Monday, August 08, 2022

"'The World of Illusion Is at My Door': Why Panetti v. Quarterman Is a Legal Mirage"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Michael Perlin, Talia Roitberg Harmon and Haleigh Kubiniec now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Some fifteen years ago, in Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930, 956 (2007), the Supreme Court ruled that a mentally ill defendant had a constitutional right to make a showing that his mental illness “obstruct[ed] a rational understanding of the State’s reason for his execution.”  In a recent paper, two of the authors (MLP & TRH) analyzed the way the Fifth Circuit had construed that case, and concluded that that court “has basically ignored Panetti’s holdings in all its decisions.” See “Insanity is Smashing up Against My Soul”: The Fifth Circuit and Competency to be Executed Cases after Panetti v. Quarterman, 60 U. LOUISVILLE L. REV. 557, 578 (2022).  In this article, we expand that inquiry to consider how all federal circuits have interpreted Panetti, and we find that Panetti has never -- with the exception of one case, later vacated -- been a remedy upon which defendants with serious mental illness facing the death penalty could rely.

We analyze all the circuit-level Panetti decisions, and consider the case law through a therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) filter, concluding that this body of cases violates all TJ precepts, and offer a series of recommendations -- as to issues related to adequacy of counsel, the need for databases of experts competent to testify in such matters, the need for other scholars to study the cases we discuss here, and to seek to breathe new life into arguments made some years ago barring the death penalty in all cases of defendants with serious mental illness -- to, we hope, ameliorate this situation in the future.

August 8, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

"Punishment as Communication"

The title of this post is title of this new book chapter authored by R.A. Duff and now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

This chapter defends a communicative theory of punishment, as making plausible sense of the retributivist idea that wrongdoers should not enjoy impunity.  In the context of criminal law, the wrongs that matter are public wrongs that concern the whole polity: the criminal law defines those wrongs, and provides for those who commit them to be called to formal public account, for them through the criminal process.  That calling to account is a communicative process: it culminates in a conviction that censures the offender, and seeks an apologetic response from him.  The punishment that typically ensues furthers this communicative exercise: the offender is required to undertake, or undergo, a penal burden that constitutes an apologetic reparation for his crime, and so communicates to him the need for such reparation.

Central to this communicative conception is that punishment is a two-way process, which seeks an appropriate response from the offender, who has an active role in the process. The role of prudential deterrence in such an account is discussed: it is a necessary condition of a justifiable system that it has some dissuasive efficacy, and deterrence might be a dimension of that dissuasion — inextricably interwoven with the moral message that is the core of the communication.  A purely communicative account that allows no room for deterrence might be implausible as an account of what human punishment ought to be; but one that portrays a two-way moral communication as the primary, distinctive aim of criminal punishment can be defended.

August 3, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 29, 2022

Via multiple rulings, Michigan Supreme Court places new restrictions on when juveniles can receive life sentences

The Michigan Supreme Court yesterday issued five(!) rulings addressing, and generally restricting, whether, when, and how juveniles convicted of homicide can receive sentences of life with or without parole.  Some of the most notable of the rulings are discussed in these press pieces that have headlines providing a basic summary:

"Mich. court bars automatic life sentences for 18-year-olds"

"State Supreme Court rules life with parole for juveniles who commit 2nd-degree murder violates MI Constitution"

"Michigan high court extends juvenile age for first-degree murder sentences; Ruling in Macomb County case also places burden on prosecutors for juvenile life sentences"

Here are links to all of the Michigan Supreme Court rulings, all of which are quite lengthy and divided:

154994, People v Robert Taylor 7/28/2022

162425, People v Montez Stovall 7/28/2022

162086, People v Kemo Parks 7/28/2022

157738 & 158695, People v Demariol Boykin, People v Tyler Tate 7/28/2022

Because Michigan has long had a significant juvenile lifer population, I suspect these rulings can and will lead to a notable number of resentencing in the state.  I would be eager to hear from Michigan experts about just how consequential these rulings might prove to be.

UPDATE:  Ashley Nellis of the Sentencing Project has this new tweet noting part of the likely impact of these state rulings:

Michigan #LWOP ban for 18 yr olds should ease the excessive sentences imposed on ~300 people sentenced for first and second degree murder.

July 29, 2022 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

US Sentencing Commission reports on "Older Offenders in the Federal System"

Cover_older-offendersI received an email this morning spotlighting two interesting and important new data reports from the US Sentencing Commission. One of these new USSC reports is this 68-page effort titled "Older Offenders in the Federal System." Highlights are provided via this USSC webpage where one can find this "Summary" and "Key Findings":

Congress requires courts to consider several factors when determining the appropriate sentence to be imposed in federal cases, among them the “history and characteristics of the defendant.”  The sentencing guidelines also specifically authorize judges to consider an offender’s age when determining whether to depart from the federal sentencing guidelines.  In this report, the Commission presents information on relatively small number of offenders who were aged 50 or older at the time they were sentenced in the federal system.  In particular, the report examines older federal offenders who were sentenced in fiscal year 2021 and the crimes they committed, then assesses whether age was given a special consideration at sentencing.  This report specifically focuses on three issues that could impact the sentencing of older offenders: age and infirmity, life expectancy, and the risk of recidivism.

Older offenders commit fraud and sexual offenses at higher rates than all other offenders.

  • Older offenders had roughly three times the rate of fraud offenses (17.8%) and a greater proportion of sex offenses (7.3%), compared to offenders under age 50 (6.4% and 4.1%, respectively).
  • The rate of offenders committing sex offenses increased incrementally as the age of the offender increased. Offenders 70 and older committed sex offenses at nearly three times the rate (11.9%) of offenders under the age of 50 (4.1%).

Roughly 40 percent (40.7%) of older offenders had a physical disability prior to arrest for the instant offense.

  • The rate of offenders with a disability increased incrementally as offenders' age at sentencing increased, so that roughly two-thirds (63.3%) of offenders 70 and older had a physical disability.

About one-third (31.2%) of older offenders had used drugs or misused prescription drugs in the year prior to arrest.

  • Among older drug users, the most used substances were marijuana (32.4%) and methamphetamine (28.5%).

Older offenders have less extensive criminal histories, compared to all other federal offenders.

  • More than half (52.5%) of older offenders were in Criminal History Category (CHC) I, the lowest criminal history category, compared to 37.5 percent of offenders under 50 years of age.

The overwhelming majority (80.1%) of older offenders were sentenced to prison. However, older offenders were also more likely to receive fines and alternative sentences, compared to offenders under age 50.

  • The oldest offenders were the most likely to receive an alternative sentence or fine; roughly a third (31.3%) of offenders 65 through 69 and more than 40 percent (42.1%) of offenders 70 and older received an alternative sentence or fine.
  • The oldest offenders were most likely to have received sentences that exceed life expectancy.

Nearly forty percent (38.6%) of offenders who were sentenced at 70 years of age or older received a sentence that exceeds their life expectancy, compared to 7.1 percent of offenders 65 through 69, and less than one percent of offenders under the age of 50.

In fiscal year 2021, a nearly equal proportion of older offenders (36.7%) were sentenced within the guideline range as received a below range variance (35.5%).

  • The proportion of offenders receiving variances increased as an offender’s age at sentencing increased, with the oldest offenders being the most likely to receive a variance.
  • Offenders 65 and older were nearly as likely to receive a variance (48.9%) as they were to receive a sentence under the Guidelines Manual (51.1%).

The recidivism rate of older offenders (21.3%) was less than half that of offenders under the age of 50 (53.4%).

  • As offenders’ age at sentencing increased, recidivism rates decreased.
  • Recidivism events for older offenders were less serious, compared to offenders under the age of 50.
  • Older offenders take a longer time to recidivate, compared to their younger peers.

July 26, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 22, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 21, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Cruel and Unusual Youth Confinement"

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

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

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

Overview

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

Key Findings

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

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

Monday, July 18, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Feds seeking (above-guideline) sentence of 15 years for first Jan 6 defendant to be sentenced after trial convictions

Based on a recent AP accounting of the January 6 riot cases, I believe there have already been around 200 defendants sentenced for their activities related to the Capitol riot, but all of those sentences have been handed down after guilty pleas.  As detailed in this Insider article, federal prosecutors are seeking a particularly severe sentence for the first rioter due to be sentenced following a conviction at trial.  Here are the basics:

Guy Reffitt, the first Capitol rioter convicted at trial on charges stemming from the January 6, 2021 insurrection, should receive a 15-year prison sentence for his "central role" in leading a pro-Trump mob that clashed with police protecting Congress, federal prosecutors said in a court filing Friday.

A jury in Washington, DC, needed just hours in early March to find Reffitt guilty on all five charges he faced in connection with the Capitol attack, including obstruction of an official proceeding. Reffitt, of Texas, was also found guilty of entering restricted Capitol grounds with a handgun and with later threatening his children to keep them from reporting him to law enforcement.

In a 58-page court filing, federal prosecutors argued that Reffitt played a pivotal role in "overwhelming officers and showing the mob the way forward at the outset of the riot." The language echoed their description of Reffitt at his weeklong trial, where prosecutors called Reffitt the "tip of this mob's spear" and played video footage of him ascending stairs up to the Capitol in tactical gear, with fellow members of the pro-Trump mob following him.

If ordered, the 15-year sentence would go down as the longest prison term given to a Capitol rioter to date, nearly tripling the more than 5-year sentence Robert Scott Palmer received after throwing a fire extinguisher at police during the January 6 attack. Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee confirmed in 2017, is set to sentence Reffitt on August 1....

In a separate court filing Friday, Reffitt's defense lawyer argued that he should receive a sentence of no longer than 2 years in prison. His lawyer, F. Clinton Broden, noted that Reffitt never entered the Capitol.

The Government's lengthy sentencing memorandum is available at this link, and it begins this way:

For Defendant Guy Reffitt’s central role in leading a mob that attacked the United States Capitol while our elected representatives met in a solemn Joint Session of Congress — including his intention to use his gun and police-style flexicuffs to forcibly drag legislators out of the building and take over Congress, and his later threats to harm his children if they turned him into the FBI — the government respectfully requests that this Court sentence him to 15 years of incarceration.

The Court should depart upwards from the PSR’s Sentencing Guidelines range of 9 to 11.25 years (108 to 135 months)2 of incarceration both because Reffitt’s crime “was calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion,” U.S.S.G. § 3A1.4, cmt. n.4, and because the Guidelines’ grouping analysis provides “inadequate scope” for Reffitt’s possession of multiple weapons in the commission of his offenses, see U.S.S.G. § 3D1.4, bkgd. cmt. (upward departure based on grouping); § 5K2.6 (upward departure based on use of weapons).

The defense's sentencing memorandum is available at this link, stresses to the court the "need to avoid sentencing disparities" and it contends that "most if not all defendants who received a sentence of greater than 24 months imprisonment are at a whole different level than Mr. Reffitt."  It concludes this way:

Based upon the foregoing, Undersigned Counsel respectfully suggests that a sentence of no more than 24 months imprisonment is, in fact, sufficient but not greater than necessary to comply with the purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

Some of many prior related posts:

July 16, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (21)

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Some more coverage and commentary on what criminalization of abortion can and will mean 

In a few posts here and here not long after the Dobbs decision, I flagged some news pieces and some commentaries discussing how the overruling of Roe and the criminalization of abortion in some states might echo through our criminal justice system.  In recent days, have now seen a few more notable pieces further exploring what abortion criminalization could and will mean:

From The 19th, "Prosecutor explains what preparing for a future of post-Roe abortion cases might look like"

From Bloomberg Law, "Progressives Look to Pardon Power as Abortion Access Fix"

From CNN, "Michigan governor signs executive order to protect abortion providers and patients from extradition"

From Mother Jones, "Why Progressive Prosecutors Won’t Save Us in a Post-Roe World"

From Slate, "Why Even Progressive Prosecutors Won’t Be Able to Keep Women Who Have Abortions Out of Jail"

From The Texan, "Texas Freedom Caucus Warns Law Firm of Criminal Liability for Covering Employees’ Abortion Costs"

From the Texas Observer, "Abortion Is (Again) A Criminal-Justice Issue

A few prior related posts:

July 13, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (10)

Thursday, July 07, 2022

In accord with plea deal, federal judge give (below-guideline) sentence of 21 years to Derek Chauvin for civil rights violations

As reported in this post back in December, Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty in federal court to civil rights violations arising from his murder of George Floyd.  He did so with a plea deal in place that would bind the federal judge to impose a sentence of between 20 and 25 years even though Chauvin's advisory guideline range is life imprisonment.  Today, as reported here by the AP, the judge decides to sentence toward the bottom of this plea bargained range:

A federal judge on Thursday sentenced Derek Chauvin to 21 years in prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, telling the former Minneapolis police officer that what he did was “simply wrong” and “offensive.”

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson sharply criticized Chauvin for his actions on May 25, 2020, even as he opted for the low end of a sentencing range called for in a plea agreement. Chauvin, who is white, pinned Floyd to the pavement outside a Minneapolis corner store for more than nine minutes as the Black man pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” and became unresponsive....

Magnuson, who earlier this year presided over the federal trial and convictions of three other officers at the scene, blamed Chauvin alone for what happened.... “You absolutely destroyed the lives of three young officers by taking command of the scene,” Magnuson said.

Chauvin’s plea agreement called for a sentence of 20 to 25 years to be served concurrent with a 22 1/2-year sentence for his state conviction of murder and manslaughter charges. Because of differences in parole eligibility in the state and federal systems, it means that Chauvin will serve slightly more time behind bars than he would have on the state sentence alone.

He would be eligible for parole after 15 years on the state sentence, but must serve almost 18 years of his federal time before he could be released.  He will also do his time in the federal system, where he may be safer and may be held under fewer restrictions than in the state system....

Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson had asked for 20 years, arguing that Chauvin was remorseful and would make that clear to the court.  But Chauvin, in brief remarks, made no direct apology or expression of remorse to Floyd’s family. Instead, he told the family that he wishes Floyd’s children “all the best in their life.”...

Prosecutor LeeAnn Bell asked Magnuson to give Chauvin the full 25 years possible in the plea deal, highlighting the “special responsibility” that he had as a police officer to care for the people in his custody....

Floyd’s brother Philonise also asked for the maximum possible sentence, telling Magnuson the Floyd family had “been given a life sentence.” He said afterward that he was upset that Chauvin didn’t get more time behind bars.

Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, told Magnuson that her son didn’t go to work intending to kill someone. “Many things have been written about him that are totally wrong such as he’s a racist, which he isn’t, that he has no heart,” she said. “I believe it is God’s will for all of us to forgive.”

Chauvin’s guilty plea included an admission that he willfully deprived Floyd of his right to be free from unreasonable seizure, including unreasonable force by a police officer.  It also included a count for violating the rights of a Black 14-year-old whom he restrained in an unrelated case in 2017.  John Pope, now 18, told Magnuson that Chauvin “didn’t care about the outcome” of that restraint.  “By the grace of God I lived to see another day,” Pope said. “It will continue to be a part of me for the rest of my life.”

A few prior related posts:

July 7, 2022 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 01, 2022

Longest prison sentence yet in Varisity Blues case, 30 months, given to Georgetown tennis coach

It has now been more than three years since I reported in this post about the first pleas in the high-profile college fraud Varsity Blues case detailed in this press release from the US Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts, headlined "14 Defendants in College Admissions Scandal to Plead Guilty."  I covered a number of the early and celebrity sentencings closely, but there have been too many cases for me to keep track of them all.  Helpfully, DOJ has assembled here all the cases charged and sentenced in the Varsity Blues investigation, and today comes this news of the longest prison term imposed on the roughly four dozen defendants sentenced in this high-profile scandal:

Gordon "Gordie" Ernst, a Rhode Island tennis legend, was sentenced Friday to 30 months in prison — the longest sentence yet for a defendant in the "Operation Varsity Blues" case.

Ernst, 55, previously pleaded guilty to multiple bribery charges after being swept up in the federal investigation into dubious college admission schemes.

Prosecutors for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts had argued that Ernst warranted a significantly harsher sentence than others charged in the case, because of his "raw greed" and the "breathtaking scale" of his offenses.

Ernst, in his appeal for leniency, portrayed himself as the product of a difficult upbringing in Cranston, in a family that sometimes struggled to make ends meet but seemed from the outside to be the pinnacle of athletic success.  He alleged that he was routinely beaten by his father, Richard “Dick” Ernst, a legendary coach who died in 2016.

According to prosecutors, Ernst accepted nearly $3.5 million in bribes while working as tennis coach at Georgetown University, in exchange for identifying wealthy high-school students who would not have otherwise qualified for the team as promising tennis recruits.  He collected at least $2 million more than any other coach or administrator charged in Operation Varsity Blues, according to the government's sentencing memo....

Ernst said that since his arrest, he has worked part-time at Hertz cleaning cars — a significant departure from the days when he was brought into the White House to give tennis lessons to the Obama family.  He still coaches tennis on a part-time basis, he said, and volunteered at COVID vaccination sites in Cape Cod.

Federal prosecutors had requested a sentence of four years in prison and two years of supervised release, plus the forfeiture of more than $3.4 million in proceeds.  They noted that unlike parents charged in the scheme, Ernst "cannot claim to have acted out of a desire to help his own children gain admission to college."...

Ernst's attorneys argued that their client should not receive more than one year and a day in prison, given the much lighter sentences given to other defendants, and should not be ordered to pay restitution.  In their sentencing memo, Ernst's legal team described the coach as "a kid from Cranston, Rhode Island whose family at times depended on public assistance," and "flew too close to the sun" when he found himself surrounded by power and wealth.

A few of many prior posts on other defendants in college admissions scandal:

July 1, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Ghislaine Maxwell given 20-year federal sentence for sex trafficking for Jeffrey Epstein

In this post over the weekend, I asked in anticipation of today's high-profile sentencing, "what federal sentence for convicted sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell?."  Commentor tmm nailed the outcome, as reported here by the AP:

Ghislaine Maxwell, the jet-setting socialite who once consorted with royals, presidents and billionaires, was sentenced to 20 years in prison Tuesday for helping the financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse underage girls.  The stiff sentence was the punctuation mark on a trial that explored the sordid rituals of a predator power couple who courted the rich and famous as they lured vulnerable girls as young as 14, and then exploited them.

Prosecutors said Epstein, who killed himself in 2019 while awaiting trial, sexually abused children hundreds of times over more than a decade, and couldn’t have done so without the help of Maxwell, his longtime companion and onetime girlfriend who they said sometimes also participated in the abuse.  In December, a jury convicted Maxwell of sex trafficking, transporting a minor to participate in illegal sex acts and two conspiracy charges.

U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan, who also imposed a $750,000 fine, said “a very significant sentence is necessary” and that she wanted to send an “unmistakable message” that these kinds of crimes would be punished.  Prosecutors had asked the judge to give her 30 to 55 years in prison, while the 60-year-old Maxwell’s defense sought a lenient sentence of just five years....

When she had a chance to speak, Maxwell said she empathized with the survivors and that it was her “greatest regret of my life that I ever met Jeffrey Epstein.” Maxwell called him “a manipulative, cunning and controlling man who lived a profoundly compartmentalized life,” echoing her defense attorneys’ assertions that Epstein was the true mastermind. Maxwell, who denies abusing anyone, said she hoped that her conviction and her “unusual incarceration” bring some “measure of peace and finality.”

Nathan refused to let Maxwell escape culpability, making clear that Maxwell was being punished for her own actions, not Epstein’s. She called the crimes “heinous and predatory” and said Maxwell as a sophisticated adult woman provided the veneer of safety as she “normalized” sexual abuse through her involvement, encouragement and instruction....

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe recounted how Maxwell subjected girls to “horrifying nightmares” by taking them to Epstein. “They were partners in crime together and they molested these kids together,” she said, calling Maxwell “a person who was indifferent to the suffering of other human beings.”

Epstein and Maxwell’s associations with some of the world’s most famous people were not a prominent part of the trial, but mentions of friends like Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Britain’s Prince Andrew showed how the pair exploited their connections to impress their prey.

Over the past 17 years, scores of women have accused Epstein of abuse them, with many describing Maxwell as the madam who recruited them.  The trial, though, revolved around allegations from only a handful of those women.  Four testified that they were abused as teens in the 1990s and early 2000s at Epstein’s mansions in Florida, New York, New Mexico and the Virgin Islands....

At least eight women submitted letters to the judge, describing the sexual abuse they said they endured for having met Maxwell and Epstein.  Six of Maxwell’s seven living siblings wrote to plead for leniency.  Maxwell’s fellow inmate also submitted a letter describing how Maxwell has helped to educate other inmates over the last two years.  Anne Holve and Philip Maxwell, her eldest siblings, wrote that her relationship with Epstein began soon after the 1991 death of their father, the British newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell.

Based on the sentencing filings noted in this prior post, I believe the Government argued the applicable federal sentencing guideline range was 360 month-life, but this CBS article indicates that Judge Nathan concluded the proper guideline range was 188-235 months.  So, by adopting a more lenient guideline calculation, Judge Nathan technically gave Maxwell and above-guideline sentence.

Prior related posts:

June 28, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, June 27, 2022

US Sentencing Commission releases another recidivism report examining "status points" in criminal history calculations

Despite lacking a quorum, the US Sentencing Commission keeps churning out a remarkable amount of research in recent times, especially in the area of recidivism of federal offenders.  Today brings this notable notable USSC report on recidivism and criminal history under the title "Revisiting Status Points."  The term "status points" is a short-hard reference to the two points added to a defendant's criminal history score under guideline § 4A1.1(d) if he committed the offense while still serving a sentence in another case (eg, while being on probation or parole).  This webpage provides an overview and key findings from the new report:

Overview

In 2005, the Commission examined status points (addressed in §4A1.1(d)) as part of a broader analysis of how well the guidelines’ criminal history computation predicts recidivism.  This report revisits the examination of status points with greater focus, including a detailed analysis of their application and significance.  The report begins by outlining how criminal history is calculated under the guidelines and by reviewing prior Commission research on the association between criminal history and recidivism.  The report then examines how many offenders received status points in the last five fiscal years and compares them to offenders who did not receive status points.  Next, the report analyzes the rearrest rates for offenders with and without status points who were released from prison or began a term of probation in 2010.  Finally, the report considers how much status points contribute to the criminal history score’s prediction of rearrest.

Key Findings

In the last five fiscal years:

  • Over one-third of federal offenders (37.5%) received two “status points” under §4A1.1(d) as part of their criminal history scores. For 61.5 percent of such offenders, the inclusion of the two points resulted in a higher Criminal History Category.
  • The vast majority of offenders who received status points (92.6%) had criminal history scores that placed them in Criminal History Category III and higher, compared to a little less than half of offenders who did not receive status points (47.0%)....

Among offenders who were released in 2010:

  • Those who received status points were rearrested at similar rates to those without status points who had the same criminal history score. For example, among offenders whose criminal history score was seven, 69.6 percent of those with status points and 70.4 percent of those without status points were rearrested in the eight years after release.
  • Three-fifths (61.1%) of offenders who received status points had five or more criminal history points for prior sentences (i.e., before adding in two status points). These offenders had a statistically similar rearrest rate to offenders without status points who had the same number of points for prior sentences.
  • The remaining two-fifths (38.9%) of offenders who received status points had one to four criminal history points for prior sentences (i.e., before adding in two status points). These offenders had a statistically higher rearrest rate than offenders without status points who had the same number of points for prior sentences.
  • Status points only minimally improve the criminal history score’s successful prediction of rearrest — by 0.2 percent. With status points included in the calculation for eligible offenders, the score successfully predicts rearrest 65.1 percent of the time, compared to 64.9 percent of the time with status points removed.

June 27, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 26, 2022

You be the judge: what federal sentence for convicted sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell?

A high-profile sentencing is scheduled for NYC federal court this coming week.  This CNN article from last last, reporting on prosecutors' sentencing filing, provides a partial preview:

Federal prosecutors asked a judge in a court filing Wednesday to sentence Ghislaine Maxwell to 30 to 55 years in prison for sex trafficking a minor and other charges related to a sprawling conspiracy to abuse young girls with the wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein.

"Maxwell was an adult who made her own choices. She made the choice to sexually exploit numerous underage girls. She made the choice to conspire with Epstein for years, working as partners in crime and causing devastating harm to vulnerable victims," prosecutors wrote in the sentencing memo. "She should be held accountable for her disturbing role in an extensive child exploitation scheme."

Last week, Maxwell's lawyers asked a judge to sentence her to between 4.25 and 5.25 years in prison, saying her difficult childhood made her vulnerable to Epstein and that she shouldn't face a harsh sentence because of his actions. "But this Court cannot sentence Ms. Maxwell as if she were a proxy for Epstein simply because Epstein is no longer here," her attorneys wrote in their sentencing recommendation....

Epstein, who pleaded guilty in 2008 to state prostitution charges, was indicted on federal sex trafficking charges in July 2019 but died by suicide in prison a month later. Maxwell, his confidante and former girlfriend, was arrested a year afterward and has been held in jail since. In the sentencing memo, the prosecution wrote that the defense's argument was "absurd and offensive."

"The lenient sentence the defendant seeks would send the message that there is one system of laws for the rich and powerful, and another set for everyone else," prosecutors wrote.... 

Maxwell, 60, was found guilty of five federal charges in December: sex trafficking of a minor, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and three related counts of conspiracy.  However, she will only be sentenced on three counts after the judge presiding over her case agreed that two of the conspiracy counts she faced were repetitive.

The probation department recommended a 20-year sentence, below the sentencing guidelines. 

At her trial late last year, prosecutors argued Maxwell and Epstein conspired to set up a scheme to lure young girls into sexual relationships with Epstein from 1994 to 2004 in New York, Florida, New Mexico and the US Virgin Islands. Four women testified during the trial that Epstein abused them and that Maxwell facilitated the abuse and sometimes participated in it as well.

Her defense, meanwhile, said she was a "scapegoat" for Epstein's actions and attacked the memories and motivations of the women who said they were sexually abused.

The federal prosecutors' sentencing filing, which is available here, contends that "the applicable sentencing range is 360 months to life imprisonment [but] the statutory maximum penalty is 660 months’ imprisonment, [so] the Guidelines range becomes 360 to 660 months’ imprisonment."  But the defense sentencing memorandum, which is available here, requests "that the Court grant Ms. Maxwell a significant variance below the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range of 292-365 months and below the 240-month sentence recommended by the Probation Department."

But, as of this writing on the morning of June 26, it now seem there is a chance the sentencing will not go forward this week.  This Reuters article explains:

Ghislaine Maxwell has been put on suicide watch at a Brooklyn jail, and may seek to delay her Tuesday sentencing for aiding Jeffrey Epstein's sexual abuse of underage girls, her lawyer said on Saturday night.  In a letter to the judge overseeing Maxwell's case, Maxwell's lawyer, Bobbi Sternheim, said her client is "unable to properly prepare, for sentencing," after officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center on Friday declared the suicide watch and abruptly moved Maxwell to solitary confinement.

Sternheim said Maxwell was given a "suicide smock," and her clothing, toothpaste, soap and legal papers were taken away. The lawyer also said Maxwell "is not suicidal," a conclusion she said a psychologist who evaluated the 60-year-old British socialite on Saturday morning also reached.

"If Ms. Maxwell remains on suicide watch, is prohibited from reviewing legal materials prior to sentencing, becomes sleep deprived, and is denied sufficient time to meet with and confer with counsel, we will be formally moving on Monday for an adjournment," Sternheim wrote.

Prior related post:

June 26, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 23, 2022

"Nothing but Time: Elderly Americans Serving Life Without Parole"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from The Sentencing Project. Here is most of the executive summary and recommendations from the start of the report:

Prisons are a particularly hazardous place to grow old.  The carceral system is largely unprepared to handle the medical, social, physical, and mental health needs for older people in prison.  Nearly half of prisons lack an established plan for the care of the elderly incarcerated....

Warnings by corrections budget analysts of the crushing costs of incarcerating people who are older have gone almost entirely unheeded. Indeed, sociologist and legal scholar Christopher Seeds accurately described a transformation of life without parole “from a rare sanction and marginal practice of last resort into a routine punishment in the United States” over the last four decades.  And in the contemporary moment of rising concerns around crime, there are reasons to be concerned that ineffective, racially disproportionate, and costly tough-on-crime measures such as increasing sentence lengths will proliferate, leading to even higher numbers of incarcerated people who will grow old in prison.  In this, as in many other aspects of its carceral system, the United States is an outlier; in many Western democracies those in their final decades of life are viewed as a protected class from the harsh prison climate.

Older incarcerated people describe sentences of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) — with the expectation that they will die in prison — as particularly cruel, involving a devastating loss of human dignity.  Considering the consistent observation across dozens of studies that people “age out” of criminal conduct, the dedication of resources toward a group that is of extremely low risk is a foolish investment.  Yet people serving LWOP are a growing share of the overall life-sentenced population and the number of people in prison serving LWOP is at an all-time high.  While LWOP sentences have been a sentencing component of the American punishment spectrum for much of its existence, recent mandatory and preferential imposition of life sentences with no chance for parole are a more prominent feature than ever.  In 2020, The Sentencing Project produced a 50-state survey of departments of corrections that revealed that more than 55,000 Americans are incarcerated in state and federal prisons with no chance of parole, reflecting a 66% rise in people serving LWOP since 2003.

Because compassionate release, whether based on chronological age (geriatric parole) or diagnosis of a terminal illness (medical parole), typically excludes people serving life sentences by statute, the only option for an early release for people serving LWOP is executive clemency.  While clemency was common for older people serving life sentences sixty years ago, it was nearly terminated by the 1970s, and is still rarely used today.

This report explores the features of the LWOP population in more detail, focusing on the aging demographic in particular.  The data presented in this report reflect the patterns of 40,000 people serving LWOP sentences across 20 states.  These 20 states reflect three quarters of the LWOP population nationwide. The main findings in this report are the following:

• Almost half (47%) of the people serving LWOP are 50 years old or more and one in four is at least 60 years old.

• In ten years, even if no additional LWOP sentences were added in these states, 30,000 people currently serving LWOP will be 50 or older.

• 60% of the elderly imprisoned serving LWOP have already served at least 20 years....

• Half of aging people serving LWOP are Black and nearly 60% are people of color....

• The majority of people serving LWOP have been convicted of murder, but a growing share of the overall LWOP population has been convicted of less serious crimes, reflecting an over-expansion of LWOP.

We make a series of recommendations for reform based on the research presented in this report:

• Reinstate parole or resentencing opportunities for those currently ineligible.

• Give added weight to advanced age at review hearings. Advanced age considerations should begin at age 50 in light of the accelerating aging process that accompanies imprisonment.

• Allow immediate sentence review with presumption of release for people who are 50 and older and have served 10 years of their LWOP sentence.

• Revise medical parole release statutes to include all incarcerated people regardless of crime of conviction and age.

• Upon release, transition elderly persons, including those who have been convicted of a violent crime and those who are serving LWOP and other life sentences, to well-supported systems of community care if they are too frail to live independently.

• Require states to disclose the cost of incarcerating elderly people, including the cost of all medical care, as well as projections for future costs. Failing in such fiscal transparency keeps taxpayers in the dark about the true cost of mass incarceration.

• Expand clemency release opportunities to reflect their higher usage in earlier eras.

June 23, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (8)

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Split North Carolina Supreme Court rulings declares sentences excluding parole for over 40 years unconstitutional for juveniles

Last week, as reported in this local article, the Supreme Court of North Carolina issues two notable opinions placing a notable limit on sentences for juvenile offenders.  Here are the basics:

Juveniles convicted of the most violent crimes in North Carolina cannot spend more than 40 years behind bars before becoming eligible for parole.  The N.C. Supreme Court made that determination Friday in a pair of 4-3 decisions.  The court’s four Democratic justices ruled in favor of the defendants in both cases.  The three Republican justices dissented.

In State v. Conner, Democratic justices determined that a 15-year-old convicted of rape and murder faced an excessive prison sentence.

According to Justice Michael Morgan’s majority opinion, Riley Dawson Conner pleaded guilty to raping his aunt outside her home in 2016, then killing her “with blows from a shovel.” He then left her dead body in a wooded area near her home.

Under the original consecutive sentences on rape and murder charges, Conner would have reached the age of 60 before having the chance to seek parole. Such a lengthy sentence would violate federal court precedents involving juvenile offenders, Morgan argued. Instead he and his fellow Democratic justices set a new 40-year maximum prison sentence before a juvenile offender would become eligible for parole....

Republican Justice Phil Berger Jr. rejected the argument. He accused Democratic justices of writing the 40-year maximum sentence into law.  “[T]he majority darts into the legislative lane, usurping legislative authority by enacting its new law simply because they find this result ‘desirable’ for violent juveniles,” Berger wrote in dissent....

Democratic and Republican justices also split in State v. Kelliher.  As with the Conner case, the court’s majority ruled that defendant James Ryan Kelliher should serve no more than 40 years in prison for murders committed when he was 17.

All of the opinions in the Connor and Kelliher cases make for interesting reads. From a quick review, I was struck by the fact that the Connor ruling suggests that both the US and North Carolina constitutions supported the 40-year cap announced by the court. But the Kelliher ruling more expressly relies on the NC constitution as revealed in this paragraph from near the start of the opinion:

After careful review, we hold that it violates both the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 27 of the North Carolina Constitution to sentence a juvenile homicide offender who has been determined to be “neither incorrigible nor irredeemable” to life without parole.  Furthermore, we conclude that any sentence or combination of sentences which, considered together, requires a juvenile offender to serve more than forty years in prison before becoming eligible for parole is a de facto sentence of life without parole within the meaning of article I, section 27 of the North Carolina Constitution because it deprives the juvenile of a genuine opportunity to demonstrate he or she has been rehabilitated and to establish a meaningful life outside of prison.  Thus, Kelliher’s sentence, which requires him to serve fifty years in prison before becoming eligible for parole, is a de facto sentence of life without parole under article I, section 27.  Because the trial court affirmatively found that Kelliher was “neither incorrigible nor irredeemable,” he could not constitutionally receive this sentence.

June 22, 2022 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Chronic Punishment: The unmet health needs of people in state prisons"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from the Prison Policy Initiative authored by Leah Wang.  Here is how the report gets started (with some original links retained):

Over 1 million people sit in U.S. state prisons on any given day.  These individuals are overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately Black, Native, Hispanic, and/or LGBTQ, and often targeted by law enforcement from a young age, as we detailed recently in our report Beyond the Count.  And all too often, they are also suffering from physical and mental illnesses, or navigating prison life with disabilities or even pregnancy.  In this, the second installment of our analysis of a unique, large-scale survey of people in state prisons, we add to the existing research showing that state prisons fall far short of their constitutional duty to meet the essential health needs of people in their custody.  As a result, people in state prison are kept in a constant state of illness and despair.

Instead of “rehabilitating” people in prison (physically, mentally or otherwise), or at the very least, serving as a de facto health system for people failed by other parts of the U.S. social safety net, data from the most recent national  Survey of Prison Inmates show that state prisons are full of ill and neglected people.  Paired with the fact that almost all of these individuals are eventually released, bad prison policy is an issue for all of us — not just those who are behind bars.

This report covers a lot of ground, so we’ve divided it into sections that can be accessed directly here:

Physical health problems: Chronic conditions and infectious disease

Access to healthcare: People in state prison disproportionately lacked health insurance

Mental health problems: Exceptionally high rates among incarcerated people

Disabilities: Disproportionate rates of physical, cognitive, and learning disabilities

Pregnancy and reproductive health: Expectant mothers are underserved in prison

Conclusions and recommendations: How do we begin to address unmet needs in prisons?

Methodology: Details about the data and our analysis

Appendix tables: Explore the data yourself

June 22, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 13, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of many prior related posts:

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

Sunday, June 12, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 09, 2022

"Incarcerated LGBTQ+ Adults and Youth"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from The Sentencing Project. Here is how the document starts:

This fact sheet examines the criminalization and over-incarceration of LGBTQ+ adults and youth.  The LGBTQ+ population is comprised of people with non-heterosexual identities — those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and others — and people with non-cisgender identities — those who are trans and gender non-conforming.  LGBTQ+ adults are incarcerated at three times the rate of the total adult population.  LGBTQ+ youth’s representation among the incarcerated population is double their share of the general population.

LGBTQ+ people experience high rates of homelessness, poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and violence — factors which drive their overrepresentation in the criminal legal system. In both adult and youth facilities, imprisoned LGBTQ+ people face physical, sexual, and verbal harassment and abuse, as well as a lack of gender-affirming housing, clothing, personal hygiene products, medical care, and mental health treatment.  To help alleviate these harms, states and the federal government should repeal laws that criminalize LGBTQ+ people, limit the use of solitary confinement, mandate access to gender-affirming health care in correctional facilities, and invest in drug and mental health treatment and reentry programs for LGBTQ+ youth and adults

June 9, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, June 06, 2022

Noting the notable modern shift away from prosecuting (and thus sentencing) juveniles as adults

This new AP article, headlined "In historic shift, far fewer teens face adult US courts," highlights a modern criminal procedure trend that is fundamentally a sentencing story.  Here are some details:

David Harrington spent a tense eight months in a Philadelphia jail when he was a teenager — the result of a robbery charge in 2014 that automatically sent his case to the adult court system under state law.  Only 16 at the time, he said he got into fights and spent time in isolation.  He missed his sophomore year in high school and the birth of his child.  He was facing five to 10 years in prison.  He was on a path, he said, toward more trouble with the law.

“I think if I would have stayed in the adult system, I would have came home probably a little worse,” said Harrington, now 24, who works as an advocate for young offenders.  “I would have came home (after) listening to the ways on how to get better at ... certain illegal things, and I would have came home and been doing nonsense.”  Instead, he was able to convince a judge to send his case down to juvenile court.  He spent a month in a juvenile detention center before a judge found he did take part in the robbery and sent him home under house arrest, probation and a $3,000 restitution order.  He was allowed to see his family and friends and finish high school.

Harrington’s case from 2015 is indicative of a significant shift away from the “get tough” philosophy of the 1980s and ’90s for youth offenders, which has resulted in far fewer children being prosecuted in U.S. adult courts. That has meant second chances for untold thousands of youths.  Data reported to the FBI each year by thousands of police departments across the country shows the percentage of youths taken into custody who were referred to adult courts dropped from 8% in 2010 to 2% in 2019.  The percentage dropped to 1% in 2020, although that year’s data is considered unusual because of the coronavirus pandemic, which closed many courts.

Instead, more teenagers are being sent to juvenile courts or community programs that steer them to counseling, peer mediation and other services aimed at keeping them out of trouble. The shift has been mostly supported by law enforcement officials around the country.  But some worry that leniency has emboldened a small number of young criminals, including in Connecticut, where state lawmakers passed legislation to clamp down on youth crime.

States around the country have been raising the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18 for most crimes. Only three states — Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin — continue to prosecute every 17-year-old in adult courts, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based group that advocates for minimal imprisonment of youth and adults.  The “raise the age” movement has been spurred by research showing teens’ brains haven’t yet fully developed key decision-making functions.  Other studies show locking young people up in adult systems can be harmful — physically and psychologically — in addition to putting them at more risk to commit more crimes....

In a country where an estimated 250,000 minors were charged as adults each year in the early 2000s, the number dropped in 2019 to about 53,000, according to the nonprofit National Center for Juvenile Justice in Pittsburgh.  That corresponds with a general decrease in crime across the country, including a 58% drop in youth arrests between 2010 and 2019, according to Justice Department estimates.  In 2019, an estimated 696,620 youths were arrested....

Harrington works for the Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project, a Philadelphia group that provides art, music and other programs in jail for teenagers charged as adults and advocates against prosecuting them in adult court.  He is involved in efforts to repeal the law that automatically sent him to adult jail.  “You’d rather be at a juvenile facility getting the proper care and treatment there,” he said. “The juvenile system ... it’s better because you’re able to go home and be with your family.”

Some officials, however, including lawmakers and police chiefs, argue aspects of the reform have gone too far.  In Connecticut, the death of a pedestrian who was struck and killed in New Britain last year by a stolen car driven by a repeat teenage offender sparked calls by police officials and Republican state lawmakers to pass tougher youth crime laws — including more detention for repeat offenders.

I describe these developments as fundamentally a sentencing story because the decision to prosecute a young offender in adult or juvenile court is ultimately a decision over whether to subject that offender to the more rehabilitative-oriented sentencing philosophy and processes of juvenile courts or to the more punitive realities of adult court systems and sentencing structures.

June 6, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 12, 2022

New Sentencing Project fact sheet highlights rise (and recent declines) in the incarceration of women and girls

The folks at The Sentencing Project have assembled some fascinating data on the number of incarcerated women at this site and in this fact sheet. Here is part of their description of the fact sheet:

Between 1980 and 2020, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 475%, rising from a total of 26,326 in 1980 to 152,854 in 2020.  The total count in 2020 represents a 30% reduction from the prior year — a substantial but insufficient downsizing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which some states began to reverse in 2021.

Research on female incarceration is critical to understanding the full consequences of mass incarceration and to unraveling the policies and practices that lead to their criminalization. The number of incarcerated women was nearly five times higher in 2020 than in 1980.

Incarcerated Women and Girls examines female incarceration trends and finds areas of both concern and hope.  While the imprisonment rate for African American women was nearly twice that of white women in 2020, this disparity represents a sharp decline from 2000 when Black women were six times as likely to be imprisoned.  Since then Black women’s imprisonment rate has decreased by 68% while white women’s rate has increased by 12%.

Similar to adults, girls of color are more likely to be incarcerated than white girls.  Tribal girls are more than four times as likely, and African American girls are more than three times as likely as white girls to be incarcerated.

All the data in the fact sheet are fascinating, and these particular data points really caught my attention:

May 12, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 09, 2022

"Low Income, Poor Outcome: Unequal Treatment of Indigent Defendants"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper on SSRN authored by Nino Monea. Here is its abstract:

It is no secret that the law treats poor people worse than rich ones.  This is true in criminal law and everywhere else.  But some laws do not simply result in disparate impact upon the poor — the way they are written explicitly targets or disadvantages the poor.  This Article examines the spectrum of expressly biased laws in four major categories.

First, laws that criminalize poverty: bans on poor housing or no housing, traffic laws that require nothing more than paying for things, and cash bail that imprisons people without access to credit.  Second, courts impose an enormous number of unwaivable fees at every step of the criminal justice system, and failure to pay results in incarceration — a modern day debtor prison.  Third, many criminal procedure rules place the needy on unequal footing.  Only indigent defendants are required to suffer reduced expectations of privacy, disclose certain information, face judicial scrutiny, endure low caps on what their attorneys can be paid, or go into hearing without an attorney.  And fourth, after conviction, these defendants face unique hurdles to recover for wrongful imprisonment or expensive expungement processes.

May 9, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 07, 2022

"Prisons and jails will separate millions of mothers from their children in 2022"

The title of this post is the title of this briefing by Prison Policy Initiative authored by Wendy Sawyer and Wanda Bertram and published in time for Mother's Day.  Here is how it gets started:

This Mother’s Day — as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to put people behind bars at risk — nearly 150,000 incarcerated mothers will spend the day apart from their children.  Over half (58%) of all women in U.S. prisons are mothers, as are 80% of women in jails, including many who are incarcerated awaiting trial simply because they can’t afford bail.

Most of these women are incarcerated for drug and property offenses, often stemming from poverty and/or substance use disorders.  Most are also the primary caretakers of their children, meaning that punishing them with incarceration tears their children away from a vital source of support.  And these numbers don’t cover the many women preparing to become mothers while locked up this year: An estimated 58,000 people every year are pregnant when they enter local jails or prisons.

150,000 mothers separated from their children this Mother’s Day is atrocious in and of itself — but that’s just one day.  How many people in the U.S. have experienced separation from their mothers due to incarceration over the years?  Unfortunately, these specific data are not collected, but we calculated some rough estimates based on other research to attempt to answer this question:

  • Roughly 570,000 women living in the U.S. had ever been separated from their minor children by a period of imprisonment as of 2010.
  • An estimated 1.3 million people living in the U.S. had been separated from their mothers before their 18th birthdays due to their mothers’ imprisonment, also as of 2010.

May 7, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, May 06, 2022

Continuing to scratch the sentencing surface if Roe is overturned and abortions are criminalized

As mentioned in this post right after the leaked draft SCOTUS opinion suggested Roe v. Wade will soon be overturned, if abortion issues are returned entirely to elected officials, a lot more abortion-related activity will be criminalized in a lot more states raising all sorts of new issues regarding sentencing law and policy.  I flagged a few of the sentencing provisions of some of the recently-enacted criminal prohibitions of abortions in a few states in my prior post, and now Politico is on this beat with this new piece fully headlined, "Abortion bans and penalties would vary widely by state: The penalties vary widely by state, and also can include hefty fines or the suspension of a medical license."  Here are excerpts:

Abortion bans set to take effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned could mean lengthy prison sentences for people who have an abortion, the physicians who perform them or those who help people access the procedure. The penalties vary widely by state, and also can include hefty fines or the suspension of a medical license.

Even as national Republican leaders, many of whom have worked for decades to outlaw abortion, dismiss fears of prosecutions, state lawmakers have already enacted mandatory minimum sentences that would go into effect if Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion is handed down....

[I]n Texas, anyone who performs, induces or attempts an abortion where “an unborn child dies as a result of the offense” is guilty of a first-degree felony — punishable by up to life in prison and up to a $10,000 fine — under the state’s trigger ban.  In Alabama, anyone who performs an abortion, provides abortion pills or “aids, abets or prescribes for the same,” faces up to 12 months in county jail or hard labor and a fine of up to $1,000 under the state’s pre-Roe ban.  And in South Carolina, a person who ends their pregnancy either with a pill or by other means faces up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000 under state law.

Bills moving in some states go even further. Legislation in Louisiana that would classify abortions as homicide and extend legal personhood to fertilized eggs was voted out of committee on Wednesday.  Homicide is punishable in the state by the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole....

And while some states — such as Idaho, Missouri and Kentucky — have legal language saying people who get an abortion can’t be charged, those patients could be forced to testify against their doctor or romantic partner who helped them access the procedure.  “Even if a bill doesn’t allow pregnant people to be charged directly, we’re concerned about the ways increased surveillance could lead to people being criminalized for an abortion or another kind of pregnancy loss,” Farah Diaz-Tello, the senior counsel and legal director of the group If/When/How, told POLITICO.

Notably, this new New York Times article discusses the growing use of "medication abortion" under the headlined "Abortion Pills Stand to Become the Next Battleground in a Post-Roe America." Here is how the lengthy article concludes:

Some abortion rights advocates said that the availability of safe and effective abortion pills has eliminated one of the greatest fears in the years before Roe — but has added a new one.  “One of the sharpest distinctions is really between the idea of hemorrhaging and the idea of handcuffs,” said Kristin Ford, a spokeswoman for NARAL Pro-Choice America.  “In the pre-Roe world, there was a legitimate concern about people bleeding out in back alleys. That’s not the reality we face. What we’re looking at now is a world of criminalization.”

The development of abortion drugs and the eagerness of some to distribute them and of others to prohibit them already has me wondering if we could be on the verge of a whole new frontier for the war on drugs. Remarkable times.

Recent related post:

May 6, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (13)

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Federal judge formally accepts below-guideline sentencing terms of Derek Chauvin's plea deal for civil rights violations

As reported in this post from back in December, Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty in federal court to civil rights violations arising from his murder of George Floyd.  He did so with a plea deal in place that would bind the federal judge to impose a sentence of between 20 and 25 years even though Chauvin's advisory guideline range is life imprisonment.  At the time, the judge deferred acceptance of the plea deal pending preparation of the presentence report.  That report is now in, as this AP piece reports that the plea deal was formally accepted by the court yesterday: 

The judge overseeing the federal civil rights cases of four former Minneapolis police officers in the killing of George Floyd said Wednesday that he has accepted the terms of Derek Chauvin's plea agreement and will sentence him to 20 to 25 years in prison.

Chauvin pleaded guilty December 15 to violating Floyd's civil rights, admitting for the first time that he kept his knee on Floyd's neck — even after he became unresponsive — resulting in the Black man's death on May 25, 2020. The White former officer admitted he willfully deprived Floyd of his right to be free from unreasonable seizure, including unreasonable force by a police officer.

Under the plea agreement, which Chauvin signed, both sides agreed Chauvin should face a sentence ranging from 20 to 25 years, with prosecutors saying they would seek 25. He could have faced life in prison on the federal count. With credit for good time in the federal system, he would serve from 17 years to 21 years and three months behind bars.

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson deferred accepting the agreement pending the completion of a presentence investigation. He said in a one-page order Wednesday that the report had been issued, so it was now appropriate to accept the deal. He has not set a sentencing date for Chauvin.

Chauvin is already serving a 22 1/2 year sentence for his murder conviction in state court last year, though he is appealing that conviction. He would serve the federal sentence concurrently with the state sentence. The federal plea deal means Chauvin will probably spend more time in prison than he faced under his state sentence. State prisoners in Minnesota typically serve one-third of their sentence on parole, which for him would mean 15 years in prison.

I am inclined to predict that Judge Magnuson will give Chauvin the max that this plea deal permits of 25 years, which would likely mean Chauvin will be in the federal pen until the early 2040s. Based on the state murder conviction alone, he would have likely been out by the mid 2030s.

A few prior related posts:

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

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Without Roe, what does sentencing law and policy look like surrounding criminalized abortions?

Reproductive rights are not my area of specialty.  But my interest in constitutional jurisprudence and the work of the US Supreme Court has me paying close attention to the remarkable news that broke last night regarding a leaked draft Court opinion (per Justice Samuel Alito) stating that "Roe and Casey must be overruled" so as to "return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives."  And, as the title of this post is meant to suggest, if Roe is overruled, returning the issue of abortion to elected officials means that a lot more abortion-related activity will be criminalized in a lot more states.  And, of course, new arenas of criminalization necessarily mean new issues regarding sentencing law and policy.

At the risk of getting too much of a head start on these issues, I took a look at some of the sentencing provisions of what seem to be among the broadest, recently enacted criminal prohibitions of abortions.  For example, Oklahoma last month enacted this abortion criminalization bill, and here are its sentencing elements:

A person convicted of performing or attempting to perform an abortion shall be guilty of a felony punishable by a fine not to exceed One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($100,000.00), or by confinement in the custody of the Department of Corrections for a term not to exceed ten (10) years, or by such fine and imprisonment.

This section does not authorize the charging or conviction of a woman with any criminal offense in the death of her own unborn child.

Meanwhile, Texas last year passed its "trigger law" to outlaw abortion 30 days after a court ruling allowing such a ban, and here are its key sentencing provisions:

This chapter may not be construed to authorize the imposition of criminal, civil, or administrative liability or penalties on a pregnant female on whom an abortion is performed, induced, or attempted....

An offense under this section is a felony of the second degree [which carries a sentencing range from 2 to 20 years in prison], except that the offense is a felony of the first degree if an unborn child dies as a result of the offense [which carries a sentencing range of 5 to 99 years or life in prison].

Arkansas enacted its Unborn Child Protection Act last year, and its sentencing provisions are very similar to Oklahoma's:

Performing or attempting to perform an abortion is an unclassified felony with a fine not to exceed one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) or imprisonment not to exceed ten (10) years, or both.

This section does not authorize the charging or conviction of a woman with any criminal offense in the death of her own unborn child.

My goal here is not, with Roe still formally the law of the land, to unpack fully all the criminal law and sentencing policy questions that are sure to follow in the wake of Roe's reversal and existing state interest in criminalizing abortions.  Rather, in the wake of last night's leak, I just wanted to flag that it no longer seems too early to start exploring earnestly just what state sentencing law and policy may soon look like surrounding this potential new frontier of criminalized abortions.

May 3, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (47)

Monday, May 02, 2022

Seriously considering resentencing in high-profile Cleveland corruption case (while seriously enjoying rewatching puppet trial parody)

Article-2089091-115F2B80000005DC-234_468x273Though the initial federal sentencing of former Cleveland area county commissioner Jimmy Dimora took place a decade ago, I still recall that Dimora received one of the longest prison terms ever given for political corruption.  My 2012 post about his sentencing to 28 years in federal prison provides some background on the case, and it notes that his attorneys then argued Dimora should get less prison time due to his ailing physical condition and age.  Fast forward a decade, and this local story highlights that what's old is new again in federal sentencing for Dimora.  The article is headlined "Ex-Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora’s health is failing; attorney asks for release from prison at re-sentencing," and here are excerpts:

Disgraced former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora’s health is failing, and his defense attorney asked a judge to consider releasing him from prison when Dimora is re-sentenced on corruption charges next month. Attorney Philip Kushner urged U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi to have leniency for Dimora, according to a court filing last week. Lioi must re-sentence Dimora after the judge overturned convictions on two of Dimora’s 32 charges in one of the largest corruption cases in Ohio history.

Dimora, who will turn 67 in June, has a long list of medical issues that Kushner said should result in Lioi giving Dimora significantly less prison time than the original 28-year sentence. He was convicted of engineering a pay-to-play scandal that led to an overhaul of county government in 2012. “During his 10 years of incarceration, his health has deteriorated,” Kushner wrote in the filing....

Dimora’s cohort and co-defendant, former county Auditor Frank Russo, died last month. His death came about two years after he was released from prison, in part, because of his failing health and the coronavirus pandemic.

Kushner argued for a significantly lesser sentence or release for Dimora based on his age, health and the steep punishment Lioi doled out in 2012. Dimora, he wrote, suffers from a heart defect, an intestinal disorder and an inner-ear equilibrium disease. He needs knee-replacement surgery. He suffered a stroke in prison, is diabetic and uses a wheelchair, according to the filing. Dimora contracted COVID-19 twice in prison, including once in which he became “very ill,” according to Kushner. Dimora is currently serving time in the Federal Medical Center Devens in Massachusetts, which houses seriously ill inmates.

Kushner also argued that similar felons typically serve far less time, somewhere between 12 and 15 years, not the 28 that Dimora is serving.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Lioi to re-examine the case in the wake of a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the justices clarified the definition of an “official act” taken by a public official in a bribery case. The ruling meant that Lioi’s instructions to the jury were outdated and incorrect.  Lioi in March overturned two convictions that focused on contractor Nicholas Zavarella, who built an outdoor kitchen and retaining wall at Dimora’s home for free....

Federal prosecutors are expected to file their own sentencing memorandum with Lioi in the days before the hearing June 8.

Whether Dimora receives a significantly reduced federal sentence is a serious matter, perhaps even literally deadly serious for him.  But Dimora's name and his high-profile case reminded me of a not-quite-so-serious aspect of his trial.  Specifically, as this 2012 NBC News piece detailed, one news station's local coverage of the Dimora trial itself made national and international news:

It's courtroom drama crossed with "Sesame Street," as a television station barred from using cameras during a high-profile corruption trial covers the highlights with a nightly puppet show. It stars a talking squirrel "reporter" who provides the play-by-play in an exaggerated, "you won't believe this" tone.

"It's a satirical look at the trial and, again, I think we have it appropriately placed at the end of the newscast," WOIO news director Dan Salamone said Thursday. He said the puppets are in addition to the station's regular coverage of the Akron federal trial of ex-Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, the longtime Democratic power broker in Cleveland. "It's not intended in any way to replace any of the serious coverage of the trial," Salamone said.

Especially on a Monday afternoon when everyone could surely use a bit of levity, I highly recommend watching at least the first few segments of "The Puppet's Court":

Each of these segments is only about 90 seconds long, though I think there are at least 10 of them if you keep watching. I am so glad they are still on YouTube.

UPDATE FROM JUNE 8, 2022This local article reports on the new federal sentencing for Jimmy Dimora. Here is how it starts:

A federal judge on Wednesday shaved five years off former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora’s sentence for engineering a pay-to-play style of government that thrived for years. U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi handed down the new sentence during a two-hour hearing in federal court in Akron.  In 2012, Lioi sentenced Dimora to 28 years in prison.

The new sentence means Dimora’s release date is moved up to 2031. He was scheduled to be released in February 2036, a date that had included a four-year reduction for good behavior behind bars.

May 2, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, April 28, 2022

"Criminal Acts and Basic Moral Equality"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper on SSRN authored by John Humbach.  Here is its abstract:

Modern criminal justice presupposes that persons are not morally equal.  On the contrary, those who do wrong are viewed by the law as less worthy of respect, concern and decent treatment: Offenders, it is said, “deserve” to suffer for their misdeeds.  Yet, there is scant logical or empirical basis for the law’s supposition that offenders are morally inferior.  The usual reasoning is that persons who intentionally or knowingly do wrong are the authors and initiators of their acts and, as such, are morally responsible for them.  But this reasoning rests on the assumption that a person’s mental states, such as intentions, can cause physical effects (bodily movements)— a factual assumption that is at odds with the evidence of neuroscience and whose only empirical support rests on a fallacious logical inference (post hoc ergo propter hoc).  There is, in fact, no evidence that mental states like intentions have anything to do with causing the bodily movements that constitute behavior.  Nonetheless, the mental-cause basis for moral responsibility, though it rests on a false factual inference, has enormous implications for criminal justice policy.

While society must obviously protect itself from dangerous people, it does not have to torment them.  The imperative to punish, a dominant theme of criminal justice policy, is not supported by evidence or logic, and it violates basic moral equality.

April 28, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

"Modern Sentencing Mitigation"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by John B. Meixner Jr. now available in the Northwestern University Law Review. Here is its abstract:

Sentencing has become the most important part of a criminal case.  Over the past century, criminal trials have given way almost entirely to pleas.  Once a case is charged, it almost always ends up at sentencing.  And notably, judges learn little sentencing-relevant information about the case or the defendant prior to sentencing and have significant discretion in sentencing decisions.  Thus, sentencing is the primary opportunity for the defense to affect the outcome of the case by presenting mitigation: reasons why the nature of the offense or characteristics of the defendant warrant a lower sentence.  It is surprising, then, that relatively little scholarship in criminal law focuses on mitigation at sentencing.  Fundamental questions have not been explored: Do the Sentencing Guidelines — which largely limit the relevance of mitigating evidence — make mitigation unimportant?  Does the extent or type of mitigation offered have any relationship with the sentence imposed?

This Article fills that gap by examining a previously unexplored data set: sentencing memoranda filed by defense attorneys in federal felony cases.  By systematically parsing categories of mitigating evidence and quantitatively coding the evidence, I show that mitigation is a central predictor of sentencing outcomes and that judges approach mitigation in a modern way: rather than adhering to the strict, offense-centric structure that has dominated sentencing since the advent of the Sentencing Guidelines in the 1980s, judges individualize sentences in ways that consider the personal characteristics of each defendant, beyond what the Guidelines anticipate.  And particular types of mitigation, such as science-based arguments about mental and physical health, appear especially persuasive.

The results have significant implications for criminal justice policy: while my data show that mitigation is critical to judges’ sentencing decisions, both the Guidelines and procedural rules minimize mitigation, failing to encourage both defense attorneys and prosecutors to investigate and consider it.  I suggest reforms to make sentencing more equitable, such as requiring the investigation and presentation of mitigation to constitute effective assistance of counsel, easing the barriers to obtaining relevant information on mental and physical health mitigation, and encouraging prosecutors to consider mitigation in charging decisions and sentencing recommendations.

April 27, 2022 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Prison Policy Initiative releases new report providing a "deep dive into state prison populations"

As detailed in this press release, today the "the Prison Policy Initiative published Beyond the Count, a report that examines the most recent and comprehensive demographic data about people in state prisons and provides a groundbreaking view of the lives of incarcerated people before they were locked up."  Here is more about the report from the press release:

The report analyzes data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ “Survey of Prison Inmates,” collected in 2016 and released in late 2020.  The data show what many in the criminal justice reform movement already know: that the U.S. criminal justice system today locks up the least powerful people in society.  Key takeaways include:

  • Many, if not most, people in prison grew up struggling financially. 42% of survey respondents said their family received public assistance before they were 18. Respondents also reported uncommonly high levels of homelessness, foster care, and living in public housing before the age of 18.

  • Most individuals in state prisons report that their first arrest happened when they were children. 38 percent of the people BJS surveyed reported a first arrest before age 16, and 68% reported a first arrest before age 19. The average survey respondent had been arrested over 9 times in their life.

  • The typical person in state prison is 39 years old and has a 10th grade education, a fact that is most likely linked to youth confinement, which disrupts a young person’s life and schooling.

  • Half (49%) of people in state prisons meet the criteria for substance use disorder (SUD), and 65% were using an illicit substance in the immediate lead-up to their incarceration, suggesting that many people who are not locked up for drug offenses are still victims of our country’s choice to criminalize substance use rather than treat it as a health issue.

The Prison Policy Initiative’s report includes more than 20 detailed data tables that allow readers to better understand the people who are in state prisons and the challenges they have faced in their lives.  Beyond the Count also includes a section diving into the data on the race, age, gender identity, and sexual orientation of people in state prisons, explaining that a disproportionate number of incarcerated people are racial minorities, very young or very old, or LGBTQ.  Many of the key demographic findings in Beyond the Count (such as incarcerated people’s age at first arrest) are also broken down by race or gender.  While the data in this report is about people in state prisons, it does not allow statistics to be broken out for individual states.

April 13, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

"Trauma and Blameworthiness in the Criminal Legal System"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Rachael Liebert now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

Violence can result in trauma, but so too can trauma lead to violence.  Neuroscience offers an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the biology of behavior, including the nexus between trauma and criminal behavior.  Yet the criminal legal system consistently fails to account for the traumatic backgrounds of many people charged with crimes. Instead, people who experience trauma as a result of community violence, along with so many others, are ignored or ridiculed when they argue that their traumatic experiences should mitigate their blameworthiness.  Military veterans, on the other hand, provide a unique example of a class of people for whom judges, prosecutors, and other actors in the criminal legal system recognize that context and circumstances matter — that even when someone is criminally responsible for a wrongdoing, their traumatic experiences may mitigate their blameworthiness.

In this article, I explore why we treat trauma as a reason for leniency for some people but not for others, and whether it is morally justifiable for us to approach criminal behavior as situational (a result of environmental circumstances) for certain groups, while insisting that it is characterological (the result of individual character traits) for others. Offering a novel perspective on the issue, I contend that what distinguishes military veterans from defendants for whom trauma and other environmental factors are routinely disregarded is not a difference in the kind or degree of the impact of their circumstances, but rather cognitive assumptions about who is and is not a criminal.  These assumptions in turn lead to a false dichotomy between people whose criminal behavior we deem characterological, and therefore fully morally blameworthy, and people whose criminal behavior we accept as situational, and therefore less blameworthy. I situate the roots of these categorizations in structural racism and show how this dichotomous thinking perpetuates racial injustice.

April 12, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reviewing the application of Miller and juvenile LWOP in the federal system

This AP story, headlined "Juvenile lifer seeks reprieve amid broader push for leniency," focuses on one high-profile juvenile lifer case while also discussing some of the other realities of juve LWOP in the federal system since the Supreme Court's major Eighth Amendment ruling in Miller v. Alabama a decade ago.  Here are some excerpts from a lengthy piece worth reading in full:

Shortly after Riley Briones Jr. arrived in federal prison, he cut his long, braided hair in a symbolic death of his old self. As a leader of a violent gang and just shy of 18, Briones drove the getaway car in a robbery turned deadly on the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community outside Phoenix in 1994. He was convicted of murder and given a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

In prison, he has been baptized a Christian, ministers to other inmates who call him Brother Briones, got his GED and has a spotless disciplinary record, his attorneys say in their latest bid to get the now 45-year-old’s sentence cut short. “He’s clearly on the side of the line where he should be walking free,” said his attorney, Easha Anand.

The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for that possibility with a 2012 ruling that said only the rare, irredeemable juvenile offender should serve life in prison. Over the past decade, most of the 39 defendants in federal cases who received that sentence have gotten a reprieve and are serving far fewer years behind bars. Meanwhile, more than 60 legal experts and scholars have asked the federal government to cap sentences for juvenile offenders at 30 years, create a committee to review life sentences in the future and reconsider its stance in Briones’ case.

But the move toward greater leniency has been gradual and not without resistance. Briones is among those whose life sentences have been upheld in recent years, though he still has another chance. Prosecutors in his case have opposed a reduced term. They argue despite Briones’ improvements, he minimized his role in the gang and its crimes that terrorized Salt River amid an explosion of gang violence on Native American reservations in the 1990s....

Briones’ case became eligible for resentencing after the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama.  It was part of a series of cases in which the court found minors should be treated differently from adults, partly because of a lack of maturity.  The court previously eliminated the death penalty for juveniles and barred life-without-parole sentences for juveniles except in cases of murder.  A handful of the defendants in the 39 federal cases — most of whom are minorities — have been released from prison.

The Feb. 17 letter seeking reform from the Justice Department pointed to statistics that show the median sentence for adults convicted of murder in the federal system is 20 years — nearly half the median for the juvenile offenders.  “Taking a life is really, really serious, and I don’t belittle that at all,” said Mary McCord, executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at the Georgetown University Law Center, one of the signatories.  “But a full life in prison when you’re a juvenile and you’re talking about 40, 50, 60 years in prison is exceedingly excessive probably in almost every case and not consistent with typical sentences for homicides, even adults.”...

The California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a victims rights group, said changes in the law that continually allow juvenile offenders to get another shot at freedom are damaging for the families, communities and the criminal justice system. “Some of these crimes are just very horrible, and the impacts on the families are substantial, and they never go away,” said the group’s president, Michael Rushford.

The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth has long argued the changes a person makes once they’ve entered prison should matter, and juveniles offenders should be able to live as adults outside prison walls.  “If the facts of the crime are always going to be the overpowering force, then Miller isn’t going to be meaningfully interpreted to outweigh all this positive growth,” said Rebecca Turner, who tracks the federal cases for the group.

The federal court in Arizona has resentenced more of the juvenile offenders to life in prison than any other state. Texas has two juvenile offenders who are serving life but weren’t able to be resentenced because of how courts interpreted Miller v. Alabama. South Carolina resentenced one inmate to life.  All three federal cases in Arizona were from Native American reservations, where the federal government has jurisdiction when the suspect, victim or both are Native American for a set of major crimes, including homicide. The penalties, in general, are stricter than if the crimes happened off the reservation and the cases ended up in state court.

April 12, 2022 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, April 10, 2022

"Transgender Rights & the Eighth Amendment"

The title of this post is the title of this recent article authored by Jennifer Levi and Kevin Barry and just posted to SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

The past decades have witnessed a dramatic shift in the visibility, acceptance, and integration of transgender people across all aspects of culture and the law.  The treatment of incarcerated transgender people is no exception.  Historically, transgender people have been routinely denied access to medically necessary hormone therapy, surgery, and other gender-affirming procedures; subjected to cross-gender strip searches; and housed according to their birth sex.  But these policies and practices have begun to change. State departments of corrections are now providing some, though by no means all, appropriate care to transgender people, culminating in the Ninth Circuit’s historic decision in Edmo v. Corizon, Inc. in 2019 — the first circuit-level case to require a state to provide transition surgery to an incarcerated transgender person.  Other state departments of corrections will surely follow, as they must under the Eighth Amendment.  These momentous changes, which coincide with a broader cultural turn away from transphobia and toward a collective understanding of transgender people, have been neither swift nor easy.  But they trend in one direction: toward a recognition of the rights and dignity of transgender people.

April 10, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, April 01, 2022

"Releasing Older Prisoners Convicted of Violent Crimes: The Unger Story"

The title of this post is the title of this new article now available via SSRN and authored by Michael Millemann, Jennifer Chapman and Samuel Feder. Here is its abstract:

This article is a retrospective analysis of the significant Maryland decision, Unger v. State, which resulted in one of the most interesting and important unplanned criminal justice experiments in Maryland and national history.  On May 24, 2012, Maryland’s highest court released a decision that shocked the Maryland legal world and gave older life-sentenced Maryland prisoners their first real hope of release in decades.  In Unger v. State, the Maryland Court of Appeals made retroactive a 1980 decision that had invalidated a historic instruction that Maryland judges had given juries in criminal cases for over 150 years.  In that instruction, judges told the lay jurors that they, not the judge, were the ultimate judges of the law, and what the judge said was advisory only. 

A fair reading of the Unger decision was that all prisoners convicted before 1981 were entitled to new trials.  Subsequent decisions confirmed this reading.  Over six years, 200 of these older prisoners impacted by the Unger decision were released on probation.  This article examines the jury-determines-the-law instruction, the Unger decision, and the implementation of Unger, largely through the releases of older prisoners convicted of violent crimes.  In this article, we identify what we believe is important about the Unger story, not just in Maryland but also nationally, including the impact of race in criminal justice, the ability to release older prisoners with appropriate support, and how the lessons learned from the Unger decision can provide a model for reentry programs.

April 1, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Another review of varying concerns about sentencing equity for January 6 rioters and others

This new Washington Post article reviews anew the enduring question of whether and how January 6 rioters are getting equitable treatment at sentencing.  The article is fully headlined "Judge: Nonviolent Jan. 6 defendants shouldn’t get ‘serious jail time’: A Trump appointee disputes that Capitol breach cases are unique, stirring a debate over how to hold individuals accountable in mass crime." I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

A federal judge criticized U.S. prosecutors for seeking jail time for some nonviolent Donald Trump supporters in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach but not for left-wing activists who protested the 2018 Senate confirmation of Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. “I know that the government believes that the January 6 cases are sui generis” — or one of a kind — “and therefore can’t be compared to other cases. But I don’t agree,” said U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden, a 2017 Trump appointee. He called the riots the latest in Washington’s history of high-profile and politically divisive mass demonstrations....

McFadden spoke out Wednesday in sentencing Capitol riot defendant Jenny Cudd, a 37-year-old florist and onetime Republican mayoral candidate from Midland, Tex., who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing.  Prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office for Washington asked the judge to sentence Cudd to 75 days in jail and one year probation. Instead, he imposed two months’ probation and a $5,000 fine, contrasting her case with that of Tighe Barry, an activist with the liberal advocacy group Code Pink....

McFadden’s outspoken criticism of the Justice Department put him out of step with 18 other federal judges who have sentenced Jan. 6 defendants in the U.S. District Court in Washington. Fifteen of those judges have imposed jail time in misdemeanor cases, and many of them, like McFadden, previously served as federal prosecutors in the District....

While one or two other judges like McFadden have balked at sentencing Jan. 6 misdemeanor offenders to jail, most have pushed the other way, criticizing prosecutors for charging many participants similar to nonviolent protesters who routinely disrupt congressional hearings or simple trespassers....

In responding to similar arguments by Cudd attorney Marina Medvin in court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura E. Hill rejected the comparison. “January 6 was unlike anything in American history,” Hill argued. “There was a vast amount of violence and destruction on January 6 that was not present on the days of the Kavanaugh protests.  The Kavanaugh protesters were escorted out of the Capitol and the hearing continued. Congressmen and congresswomen were not required to evacuate the building. … They didn’t have to pause proceedings and continue into the early morning hours of the next day, after the building was secure.”

Judges appointed by presidents of both parties have condemned the siege of the Capitol as a unique destabilizing event and weighed jail terms as a way to deter defendants and others from a repeat.  “When a mob is prepared to attack the Capitol to prevent our elected officials from both parties from performing their constitutional and statutory duty, democracy is in trouble,” U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss, an Obama appointee, said last summer.  “The damage that [the defendant] and others caused that day goes way beyond the several-hour delay in the certification. It is a damage that will persist in this country for decades.”

“Many politicians are writing a false narrative about what happened. I think they are misleading people,” U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, a Reagan appointee, said in another case this month.  Warning that attempting to whitewash or play down events could lead to future violence, Hogan called Jan. 6 an “unforgivable” day that will “affect this country for many years.”

Prosecutors say they are trying to treat people fairly based on their individual conduct.  But they also want to hold all accountable for participating in a mass crime in which the crowd made mob violence possible, emboldening and facilitating those who engaged in violence, overwhelmed police and escaped arrest by finding safety in numbers.

Some of many prior related posts:

March 29, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (7)

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The Sentencing Project and Fair and Just Prosecution produce "Felony Murder: An On-Ramp for Extreme Sentencing"

The Sentencing Project and Fair and Just Prosecution today released this interesting new report about sentencing in felony murder cases titled "Felony Murder: An On-Ramp for Extreme Sentencing." Here is part of its executive summary:

Murder typically refers to an intentional killing.  But “felony murder” laws hold people like Mendoza liable for murder if they participated in a felony, such as a robbery, that resulted in someone’s death.  These laws impose sentences associated with murder on people who neither intended to kill nor anticipated a death, and even on those who did not participate in the killing.  As such, they violate the principle of proportional sentencing, which is supposed to punish crimes based on their severity.  These excessively punitive outcomes violate widely shared perceptions of justice.  With one in seven people in U.S. prisons serving a life sentence, ending mass incarceration requires bold action to reduce extreme prison terms such as those prescribed for felony murder.

These laws run counter to public safety, fiscal responsibility, and justice.  Although other countries have largely rejected the felony murder doctrine, 48 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government still use these laws.  The only two states that do not have felony murder laws are Hawaii and Kentucky.  Six other states require some proof of intentionality regarding the killing to consider it murder, though the use of a gun — or mere knowledge of a codefendant’s gun use — satisfies this requirement in some jurisdictions.  In any case, all felony murder laws use the underlying felony to either a) treat as murder a killing that would not have otherwise been considered murder, or b) increase the gradation of murder, such as from second to first degree.

This report evaluates the legal and empirical foundation, and failings, of the felony murder rule, profiles impacted individuals, and highlights recent reform efforts in 10 jurisdictions. Key findings include:

1. Felony murder laws widen the net of extreme sentencing and are counterproductive to public safety.

  • For felony murder convictions for adults, eight states and the federal system mandate LWOP sentences, 15 states mandate LWOP in some cases, and 17 states and Washington, DC make LWOP a sentencing option.  Four states permit or require a virtual life sentence of 50 years or longer for some or all felony murder convictions.
  • In Pennsylvania and Michigan, one quarter of people serving LWOP were convicted of felony murder — over 1,000 people in each state.
  • Felony murder laws have not significantly reduced felonies nor lowered the number of felonies that become deadly.
  • The extreme prison sentences associated with felony murder laws add upward pressure on the entire sentencing structure.
  • Felony murder laws spend taxpayer dollars on incarcerating people who no longer pose a danger to the community and divert resources away from effective investments that promote public safety.
2. Felony murder laws have particularly adverse impacts on people of color, young people, and women.
  • In Pennsylvania in 2020, 80% of imprisoned individuals with a felony murder conviction were people of color and 70% were African American.
  • Felony murder laws ignore the cognitive vulnerabilities of youth and emerging adults by assuming that they recognize the remote consequences of their own actions — and those of others in their group. In Pennsylvania, nearly three-quarters of people serving LWOP for felony murder in 2019 were age 25 or younger at the time of their offense, as were over half of Minnesotans charged with aiding and abetting felony murder in recent years.
  • An exploratory survey in California found that 72% of women but only 55% of men serving a life sentence for felony murder were not the perpetrators of the homicide.  The California Coalition for Women Prisoners reports that the majority of their members convicted of felony murder were accomplices navigating intimate partner violence at the time of the offense and were criminalized for acts of survival.

March 23, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

New Sentencing Project report details scope of youth confinement

This new report from The Sentencing Project, titled "Too Many Locked Doors" and authored by Josh Rovner, documents the "wide and deep footprint of youth incarceration." Here is the start of its Executive SUmmary:

The United States incarcerates an alarming number of children and adolescents every year.  Disproportionately, they are youth of color.

Given the short- and long-term damages stemming from youth out of home placement, it is vital to understand its true scope. In 2019, there were more than 240,000 instances of a young person detained, committed, or both in the juvenile justice system.  However, youth incarceration is typically measured via a one-day count taken in late October.

This metric vastly understates its footprint: at least 80% of incarcerated youth are excluded from the one-day count.

This under-count is most prevalent for detained youth, all of whom have been arrested but have yet to face a court hearing. The following are examples of the systemic under-representation of detained youth in the one-day count:

• Thirty-one youths charged with drug offenses are detained for each one measured in the one-day count.

• Twenty-five youths charged with public order offenses are detained for each one measured in the one-day count.

• Seventeen youths charged with property offenses are detained for each one measured in the one-day count.

• Eleven youths charged with person offenses are detained for each one measured in the one-day count.

The variances in commitment are smaller but still noteworthy: more than three youth are committed each calendar year for each youth appearing in the one-day count.

The decade-long drop in detention and commitment masks how common detention remains for youth in conflict with the law. Hundreds of thousands of youth are referred to juvenile courts annually; roughly one-quarter of the time, they are detained.  That proportion has crept upward over a decade in which arrests have declined dramatically.

Data on youth detentions and commitment reveal sharp racial and ethnic disparities. Youth of color encounter police more often than their white peers and are disproportionately arrested despite modest differences in behavior that cannot explain the extent of arrest disparities.  Disparities in incarceration start with arrests but grow at each point of contact along the justice system continuum. In roughly one-quarter of delinquency cases throughout the decade, a youth was detained pre-adjudication. When youth of color are arrested, they are more likely to be detained than their white peers.

March 15, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 11, 2022

North Carolina Gov, following recommendation of state Juvenile Sentence Review Board, commutes sentence of three convicted of murder as teens

As detailed in this North Carolina Gov press release, "Governor Cooper has commuted the sentences of three people who were convicted for crimes committed when they were teenagers. The commutations follow an intensive review of their cases, including the length of their sentences, their records in prison, and their readiness to succeed outside of prison." Here is more from the press release (with links from the original):

The commutations are the first recommended to the Governor by the Juvenile Sentence Review Board which he established by Executive Order last year. The commutation applications were thoroughly reviewed by the Office of Executive Clemency, the Office of the General Counsel and the Governor.  These commutations end prison sentences on time served.

The creation of the Review Board followed the change in North Carolina law which raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 16- and 17-year-olds, making North Carolina the last state in the nation to do so.  Studies of brain development and psychology show fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds and behavior, and state and federal law treat children differently from adults for the purpose of sentencing.

The Review Board was also part of a series of recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice (TREC) that has worked to rectify racial disparities in the criminal justice system. More than 80 percent of people committed to North Carolina prisons for crimes they committed as juveniles are people of color.

“North Carolina law continues to change to recognize that science is even more clear about immature brain development and decision making in younger people,” Cooper said. “As people become adults, they can change, turn their lives around, and engage as productive members of society.”

The three people whose sentences were commuted are:

  • April Leigh Barber, 46, who has served 30 years in prison for her role at age 15 in the murders of her grandparents, Lillie and Aaron Barber, in Wilkes County. While incarcerated, Ms. Barber has been consistently employed and has participated in significant programming, including earning her G.E.D. and paralegal certificate. Link to commutation.
  • Joshua McKay, 37, who has served 20 years in prison for the murder at age 17 of Mary Catherine Young in Richmond County. While incarcerated, Mr. McKay has been consistently employed, including as a carpenter and welder. Mr. McKay’s projected release date absent this commutation would have been in November 2022. Link to commutation.
  • Anthony Willis, 42, who has served 26 years in prison for the murder at age 16 of Benjamin Franklin Miller in Cumberland County. While incarcerated, Mr. Willis has been consistently employed and has completed five college degrees. Link to commutation.

The three people will be subject to post-release supervision by Community Corrections at the North Carolina Department of Public Safety to help them succeed and avoid missteps when they return to their communities.  “Most of the individuals who enter prisons will return to their communities one day. Providing high quality, evidenced based treatment and programming is a top priority for our prison system,” said Department of Public Safety Secretary Eddie Buffaloe. “These commutations should inspire individuals who are incarcerated to use all available resources to better themselves and prepare for a successful return to society.”

The Review Board continues to review petitions from those who were incarcerated for crimes committed as juveniles, and looks at many factors in its review, including rehabilitation and maturity demonstrated by the individual, record of education or other work while incarcerated, record of good behavior or infractions, input from the victim or members of the victim’s family, and more.

March 11, 2022 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Clemency and Pardons, Offender Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Highlighting some disparities identified in recent "Dealing in Lives" report on federal life sentences for drug offenses

In this post a few days ago, I spotlighted this terrific new research paper authored by Alex Fraga, who serves as a Senior Research Associate at Ohio State's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).  The paper, titled "Dealing in Lives: Imposition of Federal Life Sentences for Drugs from 1990–2020," is the focal point of this new Filter article titled "Federal Life Sentences for Drugs: Unconscionable and Massively Biased." Here is some of the coverage:

Studying federal life and de facto life sentences for drugs in federal courts from 1990 to 2020, Dr. Fraga found stunningly awful racial disparities.  Federal life sentences are practically reserved for defendants who are Black (62.4 percent) or Hispanic (22 percent).  Crack cocaine was the drug involved in roughly half of federal life sentences, yet the disparities held independent of drug type.

In addition, many people were punished more harshly for wanting to exercise their constitutional rights.  As Fraga writes, “An astonishing 72% percent of those sentenced to life or de facto life for drug trafficking exercised their right to trial.”

When the system is largely a conveyor belt of plea bargains, with over 90 percent of cases never going to trial, “astonishing” is right.  Defendants who demand that prosecutors meet their burden of proof are often hit with harsher charges and sentencing outcomes.... 

Yet another layer of inconsistency and arbitrariness in federal drug sentencing exposed by the report covers is geography-based. Just five districts — three in Florida, one in Virginia and one in South Carolina — accounted for 25 percent of all federal life and de facto life sentences imposed for drug trafficking during the study period.  For context, there are 93 federal court districts in the nation. Each has its own presidentially-appointed US attorney, who enjoys a wide band of discretion on who to charge and with what.

How could this happen? Despite ostensible efforts toward uniformity, federal courthouses in different parts of the country have developed their own local legal cultures. For example, in southern Georgia, there is no public defender office for impoverished people charged with federal crimes; they receive appointed attorneys who are often uninvested and lack expertise in criminal law.  That district also has some of the harshest sentencing outcomes in the country.

I am grateful to see this engagement with some of the data in the new report, and there are so many other interesting findings therein.  As mentioned previously, a number of the paper's key findings (and visuals) can be viewed at this DEPC webpage.

Prior related post:

March 10, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (12)

Monday, March 07, 2022

SCOTUS rules unanimously in favor of defendant in latest Armed Career Criminal Act ruling

The US Supreme Court handed down one opinion this morning, and it is a win for a federal criminal defendant in US v. Wooden, No. 20-5279 (S. Ct. March 7, 2022) (available here).  Here is how Justice Kagan's opinion for the Court gets started:

In the course of one evening, William Dale Wooden burglarized ten units in a single storage facility. He later pleaded guilty, for that night’s work, to ten counts of burglary — one for each storage unit he had entered. Some two decades later, the courts below concluded that those convictions were enough to subject Wooden to enhanced criminal penalties under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).  That statute mandates a 15-year minimum sentence for unlawful gun possession when the offender has three or more prior convictions for violent felonies like burglary “committed on occasions different from one another.” 18 U.S.C. §924(e)(1).  The question presented is whether Wooden’s prior convictions were for offenses occurring on different occasions, as the lower courts held, because the burglary of each unit happened at a distinct point in time, rather than simultaneously.  The answer is no.  Convictions arising from a single criminal episode, in the way Wooden’s did, can count only once under ACCA.

Interestingly, this ruling also generated four distinct concurrences (some quite short, some longer). Because I need to be off-line most of the rest of today, I will not have a chance to comment on these opinions right away. But I hope commenters might help me try to map out how many hundreds (thousands?) of cases this ruling could impact.

March 7, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (13)

Monday, February 28, 2022

Previewing the notable criminal drug prosecution cases before SCOTUS

Tomorrow morning the Supreme Court hears oral argument in a couple of the relatively few criminal cases it will be addressing this Term.  Two cases are consolidated for one argument, Ruan v. United States and Kahn v. United States, and here is the question presented:

Whether a physician alleged to have prescribed controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice may be convicted of unlawful distribution under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) without regard to whether, in good faith, he “reasonably believed” or “subjectively intended” that his prescriptions fall within that course of professional practice.

The setting for SCOTUS to be addressing this question is quite interesting and still timely, and a number of media outlets have these helpful previews:

From JD Supra, "Pain Management or Pill Mill? Supreme Court to Weigh in on Standards for Prosecutions of Practitioners Prescribing Narcotics"

From Law360, "DOJ Has Few Allies, Many Foes In High Court Opioid Brawl"

From the New York Times, "Were These Doctors Treating Pain or Dealing Drugs?: The Supreme Court will hear from two convicted pill mill doctors in cases that could have significant implications for physicians’ latitude to prescribe addictive painkillers."

From SCOTUSblog, "Amid overdose crisis, court will weigh physician intent in “pill mill” prosecutions and more under the Controlled Substances Act"

From STAT, "Fight over opioid prescribing — and when it turns criminal — heads to Supreme Court"

February 28, 2022 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, February 19, 2022

"Death by Dehumanization: Prosecutorial Narratives of Death-Sentenced Women and LGBTQ Prisoners"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new article now available via SSRN authored by Jessica Sutton, John Mills, Jennifer Merrigan and Kristin Swain.  Here is its abstract:

At the core of every capital sentencing proceeding is a guarantee that before condemning a person to die, the sentencer must consider the humanity and dignity of the individual facing the ultimate sanction.  This principle — that “death is different” and, therefore, requires consideration of the “diverse frailties of humankind” — echoes throughout the Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence.  And yet courts are reluctant to remedy the devastating impact of prosecutorial arguments that dehumanize marginalized persons facing the death penalty, condemning these arguments while nevertheless “affirm[ing] resulting convictions based on procedural doctrines such as harmless error.”

These dehumanizing prosecutorial narratives are particularly problematic — and effective — when used against LGBTQ+ people, whose very identities have been criminalized, pathologized, and used as justification for condemning them to death.  Dehumanizing stereotypes not only reinforce and leverage social biases as factors in aggravation, but also “other” LGBTQ+ defendants in such a way as to minimize the impact of mitigating evidence.

This paper explores the use of dehumanizing prosecutorial narratives that target LGBTQ+ people in the pursuit of state-sponsored execution and argues that such narratives violate the Constitution’s protection of the dignity of persons facing loss of life or liberty.  Part I of this paper examines the history of dehumanization and criminalization of LGBTQ+ people, particularly those with multiple marginalized identities.  Part II sets forth examples of the most common death-seeking portrayals of LGBTQ+ defendants, including the Woman-Hating Gay Predator, the “Hardcore” Man-Hating Lesbian, and the Gender-Bending Deviant.  Part III analyzes how these dehumanizing stereotypes further disadvantage LGBTQ+ defendants by undermining mitigating evidence.  Finally, Part IV, drawing inspiration from the work of Pauli Murray, proposes a reframing of the constitutional doctrines limiting prosecutorial arguments in support of a death sentence, proposing that a focus on the dignity of the individual and the dignitary harm to the individual should be at the center of the inquiry.

February 19, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Trial penalties lead to longest (but still not so long) sentences for two Varsity Blues defendants

It has been a while since I have blogged about the Varsity Blues case and the sentences given to the high net-worth individuals who were federally prosecuted (though some of lots and lots of prior blogging can be found below).  However, four months ago I noted in a post the fate of a couple defendants who did not plead guilty and I asked "With two defendants now convicted after trial, how steep might the "trial penalty" be in the Varsity Blues cases?".  This week we got an answer to that question through two sentencings reported in this Bloomberg piece headlined, "‘Varsity Blues’ Dad Gets Longest Sentence in Scandal Yet."  Here are the basics:

A private equity investor convicted in the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal received a 15-months prison sentence, the longest meted out to date.  John B. Wilson was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Boston after being convicted last year of paying more than $1.2 million to get his three children into elite colleges.  He was also ordered to pay a $200,000 fine and $88,546 in restitution.

Wilson’s sentencing comes about week after former Wynn Resorts Ltd. executive Gamal Abdelaziz was ordered to spend a year and a day in prison.  Before Abdelaziz, the highest sentence handed out in the case had been the nine months given to former Pimco Chief Executive Officer Douglas Hodge.  Unlike Hodge and dozens of others charged in the case, however, Wilson and Abdelaziz chose to contest their charges at trial.  A jury found them guilty in October.

Prosecutors had asked for Wilson to be sentenced to 21 months behind bars, saying he still refused to accept responsibility for his crimes.  Wilson asked for 6 months, saying he deeply regretted his participation in the scheme orchestrated by disgraced college counselor William “Rick” Singer.

Helpfully, DOJ has assembled here all the cases charged and sentenced in the Varsity Blues investigation, and a quick scan reveals that the vast majority of the defendants who pleaded guilty received sentences of four month or less.  So one might reasonably assert that the choice to exercise their rights to trial contributed to Abdelaziz getting roughly three times, and Wilson getting roughly four times, the prison sentence given to the average Varsity Blues defendant who pleaded guilty.  That can be viewed as a pretty hefty trial penalty. 

And yet, because no mandatory minimum sentencing provisions or big guideline enhancements were in play (and perhaps because of the high-profile nature of these cases), the extent of the "trial penalty" as measured in extra prison time imposed is a lot less for these Varsity Blues defendants than for other federal defendants in a lot of other settings.  A 2013 Human Rights Watch report calculated that "in 2012, the average sentence of federal drug offenders convicted after trial was three times higher (16 years) than that received after a guilty plea (5 years and 4 months)."  Three times higher in the federal drug sentencing context can often mean decades of more prison time; three times higher for Abdelaziz and Wilson is a matter of months. 

Still, I cannot help but wonder what the decision to go to trial cost Abdelaziz and Wilson in other respects, e.g., attorneys fees, personal and professional stigma and uncertainty.  Exercising trial rights can be quite costly for defendants even without accounting for the longer (sometimes much longer) sentence that will almost always follow.  

A few of many prior posts on other defendants in college admissions scandal:

February 19, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (7)

Friday, February 18, 2022

Minnesota judge, finding mitigating circumstances, imposes below-guideline sentence of 2 years on former officer Kim Potter convicted of manslaughter for killing Daunte Wright

As reported in this AP piece, "Kim Potter, the former suburban Minneapolis police officer who said she confused her handgun for her Taser when she fatally shot Daunte Wright, was sentenced Friday to two years in prison, a penalty below state guidelines after the judge found mitigating factors warranted a lesser sentence." Here is more:

Judge Regina Chu said the lesser sentence was warranted because Potter was “in the line of duty and doing her job in attempting to lawfully arrest Daunte Wright” when she said she mistook her gun for her Taser.  And, Chu said, Potter was trying to protect another officer who could have been dragged and seriously injured if Wright drove away.  “This is this is one of the saddest cases I’ve had on my 20 years on the bench,” said Chu, who also said she received “hundred and hundreds” of letters supporting Potter. “On the one hand, a young man was killed and on the other a respected 26-year veteran police officer, made a tragic error by pulling her hand gun instead of her Taser.”

Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said after the sentencing that Potter “murdered my son,” adding: “Today the justice system murdered him all over again.” Speaking before the sentence was imposed, the tearful mother said she could never forgive Potter and would only refer to her as “the defendant” because Potter only referred to her 20-year-old son as “the driver” at trial....

Wright family attorney Ben Crump said they don’t understand why such consideration was given to a white officer in the killing of a young Black man when a Black officer, Mohamed Noor, got a longer sentence for the killing of a white woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond. “What we see today is the legal system in Black and white.”

But the judge said the cases are not the same as other high-profile killings by police. “This is not a cop found guilty of murder for using his knee to pin down a person for 9 1/2 minutes as he gasped for air. This is not a cop found guilty of manslaughter for intentionally drawing his firearm and shooting across his partner and killing an unarmed woman who approached approached his squad,” Chu said. “This is a cop who made a tragic mistake.”

For someone with no criminal history, such as Potter, the state guidelines on first-degree manslaughter range from slightly more than six years to about 8 1/2 years in prison, with the presumptive sentence being just over seven years. Prosecutors said the presumptive sentence was proper, but defense attorneys asked for a sentence below the guidelines, including a sentence of probation only.

I have not previously blogged about the sentencing advocacy in this high-profile case, but this Hill piece usefully links to the written submissions. Here is an excerpt with links:

Prosecutors in a sentencing memo asked the judge to give Potter 86 months, a little more than seven years. First-degree manslaughter has a sentencing of 15 years in Minnesota, but judges can lower the sentence if a person, like Potter, has no criminal history....

Defendants argued in their filing the sentence should be lower due to Potter having no criminal record and her remorsefulness at the situation.  “To impose a prison term here sends the message that if an officer makes a mistake, the Attorney General will be quick to charge (the Complaint was filed within days), and that officer will immediately be ruined by the publicity alone. And a few in the community will try to kill you,” Potter’s lawyers wrote, noting the threats Potter has received. The lawyers believed her house would have been burned down without protection.

My understanding of Minnesota law is that Potter will serve 2/3 of her sentence in prison, so she will be released on parole after serving 16 months.

Prior related post:

February 18, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, February 10, 2022

US Sentencing Commission releases big new report on "Recidivism of Federal Violent Offenders Released in 2010"

As I keep noting in recent years, it is has been great to see the US Sentencing Commission continuing to produce a lot of useful data reports even as its policy work is necessarily on hiatus due to a lack of confirmed Commissioners.  The latest example released today is this 116-page new report titled "Recidivism of Federal Violent Offenders Released in 2010."  This USSC webpage provides an overview of the report along with a bunch of "Key Findings," some of which are reprinted here:

Overview

This report is the third in a series continuing the Commission’s research of the recidivism of federal offenders.  It provides an overview of the recidivism of the 13,883 federal violent offenders released from incarceration or sentenced to a term of probation in 2010, combining data regularly collected by the Commission with data compiled from criminal history records from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  This report provides an overview of recidivism for these offenders and information on key offender and offense characteristics related to recidivism.  This report also compares recidivism outcomes for federal violent offenders released in 2010 to non-violent offenders in the study group....

Key Findings

  • This study demonstrated substantially greater recidivism among violent federal offenders compared to non-violent federal offenders.
    • The recidivism rates of violent and non-violent offenders released in 2005 and 2010 remained unchanged despite two intervening major developments in the federal criminal justice system — the Supreme Court’s decision in Booker and increased use of evidence-based practices in federal supervision.
    • This finding is consistent with other Commission reports demonstrating higher recidivism among violent offenders...
  • Violent offenders recidivated at a higher rate than non-violent offenders.  Over an eight-year follow-up period, nearly two-thirds (63.8%) of violent offenders released in 2010 were rearrested, compared to more than one-third (38.4%) of non-violent offenders.
  • Violent offenders recidivated more quickly than non-violent offenders.  The median time to rearrest was 16 months for violent offenders and 22 months for non-violent offenders.
  • Among offenders who were rearrested, violent offenders were rearrested for a violent offense at a higher rate than non-violent offenders, 38.9 percent compared to 22.0 percent.
    • Assault was the most common type of rearrest for both violent and non-violent offenders, but a larger proportion of violent offenders (24.9%) than non-violent offenders (15.4%) were rearrested for assault.
  • Age at release is strongly correlated with recidivism for both violent and non-violent offenders. Rearrest rates decrease steadily with each age group for both groups of offenders.  However, violent offenders had higher rearrest rates than non-violent offenders in each age group.  Among offenders aged 60 and older, the oldest group of offenders studied, 25.1 percent of violent offenders were rearrested compared to 11.5 percent of non-violent offenders.
  • Criminal History Category (CHC) is strongly correlated with recidivism for both violent and non-violent offenders. Rearrest rates increase steadily with each CHC for both groups of offenders. However, violent offenders had higher rearrest rates than non-violent offenders in every CHC. Analyzed separately, violent instant offenders (59.9%) and violent prior offenders (64.8%) were rearrested at a higher rate than non-violent offenders (38.4%)....
  • The current recidivism findings for violent and non-violent offenders released in 2010 replicate the Commission’s findings for offenders released in 2005. Nearly two-thirds (63.8%) of violent offenders released in 2010 were rearrested, the same rate for violent offenders released in 2005 (63.8%). More than one-third (38.4%) of non-violent offenders released in 2010 were rearrested, a comparable rate to non-violent offenders released in 2005 (39.8%).

February 10, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Fourth Circuit panel upholds a "quirk" in Virginia’s sex-offender registry against various constitutional challenges

Though Justice Scalia passed away nearly six years ago, I still recall him preaching the simple (and perhaps controversial) idea that the Constitution does not always invalidate stupid laws. (Here is an account of a speech he gave 20 years ago at Princeton university where he said "the Constitution sometimes requires upholding a law that does not make sense.") The late Justice came to mind today when I saw the recent Fourth Circuit ruling in Doe v. Settle, No. 20-1951 (4th Cir. Jan 28, 2022) (available here). Here is how the lengthy unanimous panel opinion in Doe starts and concludes:

Two months after he turned 18, John Doe was caught having sex with his 14-yearold girlfriend.  Given the facts of his arrest, Doe may well have been charged with “carnal knowledge of a child,” a Class 4 felony that prohibits sex with 13- and 14-year-old children.  But instead he was charged with and pleaded to a lower-class felony, “taking indecent liberties with children,” which only prohibits behavior like propositioning a child for sex.  Doe’s plea may have gotten him a shorter prison sentence, but due to a quirk in Virginia law, it also led to worse treatment by Virginia’s sex-offender registry.  Both crimes generally put an offender on the highest tier of the registry for life, but there is a narrow exception to that rule.  When an offender is less than 5 years older than his victim, he may be removed from the registry in time.  But that mitigating exception only applies to carnal knowledge, the crime with the higher sentencing range, and not to indecent liberties.  So while Doe may have felt lucky to only be charged with indecent liberties, given the potential for a lower prison sentence, that plea ended up condemning him to worse treatment on the registry.  Because of that oddity, Doe will spend the rest of his life on Virginia’s sex-offender registry with no hope for relief.

Doe — now in his 30s — sued Colonel Gary T. Settle, Superintendent of the Virginia Department of State Police, hoping to persuade a court to remove him from that registry and its burdens.  Doe argues that the registry and the 5-year-gap provision violate multiple constitutional principles.  In his Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim, Doe asks us to consider why an offender convicted of having sex with a child, as Doe might have been, should be treated better than an offender convicted only of propositioning a child for sex, Doe’s actual charge.  In his Eighth Amendment claim, Doe asks us whether a lifelong registration requirement is an appropriate sanction for a single nonviolent crime committed by a high-school student.

Both appeals present significant issues of fairness, but at bottom, they ask us to question the wisdom of the Virginia legislature and its sex-offender registry.  That is not our place.  When the Constitution is invoked, our place is to determine whether state laws comply with the specific dictates of that document.  And Virginia’s sex-offender registry complies with the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.  So we affirm the district court’s dismissal.....

If an 18-year-old man in Virginia has “consensual” sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend, and the next day, sends her a text message asking her to do it again, he will have committed two crimes.  But under the letter of the law in Virginia, only one of those crimes will place him on the worst tier of sex offenders on the registry with the rapists and the murderers: the text message.  That may not make much sense.

But our Constitution “presumes that even improvident decisions will eventually be rectified by the democratic process.”  See Cleburne, 473 U.S. at 440.  The judiciary is not meant to revise laws because they are clumsy, unwise, or — even in some cosmic sense — unfair.  In cases like this, courts are asked to make judgments about what is inside and what is outside the precise lines drawn by the Constitution.  And whatever else they may be, Virginia’s sex-offender registry and its narrow Romeo-and-Juliet provision are constitutional.  Accordingly, the district court’s judgment is AFFIRMED.

February 1, 2022 in Collateral consequences, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Notable new report on juve LWOP reviews "Montgomery v. Louisiana Six Years Later: Progress and Outliers"

This morning I received this email from the folks at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth that highlighting this new report "Montgomery v. Louisiana Six Years Later: Progress and Outliers." The full short report is worth a full read, and the emails provides this brief accounting of the report's coverage:

Six years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, making Miller v. Alabama’s requirement that judges consider the mitigating attributes of youth retroactive and offering new hope to thousands of people who had been sentenced to life without parole as children.  For many, that hope has led to shorter prison sentences, and for hundreds of others, it’s meant freedom.  At the time of the decision, 2,800 individuals in the U.S. were serving life without parole for crimes committed as children.  In the six years since, 835 individuals formerly serving this sentence have been released from prison. 

Today, 25 states and the District of Columbia ban life-without-parole sentences for children, and in six additional states, no one is serving life without parole for a crime committed as a child.  While we celebrate this inspiring progress, we recognize that far too many others have not yet received the relief they rightfully deserve.  Thus, we are pressing forward in the fight for these individuals across all areas of our work, with a particular focus on state legislatures and advocacy in outlier states. You can read more about how far we have come and the challenges we still face in this report authored by Rebecca Turner, the CFSY’s Senior Litigation Counsel.  

The full report gives particular attention to developments in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Louisiana, which "each had more children sentenced to life without parole than any other state in the country" when Montgomery was handed down.  Here is how the report describes subsequent developments in those states and nationwide:

A majority of the 2,800 individuals serving juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) following Miller have been resentenced in court or had their sentences amended via legislation, depending on the jurisdiction in which they were convicted.

Yet despite the 80% reduction in people serving JLWOP, jurisdictions have varied significantly in their implementation of Miller. As a result, relief afforded to individuals serving JLWOP is based more on jurisdiction than on whether the individual has demonstrated positive growth and maturation.

The uneven implementation of Miller disproportionately impacts Black individuals, who represent 61% of the total JLWOP population....

Within that population [serving JLWOP when Montgomery was decided], 29% have been released, over 50% have had their sentences reduced from JLWOP, about 17% have not yet been afforded relief, and approximately 3% have been resentenced to JLWOP.

January 25, 2022 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)