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March 18, 2023

Rounding up some public defender commentary on Gideon's 60th anniversary

I saw a lot of interesting headlines in recent days in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright.  Here is a sampling from various sources:

From Fox News, "Supreme Court's 'Gideon' ruling at 60 and the right to counsel: In their own words"

From the Los Angeles Times, "Criminal defendants’ right to counsel still shortchanged in much of California"

From NPR, "You have the right to a lawyer, but public defenders note a lack of resources, respect"

Oregon Public Broadcasting, "A constitutional crisis in Oregon’s criminal justice system continues, 60 years after landmark US Supreme Court decision"

The Sixth Amendment Center, "The State of the Nation on Gideon’s 60th Anniversary"

From Teen Vogue, "Gideon v. Wainwright Was a Landmark Decision, But Women Invented the Idea of the Public Defender"

From the US Courts, "60 Years Later, Gideon’s Legacy Lives On"

From the US Department of Justice, "Justice Department Commemorates the 60th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright"

March 18, 2023 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

US Sentencing Commission posts over 1600 pages of public comment on proposed amendments

Perhaps unsurprisingly in light of a whole lot of notable proposed amendments to the US Sentencing Guidelines, the US Sentencing Commission received a whole lot of public comment in response to its "Notice and request for public comment" on these amendments.  Helpfully, for folks interested in seeing some of the highlights, the USSC has made big sample available here with lots of helpful links to each of the issues covered and with this explanation:

The Commission reviews and catalogs all public comment submissions for future reference and official recordkeeping purposes.  A representative sample of public comment is carefully selected, redacted, and posted online to provide the public with the kind of information considered by the Commissioners during their deliberations." 

Especially because I am distracted by a few different and distinct obsessions this weekend, I am certain I will not get a chance to review much of the commentary anytime soon.  But I welcome folks using the comments to flag any especially interesting comments (or any predictions they may have about what the final amendment will look like). 

A few recent related posts:

March 18, 2023 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 17, 2023

"The Minimalist Alternative to Abolitionism: Focusing on the Non-dangerous Many"

The title of this post is the title of this new essay authored by Christopher Slobogin now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

In The Dangerous Few: Taking Prison Abolition and Its Skeptics Seriously, published in the Harvard Law Review, Thomas Frampton proffers four reasons why those who want to abolish prisons should not budge from their position even for offenders who are considered dangerous.  This essay demonstrates why a criminal law minimalist approach to prisons and police is preferable to abolition, not just when dealing with the dangerous few but also as a means of protecting the nondangerous many.  A minimalist regime can radically reduce reliance on both prisons and police, without the loss in crime prevention capacity and legitimacy that is likely to come with abolition.

Prior related post:

March 17, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

March 16, 2023

"After the Criminal Justice System"

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

Since the 1960s, the “criminal justice system” has operated as the common label for a vast web of actors and institutions.  But, as critiques of mass incarceration have entered the mainstream, academics, activists, and advocates increasingly have stopped referring to the “criminal justice system.”  Instead, they have opted for critical labels — the criminal legal system, the criminal punishment system, the prison industrial complex, etc.  What does this re-labeling accomplish?  Does this change in language matter to broader efforts at criminal justice reform or abolition?  Or, does an emphasis on labels and language distract from substantive engagement with the injustices of contemporary criminal law?

In this Article, I examine that move to abandon the “criminal justice system” as a means of describing U.S. institutions of criminal law and its enforcement.  I identify three alternative labels that are gaining traction in academic and activist circles: the criminal legal system, the criminal punishment system, and the prison industrial complex.  I argue that each reflects not only a different vision of U.S. criminal law but also a different vision of what is wrong with it.  My goal in this Article is not to advocate for a correct new label.  Rather, it is to explain how the different names provide a window into different ways of understanding how the United States punishes and controls individuals and communities.  Identifying an alternate label (or opting to retain the criminal justice system) should force much-needed reflection about what makes criminal institutions distinct from other institutions of governance.  And, such clarity should be essential to any project of reform or abolition.

This Article contributes to three literatures.  First, it is a part of a larger project of unpacking how we as a society (and particularly as legal elites) talk about and understand criminal law. Second, this Article contributes to a literature that examines the boundaries of criminal law and the ways in which criminal legal institutions interact with ostensibly non-criminal ones.  Third, and relatedly, this Article contributes to a critical literature on siloing in scholarship and activism.  By emphasizing the fuzzy boundaries of the “criminal justice system,”  I hope to stress that studying and mobilizing against the injustices of the U.S. criminal legal apparatus requires grappling with a host of diverse legal doctrines and sociopolitical forces.

March 16, 2023 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Notable Seventh Circuit discussion of how a combination of factors can amount to "extraordinary and compelling reasons"

A helpful colleague made sure I did not miss a short ruling authored by Judge Frank Easterbrook for the Seventh Circuit concerning factors in support of motions for compassionate release. The ruling in US v. Vaughn, No. 22-2427 (7th Cir. March 15, 2023) (available here), is worth reading in full, and this is part of the discussion that seems especially notable:

Vaughn maintains that his arguments collectively identify “extraordinary and compelling reasons” even if none of them does so independently. At least two circuits have held that it is permissible to consider reasons jointly as well as severally. United States v. Ruvalcaba, 26 F.4th 14, 28 (1st Cir. 2022); United States v. McGee, 992 F.3d 1035, 1048 (10th Cir. 2021). But one has gone the other way, remarking: “[W]hy would combining unrelated factors, each individually insufficient to justify a sentence reduction, amount to more than the sum of their individual parts?” United States v. McKinnie, 24 F.4th 583, 588 (6th Cir. 2022). See also United States v. McCall, 56 F.4th 1048, 1066 (6th Cir. 2022).

The Sixth Circuit’s rhetorical question has some intuitive appeal. Often 0 + 0 = 0. But not always. One persistent error in legal analysis is to ask whether a piece of evidence “by itself” passes some threshold — to put evidence in compartments and ask whether each compartment suffices. But when one court of appeals asked whether Fact A showed probable cause for an arrest, then whether Fact B did so, whether Fact C did so, and so forth, the Supreme Court reversed in a sharp opinion reminding all judges that evidence should not be compartmentalized.

[T]he [court of appeals] viewed each fact “in isolation, rather than as a factor in the totality of the circumstances.”  This was “mistaken in light of our precedents.”  The “totality of the circumstances” requires courts to consider “the whole picture.”  Our precedents recognize that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts — especially when the parts are viewed in isolation. Instead of considering the facts as a whole, the [court of appeals] took them one by one. … The totality-of-the-circumstances test “precludes this sort of divide-and-conquer analysis.”

District of Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S. Ct. 577, 588 (2018) (internal citations omitted). Similarly, we have held that in employment-discrimination cases a district court must consider the evidence as a whole, rather than sorting facts into boxes and asking whether each suffices.... Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., 834 F.3d 760, 765–66 (7th Cir. 2016).

If we conceive of “extraordinary and compelling reasons” as those differentiating one prisoner’s situation from 99% of other prisoners, it is easy to see how Circumstance X could be true of only 10% of prisoners, Circumstance Y of 10%, and Circumstance Z of 10% — each insufficient to meet the threshold, but if they are independent then collectively enough to place the applicant among only 0.1% of all federal prisoners.  We do not say here that 99% is the threshold for “extraordinary and compelling reasons”; in the absence of guidance from the Sentencing Commission, identifying the threshold is committed to the discretion of district judges, with deferential appellate review.  See United States v. Gunn, 980 F.3d 1178 (7th Cir. 2020).  Our point, rather, is that no matter how the threshold is defined, a combination of factors may move any given prisoner past it, even if one factor alone does not.  This leads us to disagree with the Sixth Circuit’s approach.

This does not help Vaughn in the end, however, because the discretion to evaluate multiple circumstances resides principally in the district courts.

March 16, 2023 in Implementing retroactively new USSC crack guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Columnist George Will argues high plea rates can be explained by, "to a significant extent, coercion"

In this new Washington Post piece, headlined "How government’s excessive reliance on plea deals can undermine justice," George Will highlights the ABA's recent Plea Bargain Task Force Report (discussed here) to lament how prevalent pleas have become in our criminal justice systems.  Here are some excerpts:

Herewith a two-question quiz: What is the only right affirmed both in the Constitution of 1787 and in the Bill of Rights? And what governmental practice produces the most pervasive and glaring civil rights deprivations?

The answer to the first question is: the right to trial by jury. (Article III, Section 2: “The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury”; Sixth Amendment: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.”) The answer to the second is: plea bargaining as currently practiced, which often effectively nullifies this right.

A just-published report by an American Bar Association task force says plea bargaining has not only become the primary way to resolve criminal cases, “some jurisdictions have not had a criminal trial in many years.” Think about that: Years can pass without a defendant exercising the constitutional right to an adversarial process conducted in public in front of a neutral judge and a jury of the defendant’s peers....

Last year, 98.3 percent of federal criminal convictions, and about 95 percent in the states, resulted from bargained guilty pleas. Why? To a significant extent, coercion.

This often begins with detention in frightening conditions: To be arrested is to be suddenly plunged into control by a government speaking an often arcane legal language.  Then there is “stacking” — prosecutors piling on charges which, in a context of mandatory minimum sentences, force defendants to choose between risking potentially life-ruining trials and pleading guilty to lesser charges, even if innocent....

The task force’s report stresses that plea bargaining has legitimate uses. It incentivizes defendants to accept responsibility for criminal conduct, and offers finality to their victims and the community.  Furthermore, prosecutorial resources are scarce, and plea bargaining is a mechanism for efficiently resolving cases.  No value in life, however, invariably supersedes all others, and the pursuit of efficiency has too often become “the driving force of criminal adjudication,” supplanting transparency and justice....

The Cato Institute’s Clark Neily and others suggest that plea bargaining on today’s “industrial scale” could be countered by a “trial lottery”: A small percentage of cases in which plea agreements have been reached should be randomly sent to trials.  How often would the government be unable to secure a conviction after it has managed to induce a pre-trial guilty plea?  Let’s find out.

I wish Will had mentioned the problems of acquitted conduct sentencing enhances in his discussion of the various forces that contribute to the very high rate of guilty pleas.  I raise the issue in part because as long as significant sentencing increases based on acquitted conduct remains permissible, prosecutors will always have a great incentive to bring as many charges as possible even if some plea cases were to "be randomly sent to trials." 

Prior related post:

March 16, 2023 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (15)

"The Unconstitutional Conditions Vacuum in Criminal Procedure"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article now available via SSRN authored by Kay Levine, Jonathan Remy Nash and Robert A. Schapiro. Here is its abstract:

For more than a century the United States Supreme Court has applied the unconstitutional conditions doctrine across a variety of settings, scrutinizing government efforts to condition the tradeoff of rights for benefits in the speech, funding, and takings contexts, among others.  The Court has declined, however, to invoke the doctrine in the area of criminal procedure, where people accused of crime are often asked to — and typically do — surrender their constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments in return for some benefit.  Despite the Court’s insistence that the unconstitutional conditions doctrine applies broadly across the Bill of Rights, its jurisprudence demonstrates that the doctrine functions as a selective shield that offers no support for certain rightsholders.

We argue that the Court’s approach undermines vital rights, with especially harmful consequences for people who most need judicial protection.  Since individuals accused of crime are often extremely vulnerable to coercive government measures, the important safeguards offered by the unconstitutional conditions doctrine should be at their apex in the criminal procedure setting.  Indeed, lower federal courts and some state courts have applied the doctrine to criminal procedure issues, demonstrating the doctrine’s utility in this domain.  We conclude that the Supreme Court’s aversion to using the unconstitutional conditions doctrine in its criminal procedure docket rests not on a principled doctrinal distinction, but on a failure to take seriously the constitutional predicaments facing those charged with crimes.  In accordance with its obligation to render equal justice under law, the Court must apply the unconstitutional conditions doctrine in this most critical area.

March 16, 2023 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 15, 2023

With pandemic legally winding down, should Congress build in CARES Act success to greatly expand BOP home confinement authority?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new Forbes piece by Walter Pavlo headlined "Bureau Of Prisons Sees End Of Cares Act Home Confinement, Some Prisoners Will Be Left Behind."  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts (with links from the original):

The CARES Act provided funding for the United States to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, but it provided the Federal Bureua of Prisons (BOP) a means to both reduce crowding in federal prisons and place some minimum security prisoners with underlying health conditions on home confinement to complete their sentences. Over 12,000 prisoners have successfully been transferred to home confinement under the CARES Act and few have violated the conditions that returned them to prison. The Office of Legal Counsel determined that BOP’s preexisting authorities did not require that prisoners in extended home confinement be returned en masse to correctional facilities when the emergency period ends. Now, the Biden Administration has called for the end of national emergency and public health emergency associated with the COVID-19 pandemic on May 11, 2023 and that will mean that some prisoners will not see the benefit of home confinement.

The Federal Register published a draft of the final rule to end CARES Act home confinement in June 2022.  Comments and the final rule itself are now at the White House and will soon be published. In the draft proposal, the Department of Justice indicated that the BOP would stop home confinement placements of prisoners 30 days after the emergency period ends, so mid-June 2023.

As the program sunsets, one would think the BOP is slowing transfer of some prisoners to home confinement under CARES Act, but not so. Randilee Giamusso, who works at the BOP’s Office of Public Affairs gave a statement that, “The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has not made efforts to slow CARES Act home confinement placements as the end of the CARES Act approaches. We have issued no guidance regarding this matter.”  That is welcome news to prisoners who meet the eligibility requirements for CARES Act placement.

Many are also hoping that the DOJ extends the 30 days after the end of CARES Act to something that takes into consideration the success of the program and the conditions of prison.  Maureen Baird, retired BOP Warden, told me in an interview, “Prisons are communal settings where contagion is always a concern.  I think the BOP has gone to great measures to try to avoid that contagion and one of the most successful measures has been CARES Act home confinement.”...

The CARES Act demonstrated that a select group of prisoners could be identified and successfully placed in community settings for an extended portion of their sentence.  There are currently prisoners on CARES Act who still have over 5 years remaining on their prison term who are under strict terms of home confinement and subject to being returned to an institution in the event of failing to live up to those terms.

Though it makes sense to wind down the pandemic-driven authority to transfer certain persons from federal prison to home confinement, Congress and the US Sentencing Commission and the Justice Department should carefully study the the apparent success of this CARES Act program and consider ways to give BOP broader authority in non-pandemic times to move low-risk prisoners into home confinement. As highlighted by some posts below about the CARES Act, it seems that great use of home confinement might help reduce recidivism, save taxpayer money, facilitate greater reentry success for offenders and advance other important goals. Of course, home confinement needs to uses efficiently and effectively, though if we can do that during a pandemic, I would hope we can also do it at other times.

Some prior related posts:

March 15, 2023 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

USSC publishes 2022 Annual Report and latest Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics

Via email this morning, I learned that the US Sentencing Commission published on its website today its 2022 Annual Report and latest Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics.  Both data-rich publications have lots of interesting statistics providing lots of interesting views of the realities of (fiscal year) 2022 federal sentencing.  The email I received from the USSC flagged these "FY22 Fast Facts":

The Sourcebook presents information on the 64,142 federal offenders sentenced in FY22 (October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022) — a sentencing caseload that increased by 6,855 from the previous fiscal year.

  • Drug trafficking, immigration, firearms, and fraud crimes together comprised 82% of the federal sentencing caseload in FY22.  

  • Methamphetamine continued to be the most common drug type in the federal system (49% in FY22).

    • The portion of drug cases involving fentanyl increased markedly over the last year, such that fentanyl cases were the third most common among all drug cases. 
  • Methamphetamine trafficking continued to be the most severely punished federal drug crime (94 months, representing an increase of 4 months from the previous year).

    • 65% of drug offenders were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty, holding relatively steady from the previous year.

March 15, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 14, 2023

New CRS piece reviews circuit split over justifications for revoking supervised release

A helpful reader alerted me to this notable new "Legal Sidebar" from the Congressional Research Service.  As suggested by the title, "Can Retribution Justify the Revocation of Supervised Release? Courts Disagree," the piece details a jurisprudential divide among the circuits for the justification for supervised release revocation.  Here is how the five-page report begins:

What are the legitimate reasons that a government may subject an individual to criminal punishment?  Western penological theory and American legal history generally identify four principled bases for criminal punishment: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation.  The Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) requires federal courts to impose an initial sentence that reflects these purposes of punishment.

The SRA also authorizes federal courts to sentence defendants to supervised release, encompassing a set of conditions that the defendant must comply with upon release from prison for a period of time (or, for some offenses, for up to life).  A defendant’s compliance with these conditions is “supervised” or monitored by a federal probation officer.  If a defendant violates a condition, the court may revoke the supervised release and send the defendant back to prison, among other things.  The SRA lists deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation among the factors that a judge must consider in making these revocation determinations.  The SRA does not, however, expressly include retribution as one such factor.

The federal appeals courts disagree as to whether, and to what extent, retribution may justify the revocation of supervised release in light of this statutory omission.  On one side of the divide, the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the First, Second, Third, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits have held that federal courts may consider retribution in making revocation decisions.  On the other side, the Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Circuits have concluded that courts either may not consider retribution in these decisions at all or may consider it only to a limited degree.

This Sidebar summarizes the four purposes of punishment, including retribution; offers an overview of supervised release; and summarizes the aforementioned split.  The Sidebar concludes with congressional considerations.

March 14, 2023 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Prison Policy Initiative releases "Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2023"

image from www.prisonpolicy.orgThough not all pies taste the same on March 14, so-called "Pi Day," sentencing fans and criminal justice data fans should find today especially delicious because the amazing folks at the Prison Policy Initiative have now posted the latest, greatest version of PPI's amazing incarceration "pie" graphic and associated report.  The latest report "Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2023" provides a spectacular accounting of the particulars of who and how people are incarcerated in the United States.  As I have said in the past, the extraordinary "pies" produced by PPI impart more information in a couple of effective image than just about any other single resource I know about (and this PPI press release has the main visual and other highlights).  Here is part of this latest pie report's introductory text and the concluding discussion:

Can it really be true that most people in jail are legally innocent? How much of mass incarceration is a result of the war on drugs, or the profit motives of private prisons? How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed decisions about how people are punished when they break the law? These essential questions are harder to answer than you might expect. The various government agencies involved in the criminal legal system collect a lot of data, but very little is designed to help policymakers or the public understand what’s going on. As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build — and as the pandemic raises the stakes higher — it’s more important than ever that we get the facts straight and understand the big picture.

Further complicating matters is the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have one “criminal justice system;” instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems. Together, these systems hold almost 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 98 federal prisons, 3,116 local jails, 1,323 juvenile correctional facilities, 181 immigration detention facilities, and 80 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories.

This report offers some much-needed clarity by piecing together the data about this country’s disparate systems of confinement. It provides a detailed look at where and why people are locked up in the U.S., and dispels some modern myths to focus attention on the real drivers of mass incarceration and overlooked issues that call for reform....

The United States has the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world.  Looking at the big picture of the 1.9 million people locked up in the United States on any given day, we can see that something needs to change.  Both policymakers and the public have the responsibility to carefully consider each individual slice of the carceral “pie” and ask whether legitimate social goals are served by putting each group behind bars, and whether any benefit really outweighs the social and fiscal costs.

Even narrow policy changes, like reforms to bail, can meaningfully reduce our society’s use of incarceration. At the same time, we should be wary of proposed reforms that seem promising but will have only minimal effect, because they simply transfer people from one slice of the correctional “pie” to another or needlessly exclude broad swaths of people. Keeping the big picture in mind is critical if we hope to develop strategies that actually shrink the “whole pie.”

March 14, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Brennan Center publishes "A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Incarceration: Introducing the Public Safety and Prison Reduction Act"

The folks at the Brennan Center for Justice have a new report available here authored by Hernandez D. Stroud, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, and Ram Subramanian titled "A Proposal to Reduce Unnecessary Incarceration: Introducing the Public Safety and Prison Reduction Act."  Here is part of the report's introduction:

According to a 2016 Brennan Center for Justice report, nearly 40 percent of the U.S. prison population is incarcerated without any compelling public safety justification. Incarceration degrades people’s humanity, disrupts their social networks, and causes lifelong social and financial disadvantage through restricted access to education, jobs, and housing.  It also devastates families and communities, disproportionately affecting society’s most marginalized segments.

Reforms have reduced the population behind bars from its 2009 peak, yet an astonishing level of incarceration persists: today over 1.2 million people are confined to federal and state prisons, and just over 636,000 more are locked up in local jails.  Few states have achieved significant reductions in their prison populations, and in some places these populations have begun to grow again.

For a half century, the federal government has harnessed its grant-making power to spur states to incarcerate more people and to impose longer sentences, making the United States the most punitive country in the world.  It can now use that same funding power to reverse course.  The idea of using federal funding to reduce incarceration is not new, but recent programs have had mixed results.  For example, between 2010 and 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) provided state and local governments with technical assistance and direct funding to reduce their prison populations.  But this funding did not always produce the intended outcome....

Yet since assuming office in 2021, the Biden administration, while retaining JRI’s focus on recidivism reduction, now specifically allows grant money to support efforts to reduce incarceration for new crimes or technical violations of community supervision.  And more recently, in August 2022, as part of his 2023 budget proposal to Congress, President Biden unveiled a grant program called Accelerating Justice System Reform, which would dedicate $15 billion over 10 years for jurisdictions to implement crime prevention and public health approaches to public safety.

Building on this momentum, the Brennan Center for Justice calls on Congress to enact a new, $1 billion federal funding program, called the Public Safety and Prison Reduction Act, to channel money to states with the goal of reducing unnecessary incarceration while promoting humane and fair criminal-justice policies that preserve public safety.  The proposal, based on a previous Brennan Center policy solution — the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act — was crafted in consultation with a variety of stakeholders, including formerly incarcerated individuals.

March 14, 2023 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Maricopa County prosecutor joins victims' group in challenging new Arizona Gov's pledge not to go forward with scheduled execution

As reported in this local article, headlined "'No law allows it': Maricopa County prosecutor challenges Gov. Hobbs' refusal to proceed with execution," notable litigation is afoot over execute powers and execution plans in the Grand Canyon State.  Here are the interesting details (with links from the originals):

Gov. Katie Hobbs faces a court fight over whether she can block a scheduled execution

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell joined a crime victims' rights group Monday in asking the Arizona Supreme Court to order Hobbs to carry out the execution of convicted murderer Aaron Gunches.  "No law allows the governor to unilaterally suspend executions," Mitchell's court brief said....

The amicus brief supports the Arizona Voice for Crime Victims' petition for special action by the high court, filed on behalf of Karen Price, sister of Gunches' murder victim, Ted Price. 

Two weeks ago, Hobbs said the state wouldn't proceed with executions until her office's review of death-penalty procedures was complete.  The day before, the state Supreme Court had granted an execution warrant for Gunches with a date of April 6.

The first-term Democratic governor issued an executive order in January establishing a death penalty review commission. She cited questions about the Department of Corrections execution protocols and lack of transparency.  Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes immediately paused executions. 

In her brief, Mitchell noted the "current execution protocol is the product of extensive litigation and multiple settlements with death row inmates."

Prior recent related posts:

March 14, 2023 in Death Penalty Reforms, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 13, 2023

"Panicked Legislation"

The title of this post is the title of a new article authored by Catherine Carpenter which I missed when first posted here on SSRN, but now can be found in final form in print here at the Notre Dame Journal of Legislation.  Here is its SSRN abstract:

We are in the throes of a moral panic. It is not the first time, nor will it likely be the last, but it is among the most enduring.  Dubbed the sex panic, it has bred widespread and ever-escalating legislation, impacted the lives of more than a million people and their families, and caused public hysteria and violence.  And unlike other moral panics in our history that dissipated over time, there are no signs that the sex panic is diminishing.  Indeed, this panic grows more virulent with each passing year.

Panicked legislation is both the symbol and the result of a moral panic.  The article is uniquely situated, linking both social science and legal theories to offer a dynamic account of the world of moral panics, the mythical narratives that support them, and the inaccurate risk management assessment that plagues them.  It is ultimately a cautionary tale of hastily-crafted and fear-driven legislation that is fueled by the public’s distorted fear of a targeted group of people.

With a public unable or unwilling to hear the evidence, and political actors invested in their electorate, this article urges judicial intervention through the Irrebuttable Presumption Doctrine to challenge statutory schemes that are based on false assumptions that masquerade as universal truths.

March 13, 2023 in Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (9)

"The (Immediate) Future of Prosecution"

The title of this post is the title of this new essay authored by Daniel Richman now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Even as others make cogent arguments for diminishing the work of prosecutors, work remains — cases that must be brought against a backdrop of existing economic inequality and structural racism and of an array of impoverished institutional alternatives.  The (immediate) future of prosecution requires thoughtful engagement with these tragic circumstances, but it also will inevitably involve the co-production of sentences that deter and incapacitate.  Across-the-board sentencing discounts based on such circumstances are no substitute for the thoughtful intermediation that only the courtroom working group — judges, prosecutors and defense counsel — can provide. The (immediate) future also requires prosecutors to do more to recognize the distinctive role they can play in combating illegitimate domination.

March 13, 2023 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Last chance to register for "Drugs and Public Safety: Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing and Prosecutorial Reforms"

In part because I have been busy helping with some of the activities, I keep forgetting to promote here this exciting event taking place in Arizona later this week.  Here are the basics with a last-minute, last chance to register:

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 invite you to join us for a symposium titled Drugs and Public Safety: Exploring the Impact of Policy, Policing, and Prosecutorial Reforms Thursday, March 16, 2023, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. MST, to examine the public safety impact of marijuana and other modern drug policy reforms. Registration closes at midnight tonight.
  
As marijuana reforms have spread, so too has discussion of broader drug reforms such as decriminalization or legalization at both state and local levels, 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. 

This 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 and public safety.

For more information, visit this link, and to register visit this link (by midnight Monday, March 13, 2023). There is no fee to attend. 

March 13, 2023 in Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

LWOP for NYC terrorist Sayfullo Saipov as jury unable to return unanimous death sentence verdict for his mass murder

As reported in this new New York Post piece, "West Side Highway terrorist Sayfullo Saipov will serve life in prison after a Manhattan federal court jury could not unanimously agree to sentence him to death for killing eight people and wounding several others in an ISIS-inspired rampage."  Here are more of the particulars of another high-profile case in which a jury did not all vote for a death sentence:

The jury’s failure to reach a unanimous verdict — necessary to impose the death penalty — on Monday ended a dramatic, months-long trial that saw surviving victims tearfully testify about the horror of his attack and the killer’s family members urge jurors to spare his life.

Saipov was convicted in January of fatally mowing down eight people along a West Side Highway bike path on Halloween 2017 in a rented Home Depot truck. During the penalty phase of the trial, prosecutors questioned a host of witnesses – including surviving victims and family members of those slain – to show jurors the horrific violence carried out by Saipov.

Assistant US Attorney Alexander Li told jurors during the guilt phase of the trial that Saipov smiled, gave a “proud confession” and requested an ISIS flag to hang in a hospital room where he was being treated after the attack....

The jury convicted Saipov on 28 counts — nine of which carried the possibility of the death penalty — hours after they began deliberations on Jan. 26.  The conviction triggered the penalty phase of the case — which functioned like another full trial, where prosecutors and defense attorneys questioned witnesses, presented evidence and delivered opening and closing arguments.

During the penalty phase, family members of those killed described in painstaking detail how they’ve been devastated by the loss of their loved ones. The emotional testimony was referenced in prosecutors’ dramatic closing argument on March 7 as they urged jurors to condemn Saipov.   “The defendant caused unbearable pain to these families. They are still suffering,” Assistant US Attorney Amanda Houle told jurors in her closing. 

“Has the government proven aggravating factors that show that the way that this defendant chose to commit murder, by terrorist attack and the unremorseful slaughter of innocent civilians. Does that make his crime worthy of a harsher penalty?” Houle asked jurors.   “The evidence shows overwhelmingly that it does,” she said.  Houle then described the testimony jurors had heard about how families of the slain victims had been upended by the terrorist attack....

Saipov’s defense attorneys had sought to humanize him by questioning his family members on the stand, most all of whom broke down in tears when they told the jury they still loved him — despite what he had done. The defense’s penatly-phase case reached a dramatic peak when his father, sobbing uncontrollably, told jurors he still loved his son “with all my heart” from the witness stand.

The testimony prompted Saipov’s uncle, who was seated in the gallery of the courtroom, to stand up and begin shouting in Uzbek. “Dirty ISIS bastards!” the man yelled in Uzbek before slamming his fist on a courtroom door and walking out of the room.

In an impassioned closing argument, Saipov attorney David Patton repeatedly told jurors they face a “unique, individualized, moral decision” in whether or not to sentence the terrorist to death. “That is an awesome responsibility and power, and we are asking you to decide for life, to decide that the appropriate moral decision here is life,” Patton said. “It is not necessary to kill Sayfullo Saipov, not for our safety or anyone else’s and not to do justice,” Patton said.

Prior related posts:

March 13, 2023 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

New Mexico seemingly poised to be latest state to elimination juvenile LWOP (after new press report about lost juve LWOPers)

This local press piece, headlined "Proposal to end juvenile life sentences in New Mexico on its way to governor," reports on notable new legislative developments in Land of Enchantment.  Here are some details:

In the early-morning hours Monday, the state House signed off on legislation that would abolish the possibility of a life sentence without parole for someone who committed a serious crime before they turned 18.  It would ensure that juveniles sent to prison would get a parole hearing 15 to 25 years into their sentence, depending on the severity of the underlying conviction.  Release wouldn’t be guaranteed, just a parole hearing.

The proposal picked up more support this year among legislators — following the failure of a similar proposal last year — and is now on its way to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.  “A lot of meaningful work has happened in people’s hearts this year,” Long said in an interview.

She was in the gallery as the House took up debate on the proposal about 11pm Sunday and adopted the measure at 2:15am Monday, the last approval necessary to send it to the governor.  The House passed the bill on an 37-25 vote.  “Children are works in progress,” said House Majority Leader Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, “and we need sentencing options that leave room for their potential to experience positive transformations.”

Republican lawmakers blasted the proposal. Some crimes, they said, are so heinous that a parole hearing shouldn’t even be possible.  Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, said the hearings will reopen trauma for families.  “I don’t see how this is good for grieving parents or our community,” she said....

In the Senate, six Republicans support the bill. But the House vote was along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. A year ago, the proposal died in the House without reaching the floor for a vote by the full chamber.

This year’s proposal makes changes intended to address the opposition. It establishes a tiered schedule of parole hearings based on the severity of the crime, rather than calling for hearings at 15 years across the board. And this year lawmakers have encountered plenty of advocates in person, including parents speaking about their own children and young adults sharing stories of redemption....

About 75 people would be affected by the bill, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, making them eligible for parole earlier than they would otherwise....  If approved by the governor, New Mexico would become the 27th state to end juvenile life sentences without parole, according to the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group.

Interestingly, ProPublica has this notable recent piece about juvenile LWOPers in New Mexico headlined "New Mexico Has Lost Track of Juveniles Locked Up for Life. We Found Nearly Two Dozen."  Here are short excerpts from the lengthy piece:

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office has indicated that she will likely sign the legislation, if it is passed, by early April; it would go into effect this summer. In the meantime, officials in her administration could not answer basic questions about the number of prisoners affected and were unclear about which office is responsible for maintaining that information.

Carmelina Hart, spokesperson for the corrections department, initially sent ProPublica the names of 13 people in New Mexico’s prison system who were sentenced to life as children, which she said was the extent of the cohort. But a disclaimer below the list read, “Due to inconsistencies and mistakes over decades of data entry, as well as ensuing attempts of varying success to fix previous inaccuracies over that time, it is virtually impossible to conclude that all of these data are entirely correct.”...

Hart emphasized that the agency does have records of every person serving in its facilities, and that if the bill becomes law, NMCD will take the appropriate steps to ensure that it is in compliance....

One subset of New Mexico’s juvenile lifers who seem to have been disproportionately forgotten are those serving their time in out-of-state prisons.  Jerry Torres and Juan Meraz, for example, are both in the custody of the New Mexico Corrections Department for crimes they committed as juveniles in the state, yet they are locked up in Arizona — in a for-profit prison operated by the company CoreCivic.

March 13, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

March 12, 2023

"Evaluating the (F)utility of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws in Pennsylvania"

The title of this post is the title of this new article recently published in the Justice Evaluation Journal and authored by Nicole Frisch-Scott, Anat Kimchi and Kristofer Bucklen.  Here is its abstract:

In the current criminal justice policy sphere mandatory minimum sentencing serves two important purposes 1) they are used as a punitive response to immediate crime concerns and 2) their removal is viewed as a tool to conserve resources, decarcerate, and promote fairness in sentencing.  Though much research explores how the passage of these laws relates to crime, the literature has not focused on the public safety implications of removing mandatory minimum sentences. Using a comparative interrupted time-series approach, the present work investigates whether a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that invalidated several mandatory minimum sentencing provisions impacted the state’s crime rate.  We find little to no evidence of a discrete shift in overall or type-disaggregated crime rates, or changes in the slope of any crime trend when the state reduced their use of mandatory minimums.  These findings tentatively suggest that many mandatory minimums can be repealed without risking public safety.

March 12, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes | Permalink | Comments (0)

Encouraging big-city homicide trends continuing into 2023

A couple months ago, in this post just a few weeks into 2023, I again flagged this AH Datalytics webpage's "YTD Murder Comparison" Dashboard that collects homicide data from police reports in nearly 100 big cities.  I noted in that post that, after significant increases in homicides throughout the US in 2020 and 2021, it was encouraging that the dashboard showed that nearly two-thirds of big cities were reporting homicide declines in 2022 relative to 2021 and that nationwide murders in large cities were down nearly 5% for 2022.  

Of course, these reported homicide declines for 2022 followed particularly high homicide rates in many locales in 2021, and we still have a way to go to get back to pre-pandemic homicide levels.  But I found these nationwide big-city data to be encouraging for 2022, especially because in mid-January the downward trends in homicides in our nation's very largest cities appeared to be carrying over to the start of 2023.  Following up, this morning I took a look at a few updated police reports to see if these positive 2023 homicide trends are continuing a couple months later, and the encouraging trends are so far persisting.  Specifically, based on the dashboard data and (linked) police reports, we see:

Chicago homicides down 14% in 2022, and down another 11% in first two+ months of 2023

Los Angeles homicides down 5% in 2022, and down another 30% in first two+ months of 2023

New York City homicides down 11% in 2022, and down another 19% in first two+ months of 2023

Philadelphia homicides down 9% in 2022, and down another 20% in first two+ months of 2023

Of course, these four very big cities are not fully representative of what may be going on with homicides nationwide as 2023 shifts into daylight savings and warmer weather.  And homicide trends in the first two months of this year could change in many ways in the weeks and months ahead.  Still, these encouraging homicide data continue to reinforce my hope that the surging number of homicides in just about every part of the US through 2020 and 2021 were mostly a pandemic era phenomenon and that lower homicide rates may soon be more common. 

March 12, 2023 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (43)