Thursday, April 25, 2024

"The Relevance of State Misconduct for Mitigating Individual Punishment"

The title of this post is the title of this book chapter authored by Thom Brooks now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

This chapter is focused on the possible relevance of state misconduct for mitigating individual sentences.  I argued that state misconduct can justify mitigation where a sufficient connection is made between the state misconduct and the offender in one of two ways.  First, this may take the form of systematic discrimination whether or not intentional where offenders are subjected to overly harsh punishments as a result of bias against their protected characteristics, like race.  Secondly, this may take the form of deliberate bad faith that may not be systematically applied, but no less problematic.

It is argued that state misconduct matters for mitigation as a form of provocation that impacts culpability.  This might be understood differently by different penal theories, whether desert-based or consequentialist.  Either way, this view of mitigation is coherent with a variety of very different penal theories even if each might justify mitigation in different ways.

This view rests on an important assumption that it applies to states that can and do acknowledge when they, as a state, have engaged in state misconduct.  State misconduct happens and too often.  But no view of mitigation is possible where it is impossible for the state to recognise its shortcomings.  And, where it is found, the state should be compelled to ensure such misconduct is addressed so it is no longer a factor.

April 25, 2024 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Prez Biden issues 11 pardons and five commutations to persons "convicted of non-violent drug offenses"

As stated in this press release from the White House, "President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. is using his authority under the Constitution to advance equal justice under law by granting clemency to 16 deserving individuals who were convicted of non-violent drug offenses." The release provide the names and various details about all the clemency recipients, though more background information is given concerning the 11 pardon recipients, and the basic sentence information is provided for the five persons who recieived prison sentence commutations. In this document, titled "Statement from President Joe Biden on Clemency Actions," comes this explanation:

America is a Nation founded on the promise of second chances. During Second Chance Month, we reaffirm our commitment to rehabilitation and reentry for people returning to their communities post incarceration.  We also recommit to building a criminal justice system that lives up to those ideals and ensures that everyone receives equal justice under law. That is why today I am announcing steps I am taking to make this promise a reality.

I am using my clemency power to pardon 11 individuals and commute the sentences of 5 individuals who were convicted of non-violent drug offenses. Many of these individuals received disproportionately longer sentences than they would have under current law, policy, and practice. The pardon recipients have demonstrated their commitment to improving their lives and positively transforming their communities. The commutation recipients have shown that they are deserving of forgiveness and the chance at building a brighter future for themselves beyond prison walls.

Like my other clemency actions, these pardons and commutations reflect my overarching commitment to addressing racial disparities and improving public safety. While today’s announcement marks important and continued progress, my Administration will continue to review clemency petitions and deliver reforms in a manner that advances equal justice, supports rehabilitation and reentry, and provides meaningful second chances.

The Department of Justice also has this list of the clemencies. It looks like most, but not quite all, of these clemency recipients were convicted and sentenced for crack offenses, with some of the pardon recipient crimes going back in the 1990s.  Most of the commutations are for folks given decades of imprisonment in the 2010s.

April 24, 2024 in Clemency and Pardons, Drug Offense Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (13)

"Degrees of difference: Do college credentials earned behind bars improve labor market outcomes?"

The title of this post is the title of this new Criminology article authored by Abby Ballou.  Here is its abstract:

It is widely held that providing postsecondary education programs to incarcerated individuals will improve postrelease labor market outcomes. Little research evidence exists, however, to support this view.  To test the effect of postsecondary carceral education credentials on employer perceptions of hireability, the current study uses a factorial design to survey a sample of employers nationwide (N = 2,538).  Employers were presented with résumés of fictional applicants applying to a job as a customer service representative at a large call center.  The résumés randomized education credentials earned while incarcerated. 

Results indicate that employers were significantly more willing to interview applicants with postsecondary education credentials relative to applicants with only a General Educational Development (GED) diploma.  Although Black applicants who had earned a sub-baccalaureate certificate saw improvements in hireability relative to GED holders, Black applicants who had earned a bachelor's degree did not.  In contrast, White applicants benefited both from sub-baccalaureate certificates and bachelor's degrees.  Results from a mediation analysis suggest that these credentials signal important information to employers about applicant attributes and that improved perceptions of applicant ability and likelihood to reoffend drive the overall effect.  Implications for future research and policy are explored.

April 24, 2024 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Puzzling through the reach and application of the Eighth Amendment inspired by SCOTUS argument in Grants Pass case

I have listened to most of yesterday's Supreme Court oral argument in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson.  I share the basic sentiments reflected in the headlines of these press accounts of the SCOTUS argument:

From the New York Times, "Supreme Court Seems Poised to Uphold Local Bans on Homeless Encampments: A majority of the justices appeared skeptical of courts wading into the thorny policy questions around when local governments can punish people for sleeping and camping outdoors."

From NPR, "Supreme Court appears to side with an Oregon city's crackdown on homelessness"

From Vox, "The Supreme Court doesn’t seem eager to get involved with homelessness policy: Grants Pass v. Johnson is probably going to end badly for homeless people, but it’s not yet clear how broad the Court’s decision will be."

The subheadline of the Vox piece captures what I have been thinking about since listening to the Grants Pass argument.  It seems likely that there are at least six votes to reverse the Ninth Circuit's ruling based on the the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment.  But what will be the path for doing so? 

In this post a few weeks ago, I flagged commentary expressing concern that the Supreme Court might use the Grants Pass case as an opportunity to make a new and hard originalist turn in Eighth Amendment jurisprudence.  But I did not hear much during the oral argument to suggest that many Justices were eager to take up Eighth Amendment originalism as a means to resolve the case.  There surely could be some Eighth Amendment originalism in the Court's coming opinion, but I am now puzzling through other Eighth Amendment issues Grants Pass brings up that perhaps could provide other routes for the case's disposition.   Let me explain:

1. Civil versus criminal sanctionsJustice Thomas, in the first questions of oral argument, asked the lawyer for the City of Grants Pass, "have we ever applied the Eighth Amendment to civil penalties?"  The answer given, which I believe is correct, was " Not the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, no."  That answer was well phrased, because the Supreme Court has applied the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment to "civil" sanctions.   The courts below in this case held that the Fines Clause was implicated by the city's anti-camping ordinance AND that the ordinance was criminal becuase repeat violations could lead to jail time.   But person one technical (and unsatisfying?) way that the Supreme Court might rule for the city here would be to say that the anti-camping ordinance at issue cannot be facially unconstitutional under the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment when it only imposes a (modest? waivable?) fine for a first infraction.

2. Facial versus as-applied challengesI have never fully understood all the nuances around facial versus as-applied constitutional challenges, in part because it always seemed that Eighth Amendment claims must function as an as-applied challenge upon criminal enforcement.  Put another way, I have always assumed someone needs to first be subject to actual criminal prosecution with punishment threatened to litigate a Cruel and Unusual Punishment claim.  (A thought experiment: Could a doctor worried about new state laws criminalizing abortion bring an Eighth Amendment class-action challenge before being subject to any prosecution and even before he has performed any abortions?)  Then again, the courts below in this case held that the threat of enforcement was sufficient for standing, and arguably the categorical limits on application of the death penalty and LWOP for juveniles operate as a kind of class-wide, facial ruling about Eighth Amendment limits on statutory punishments.  Still, another technical (and unsatisfying?) way that the Supreme Court might rule for the city here would be to say that the anti-camping ordinance at issue cannot be facially challenged under the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment but only can be challenged in application on a case-by-case basis as it gets actually applied to different individuals.

3. Common-law defenses as constitutional defenses: The lawyer for the City of Grants Pass argued repeatedly that Oregon law recognizes a necessity defense which could be raised by homeless persons subject to the city's anti-camping ordinance.  Justice Gorsuch seemed particularly intrigued by this notion, but it is hard to sort through how this would doctrinally function as a matter of constitutional law.  Is just the availability of such a defense here, which is sure to be uncertain in application, enough to save the anti-camping ordinance from an otherwise winning Eighth Amendment claim?  Would such a ruling be tantamount to declaring that the Eighth Amendment makes a necessity defense sometimes constitutional required?  (Justice Gorush noted that it may make more sense to say a defense is required as a matter of due process, but he also recognized SCOTUS has rebuffed a due process claim regarding the insanity defense.)  Perhaps yet another technical (and unsatisfying?) way that the Supreme Court might rule for the city here would be to say that the anti-camping ordinance at issue is constitutional unless and until it is clear homeless persons are unable to advance an effective necessity defense in any criminal prosecution.   

Though some of these issues arose during oral argument, it is not clear any will be a focal point for the Court's coming disposition.  Many Justices seemed eager to make sure, in the words of Justice Kavanaugh, that "the federal courts aren't micromanaging homeless policy."  But, because the Justices are the only ones who define Eighth Amendment law, I hope they can at least avoid having this challening case create even more puzzling Cruel and Unusual Punishment jurisprudence.

April 23, 2024 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

US Sentencing Commission's new compassionate release data suggest (small) uptick in sentence reduction grants to close 2023

The US Sentencing Commission yesterday released this new compassionate release data report, which includes data on "the compassionate release motions filed with the courts and decided during the first quarter of fiscal year 2024."  (For the USSC, the first quarter of FY 2024 is actually the last three months of 2023.)   I noticed some interesting data points in this report comparing the sentence reduction grants and grant rates of the last three months of 2023 to prior months in 2023 and even earlier years.

Specifically, the months of October and December 2023 saw the highest grant rates for these motions (22.3% and 23% respectively) than for any month since the heart of the COVID pandemic in summer 2020.  Indeed, as Table 1 in the new USSC data shows, the only other month with a greater than 20% grant rate for these motions since August 2020 was in December 2022.  In addition, the total number of sentence reduction grants in Q1 of FY 2024 was also up as compared to recent prior quarters: there were 119 total grants in Q1 of 2024 compared to 81 in Q4 and 111 in Q3 and 114 in Q2 of FY 2023.

What explains the uptick in grants of compassionate release motions in Q1 of FY 2024?  I have two working hypotheses, one general and one 2023 specific: (1) maybe judges are slightly more likely in general to grant these sentence reductions toward the end of the year during the holiday season; and/or (2) maybe judges were influenced a bit by the new US Sentencing Commission policy statement governing compassionate release, § 1B1.13, which became formally effective on November 1, 2023.

Also, as I have noted before in this space, some other notable data points here come from the variations in grant rates from various circuits and districts.  Here is one example in this latest data: in the Second Circuit in this quarter, nine of 12 total resolved sentence reduction motions were granted; in the Third Circuitthis quarter only one of 23 motions were granted.

Critically, my eyeball assessment of these latest data (which reflect small numbers and lots of potential confounding factors) may just be an effort to encourage more systematic analysis of how federal district judges are continuing to use their sentence reduction authority.  Especially with COVID-based reasons likely no longer driving a large number of requests or grants for compassionate release, I hope we start to learn more about what facts and factors are providing most consequential in this form of federal judicial (re)sentencing decision-making.

April 23, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

"What Is a Prison?"

The title of this post is the title of this new book review authored by one of my Ohio State colleagues, Grace Li, now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Tommie Shelby’s 2022 book The Idea of Prison Abolition sets out to compile and rearticulate the arguments for and against prison abolition -- using Angela Davis's works as the sole source texts.  In considering the arguments, he concludes that it is not necessary to abolish prisons and instead endorses reform.

In this book review, I argue that Shelby’s most helpful contribution in the book is not his analysis of whether prisons should be abolished but rather his elemental definition of incarceration.  To know what to abolish and when we have abolished it, we need to define what we mean by "prison."  I evaluate and extend his definition by culling some elements, such that the remaining elements are: "involuntary confinement," "in an enclosed space," "away from the general public;" and adding an element, "for a continuous amount of time."  I also add to these elements a list of harms that imprisonment inevitably causes.

April 23, 2024 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (12)

Monday, April 22, 2024

Tennessee poised to become second state to authorize the death penalty for child rape since SCOTUS prohibition

As reported in this local piece from Tennessee, a "controversial bill that would allow the state to seek the death penalty for those convicted of rape of a child passed the House of Representatives Monday, clearing the final legislative hurdle before becoming law in Tennessee."  Here are the basics:

HB1663, by House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland), would allow for those convicted of rape or especially aggravated rape of a child in Tennessee to be sentenced to death.

The move received considerable pushback from Democrats, who argued the General Assembly was passing a blatantly unconstitutional law.  The bill was also not favored by Sen. Kerry Roberts, who said while he disagreed with the Supreme Court decisions that made and affirmed that the death penalty was considered cruel and unusual punishment, passing the law was not going to help overturn Kennedy v. Louisiana, as some of his colleagues might hope it would.

Despite attempts to amend the bill by Roberts, the Senate adopted the bill 24-5, with Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) joining Democrats opposed. The last stop for the bill in the legislative branch was the House Monday, April 22....  Ultimately, the bill passed on party lines, 77-19-1, with Clarksville Democrat Ronnie Glynn Present Not Voting.

The bill now heads to Gov. Bill Lee‘s desk for his signature. News 2 has reached out to the governor’s office for comment.

I expect that Gov Lee would be likely to sign this legislation (especially since it would seem any veto could be overridden). When this bill becomes law, Tennessee will join Florida in having a modern capital child rape statute despite the Supreme Court's ruling in Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008), that the Eighth Amendment bars states from imposing the death penalty for the rape of a child.

Florida's capital child rape statute has yet to produce a death sentence that might become a new test case for the Kennedy ruling.  I predicted in this prior post that it might be many, many years before such a case gets to the Supreme Court.  More states having capital child rape laws on the books surely make a test case that much more likely.

Prior related posts:

April 22, 2024 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rounding up (modest) press coverage of US Sentencing Commission's unanimous vote to limit use of acquitted conduct in guideline calculations

As reported here, last week the the US Sentencing Commission voted unanimous to promulgate a number of notable new guideline amendments, including most notably an amendment to preclude the use of acquitted conduct in guideline calculations.  (The promulgated amendments passed by the Commission are posted here).  Perhaps because acquitted conduct sentencing reform is something I consider symbolically meaningful (and overdue), I view this unanimous guideline amendment to be a pretty big deal.  But, perhaps unsurprisingly, the USSC's vote has garnered only modest press coverage to date.  Still, I figured it was worth a quick round-up:

From Bloomberg Law, "US Sentencing Commission Votes for Major Guideline Amendments"

From Law360, "Sentencing Commission Limits Acquitted Conduct Sentencing"

From Reason, "U.S. Sentencing Commission Restricts Federal Judges' Ability To Use Acquitted Conduct at Sentencing: The little-known but outrageous practice allowed judges to enhance defendants' sentences using conduct a jury acquitted them of.

From Reuters, "US panel prohibits judges from sentencing for 'acquitted conduct'"

Also, a Senator's press release:  "Durbin Applauds Sentencing Commission's Unanimous Vote To Prohibit Acquitted Conduct From Being Used In Sentencing Guidelines: The Announcement Comes After Durbin, Grassley Reintroduced Their Prohibiting Punishment Of Acquitted Conduct Act"

Sharp-eyed readers may recognize that the Reuters heading is a bit inaccurate becayse the USSC did not (and perhaps feels it cannot) entirely prohibit sentencing on the basis of acquitted conduct given applicable sentencing statutes.  Rather, the Commission voted unanimously to prohibit courts from considering acquitted conduct when calculating the applicable guidelines.  As noted in the press release from Senator Burbin's office, it may be still necessary for Congress to enact the Prohibiting Punishment Of Acquitted Conduct Act in order to completely preclude judges at sentencing from ever considering acquitted conduct.

Prior recent related post:

April 22, 2024 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Unpunishment Purposes"

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

Sentencing scholarship often begins by exploring the traditional purposes of punishment: deterrence, retribution, incapacitation, and rehabilitation.  However, little scholarship exists addressing how these four punishment purposes apply in the post-sentencing or resentencing context.  Further, abstract theories of sentencing can often seem sterile and disconnected from the realities of how violent, disproportionate, and dehumanizing the actual experience of incarceration is for many people, and they tend to downplay the impact of incarceration on the families and communities of those who are incarcerated.  Drawing on abolitionist principles centered around harm reduction, this Article reimagines the punishment purposes in a new way, with a decarcerative valence.

This Article attempts to reconceptualize the traditional purposes of punishment in order to meet the current historical moment, and it does so through an abolitionist lens.  For example, within the past decade, a number of state and federal retroactive relief mechanisms have allowed incarcerated people to petition courts for sentence reductions based on various legal theories.  But guidance provided to courts and other decisionmakers about how to exercise their discretionary decarceration authority is lacking.  Accordingly, this Article addresses head-on the need to develop a theory of resentencing and asks whether the four purposes of punishment require revision or augmentation to account for the sentence reduction context.

Further, this Article uses the federal second look context as a means to interrogate why blind adherence to the four punishment purposes has persisted despite their clear shortcomings.  In so doing, this Article seeks to shape second look advocacy and decision-making efforts, as well as the way in which sentencing is approached in the first instance, by both shifting away from the default of incarceration as punishment for crimes and utilizing a sentencing framework that looks at societal harm more expansively.

This Article argues that, by incorporating an abolition-based theory of harm prevention or reduction into the punishment purposes, judges may have more incentive to revisit old sentencing determinations and release more people from prison.  More than that, however, incorporating such a theory into a prospective sentencing may lead judges to rethink their reflexive reliance on the punishment purposes in the first instance, resulting in less punishment altogether.

April 22, 2024 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Another call for papers: Federal Sentencing Reporter issue on "Booker at 20"

In this prior post last month, I set out the full call for papers for a forthcoming issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter in which we plans to note (and celebrate? criticize?) the federal sentencing system's 20 years of functioning under the rules created in Booker.  I previously threatened to repost this call every few weeks until the deadline thoward the end of May, and this week's interesting guideline amendment actions by the US Sentencing Commission (basics here) has me eager to do so.  For this post, I will not give all the background about Booker and be content with these shortened specifics:

Nearly 20 years have passed since Booker, and the editors of the Federal Sentencing Reporter are eager to invite judges, lawyers, other sentencing practitioners, legal academics, and sentencing researchers, to share thoughts on “Booker at 20” for publication in an early 2025 FSR issue.  FSR commentaries for this issue could tackle foundational issues (such as the Court’s ruling in Booker and follow-up cases), discrete application issues (such as why certain advisory guidelines are more likely to be followed or ignored), institutional concerns (such as how Congress and the Commission and the Justice Department have responded to Booker), or any other topic of interest or concern to modern federal sentencing policy and practice.  FSR welcomes commentaries from all perspectives, including insights from sentencing experiences (with or without guidelines) in the states and other countries.  Everyone with an informed interest in sentencing law and practice is encouraged to submit a commentary.

FSR articles are typically brief — 2000 to 5000 words, though they can run longer — with relatively light use of citations.  The pieces are designed to be read by busy stakeholders, including lawyers, judges, scholars, and legislators (as well as, of course, members and staff of the US Sentencing Commission).  Priority will be given to drafts submitted by May 28, 2024, and later submissions will be considered as space permits.  Submissions should be sent electronically to [email protected] with a clear indication of the author and the author’s professional affiliation.

April 21, 2024 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Recommended reading, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Relative Severity of Criminal Sentences in the January 6, 2021, Capitol Breach Cases"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Sam Merchant which now has an abstract available up on SSRN.  I typically will not link to an SSRN posting unless and until the full draft article is available for download.  But this article's findings seem especially timely and notable; so here is its abstract:

Many observers claim that judges are imposing disproportionately lenient sentences on January 6, 2021, “Capitol Breach” offenders.  Some have even suggested a racial or political motivation for lighter sentences.  Comparative data on these sentences and offenders, presented here for the first time, refute this narrative. Individuals convicted of felonies related to the Capitol Breach appear to actually receive longer sentences than individuals convicted of the same crimes outside of the Capitol Breach context.

But sentences in Capitol Breach cases may indeed be “lenient” for a deeper, more structural reason — the current Federal Sentencing Guidelines do not adequately account for the severity of the conduct that occurred on January 6, 2021.  There is a qualitative difference between federal offenses and the same offenses committed in the context of the “treason spectrum.”  English and American legal traditions have historically viewed treason, rebellion, and subversive activities as “the worst crimes of all” because they are crimes against all citizens and threaten the constitutional order.  Yet no sentencing enhancement addresses the increased severity of conduct involving offenses that are on the treason spectrum.

Recognizing the increased seriousness of other conduct, Congress and the Sentencing Commission have enacted an array of enhancements to punish, incapacitate, and deter offenders whose conduct involves a dangerous weapon, body armor, or even use of a fake website during an offense.  This Article proposes a new sentencing enhancement in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that properly accounts for the relative severity of conduct involving offenses on the treason spectrum.  To reaffirm a commitment to democratic values, to deter future subversive conduct, and ensure that the legal system is equipped to respond to the severity of subversive conduct, policymakers and judges should send clear signal that subversive activities are indeed among “the worst crimes of all.”

UPDATE: It now appears that the full paper is available for download at this SSRN link.

April 21, 2024 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Rounding up some new and older marijuana record relief scholarship for 4/20 reading

I tend to find extreme affinity for 420 as a kind of marijuana holiday to be a bit silly.  But I am not so much of a scrooge that I will eschew a marijuana-themed post on this day.  Inspired in part by a great new paper from researchers at the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (the listed first below), I figured I woud round up an array of pieces from SSRN focused on the intersection of marijuana reform and record relief.  I have only collected pieces on was able to find quickly on SSRN, so what is linked here is surely just an abridged accounting of work in this space:  

"Automatic Record Relief in Ohio: Recommendations for Minimizing Implementation Challenges and Maximizing Impact"

"Marijuana Legalization and Record Clearing in 2022"

"Marijuana Legalization and Expungement in Early 2021"

"Erasing Evidence of Historic Injustice: The Cannabis Criminal Records Expungement Paradox"

"Ensuring Marijuana Reform Is Effective Criminal Justice Reform"

"High Time for Criminal Justice Reform: Marijuana Expungement Statutes in States with Legalized or Decriminalized Marijuana Laws"

"Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"

April 20, 2024 in Collateral consequences, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (2)

"A Randomization-based Analysis of the Effects of Electoral Pressure on Judges' Sentencing Decisions"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Benjamin Lu and available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Until recently, studies have consistently found that judges sentence more harshly under electoral pressure.  We add to growing evidence complicating that account.  We analyze an open dataset of felony cases prosecuted in Cook County, the second-most populous county in the United States, between 2011 and 2018 and an original dataset of county judges’ electoral histories.  Unlike previous work in this area, we leverage the fact that some cases in the county are randomly assigned to judges to conduct explicitly causal analyses without conditional ignorability or functional form assumptions. We do not find strong evidence that judges in the county sentence more harshly in response to electoral pressure.

April 20, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, April 19, 2024

Notable new commentary makes case for federal Safer Supervision Act

Alice Marie Johnson has this notable Fox News commentary discussion reentry reform. The full headline provides a preview: "I spent 20 years in prison for one mistake. I know the system is broken even when you get out. Getting out of prison is only the beginning of a new set of problems with probation." Here are snippets from the lengthy piece:

Federal supervision policies are supposed to help people successfully return to their communities from prison. Unfortunately, in many cases, they erect barriers to successful reintegration. The bipartisan Safer Supervision Act would break down those barriers, reduce recidivism and improve public safety....

Federal supervised release was originally meant to be applied only in cases where it was necessary for public safety. Unfortunately, it is now imposed in nearly every case.  About 110,000 individuals are under federal supervised release — a 200% increase from three decades ago.

As a result, case officers have become overburdened, often managing up to 100 cases at once.  With probation officers overstretched, they cannot devote adequate time or resources to managing those who pose higher public safety risks, and this "mismatch" can lead to recidivism.

Unnecessary supervision also comes with roadblocks that make it harder for low-risk people who have paid their debts to society to reintegrate into their communities.  In 2020, more people saw their supervised release revoked due to technical violations — such as failing to make a meeting with a probation officer or traveling without permission — than for committing new crimes....

The Safer Supervision Act, which has broad support from law enforcement, legal experts and criminal justice groups across the political spectrum, would tackle many of the issues that are causing the current system to fail.

First, instead of implementing one-size-fits-all supervision sentences for everyone exiting the justice system, the Safer Supervision Act would require courts to conduct individualized assessments to determine if supervision is necessary, and if so, what restrictions are needed to protect public safety or better support successful reentry.  This would ensure that the people who need the most support receive it while allowing people who are at lower risk of recidivism to fully stretch their freedom legs.  It would also prevent probation officers from becoming overburdened with irrelevant caseloads.

Another critical piece of the bill is that it creates incentives for maintaining good conduct and reintegrating successfully into society.  The legislation establishes a presumption of early termination once someone has served half of their supervision period, has shown good conduct and complied with supervision terms, and has been assessed as a low public safety risk.  This will encourage more people to take the steps needed to succeed, whether that involves undergoing substance use disorder treatment, pursuing more education or maintaining steady employment.

Other provisions in the bill also focus on rehabilitation.  For example, it would give courts the option to send people on supervised release who are found in possession of illicit substances to treatment and rehabilitation programs instead of requiring a mandatory revocation that often comes with prison time.  This would only apply in cases of simple possession, not possession with the intent to distribute.

Lastly, the bill calls for a thorough report on federal post-release supervision and reentry services to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently and responsibly.

Too many of our federal supervision rules are counterproductive.  Not only do they keep too many people who have served their time in prison and are not a threat to public safety from living full lives, but they overburden our law enforcement officers and make us less safe.  The Safer Supervision Act will help change that, giving deserving people a real second chance while ensuring public safety.

April 19, 2024 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Recapping (incompletely) the SCOTUS argument week that was ... and looking ahead

I flagged in this post at the start of this week that the Supreme Court had a quartet of scheduled oral arguments on criminal issues.  Based on press reports, it seems that defendants/individuals had a pretty good week in court taking on the arguments from  prosecutors/state actors.  But, of course, we cannot know for sure who is truly victorious until we get opinions in a few months.  Here are links to various press stories suggesting where the Court seemed to be leaning in these cases:

Snyder v. US: "Supreme Court Poised to Cut Back Scope of Anti-Corruption Law"

Chiaverini v. City of Napoleon, Ohio: "Justices Wary Of Strict Limit On Malicious Prosecution Cases"

Fischer v. US: "Supreme Court gives skeptical eye to key statute used to prosecute Jan. 6 rioters"

Thornell v. Jones: "High Court Weighs New Sentence for Arizona Death Row Inmate"

Next week's six scheduled Supreme Court arguments are not exclusively crminal matters, but there are two big crime-related cases in the bunch.  On Monday, the Court takes up Eighth Amendment issues in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson and Presidential immunity issues in Trump v. United States.  I am inclined to guess that the Justices will have some more affinity for arguments from prosecutors/state actor in these cases as compared to those cases heard this past week.  But we shall see.

April 19, 2024 in Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Notable criminal justice counter-initiative looking likely to come before California voters

As reported in this local article, headlined "Backers say they have enough signatures to qualify Prop 47 rollback initiative," an interesting criminal justice ballot measure looks likely to come before California voters this fall.  Here are some of the details:

Critics who blame California’s 2014 Proposition 47 for runaway drug addiction, retail theft and urban squalor said Thursday they have collected enough signatures to qualify a November ballot measure that would restore penalties for serial thieves and treatment requirements for addicts.

Backers including owners of small businesses, social justice leaders and drug victim families gathered in San Francisco and Los Angeles to announce they have collected about 900,000 voter signatures, significantly more than the 546,651 required by April 23, and are turning them in to the Attorney General’s Office.

“Prop 47 achieved notable success in making California’s criminal justice system more equitable,” supporters of the proposed Homelessness, Drug Addiction and Theft Reduction Act. "However, it led to unintended consequences over the past decade — repeat and often organized retail theft, inner-city store closings, and difficulty convincing people to seek drug and mental health treatment — that can only be corrected by the voters at the ballot box with modest amendments to Prop 47.”

Prop 47 was among a series of laws and initiatives over the last 15 years aimed at depopulating overcrowded California prisons and addressing social justice concerns that have since been blamed for spurring brazen retail thefts, store closures and unchecked drug addiction. Promoted to voters as the “Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act,” Prop 47 reduced most drug possession and property crimes valued at $950 or less to misdemeanors and allowed for resentencing of those convicted of felonies for those offenses....

Prop 47 passed with nearly 60% voter approval.  An earlier effort to toughen up some of the penalties reduced by Prop 47 — Proposition 20 in 2020 — failed.  The impact on crime of Prop 47 continues to be furiously debated....  But supporters of the proposed November initiative say there’s no way to fix the state’s theft and drug problems without walking back parts of Prop 47....

Supporters stress that the proposed initiative would amend but not repeal Prop 47. It would make a third conviction for retail theft a felony, regardless of the amount stolen.  Before Prop 47, a second conviction would become a felony, but the 2014 initiative eliminated consequences for repeat offenses.  The proposed measure also would add penalties for dealing fentanyl, a cheap and deadly synthetic opioid, and provide incentives for convicted addicts to seek treatment.

April 18, 2024 in Offense Characteristics, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (9)

"The Secret History of the Carceral State"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Laura Appleman recently posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Profits have long played a critical role in the administration of punishment in America.  This Article provides one of the first full-length historical accounts of how the pursuit of private profits has shaped the American carceral system over time. It argues that deriving profits from punishment has been a crucial and formative aspect of American carcerality since our earliest days.  Although most scholars have focused on convict leasing in the postbellum era as the first major example of private prison profiteering, this Article shows how a predatory for-profit system of punishment well predates this, originating in the colonial era. The story of American corrections, fully told, reveals four distinct transformative periods over the nearly five-century evolution of American incarceration, ultimately explaining the condition of today’s carceral state.

In addition to providing a broader and more complete historical perspective, this Article also explains how the most recent inroads of privatized, for-profit correctional entities have overtaken the contemporary workings of the carceral system, causing chaos, abuse, and death.  The Article details the mechanisms through which seeking profits from incarceration has led to objectively worse conditions and outcomes for the punished.  Given the now widespread privatization and corporate takeover of so many aspects of the carceral state, from healthcare to food services and beyond, it is well past time to question the role of “Big Capital.”  This Article shines a light on the forgotten history of the American carceral crisis, tracing the role of profits from colonial days to the 21st century.

April 18, 2024 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Ugly stories of federal prison management continue as "rape club" FCI-Dublin gets shut down

I have blogged before about only some of the ugly details surrounding the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Dublin in California, where sexual abuse of incarcerated women was so rampant that the facitlity garnered the nickname "rape club." This week brought a number of new developments to the ugly stories of FCI-Dublin, which seem to be on-going and are partially summarized in this recent AP piece:

The planned closure of a federal women’s prison in California notorious for staff-on-inmate sexual abuse won’t occur before each inmate’s status has been reviewed, with an eye toward determining who will be transferred elsewhere or released, authorities say.  Following the Bureau of Prison’s sudden announcement Monday that FCI Dublin would be shut down, a judge ordered an accounting of the casework for all 605 women held at the main lockup and its adjacent minimum-security camp.

A special master recently assigned to oversee the troubled prison will review the casework and “ensure inmates are transferred to the correct location,” U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers wrote in her order.  “This includes whether an inmate should be released to a BOP facility, home confinement, or halfway house, or granted a compassionate release.”

Advocates have called for inmates to be freed from FCI Dublin, which they say is not only plagued by sexual abuse but also has hazardous mold, asbestos and inadequate health care.  They also worry that some of the safety concerns could persist at other women’s prisons. “There are survivors of sexual assault that are still at Dublin. And the idea that BOP could just transfer them to some other far-off place without care ... it’s just abhorrent to me,” said Susan Beaty, an attorney for inmate whistleblowers who exposed the abuse and corruption....

A 2021 Associated Press investigation exposed a “rape club” culture at the prison where a pattern of abuse and mismanagement went back years, even decades.  The Bureau of Prisons repeatedly promised to improve the culture and environment — but the decision to shutter the facility represented an extraordinary acknowledgment that reform efforts have failed.  “Despite these steps and resources, we have determined that FCI Dublin is not meeting expected standards and that the best course of action is to close the facility,” Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters said in a statement to AP.  “This decision is being made after ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of those unprecedented steps and additional resources.”

Groups representing inmates and prison workers alike said the imminent closure shows that the bureau is more interested in avoiding accountability than stemming the problems....

Last August, eight FCI Dublin inmates sued the Bureau of Prisons, alleging the agency had failed to root out sexual abuse at the facility about 21 miles (35 kilometers) east of Oakland.  It is one of six women-only federal prisons and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains.  Lawyers for the plaintiffs said inmates continued to face retaliation for reporting abuse, including being put in solitary confinement and having belongings confiscated.  They said the civil litigation will continue.

Last month, the FBI again searched the prison and the Bureau of Prisons again shook up its leadership after a warden sent to help rehabilitate the facility was accused of retaliating against a whistleblower inmate.  Days later, a federal judge overseeing lawsuits against the prison, said she would appoint a special master to oversee the facility’s operations.

The AP investigation found a culture of abuse and cover-ups that had persisted for years. That reporting led to increased scrutiny from Congress and pledges from the Bureau of Prisons that it would fix problems and change the culture at the prison.  Since 2021, at least eight FCI Dublin employees have been charged with sexually abusing inmates. Five have pleaded guilty. Two were convicted at trial, including the former warden, Ray Garcia. Another case is pending.

April 18, 2024 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

"Redeemable Fines: Overcoming the Crisis of Overincarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Gideon Parchomovsky and Alex Stein now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

In this Essay, we introduce a new mechanism uniquely designed to achieve rehabilitation of offenders and improve the criminal justice system: the redeemable fine.  A redeemable fine is a monetary penalty that will be returned to the offender — in installments or, in exceptional cases, in one payment — over a certain period so long as she or he commits no further crimes.  Unlike traditional fines, redeemable fines can be structured in a myriad of ways to provide individually tailored optimal rehabilitative incentives for offenders.  First, the installment period of the repayment can be short (several months) or long (several years), depending on the characteristics of the offense and the offender. Second, there is the frequency of the payments.  The payment intervals can be long, short, intermediate or variable.  The sentencing judge will be able to order that the repayments will be made annually, every six months, every single month or, in exceptional cases, in one installment on the successful completion of the rehabilitation.  As with traditional fines, the redeemable fine’s amount will correlate with the seriousness of the offender’s misdeed.  For these and other reasons, introduction of redeemable fines can dramatically reduce the rates and the costs of incarceration and render the criminal justice system fairer and more humane, while providing meaningful incentives for offenders not to commit further offenses.

April 17, 2024 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

US Sentencing Commission votes to promulgate guideline amendment to limit use of acquitted conduct in guideline calculations

At a public meeting this afternoon, the US Sentencing Commission voted to promulgate a number of notable new guideline amendments, including perhaps most notably an amendment to preclude the consideration of acquitted conduct in guideline calculations.  The Commission's vote on this acquitted conduct amendment appeared to be unanimous, but then there seemed to be some dissention about whether to conduct a data analysis and seek public comment on whether to make this acquitted conduct amendment retroactive.  The retroactivity analysis for the acquitted conduct amendment did get majority support, and I will be very interested to see what the USSC's data shows as to how many persons are currently imprisoned as a result of acquitted conduct guideline enhancements.

A lot more got done by the USSC at its public meeting this afternoon, and I hope to update this post with some of the official announcements from the Commission about its work later this afternoon.

UPDATE Here is the full text of this press release that the US Sentencing Commission just posted to its website under the heading "Commission Votes Unanimously to Pass Package of Reforms
Including Limit on Use of Acquitted Conduct in Sentencing Guidelines":

The bipartisan United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously today to prohibit conduct for which a person was acquitted in federal court from being used in calculating a sentence range under the federal guidelines. The Commission’s seven members also joined together to pass a range of additional reforms, including those that bring uniformity to sentencing for certain gun and financial crimes and provide a potential downward departure based on age. “The reforms passed today reflect a bipartisan commitment to creating a more effective and just sentencing system,” said Commission Chair Judge Carlton W. Reeves. Watch the public meeting.

“Not guilty means not guilty,” said Chair Reeves. “By enshrining this basic fact within the federal sentencing guidelines, the Commission is taking an important step to protect the credibility of our courts and criminal justice system.” This reform comes amid robust debate on acquitted conduct from across the country.  Last year, several Supreme Court Justices called for the Commission to address acquitted conduct, while a bipartisan group of legislators in Congress introduced a bill limiting the use of acquitted conduct in sentencing.

In addition to limiting the use of acquitted conduct, the Commission revised its policy statement on age, permitting judges to downward depart based on age if appropriate in light of today’s richer understanding of the science and data surrounding youthful individuals, including recognition that cognitive changes lasting into the mid-20s affect individual behavior, culpability and the age-crime curve.  The Commission also moved commentary regarding the definition of “loss” to the body of the fraud, theft, and property destruction guideline to ensure courts uniformly calculate loss amounts.  And the Commission addressed a circuit conflict over how to properly punish crimes involving weapons with altered or obliterated serial numbers.

These and all other amendments passed by the Commission today will be posted here.  The Commission will deliver amendments to Congress by May 1, 2024.  If Congress does not act to disapprove the changes, they will go into effect on November 1, 2024.

April 17, 2024 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (10)

SCOTUS rules unanimously that federal forfeiture errors as subject to harmless-error review

The Supreme Court handed down one opinion in a criminal case this morning in US v. McIntosh, No. 22–7386 (S.Ct. Apr. 17, 2024) (available here).  This case was argued just over six weeks ago, and anyone who listened to the oral argument would have predicted this shiny apple result.  Here is how the Court's opinion, authored by Justice Sotomayor, gets started:

In certain criminal cases, Congress has authorized the Government to seek forfeiture of a defendant’s ill-gotten gains as part of the defendant’s sentence.  Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.2 sets forth specific procedures for imposing criminal forfeiture in such cases.  In particular, Rule 32.2(b)(2)(B) provides that, “[u]nless doing so is impractical,” a federal district court “must enter the preliminary order [of forfeiture] sufficiently in advance of sentencing to allow the parties to suggest revisions or modifications before the order becomes final as to the defendant.”

The question presented in this case is whether a district court that fails to comply with Rule 32.2(b)(2)(B)’s requirement to enter a preliminary order before sentencing is powerless to order forfeiture against the defendant.  In light of the Rule’s text and relevant precedents, this Court holds that the failure to enter a preliminary order does not bar a judge from ordering forfeiture at sentencing subject to harmless-error principles on appellate review.

April 17, 2024 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Senator Kennedy introduces "Consensus in Sentencing Act" to increase USSC votes needed for guideline amendments

A helpful colleague alerted me to this fascinating new press release from the office of US Senator John Kennedy discussing the introduction of some fascinating new proposed legislation.  Here are the details from the press release reprinted here in full:

WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today introduced the Consensus in Sentencing Act to require the U.S. Sentencing Commission to achieve bipartisan agreement to make major policy changes.

The legislation would amend 28 U.S.C. § 994(a) to require that amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines receive five votes from the Commission’s seven voting members. 

“The Sentencing Commission for decades strove to achieve bipartisan agreement when adopting amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines. In recent years, the Commission has lost its way and begun forcing through amendments on party-line votes. My bill would help the Sentencing Commission revive its consensus-building culture,” said Kennedy. 

Background: 

  • The Sentencing Commission is made up of seven voting members. No more than four members can belong to the same political party. 
  • In a sharp break from its traditional bipartisan practices, the Commission’s current leadership has forced through several major policy changes to federal sentencing law on a party-line basis.
  • The Commission is currently considering several other major proposed changes.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) cosponsored the legislation.

Full text of the Consensus in Sentencing Act is available here

I am pretty sure that recent US Sentencing Commission votes on a 4-3 basis were the adoption of the new sentence reduction (compassionate release) guidelines and the decision to make new criminal history rules retroactive. I believe all other actions by the current Commission have been unanimous, but I am not entirely sure about all vote tallies.

This bill has been introducted the day before the Commission is scheduled to conduct a public meeting with an agenda that includes "Vote to Promulgate Proposed Amendments."  The timing here cannot be pure coincidence, and I wonder if we should now expect some split votes (or not expect split votes) on some of these proposed amendment topics (eg, perhaps there is an proposed amendment on acquitted conduct that is driving controversy beyond the wall of the USSC building and all the way up to Capitol Hill).

I doubt that this bill to require five votes for guideline amendments will get enacted anytime soon, if ever.  But the bill's very introduction highlights that this active new Commission is garnering notable attention for its notable activity.

April 16, 2024 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Apprendi, Punishment, and a Retroactive Theory of Revocation"

The title of this post is the title of this student note in the March 2024 Yale Law Journal authored by Jaewon Chris Kim that I just came across. Here is its abstract:

In Apprendi v. New Jersey, the Supreme Court announced what is now a seminal rule of constitutional criminal procedure: any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum cannot be found by a judge, but must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  The doctrine arising from Apprendi and its descendant cases had, until recently, been confined to the sentencing context.  But in 2019, the Court in United States v. Haymond considered a potential expansion of Apprendi to judicial revocations of federal supervised release.  The Court ultimately handed down a 4-1-4 decision with minimal precedential value, but since then, there has been a swell of scholarship discussing the applicability of the jury right to this new context.  Much of this discussion has centered around the questions of constitutional interpretation raised by Haymond, and whether a revocation proceeding is part of a “criminal prosecution” as specified by the text of the Sixth Amendment.

This Note argues for a different approach.  Revisiting the Apprendi cases and their contemporary scholarly treatment reveals that the doctrine was rooted not in novel methods of textual interpretation, but in fundamental principles of substantive criminal law: what constitutes “crime” and “punishment.”  Existing scholarship has not provided an answer to how these principles might apply to a function that takes place after sentencing and final judgment, like revocation of supervised release.  I therefore introduce a retroactive theory of revocation that rationalizes Apprendi’s definition of crime and punishment within this context.  Under this theory, revocation proceedings are unconstitutional not because they are directly covered by the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, but because they circumvent a person’s original jury trial by allowing them to be “punished” for a different “crime.”  This means that every revocation of supervised release violates Apprendi.  Moreover, the retroactive theory suggests that other forms of post-judgment penalties, like extensions of probation and criminal fees, can similarly run afoul of the Sixth Amendment’s protections. 

April 16, 2024 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Latest accounting of Jan 6 prosecutions and sentences

The Supreme Court heard oral argument today in Fischer v. US to consider the reach of a federal criminal statute used to prosecute some of the January 6 Capitol rioters.  Press reports suggest a number of the Justices were skeptical of how the Justice Department was seeking to apply federal criminal law.  I hope to comment on this front after I have a chance to listen to the oral argument.  In the meantine, the Washington Post has this new article with an up-to-date accounting of just how many persons have been subject to prosecution thanks to the events of Januarry 6.  Here are excerpts:

The investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack is already the largest criminal inquiry in Justice Department history, federal prosecutors have said. And even after more than three years, it has shown little sign of slowing down.

Every week, a few more rioters are arrested and charges against them are unsealed in Federal District Court in Washington. Prosecutors have suggested that a total of 2,000 or 2,500 people could ultimately face indictment for their roles in the attack.

More than 1,380 people had been charged in connection with the attack as of early this month, according to the Justice Department. Among the most common charges brought against them are two misdemeanors: illegal parading inside the Capitol and entering and remaining in a restricted federal area, a type of trespassing.

About 350 rioters have been accused of violating the obstruction statute that the Supreme Court is considering at its hearing, and nearly 500 people have been charged with assaulting police officers. Many rioters have been charged with multiple crimes, the most serious of which so far has been seditious conspiracy.

Almost 800 defendants have already pleaded guilty; about 250 of them have done so to felony charges. Prosecutors have won the vast majority of the cases that have gone to trial: More than 150 defendants have been convicted at trial and only two have been fully acquitted.

More than 850 people have been sentenced so far, and about 520 have received at least some time in prison. The stiffest penalties have been handed down to the former leaders of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, far-right extremist groups that played central roles in the Capitol attack.

April 16, 2024 in Celebrity sentencings, Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (28)

"50 States, 1 Goal: Examining State-Level Recidivism Trends in the Second Chance Act Era"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center providing a positive accounting of recidivism trends in the states over the past 15 years. Here is how the report is briefly summarized:

This report highlights the significant progress made in reducing recidivism across the country over the past 15 years. Since its passage in 2008, the Second Chance Act has invested in state and local efforts to improve outcomes for people leaving prison and jail, with a total of nearly 1,200 grantees from 48 states and 3 territories administering programs that have served more than 400,000 people.

Here are some of the recidivism specifics from the full report:

Since the passage of the Second Chance Act in 2008, more and more state and local leaders have made recidivism reduction a public safety priority, pursuing a variety of strategies that are starting to show real results....  Our findings reveal that recidivism rates have dropped considerably in the past 15 years:

  • Three-year reincarceration rates have decreased by 23 percent nationally since the passage of the Second Chance Act.
  • Thirty-five percent of people exiting prison in 2008 were reincarcerated within 3 years, whereas 27 percent of people exiting prison in 2019 were reincarcerated within 3 years.
  • If this lower rate of recidivism is sustained for people released in 2022, it would mean that 33,500 fewer people will be reincarcerated compared with the rate from 2008.

Three-quarters of states experienced a reduction in reincarceration. Before the passage of the Second Chance Act, 11 states had 3-year reincarceration rates above 45 percent, compared to 6 states with similarly high reincarceration rates in the last few years.  Recidivism rates dropped by double digits in 9 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, and South Carolina.

April 16, 2024 in National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 15, 2024

US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing set for "Legacy of Harm: Eliminating the Abuse of Solitary Confinement

Tomorrow morning, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, the US Senate Judiciary Committee has a hearing set for 10am titled "Legacy of Harm: Eliminating the Abuse of Solitary Confinement."  The hearing should be available to stream at this link, where this list of witnesses are set out:

Roy Boyd, Sheriff, Goliad County Sheriff’s Office, Goliad, TX

Katherine R. Peeler, MD, MA, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics; Medical Expert, Physicians for Human Rights, Harvard Medical School

Nicole Davis, Executive Director, Talk2Me Foundation

Gretta L. Goodwin, Director, Homeland Security and Justice, Government Accountability Office

Though I am not familiar with the work of these witnesses, the names of some of the organizations and the very title of the hearing certainly suggests that there will be considerable advocacy against solitary confinement.

April 15, 2024 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Rust" movie armorer convicted of manslaughter in New Mexico gets maximum prison term of 18 months in state prison

I asked in this post last month what folks thought would be the proper state sentence for the "Rust" movie armorer who was convicted of manslaughter in New Mexico.  This CBS News piece reports at length on the outcome of the actual sentencing (and the broader context of this high-profile case).  Here are excerpts:

The "Rust" armorer who last month was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the deadly shooting of Halyna Hutchins, the film's cinematographer, was sentenced in a New Mexico state court today to 18 months' imprisonment. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed received the maximum penalty for her part in the 2021 tragedy that several experts have since characterized as a preventable incident, where actor Alec Baldwin discharged live rounds from a prop gun on the movie set during a rehearsal.

Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer handed down the sentence to conclude an emotionally charged hearing Monday. "I find what you did constitutes a serious violent offense," Sommer told Gutierrez-Reed. Although the prosecution pushed for this outcome — the maximum sentence — Gutierrez-Reed and her defense team had asked the judge to consider probation as an alternative. The defendant, who is now 27, raised that request herself in a statement read in court before the sentence came down. In the statement, she called Hutchins an inspiration and said she was saddened by the media coverage of her case and the negative light in which it painted her to the public....

The prosecution had cited Gutierrez-Reed's lack of contrition during the trial as one reason to impose the maximum sentence. But her attorney, Jason Bowles, said in his final remarks at the sentencing that his client had in fact cried, broken down, experienced "mental breakdowns" and "said 'if only' many, many, many times," with that side of her remaining largely unfamiliar to people following the case....

Last month, a jury convicted Gutierrez-Reed on the involuntary manslaughter charge, brought against her by the state of New Mexico in the wake of the "Rust" shooting. The former weapons supervisor on the Western film could also receive a fine for as much as $5,000, along with prison time, at the sentencing. She had originally been charged with a second felony count by the state for evidence tampering but was acquitted at the trial.

I am not at all familiar with New Mexico's back-end release rules, so I am not sure Gutierrez-Reed will serve a full 18 months (and I believe she has already been in custody for a month). But I am sure this case serves as an intereting reminder that maximum sentencing terms can sometimes prove as consequential as minimum sentencing terms.

April 15, 2024 in Celebrity sentencings, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (7)

Prison Policy Initiative releases new briefing with new data and visuals on modern jail growth

Emily Widra of the Prison Policy Initiative has authored tbis new briefing titled "New data and visualizations spotlight states’ reliance on excessive jailing."  The subtitle provides context: "We've updated the data tables and graphics from our 2017 report to show just how little has changed in our nation's overuse of jails: too many people are locked up in jails, most detained pretrial and many of them are not even under local jurisdiction."   Here is how the report starts (with links from the original, but footnotes omitted):

One out of every three people behind bars is being held in a local jail, yet jails get almost none of the attention that prisons do. In 2017, we published an in-depth analysis of local jail populations in each state: Era of Mass Expansion: Why State Officials Should Fight Jail Growth. We paid particular attention to the various drivers of jail incarceration — including pretrial practices and holding people in local jails for state and federal authorities — and we explained how jails impact our entire criminal legal system and millions of lives every year. In the years since that publication, many states have passed reforms aimed at reducing jail populations, but we still see the same trends playing out: too many people are confined in local jails, and the reasons for their confinement do not justify the overwhelming costs of our nation’s reliance on excessive jailing.

People cycle through local jails more than 7 million times each year and they are generally held there for brief, but life-altering, periods of time. Most are released in a few hours or days after their arrest, but others are held for months or years, often because they are too poor to make bail. Fewer than one-third of the 663,100 people in jails on a given day have been convicted and are likely serving short sentences of less than a year, most often for misdemeanors.  Jail policy is therefore in large part about how people who are legally innocent are treated, and how policymakers think our criminal legal system should respond to low-level offenses.

April 15, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

A couple of capital case dissents from denials of cert in latest SCOTUS order list

Though SCOTUS has a week full of criminal case oral arguments, it has been many months since the Justices granted cert in a criminal case.  Then again, it has been months since SCOTUS has granted cert in any case, and that trend did not change today with the release of this new order list.  But this latest order list did include a couple o dissents from the denial of cert in two capital cases.

In Michaels v. Davis, No. 23–5038, a capital case from California, Justice Jackson dissented from the denial of cert to complain about the harmfulness of the admission of a confession that was illegally obtained.  Here is a portion from the start of her four-page dissent:

In this capital case, the Ninth Circuit failed to exercise the required degree of caution. The divided panel assessed a 2-1⁄2-hour illegally obtained confession filled with disturbing details of a horrific crime like it was a compilation of factual information — no different from evidence introduced by other means.  That was legal error. Therefore, I would grant the petition and summarily reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision as to the penalty phase, in order to facilitate a reassessment that involves the necessary rigor.

In Compton v. Texas, No. 23–5682, a capital case from Texas, Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Jackson, dissented from the denial of cert to complain about the way a Texas court reviewed the exercise of preemptory challenages in jury selection  Here is a portion from the start of her eight-page dissent:

In this capital case, prosecutors used 13 of their 15 peremptory strikes on women.  They offered only one justification in each case: the woman’s views on the death penalty. In reviewing the challenged jurors, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) failed to conduct a side-by-side comparison.  Instead, it tested the prosecution’s justification in the aggregate, looking to the women’s views on capital punishment as a group instead of individually.  That legal error hid the best indication of discriminatory purpose.  Under a side-by-side comparison, it is clear that at least one woman struck by the State had more favorable views on the death penalty than at least one man the State did not strike.  I would summarily vacate the decision below and remand for the TCCA to apply the proper comparative analysis.

April 15, 2024 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Lots of criminal justice issues this week at SCOTUS oral arguments

The Supreme Court gets back to hearing oral arguments on Monday, as it begins an April sitting full of notable criminal cases.  Next week brings argument on the notable Eighth Amendment Grants Pass case (recently discussed here), as well as Trump v. US to consider claims of presidential immunity.  But this week's arguments, all of which involve criminal issues, might lead to rulings that are quite consequential.  Here is what's coming, thanks to SCOTUSblog summaries:

 

Snyder v. U.S.No. 23-108 [Arg: 4.15.2024]

Issue(s): Whether section 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B) criminalizes gratuities, i.e., payments in recognition of actions a state or local official has already taken or committed to take, without any quid pro quo agreement to take those actions.

 

Chiaverini v. City of Napoleon, OhioNo. 23-50 [Arg: 4.15.2024]

Issue(s): Whether Fourth Amendment malicious-prosecution claims are governed by the charge-specific rule, under which a malicious prosecution claim can proceed as to a baseless criminal charge even if other charges brought alongside the baseless charge are supported by probable cause, or by the “any-crime” rule, under which probable cause for even one charge defeats a plaintiff’s malicious-prosecution claims as to every other charge, including those lacking probable cause.

 

Fischer v. U.S.No. 23-5572 [Arg: 4.16.2024]

Issue(s): Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit erred in construing 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c), which prohibits obstruction of congressional inquiries and investigations, to include acts unrelated to investigations and evidence.

 

Thornell v. JonesNo. 22-982 [Arg: 4.17.2024]

Issue(s): Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit violated this court’s precedents by employing a flawed methodology for assessing prejudice under Strickland v. Washington when it disregarded the district court’s factual and credibility findings and excluded evidence in aggravation and the state’s rebuttal when it reversed the district court and granted habeas relief.

April 14, 2024 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Another accounting of remarkable homicide declines to start 2024 (after big declines in 2023)

The Wall Street Journal has this new piece, headlined "Homicides Are Plummeting in American Cities," that covers in some new ways the remarkable homicide data emerging from cities (which I flagged here a few weeks ago).  Here are excerpts (to go along with some notable charts and graphs in the WSJ piece):

Homicides in American cities are falling at the fastest pace in decades, bringing them close to levels they were at before a pandemic-era jump.  Nationwide, homicides dropped around 20% in 133 cities from the beginning of the year through the end of March compared with the same period in 2023, according to crime-data analyst Jeff Asher, who tabulated statistics from police departments across the country.

Philadelphia saw a 35% drop in killings as of April 12 compared with the same period last year, police data show. In New York City, homicides fell 15% through April 7. Homicides in Columbus, Ohio, plunged 58% through April 7. And Boston had just two homicides this year as of March 31, compared with 11 over the same time frame last year.

The drop is an acceleration of a trend that began last year, following a surge in the number of homicides during the Covid-19 pandemic. The declines so far in 2024, on top of last year’s drop, mirror the steep declines in homicides of the late 1990s....

If the trend continues, the U.S. could be on pace for a year like 2014, which saw the lowest homicide rate since the 1960s.  But police officials and researchers cautioned that crime trends aren’t always consistent and future homicide rates are difficult to predict.  Some cities, like Denver, Los Angeles, and Portland, Ore., reported rises in homicides as of early April, Asher’s data show.  But such increases are outliers.  More typical is Baltimore, where homicides have declined 30% so far this year.

During the pandemic, homicide rates shot up around the country, sparking concerns that the progress made during a decadeslong drop in violent crimes had been undone.  The number of homicides in the U.S. rose nearly 30% in 2020 from the prior year to 21,570, the largest single-year increase ever recorded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Researchers and authorities attributed the upward spike to several factors, including crime-prevention programs, courts and prisons being unable to operate normally when Covid was spreading; young people not in school due to shutdowns; and law enforcement pulling back after social unrest following the high-profile police killings of George Floyd and other Black people....

Now, police are more engaged and departments are working to hire more officers. Community-based crime prevention programs have resumed. And nationwide social unrest has cooled....

In some cities, the homicide decline has been accompanied by a reduction in property crime as well.  San Francisco, where property crime has been a huge problem in recent years, has recorded decreases in burglaries, robberies, larceny thefts and motor vehicle thefts so far in 2024.  The city has also seen nine homicides as of April 7, compared with 13 during the same period in 2023.

Crime researchers have been particularly struck by the drops in cities that have been the most plagued with violent crime in recent years, like New Orleans. In the first half of 2022, it had the highest homicide rate of any major U.S. city, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of crime data. Through April 10 of this year, the number of killings dropped 39% from the same period in 2023.

As I noted in my prior post, it strikes me as notable that the 2023 and 2024 declines in homicide come at a time of relatively little use of the death penalty and relatively lower rates of incarceration by modern US standards. The 1990s involved a significant uptick in death sentences, executions and incarceration rates across the US; the 2020s have seen declines in all these punishment metrics. (Let me state again that I generally doubt that punishment trends alone directly account for homicide trends in any direction.)

A few prior related posts on recent crime trends:

April 14, 2024 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, April 12, 2024

New study highlights appellate reversals of excessive sentences in New York

This lengthy Law360 article, headlined "Study Shines Light On Excessive NY Prison Sentences," reports on an interesting recent student about sentencing reversals in New York.  Here are excerpts:

A recent report shining a light on excessive felony prison sentences handed down by more than 140 trial judges in New York over a 16-year period has experts and advocacy groups calling for increased transparency to help ensure that courts are imposing fair penalties on criminal defendants in the Empire State.

The study by judicial accountability nonprofit Scrutinize, in partnership with the New York University School of Law's Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law, found that at least 140 trial judges in the state imposed prison sentences that were later deemed excessive on intermediary criminal appeal.  Of those, 65 judges saw sentencing decisions overturned on more than one occasion.  The 12 judges with five or more excessive sentence findings, meanwhile, had their sentences reduced by a total of 1,246 years.

The organizations urged the state judiciary to release sentencing data for individual judges that are currently not public, information they said could reveal patterns of oversentencing, and to publish an annual report summarizing excessive sentence findings to keep track of those trends....

According to the study, which looked at cases originating from the five counties of New York City and Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Orange, Rockland, Dutchess, and Putnam counties, two judges, Edward J. McLaughlin and Vincent Del Giudice, had a total of 39 excessive sentence findings combined, with the appellate court cutting a total of 684.5 years from the sentences they imposed. Justice McLaughlin, who presided over criminal matters in Manhattan, is now retired. Justice Del Giudice still hears criminal cases in Brooklyn.

According to the report, between 2014 and 2022, an average of 19,930 felony cases each year ended with a conviction after a guilty plea or a jury trial verdict.  In 2022, felony dispositions were nearly 15,800, but there were only about 1,100 appeals filed.  And, as acknowledged by the report's authors themselves, only a fraction — about 4% — of felony sentences are reduced for excessiveness on appeal.  That means that looking at overruled sentences provides an incomplete picture of judges' carceral attitudes.

The full study, which is titled "Excessive Sentencers: Using Appellate Decisions to Enhance Judicial Transparency," is available at this link. Here is its executive summary:

Increased focus on state judiciaries has significant potential to improve the criminal legal system.  Recognizing the need for evaluation metrics for judges, this report pioneers a data-driven, evidence-based approach to assessing the judiciary.  We analyze written appellate decisions to quantify individual trial court judges' decisions and impacts.  This methodology transforms complex judicial texts into accessible data, creating metrics of judicial performance for use by policymakers and the public.

This report introduces ‘excessive sentence findings’ as a method to assess individual judges’ decisions and their impact.  In New York, appellate courts review sentences for excessiveness and can reduce them in the “interest of justice,” a rare and clear signal — from highly-respected institutional actors — that a lower court judge made an exceptionally troubling choice.  We identify lower court judges with sentences reduced by appellate courts for being excessive and calculate the total number of years reduced from those sentences.

The study reveals patterns of repeated excessive sentencing by a number of specific judges, raising questions about judicial accountability in New York.

April 12, 2024 in Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 11, 2024

"State Sentencing Reforms Had Little Impact on Racial Disparities in Imprisonment, Analysis Finds"

The title of this post is the the title of this new press release from the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) discussing the latest findings of research it has been conducting looking at incarceration disparities.  Here is part of the press release, with lnks from the original providing access to the underlying research:

The Black-White disparity in imprisonment has narrowed substantially over the past 20 years but very little of the progress can be attributed to state sentencing reforms, according to a series of reports released today by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ).

Following on previous analyses that documented a 40% drop in the Black-White imprisonment disparity between 2000 and 2020, researchers at CCJ, Georgia State University, and the Crime and Justice Institute examined more than 700 statutes adopted in 12 states between 2010 and 2020, seeking to understand how sentencing reforms might have influenced the reduction.  Laws included for study related to violent, property, and drug crimes, as well as parole release and technical violation practices.  The study states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah) varied by region, demographic composition, sentencing structure, and the political party in power.

With minor exceptions, the analysis found that the sentencing reforms had negligible impacts on reducing racial disparities, and instead largely codified changes to enforcement, policing, charging, and sentencing practices that had occurred before the laws were enacted. In addition, many sentencing law changes that took effect during the study period addressed fairly infrequent crimes and therefore had a minimal effect on disparity. 

The findings suggest that factors beyond sentencing laws were mostly responsible for the Black-White imprisonment disparity declining from 8.2-to-1 in 2000 to 4.9-to-1 in 2020. Though the study did not statistically assess alternative explanations, the authors offered several other possible reasons for the shrinking disparity, including changes in policing practices, drug use (from cocaine to opioids), how drugs are sold (from open-air markets to the use of GPS-equipped smartphones), and the types of crimes people commit (from burglary to cybercrime, for example)....

The 12-state analysis is part of a sweeping package on racial disparities released by CCJ’s Pushing Toward Parity project. It includes an in-depth look at the legislative changes in each of the 12 study states as well as two reports examining disparities in imprisonment through other lenses.

One analysis examined state imprisonment disparities between Hispanic and non-Hispanic White people.  It found that disparity in imprisonment rates declined during the first two decades of the century, but that the precise size of the drop is unclear because of a conflict between data sources. In 2020, data collected from state corrections departments showed a Hispanic-White disparity ratio of 1.5-to-1; data from a federal prison survey, however, produced a ratio that was 2.7-to-1, or 80% larger. 

The gap in disparity ratios derived from each source has increased over time.  In 2000, the two disparity ratios were roughly equivalent, but by 2020 the federal data disparity ratio was 80% larger.  The measurement gap stems from how race and ethnicity are recorded and classified in each source.  The choice of measurement method makes a large difference in the projected achievement of parity: if current trends continue, the Hispanic-White disparity measure drawn from state data would reach parity by about 2026, while the measure from federal data would reach parity about 30 years later.

Another analysis focused on disparities in female prison populations. It found that state imprisonment disparity between Black and White women fell by 71% between 2000 and 2020, decreasing from 6.3-to-1 to 1.8-to-1 and exceeding the drop for men.  The decline was driven by a 56% decline in the imprisonment rate for Black women and a 57% increase for White women.  Hispanic-White female imprisonment rate disparity also fell (by 56%) over the two-decade period, data from state corrections departments showed; it has been at or below parity since 2010 and reached 0.7-to-1 in 2020, meaning that White women were more likely to be imprisoned than Hispanic women.

Female imprisonment disparity fell across violent, property, and drug offense categories, with the largest drop recorded for drug crimes.  From 2000 to 2020, Black-White drug offense imprisonment disparity among women dropped from 8 to 0.6, reaching parity in 2016.  Hispanic-White drug offense imprisonment disparity fell from 2.4 in 2000 to 0.5 in 2020. Changes in the demographic composition of prison admissions drove the trends.  From 2000 to 2019, admissions decreased 47% for Black females, increased 15% for Hispanic females, and rose 138% for White females. 

April 11, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (26)

Call (again) for papers: Federal Sentencing Reporter issue on "Booker at 20"

In this prior post a couple of weeks ago, I set out a call for papers for a forthcoming issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter to note (and celebrate? criticize?) the federal sentencing system's 20 years of functioning under the rules created in Booker.  I plan to repost this call every few weeks until the deadline thoward the end of May.  So:M_ucpfsr_29_4_cover

The US Supreme Court's January 2005 decision in United States v. Booker ushered in a new era for federal sentencing.  Through a dual set of dueling 5-4 opinions, Booker made the guidelines “effectively advisory,” rather than “mandatory,”  after the Court concluded that judicial fact-finding to increase mandatory guideline ranges violated the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.  The Court’s opinion essentially invited Congress to rework the federal sentencing system in the wake of this ruling, but the Booker advisory guideline system has proved remarkably durable: the mandatory guideline system was operational for 16 years, but we are now approaching the 20th anniversary of Booker and the advisory guideline system it created.

Though constitutionally and functionally a sea change, the Booker ruling has seemingly had a relatively limited effect on sentence severity and reliance on imprisonment in the federal system.  Data from the US Sentencing Commission reveal that in fiscal year 2003, the last full year of data before the disruptions of Booker and its predecessor ruling in Blakely v. Washington, just over 69,000 persons were sentenced in federal courts, with nearly 87% receiving a prison term and with the average prison term being 48 months.  Data from fiscal year 2023, the latest full year of federal sentencing data assembled by the Commission, indicate that just over 64,000 persons were sentenced in federal courts with nearly 93% receiving a prison term and with the average prison term being 52 months.  The relative consistency of federal sentencing outcomes in the Booker era is striking, especially given that Congress enacted two notable sentence-reducing statutes in this period through the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 and the First Step Act of 2018.

Still, sentencing below guideline ranges has increased significantly in the Booker era, and lawyers and sentencing judges now place greater emphasis on the statutory sentencing factors of 18 USC § 3553(a) and relatively less emphasis on guideline particulars.  Data from FY 2023 indicate that only 42% of sentences are imposed within the guideline range, though the same Commission data reveal that the guidelines continue to exert a kind of gravitational pull on sentence lengths even though not regularly followed.  And, of course, Booker did not directly impact the force of statutory mandatory minimums, which still shape and cast shadows on plea bargaining and other aspects of the federal sentencing process.  

Nearly 20 years have passed since Booker, and the editors of the Federal Sentencing Reporter are eager to invite judges, lawyers, other sentencing practitioners, legal academics, and sentencing researchers, to share thoughts on “Booker at 20” for publication in an early 2025 FSR issue.  FSR commentaries for this issue could tackle foundational issues (such as the Court’s ruling in Booker and follow-up cases), discrete application issues (such as why certain advisory guidelines are more likely to be followed or ignored), institutional concerns (such as how Congress and the Commission and the Justice Department have responded to Booker), or any other topic of interest or concern to modern federal sentencing policy and practice.  FSR welcomes commentaries from all perspectives, including insights from sentencing experiences (with or without guidelines) in the states and other countries.  Everyone with an informed interest in sentencing law and practice is encouraged to submit a commentary.

FSR articles are typically brief — 2000 to 5000 words, though they can run longer — with light use of citations in the form of endnotes.  The pieces are designed to be read by busy stakeholders, including lawyers, judges, scholars, and legislators (as well as, of course, members and staff of the US Sentencing Commission).  Priority will be given to drafts submitted by May 28, 2024, and later submissions will be considered as space permits.  Submissions should be sent electronically to [email protected] with a clear indication of the author and the author’s professional affiliation.

April 11, 2024 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Might the Supreme Court completely rewrite Eighth Amendment jurisprudence in the Grants Pass case?

The question in the title of this post is discussed at some length in this new Marshall Project piece, which carries this full headline: "This Supreme Court Case on Homelessness May Limit Prisoner Rights and Expand Executions: In Grants Pass v. Johnson, a town in Oregon asks the court to reconsider what constitutes “cruel and unusual punishments."  I recommend the whole article, and here are a few excerpts:

When the Supreme Court hears the case of Grants Pass v. Johnson later this month, the justices will consider how far cities can go in policing homeless people. But just as the court swept away a half-century of precedent by overturning Roe v. Wade, the justices could use this case about homelessness to upend how we interpret four key words in the Bill of Rights — “cruel and unusual punishments.” Their decision could have ramifications across a wide swath of the criminal justice system, including prison conditions and the death penalty.

The case is about whether the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment when it arrests, fines and even jails people without homes for sleeping outside.  A lower federal court recently ruled that punishing people for doing something they cannot help is cruel and unusual punishment. “As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter,” the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote.

Grants Pass appealed the ruling up to the Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments on April 22, positing that the courts have no business telling cities what behavior they can regulate.  The Eighth Amendment, they say, applies to punishments levied after a crime, not laws that establish what is a crime in the first place, and besides, fines and jail time are hardly cruel or unusual. 

At the heart of this debate are two very different ways of reading the Eighth Amendment.  First, there’s originalism.  In recent sweeping decisions on abortion and guns, conservative justices have focused on what the Constitution’s language meant to the men who wrote it in the 1780s.  But other judges and scholars argue for a “living” Constitution, whose meaning should change as the world changes....

Using the evolving standards argument, federal courts have ruled on access to health care in prison, protection from excessive force and limits on the use of solitary confinement. They have prohibited the death penalty and mandatory life-without-parole sentences for people who are younger than 18 when they commit crimes, as well as executions of people with intellectual disabilities. The language has also served as the basis for decades of decisions requiring that juries consider people’s individual, often trauma-filled lives before deciding whether to send them to death row.... 

More than 100 scholars and organizations have filed “friend of the court” briefs ahead of oral arguments in Grants Pass v. Johnson.  Many argue the court should let these rulings stand and continue to look to contemporary standards when deciding what is cruel and unusual. In one brief on the other side, Republican attorneys general from 20 states urged the justices to throw out the evolving standards interpretation entirely.  (Many of them also made similar arguments in a separate case, supporting Alabama’s request to execute a man with an intellectual disability.)  Among their reasons are that it “has no discernible end point” and that it requires “judges to act as sociologists.”

I somewhat doubt that many Justices will be inclined to use the Grants Pass csse to dramatically rewrite Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, but I understand why various folks are hoping or fearing such a possibility.  And, perhaps ironically, the fact that many amici have filled briefs urging the Court not to approach this case more broadly might perhaps incline some Justices to approach the case more broadly.  But in a Term full of high-profile cases with lots of broad echoes, the Justices may want to keep this one relatively simple.  And perhaps we will get a sense of matters during oral arguments in a couple of week.  In other woids, stay tuned.

April 10, 2024 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Lots of notable new items on the US Sentencing Commission's website including geographic FY 2023 sentencing data

Though we are still a week away from hearing from the US Sentencing Commission about possible new amendments to the US Sentencing Guidelines, I noted that the Commission has updated its website with a bunch of new items that seemed worth flagging.  These are drawn from the new items scroll from the USSC website homepage:

TRAINING SESSIONS ARCHIVE (April 8, 2024)

You can now explore an archive of the Commission's recorded training sessions. Use the filters within the archive to find the training session that meets your specific needs. Learn More

PROBLEM-SOLVING COURTS PODCAST MINISERIES (April 9, 2024)

In this podcast miniseries, Commission staff chat with the federal judges who lead the problem-solving court programs available around the country. Parts One through Seven are out now!  Listen Here

FY23 GEOGRAPHIC SENTENCING DATA (April 8, 2024)

These data reports compare fiscal year 2023 sentencing statistics for each federal circuit, district, and state to the nation as a whole. Learn More

BASICS OF CRIMINAL HISTORY (April 8, 2024)

This updated eLearning module uses real-world scenarios to illustrate the basics of the criminal history rules as amended in 2023. Learn More

I find all the USSC's materials and content interesting, but my data nerdiness really gets hit by the data reports page with fiscal year 2023 sentencing statistics for each federal circuit, district, and state.  That page includes a US map that allows you to see that the border district of Maine had only 116 federal sentencings in FY 2023, whereas the border district of the Western District of Texas had 7,539 federal sentencings in FY 2023.  And that the District Utah had more federal sentencings in FY 2023 sentencings (761) than did New Jersey (723), even though New Jersey has nearly three times the overall population as Utah.  

April 10, 2024 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Is Rahimi an "easy case" for any true originalist to rule for the criminal defendant and against the prosecution?

I have not written much recently about US v. Rahimi, in part because there is not much to write about while we wait to see how the Supreme Court chooses to apply its (new originalist) Second Amendment test to the federal criminal firearm prohibition of gun possession by persons subject to domestic violence restraining orders, 18 USC § 922(g)(8).  Moreover, based on the November Rahimi SCOTUS oral argument, it seemed like a majority of the Justices were quite disinclined to agree with the Fifth Circuit's view that a criminal bar on gun posession by those subject to domestic violence restraining orders is unconstituional. 

But Nelson Lund has this notable new New York Times opinion piece, headlined "The Fidelity of ‘Originalist’ Justices Is About to Be Tested," which prompted the quesiton in the title of this post.  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Under Bruen’s originalist test, Rahimi should be an easy case. The government has not informed the Supreme Court of a single pre-20th-century law that punished American citizens, even those who had been convicted of a violent crime, for possessing a gun in their own homes. Not one.

The subject of the case, Zackey Rahimi, however, is an unsympathetic defendant.  His ex-girlfriend obtained a protective order against him on the ground that he had assaulted her, and he has been charged with several crimes involving the misuse of firearms.  Although he apparently had not been convicted of any offenses when the restraining order was issued, that order immediately and automatically criminalized his possession of a firearm under federal law.

If the court pretends that a historical tradition of such laws existed, it will not be faithful either to Bruen’s holding or to the court’s repeated insistence that the right to keep and bear arms is not “a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.”

Imagine that an overwrought woman called her ex-boyfriend and threatened to scratch his eyes out.  If a state court ordered her to refrain from making such calls and from physically attacking him, the federal statute at issue in Rahimi would automatically make her a felon if she kept a gun in her own home.  And that would be true even if she had good reason to fear a violent attack from the ex-boyfriend or his criminal associates.  But no court would uphold a statute that made this restraining order a sufficient basis on which to criminalize her possession of a telephone.  We will soon find out whether the Supreme Court takes the Second Amendment as seriously as the First.

I generally do not find the analogy between guns and telephones (and between the Second and First Amendments) to be all that apt.  But I do find quite notable the suggestion that any true originalists should find it "easy" to determine the unconstitutionality of any laws that threaten to punish criminally any "American citizens, even those who had been convicted of a violent crime, for possessing a gun in their own homes."  In the votes and voices of a number of Justices (and others), I sometimes notice that affinity for originalism starts running out of steam when the outcomes start running in concerning directions.  Rahimi may prove to be another data point on that front in the coming months.

April 10, 2024 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

A second chance to celebrate Second Chance Month by registering for "Relief in the Making" conference starting tomorrow!

6a00d83451574769e202c8d3ab0640200cIn this post a few weeks ago, I flagged the President's "Proclamation on Second Chance Month, 2024" and its call for "all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities."  In so doing, I highlighted this exciting event taking place here at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law titled "Relief in the Making: The Policy, Implementation, and Impact of Record Sealing and Expungement Laws." Here are the essentials:

The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law will host a symposium titled "Relief in the Making: The Policy, Implementation, and Impact of Rights Restoration Laws" on April 11-12, 2024 in Drinko Hall at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. The symposium aims to examine and assess, from a variety of perspectives and with the help of a variety of voices, recent legal and policy developments regarding collateral consequences, record relief efforts, and broader concerns of justice and fairness for individuals and communities with criminal justice system involvement.

This is a free event which now is just a day away (though the full series of public panels takes place on Friday).  Folks can register at this link, and here is the full program link, and here is a bit more background from this event page

For years, advocates spoke about the “invisible punishment” flowing from the legal restrictions and societal stigmas that burden people with any criminal record long after involvement with the justice system.  But the many concerns surrounding so-called “collateral consequences” have become more visible in legal and policy circles in recent years. Over the past decade, dozens of states have enacted laws seeking to reduce the barriers people with a criminal record face in the workplace, in housing, at the ballot box, and many other areas. 

These developments have been characterized by the Collateral Consequences Resource Center as “a full-fledged law reform movement aimed at restoring rights and dignity to individuals who have successfully navigated the criminal law system.”  But the import and impact of this modern reform movement remains unclear, in part because record relief laws and practices differ widely across jurisdictions.  Some states have made only modest reforms to their record sealing laws, while other states have enacted ambitious automatic record relief systems.  And the practical impact of record relief reforms vary dramatically depending on not just the reach of the laws, but also the resources that are devoted to implementing these laws. Intriguingly, as record relief efforts have spread at the state level, federal record relief continues to languish.

April 10, 2024 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Missouri completes execution of double murderer over notable clemency requests

As reported in this AP piece, a "Missouri man was executed Tuesday for killing his cousin and her husband nearly two decades ago in an attack that left the couple’s 4-year-old daughter home alone and unharmed."  Here is more:

Brian Dorsey, 52, was pronounced dead at 6:11 p.m. after a single-dose injection of the sedative pentobarbital at the state prison in Bonne Terre, Karen Pojmann, communications director for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said in an email.  It was the first execution in Missouri this year after four in 2023, and it came hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the inmate’s final appeals....

Dorsey, in a final statement, expressed remorse and sorrow for the killings. “Words cannot hold the just weight of my guilt and shame,” Dorsey said in the written statement.

Dorsey, 52, formerly of Jefferson City, was convicted of killing Sarah and Ben Bonnie on Dec. 23, 2006, at their home near New Bloomfield.  Prosecutors said that earlier that day, Dorsey had called Sarah Bonnie seeking to borrow money to pay two drug dealers who were at his apartment....

Hours before the execution, the Supreme Court turned aside both of Dorsey’s appeals without comment.  His lawyers had urged the high court to step in, saying he had shown good behavior in prison and had been rehabilitated.  They also argued a $12,000 flat fee paid to his two public defenders gave them incentive to hurry through the case.  On their recommendation, Dorsey pleaded guilty despite having no agreement with prosecutors to spare him from the death penalty.

On Monday, Republican Gov. Mike Parson denied a clemency request that included signatures from 72 current and former state corrections officers who urged the governor to commute Dorsey’s sentence to life in prison without parole.  They cited Dorsey’s virtually spotless record of good behavior behind bars.  Parson, a Republican, is a former county sheriff.  He has never granted clemency since taking office in 2018.

Parson, in a statement, said Dorsey “punished his loving family for helping him in a time of need.  His cousins invited him into their home, where he was surrounded by family and friends, then gave him a place to stay.  Dorsey repaid them with cruelty, inhumane violence, and murder.”

Missouri has scheduled its next execution June 11 for inmate David Hosier for his conviction in the 2009 killing of a Jefferson City woman.  Five people have been executed in five different states this year — Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma and Missouri.

April 9, 2024 in Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Parents of Michigan school shooter both sentenced to 10 to 15 years in state prison

As reported in this New York Times piece, "Jennifer and James Crumbley, who were convicted of involuntary manslaughter for failing to prevent their teenage son from killing four fellow students in the deadliest school shooting in Michigan’s history, were each sentenced on Tuesday to 10 to 15 years in prison." Here is more:

Their separate jury trials ended in guilty verdicts in February and March, making them the first parents in the country to be convicted over the deaths caused by their child in a mass shooting.

Involuntary manslaughter charges carry a penalty in Michigan of up to 15 years in prison, and prosecutors asked in sentencing memos filed to the court last week that the Crumbleys each serve at least 10 years. Both have been in jail for more than two years while awaiting trial and will receive credit for time served.

“Parents are not expected to be psychic,” Judge Cheryl Matthews of the Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Mich., said before issuing the sentence. “But these convictions are not about poor parenting. These convictions confirm repeated acts or lack of acts that could have halted an oncoming runaway train — repeatedly ignoring things that would make a reasonable person feel the hair on the back of her neck stand up.”

Before the hearing, prosecutors said that Ms. Crumbley, 46, was asking to be sentenced to house arrest on her defense lawyer’s property, rather than serving prison time. And Mr. Crumbley, 47, said that he had been wrongly convicted and his sentence should amount to the time he had already served in prison, adding that he felt “absolutely horrible” about what had happened....

The Crumbleys’ son, Ethan, was 15 when he carried out the shooting that killed Justin and Hana, as well as Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Tate Myre, 16. Seven others were injured. Ethan Crumbley pleaded guilty to 24 charges, including first-degree murder, and was sentenced last year to life in prison without parole. He is still eligible to appeal that decision. His parents may appeal, too.

In the trials of both parents, prosecutors focused in part on their failure to remove their son from school after he made a violent drawing on the morning of the shooting. It included a written plea for help. They also emphasized Ethan’s access to a handgun that Mr. Crumbley had purchased. And they said that Ms. Crumbley had missed signs that her son was struggling with his mental health, adding that she took him to a gun range just days before the shooting.

Defense lawyers for both parents said they could not have foreseen the unspeakable violence their son would commit.

Their trials became a lightning rod for issues of parental responsibility at a time of high-profile gun violence by minors. In recent months, parents in other states have pleaded guilty to charges of reckless conduct or neglect after their children injured or killed others with guns. But the manslaughter charges against the Crumbleys were unique, and legal experts aid their trials could serve as a playbook for other prosecutors who seek to hold parents accountable in the future.

I am not familiar with Michigan's parole processes, but I sense this sentencing determination will ensure that the Crumbley parents will be serving a considerable amount of prison time.

April 9, 2024 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

Federal district judge references selective prosecution concerns in sentencing far-right violent protestor

I just saw this notable and extensive reporting on a notable sentencing from California last week.  The piece is headlined "Judge cites Antifa when rejecting prison for white supremacist’s former associate," and here are excerpts:  

A federal judge who believes the U.S. Department of Justice unconstitutionally prosecuted white supremacists for violence at political rallies said Thursday he knows “the government and others” will disagree with his decision to leniently sentence a man for punching a journalist in 2017.  Prosecutors wanted a year of probation and six months in prison for Tyler Laube, a former associate of Rise Above Movement founder and neo-Nazi Robert Rundo, while his lawyer asked for no prison and no probation. 

During a 24-minute hearing on Thursday in Santa Ana, California, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney credited Laube for 35 days already served in jail, fined him $2,000 and ordered him to be on probation for one year.  Carney’s 22-page memorandum said he has “no doubt” prosecutors’ opposition to a lighter sentence is “focusing entirely on Mr. Laube’s past white-supremacist beliefs and ignoring the violent conduct of Antifa and the similar groups.”

“Viewing Mr. Laube’s actions in context, it does not appear he intended to single out and target a journalist,” Carney wrote.  “Violence erupted at the rally. Mr. Laube did not start the violence. Indeed, he was slapped in the face twice before engaging in any violence,” the judge continued. “Once violence started, Mr. Laube and other RAM members reacted to the Antifa members that were harassing and physically attacking Trump supporters.”

Carney said he “cannot cast aside the Constitution and ignore the mitigating factors and sentencing objectives under Section 3353(a),” referring to the federal law governing sentencings.  “The Constitution and the laws of the United States apply to everyone,” the judge wrote. “We must never forget that if the political winds change in this country, and the new government decides to turn on those not sharing the new government’s views, it will be the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of the United States that will protect us.”

The judge quoted Robert Bolt’s 1960 play A Man for All Seasons: “Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”... The case has a long history: In June 2019, Carney allowed Laube to withdraw his guilty plea for felony conspiracy after he dismissed Rundo and Boman’s charges on First Amendment grounds, but the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the indictment.

Given his previous decisions, Carney likely would have allowed Laube to withdraw his plea to misdemeanor interference with a federally protected right without bodily injury, too. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office also is appealing the judge’s February dismissal order to the 9th Circuit, which already has curtailed the judge’s ability to release Rundo from jail.

If Laube withdrew his plea and Carney dismissed his charges, he could end up in court again should the 9th Circuit reverse the latest dismissal as it did in 2020 with the first dismissal. Carney also is retiring at the end of May, so the case would go to another judge. Because Laube stuck with his plea on Thursday, Carney had no choice but to impose a sentence.

I recommend the full article about these matters, which provides additional backstory and links to sentencing filings. In addition, Judge Carney's lengthy sentencing memo is a fascaniting read (with pictures).  Interestingly, in a footnote toward the close of the sentencing opinion, Judge Carney explains his selective prosecution conclusions are not essential to his sentencing determination: "even ignoring the Court’s selective prosecution finding and the fact that similarly situated individuals did not face prosecution, much less any term of imprisonment, the Court would still conclude that a sentence less than six months is appropriate because the other Section 3553(a) factors weigh in favor of a lesser sentence."

April 9, 2024 in Booker in district courts, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (19)

Federal district judge references selective prosecution concerns in sentencing far-right violent protestor

I just saw this notable and extensive reporting on a notable sentencing from California last week.  The piece is headlined "Judge cites Antifa when rejecting prison for white supremacist’s former associate," and here are excerpts:  

A federal judge who believes the U.S. Department of Justice unconstitutionally prosecuted white supremacists for violence at political rallies said Thursday he knows “the government and others” will disagree with his decision to leniently sentence a man for punching a journalist in 2017.  Prosecutors wanted a year of probation and six months in prison for Tyler Laube, a former associate of Rise Above Movement founder and neo-Nazi Robert Rundo, while his lawyer asked for no prison and no probation. 

During a 24-minute hearing on Thursday in Santa Ana, California, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney credited Laube for 35 days already served in jail, fined him $2,000 and ordered him to be on probation for one year.  Carney’s 22-page memorandum said he has “no doubt” prosecutors’ opposition to a lighter sentence is “focusing entirely on Mr. Laube’s past white-supremacist beliefs and ignoring the violent conduct of Antifa and the similar groups.”

“Viewing Mr. Laube’s actions in context, it does not appear he intended to single out and target a journalist,” Carney wrote.  “Violence erupted at the rally. Mr. Laube did not start the violence. Indeed, he was slapped in the face twice before engaging in any violence,” the judge continued. “Once violence started, Mr. Laube and other RAM members reacted to the Antifa members that were harassing and physically attacking Trump supporters.”

Carney said he “cannot cast aside the Constitution and ignore the mitigating factors and sentencing objectives under Section 3353(a),” referring to the federal law governing sentencings.  “The Constitution and the laws of the United States apply to everyone,” the judge wrote. “We must never forget that if the political winds change in this country, and the new government decides to turn on those not sharing the new government’s views, it will be the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of the United States that will protect us.”

The judge quoted Robert Bolt’s 1960 play A Man for All Seasons: “Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”... The case has a long history: In June 2019, Carney allowed Laube to withdraw his guilty plea for felony conspiracy after he dismissed Rundo and Boman’s charges on First Amendment grounds, but the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the indictment.

Given his previous decisions, Carney likely would have allowed Laube to withdraw his plea to misdemeanor interference with a federally protected right without bodily injury, too. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office also is appealing the judge’s February dismissal order to the 9th Circuit, which already has curtailed the judge’s ability to release Rundo from jail.

If Laube withdrew his plea and Carney dismissed his charges, he could end up in court again should the 9th Circuit reverse the latest dismissal as it did in 2020 with the first dismissal. Carney also is retiring at the end of May, so the case would go to another judge. Because Laube stuck with his plea on Thursday, Carney had no choice but to impose a sentence.

I recommend the full article about these matters, which provides additional backstory and links to sentencing filings. In addition, Judge Carney's lengthy sentencing memo is a fascaniting read (with pictures).  Interestingly, in a footnote toward the close of the sentencing opinion, Judge Carney explains his selective prosecution conclusions are not essential to his sentencing determination: "even ignoring the Court’s selective prosecution finding and the fact that similarly situated individuals did not face prosecution, much less any term of imprisonment, the Court would still conclude that a sentence less than six months is appropriate because the other Section 3553(a) factors weigh in favor of a lesser sentence."

April 9, 2024 in Booker in district courts, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 8, 2024

Intriguing new accounting of recent crime trends and related data

Though I cannot find any detailed information about the Coalition for Law, Order and Safety, this Fox News article alerted me to this new report from the group titled "Assessing America’s Crime Crisis: Trends, Causes, And Consequences."  The report gathers crime and criminal justice in some distinct ways, and here is the report's introduction:

American communities are less safe than they were a decade ago.  That fact is undeniable.  Similarly, the evidence is clear that over the last decade, serious — especially violent — crime rose in 2015 and 2016, then briefly fell before rising again since 2020.  Early indications suggest that the steep rise in homicides in 2020-2021 has slowed, if not reversed, but not returned to levels recorded five or ten years ago.

In other words, to say crime is down is like descending from a tall peak and standing on a high bluff, saying you are closer to the ground — a true but misleading statement. The truth is that violent crime is substantially elevated in major cities (and nationally) compared to pre-2020 levels.

For other crimes, the data is often inconsistent, unreliable, or unavailable making trends difficult — but not impossible  — to discern.  The evidence we do have suggests some serious offenses (i.e., carjacking and auto theft) have continued to rise dramatically.  Other aggregate data suggests some offenses have continued their decades-long decline.

Meanwhile, Americans support for greater law enforcement and stiffer criminal penalties has increased as polls show that the public believes crime has risen, and they feel less safe.

This paper seeks to answer two important questions about public safety in America: 

  • What do we know about recent crime trends and how; and
  • What is contributing to this trend and why?

To answer those questions, this study will first examine the available data on crime over the past decade, analyze its value and limitations, and assess its meaning for public safety policymakers. Second, the study will analyze what policies and phenomena are driving these crime trends.

April 8, 2024 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (2)

Notable new research on state cuts to Medicaid and crime

Bolts magazine has this interesting new article discussing some interesting new research headlined "“We Need to See the Bigger Picture”: How Cuts to Medicaid Hurt Public Safety." Here are some excerpts from the article, which is worth reading in full:

When a state made cuts to Medicaid, depriving people of access to health insurance, the crime rate increased: That’s the finding of a new academic study, supported by the National Institutes of Health and released as a working paper in March by four scholars who study public health.

The study comes at a time when many states are ramping up punishment in response to crime, while leaving public services largely underfunded.  One of the study’s authors, Catherine Maclean, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, tells Bolts that policymakers should keep in mind the critical value of a strong social safety net for stabilizing communities....

A number of states are contemplating further Medicaid cuts, including Kentucky, Utah, and New York.  Elsewhere, in Mississippi and South Dakota, voters have tried to force elected leaders to expand Medicaid via direct democracy, but with mixed success.  And on the national stage, Donald Trump is running for president again, calling for dramatic slashing of public funds for health coverage.

Bolts spoke with Maclean about what the Tennessee study can tell us about the link between health insurance and public safety today; about what has and hasn’t changed since 2005; and about current proposed cuts to government-provided health insurance.  “You might save some dollars in terms of Medicaid, but that may lead to some other problems with other objectives, like promoting public safety,” she warned.

Speaking of reading in full, the entire NBER woking paper article, titled "Losing Medicaid and Crime," can be found at this link. Here is its abstract:

We study the impact of losing health insurance on criminal activity by leveraging one of the most substantial Medicaid disenrollments in U.S. history, which occurred in Tennessee in 2005 and lead to 190,000 non–elderly and non–disabled adults without dependents unexpectedly losing coverage.  Using police agency–level data and a difference–in–differences approach, we find that this mass insurance loss increased total crime rates with particularly strong effects for nonviolent crime. We test for several potential mechanisms and find that our results may be explained by economic stability and access to healthcare.

April 8, 2024 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Noting how distinct federal circuit appointments may impact criminal jurisprudence

I have flagged in in prior posts some prior research highlighting and lamenting that, in rcent times, former prosecutors are "vastly overrepresented on the federal bench" and that people with "careers in private practice or as federal prosecutors [make] up more than 70 percent of all sitting appellate judges."  Against that backdrop, it is interesting to see this new National Law Journal piece headlined "Biden's Judges Have Made the Judiciary More Diverse. How Are They Shaping the Law?" 

The piece's subheadline provides a summary: "While it's likely too early to see major swings in the law, the president's appointees' individual opinions on criminal law and qualified immunity show the impact the judges' diverse professional backgrounds have on their jurisprudence."  The article is short on rigorous analysis, but it still notes an (unsurprising) issue worth watching (and on which I would be eager to hear input from others).  Here are excerpts:

While it’s likely too early to see Biden’s judges creating major shifts in the law, as his first term comes to an end, court watchers say they see signs his appellate picks may be using their personal experiences in analyzing cases. Unlike previous administrations that have mainly put prosecutors and Big Law attorneys on the bench, Biden has nominated individuals with civil rights advocacy and public defense backgrounds.

“Why a judge’s past experience may be important, particularly in this example [of Judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi], is that Biden has nominated a record number of public defenders at the circuit level,” said Jonathan King, a political science professor at West Virginia University. “As such, these judges may use their experience when interpreting laws and impacting policy in their various circuits.”

Biden broke President Barack Obama’s record for appointing the highest number of circuit judges with public defense backgrounds to the bench. And breaking from past administrations, Biden has tapped numerous appellate judges who worked at civil rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and reproductive rights groups such as Planned Parenthood.

Jessica Schoenherr, a University of South Carolina political science professor, agreed that Biden appointees’ professional experiences may influence how they view facts presented in certain cases.... “It’s maybe not surprising that we’re seeing that happen with [Biden’s] judges because they’ve got a different judicial profile at this point in terms of what kind of law they’ve worked with,” Schoenherr said. “They’ve just had different experiences with the way that the law works.”...

John P. Collins, a George Washington University law professor, said he’s watching for strong dissents from Biden appointees, particularly on conservative courts such as the Fifth Circuit or Eleventh Circuit.  In general though, Collins said Biden’s picks don’t seem as eager as Trump’s appointees did in their first years on the bench to overtly push the law in a certain direction. Several Trump-appointed judges, such as Lawrence VanDyke of the Ninth Circuit and James Ho of the Fifth Circuit, made headlines for their fiery opinions criticizing their fellow panel members and calling for circuit precedent to be overturned.

April 8, 2024 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 7, 2024

"The Great Writ of Popular Sovereignty"

The title of this post is the title of this article authored by William M. M. Kamin now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

American habeas corpus, long conventionally known as the Great Writ of Liberty (“GWL”), is more properly understood as the Great Writ of Popular Sovereignty (“GWPS”).  That is: a tool for We the People to insist that when our agents in government exercise our delegated penal powers, they remain faithful to our sovereign will.  Once we grasp this conceptual shift, the implications for the law of habeas are profound.

In the past fifteen years, novel archival research has shown the GWL’s founding myth to be ahistorical -- that ideas about sovereignty, rather than individual liberty, drove the common-law writ’s development in the centuries of English history running up to its reception into American law.  Given widespread consensus that (1) English history should and does drive American habeas jurisprudence and (2) the sovereigntist account of that history should now be treated as authoritative, it is puzzling that American courts and scholars have continued to cling to the GWL mythos.  Meanwhile, American habeas law is in crisis, with an ideologically cross-cutting array of scholars and jurists criticizing it as intellectually incoherent, practically ineffectual, and extravagantly wasteful.  Over the Supreme Court’s past three Terms, Justice Neil Gorsuch has led a charge to hollow out federal postconviction habeas almost entirely, arguing that habeas courts should ask only whether the sentencing court was one of general criminal jurisdiction -- and not whether it violated federal constitutional law en route to entering the petitioner’s judgment of conviction.

An accurate understanding of the English history, soundly translated into the logic of American popular sovereignty, demands reconceptualizing the American writ as GWPS.  By following that imperative, we just might save American habeas jurisprudence from its present crisis.  Most critically, a theory of GWPS would illuminate the flaws in Justice Gorsuch’s historical argument for gutting postconviction habeas.  Paradoxically, shifting from the conceptual lens of GWL to that of GWPS would yield habeas doctrine more effective in protecting individual liberty.  Finally, such a shift would bring coherence to otherwise-inscrutable questions in the theory and doctrine of American habeas.

April 7, 2024 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (7)

Friday, April 5, 2024

"How to Reform Correctional Mental Health Care"

The title of this post is the title of this new report authored by Stephen Eide of the Manhattan Institute.  Here the report's executive summary:

“Trans-institutionalization” refers to the shift of seriously mentally ill adults from the care of psychiatric institutions to correctional institutions.  Beginning in the 1950s, public mental health agencies have pursued the deinstitutionalization of the seriously mentally ill.  These government agencies intended to meet that goal through creating a system of community-based care to replace the asylum-based systems.  Deinstitutionalization did not succeed as planned.  Consequently, jails and prisons became the custodians of hundreds of thousands of seriously mentally ill adults who in previous eras would have been committed to an asylum.

Some dispute the magnitude of trans-institutionalization.  But no one denies the high rate of serious mental illness among the incarcerated, or that jails and prisons are poor settings in which to treat serious mental illness. Correctional mental health care now stands as one of the most important mental health care systems in the nation. Jails and prisons are legally obligated to serve the seriously mentally ill, whereas community-based systems are not. More effective community-based mental health remains an important goal to pursue.  But equally important is the reform of corrections-based systems.  Better correctional mental health care systems will benefit both community systems and the seriously mentally ill themselves.

This report will explain how corrections-based systems function.  It will place those systems in the context of debates around “jail abolition,” explain their workforce and financial challenges, and recommend the following reforms:

  1. State governments should assume more responsibility for funding jail-based mental health care.
  2. Correctional mental health systems have special responsibility to the seriously mentally ill and are justified in targeting resources accordingly.
  3. Collect, keep, and report better data.
  4. Repeal Medicaid’s Institution for Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion.
  5. Correctional institutions should make more use of long-acting injectables during discharge.
  6. Eliminate overuse of administrative segregation (solitary confinement); do not abolish it.
  7. Do not use telehealth when reliance on onsite clinical staff is feasible.

April 5, 2024 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, April 4, 2024

"Assessing the Early Influence of the Model Penal Code’s Revised Sentencing Provisions"

The title of this post is the title of this book chapter just posted to SSRN and authored by Cecelia Klingele. Here is its abstract:

In 2017, the American Law Institute completed a 15-year revision of the sentencing provisions of the Model Penal Code. This chapter examines early indicators of the revision’s influence in the five years following its adoption.  It examines ways in which the provisions of the Model Penal Code: Sentencing (MPCS) appear to be influencing changes in law, both directly and indirectly, and concludes that the areas in which the MPCS has had the most immediate influence are those in which the Code leads, rather than follows, existing law.  This suggests that, much like the original Code, the MPCS’s most helpful contribution may be the ways in which it is able to offer new ways of approaching sentencing and correctional challenges that do not require states to dramatically alter already-existing state legislation.

April 4, 2024 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Prosecutors seek (above-guideline) sentences of at least 10 years for Crumbley parents after state manslaughter convictions

As discussed in this CNN piece, "Michigan prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence the parents of school shooter Ethan Crumbley to at least 10 years in prison, alleging they have both showed a 'chilling lack of remorse' after they were convicted for involuntary manslaughter." Here is more:

In two separate sentencing memorandums dated April 3, Oakland County prosecutors asked the judge to sentence each parent to 10 to 15 years in state prison. The prosecutors allege Crumbley’s father has repeatedly threatened Prosecuting Attorney Karen McDonald and has said “there will be retribution,” while the mother has asked to serve her sentence under house arrest in her defense attorney’s home.

James and Jennifer Crumbley were both found guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter in two separate trials this year for their roles in their son’s mass shooting at Oxford High School on November 30, 2021. Jurors found they were both grossly negligent in allowing their teenage son to have a gun and ignoring signs of his spiraling mental health. Ethan, who was 15 at the time, killed four classmates – Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17 – and injured seven other people.

His parents have been behind bars since they were arrested in December 2021 at a Detroit warehouse after leading authorities on a manhunt following the school shooting. They are scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday. Shannon Smith, Jennifer Crumbley’s defense attorney, did not comment when reached by CNN. CNN also reached out to an attorney for James Crumbley but has not heard back. Defense pre-sentencing submissions have not yet been filed on the public dockets.

In a rare move, prosecutors released excerpts of the pre-sentencing investigation reports publicly, and included statements from both defendants written after jurors found them culpable for the killings. In the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum for James Crumbley, prosecutors noted “his jail calls show a total lack of remorse, he blames everyone but himself, and he threatened the elected Prosecutor.” They also note the father has repeatedly said he is being persecuted and has referred to himself as a “martyr.”...

In the sentencing memorandum for Jennifer Crumbley, prosecutors pointed to statements she made on the stand during her trial, where she testified, “I’ve asked myself if I would have done anything differently, and I wouldn’t have.”...

In her pre-sentence report, Jennifer Crumbley acknowledged she testified she wouldn’t have done anything different but said “that is true without the benefit of hindsight that I have now.”...

Jennifer Crumbley asked that she be placed under house arrest in her defense attorney’s home, according to prosecutors.  Smith, her attorney, notified the court that Crumbley could stay in her guest house for the duration of her sentence, according to the memorandum. “Such a proposed sentence is a slap in the face to the severity of tragedy caused by defendant’s gross negligence, the victims and their families, and the applicable law that is premised on the concept of proportionate sentencing.”

Prior related post:

April 4, 2024 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (19)

Oklahoma completes execution for double murder committed 20+ years ago

As reported in this AP piece, Michael Dewayne Smith, who was "convicted of shooting and killing two people in Oklahoma City more than two decades ago, was executed Thursday morning." Here is a bit more:

After the first of three lethal drugs, midazolam, was administered, Smith, 41, appeared to shake briefly and attempt to lift his head from the gurney before relaxing. He then took several short, audible breaths that sounded like snores or gasps. Oklahoma DOC Director Steven Harpe said after the execution that Smith “appeared to have some form of sleep apnea.”

A masked doctor entered the execution chamber at 10:14 a.m. and shook Smith several times before declaring him unconscious. Smith appeared to stop breathing about a minute later. The doctor reentered the execution chamber at 10:19 a.m. and checked for a pulse before Harpe announced the time of death.

Smith was sentenced to die in the separate shooting deaths of Janet Moore, 41, and Sharath Pulluru, 22, in February 2002.

He is the first person executed in Oklahoma this year and the 12th put to death since the state resumed executions in 2021 following a nearly seven-year hiatus resulting from problems with executions in 2014 and 2015.

April 4, 2024 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2)