in Florida. 

October 4, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Recapping lots of (little?) new criminal justice reforms in California

Late last week, California Gavin Newsom had a deadline to sign or veto a bunch of criminal justice reform bills.  This AP piece, headlined "Newsom has mixed verdict on California criminal justice laws," reports on some of the bill and choices made by Gov. Newsom:

California Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered a mixed verdict on more than three dozen criminal justice laws before his bill-signing deadline Friday, approving measures to seal criminal records and free dying inmates but denying bids to restrict solitary confinement and boost inmates’ wages.

Starting in July, one new law will give California what proponents call the nation’s most sweeping law to seal criminal records, though it excludes sex offenders. It will seal conviction and arrest records for most ex-offenders who are not convicted of another felony for four years, as well as records of arrests that don’t bring convictions, while former prison inmates convicted of serious felonies will be able to ask a judge to seal their records.

Backers estimate that 70 million Americans and 8 million Californians are hindered by old criminal convictions or records. They estimated the law could give more than a million Californians better access to jobs, housing and education. Newsom also approved related measures, one allowing record sealing and expungement even if former offenders still owe restitution and other court debt, and another making it easier to apply for certificates of rehabilitation....

Newsom also relaxed standards to allow more ill and dying inmates to be released from state prisons. The new law will allow inmates to be freed if they are permanently medically incapacitated or have a serious and advanced illness “with an end-of-life trajectory,” the standard used by the federal prison system. “It reduces incarceration costs, but more importantly, ensures there is a more humane and effective relief process for all people in California’s state prisons,” said Claudia Gonzalez of Root & Rebound, one of the reform groups that sought the measure....

He also expanded a 2020 law allowing suspects to allege they were harmed by racial bias in their criminal charges, convictions or sentences. The earlier law was limited to cases after Jan. 1, 2021. But this measure extends the safeguards to prior convictions.

Newsom, a Democrat who says he supports second chances and reducing incarceration, has had a mixed record on criminal justice bills. He has backed many reform efforts but in years past also vetoed other legislation he felt went too far or duplicated existing efforts. This year, he blocked a bill that would have made California the latest state to restrict segregated confinement in prisons and jails, as well as for the first time adding immigration detention facilities....

Newsom also vetoed one bill that would have given the state prison system five years to marginally boost the wages of inmates who usually earn just dollars a day, and a second bill that would have increased the “gate money” inmates are given upon their release from the current $200 to $1,300. The bills had survived even as lawmakers this year rejected a constitutional change that might have required much more compensation for inmate workers.

From another accounting, Daniel Nichanian has this Twitter thread on thread on "13 of the biggest [bills from California] and why they matter." Among the bills highlighted in that thread: "Gavin Newsom SIGNED a bill to make phone calls free from prison" and "Newsom SIGNED a bill that will 'vacate the death sentences of people who have become permanently incompetent'" and "Newsom SIGNED a bill to decriminalize jaywalking in California." 

Though I am inclined to call the record sealing bill "big" because of the number of people and families potentially impacted, the title of this post conveys my general sense that a lot of these reforms are fairly little.  But little does not mean unimportant, and it will be interesting to see if any of these reforms end up having major crime and punishment echoes.

October 4, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

"Expedient Imprisonment: How Federal Supervised Release Sentences Violate the Constitution"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article now available on SSRN and authored by Stefan Underhill and Grace Powell. (Among the reasons this article is interesting is because one of its authors is Chief Judge of the US District Court for the District of Connecticut.) Here is the article's abstract:

Supervised release sentences violate the grand jury clause and double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment.  Because supervisees have a right to indictment, violation proceedings constitute prosecutions within the meaning of the Sixth Amendment.  Violation proceedings should not provide an expedient path to imprisonment but instead should afford defendants the full range of criminal constitutional rights.

UPDATE: The final published version of this article is now available here at 108 Va. L. Rev. Online 297 (Nov. 15, 2022).

October 4, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

October 3, 2022

A sadder Pennsylvania variation on Going in Style with elderly, ill, repeat bank robber

GoingHollywood has now twice made the movie Going in Style about a group of elderly gentlemen facing who decide to become bank robbers when facing hard financial times.  I recall getting a big kick out of the 1979 version of the movie as a kid, and I did not think quick as much about the 2017 version as an adult.  This movie came to my mind upon reading this local sad press piece, headlined "Pa. man says he robbed bank to stay in prison, not be an imposition to family," about a recent Pennsylvania state sentencing:

A 60-year-old man says he robbed a bank in Lycoming County so he would remain in jail and not burden the family with whom he has not had contact in 30 years with his medical bills. Robert A. Jones, after pleading guilty to a robbery charge Monday, told county Judge Ryan Tira his health is declining.

The judge expressed concern about Jones’ mental health but proceeded to sentence him to 45 to 90 months in state prison in accordance with the plea agreement. Restitution of $2,000 also was ordered.

Police recovered $3,000 of the $5,000 taken in the Sept. 6 robbery when Jones was arrested the next day at the halfway house in the Harrisburg area where he was living. When authorities confronted with a search warrant, Jones is alleged to have responded: “I have nothing to hide, this is my final chapter.” He was within two months of being released from the halfway house, it was noted in court.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” his public defender Howard B. Gold said. “He prefers to spend the remaining years of his life in state prison.” Tira said he could not relate to Jones’ decision. Jones had been paroled on June 28, 2021, from the 15- to 30-year robbery sentence imposed in 2008 in Lackawanna County. He claimed when arrested last month he had robbed two dozen banks since the 1990s. Records confirm numerous charges in state and federal courts.

The Sept. 6 robbery was at the Jersey Shore State Bank office in Jersey Shore. The robber was wearing a surgical mask and a yellow rain jacket when he handed a note to a teller that stated, “this is a robbery” and then told her to “just remember your training.” He was handed $5,000 in $100, $50 and $20 bills and then left the bank.

Jones was observed on surveillance video running away from the bank and while cutting through a parking lot removing a yellow jacket. Shortly after he disappeared, a 1999 Toyota Camry appeared and a video showed a yellow object in the back seat. The license plate was visible so police were able to determine the car was owned by Jones....

Surveillance video showed Jones removing a black bag from the Camry in the halfway house parking lot and taking it inside. He was wearing clothing similar to that of the robber. Found inside the vehicle, police said, was a yellow rain jacket, beige colored hat, medical mask and more than $3,000 in currency.

Jones told Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police Officer Justin Segura this was the end of the road, it was a call for help and he had no intent to harm anyone in the bank, the arrest affidavit states. The state Parole Board has lodged a detainer against Jones so could face more court action.

October 3, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Not much for sentencing fans as SCOTUS starts a new Term and releases first big order list

Law nerds like me always get excited for the return of the Supreme Court on the first Monday in October.  But, despite all of the drama and jurisprudential change of the last Term (OT21) and the possibility of more of the same in the Term ahead (OT22), the sentencing nerd in me cannot completely suppress a yawn on this SCOTUS opening day.  Among the OT22 cases on which cert has already been granted, there are relatively few criminal matters and many of those involve only intricate procedural issues.  (That said, for federal prisoners, Jones v. HendrixNo. 21-857, to be argued on November 1, is a big deal.)

I was hoping there might be at least a smidge of sentencing or criminal justice excitement in today's first OT22 Order List after the so-called "long conference" last week.  The list starts with a smattering of GVRs based on last Term's later criminal cases, particularly the sentencing case Concepcion.  But then we get to the list of cert grants, and only two of the nine grants involve criminal matters  — and both the new SCOTUS cases involve matters that are a very long way from the day-to-day issues involved in the millions of criminal cases and sentencings that transpire every year in the US.

That all said, I know that there are some notable sentencing cases not yet fully briefed for cert consideration (including the McClinton acquitted conduct case for which I helped filed one of a number of amicus briefs).  So it is certainly possible that OT22 will end up having some juicy sentencing cases — and it certainly will end up having at least a few more (perhaps many more) criminal cases.  Moreover, given the current composition of the Court and its recent work in the Eighth Amendment arena, I suspect some folks  likely see a light SCOTUS sentencing docket in OT22 as a development to be celebrated.  But, perhaps biased by my own eagerness to have interesting matters to cover on this blog, while so many others are so troubled these days by what the current Court is doing, I find myself compelled to complain here about what the Court is largely failing to do.

As always, an especially on this opening day for SCOTUS "first pitch," I welcome comments of the state of the Court's sentencing and criminal docket.  Predictions about cases the Court might still take up or expected future developments or just about any concerns and complaints about its activities in this arena are welcome.  (Notably, after extraordinary SCOTUS personnel transitions over the last six years, I am inclined to predict that the current Court may not see another change in membership for the next six or longer.) 

October 3, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 2, 2022

"State Constitutionalism and the Crisis of Excessive Punishment"

The title of this post is the title of this new article available via SSRN authored by Robert J. Smith, Zoe Robinson and Emily Hughes. Here is its abstract:

The institutional site of responsibility for America’s mass incarceration crisis represents one of the most important and undertheorized barriers to reducing excessive punishment in the United States.  While mass incarceration is frequently presented as an American crisis, with more that 113 million Americans impacted by the criminal justice system, this Article argues that mass incarceration is not a national issue, but instead a local issue.  Ninety percent of the people in America’s prisons are confined under state laws, procedures, and norms created by state legislative and executive branches, and thirty-seven individual U.S. states have an incarceration rate higher than any country other than the U.S. itself.  While there exists a growing popular and scholarly movement attempting to address the political intractability of mass incarceration, this Article argues that missing from the debate is the role of state courts and state constitutions.

Drawing on two burgeoning movements — the movement to end mass incarceration and the re-emerging significance of state constitutionalism — this Article argues that state constitutionalism is critical for curbing the excessive punishment regimes that drive mass incarceration.  The Article evaluates state courts’ quiet divestment of independent state constitutional interpretation in the years following incorporation, outlining the unique issues posed by constitutional unitarism for limiting excessive punishment.  Motivated by recent developments in state courts, the Article highlights the growing support for, and potential of, independent state constitutionalism for preventing excessive punishments and addressing the mass incarceration crisis.  In doing so, the Article offers a path forward, sketching a doctrinal trajectory for state courts to use when interpreting their state constitutional provisions limiting excessive punishments that respects federal developments while also capturing the localism of criminal law and ultimately emphasizing the potential of state courts as transformative institutions in reducing mass incarceration.

October 2, 2022 in Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Weekend round-up of stories from incarceration nation

Another busy week means another weekend effort to catch up with this round-up of links to a number of stories and commentaries concerning prison realities that caught my eye in recent days:

From the AP, "Alabama prisons reduce meals, nix visits amid inmate strike"

From Forbes, "First Appearance By Bureau Of Prisons Director Falls Shorts On Facts"

From The Guardian, "What’s Prison For? Concise diagnosis of a huge American problem"

From The Guardian, "‘Slavery by any name is wrong’: the push to end forced labor in prisons"

From the Marshall Project, "What an Alabama Prisoners’ Strike Tells Us About Prison Labor"

From NBC News, "Biden pledged to end solitary confinement. Federal prisons are increasing its use."

From the New York Times, "Justice Dept. to Seek Stiffer Sentences in Prisoner Abuse Cases"

From NPR, "What it's like serving a life sentence in prison with no chance of release"

From Scientific American, "Dementia in Prison Is Turning into an Epidemic: The U.S. Penal System Is Badly Unprepared"

From the Washington Post, "They’re in federal prison, and they’re done staying quiet"

October 2, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)