Monday, September 05, 2022

Noticing surprisingly low federal guideline range for sexual abuse of prisoners

For a variety of reasons, it can be all too easy to conclude that all of the federal sentencing guidelines are set way too high.  After all, federal judges impose sentences below the guidelines in more than half of all cases (see Table 8), and they do so even more frequently in certain child porn, drug and economic cases (see Table 10).  But this AP report on a notable recent federal sentencing in California highlights that there can be cases in which federal judges conclude the applicable guideline is way too low.  The piece is headlined "Chaplain who sexually abused inmates gets 7 years in prison," and here are just some of the details:

Behind a closed chapel office door inside a federal women’s prison in California, a chaplain forced inmates seeking his spiritual guidance to have sex with him, exploiting their faith and their powerlessness behind bars for his own gratification, prosecutors said.

James Theodore Highhouse was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in prison — more than double the recommended punishment in federal sentencing guidelines.  U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. said the guidelines, which call for a sentence of less than three years, “seriously underestimate the seriousness” of Highhouse’s conduct. “It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe how egregious an abuse of these victims this was,” Gilliam said.

Highhouse is among five workers charged in the last 14 months with sexually abusing inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California, and the first to reach the sentencing phase of his case.... Highhouse must register as a sex offender once he’s released from prison, Gilliam said.

Highhouse, who was arrested in January and pleaded guilty in February, would tell women he abused at the Bay Area lockup, that everyone in the Bible had sex and that God wanted them to be together, prosecutors said.  An Army veteran, he pressured one inmate into intercourse on Veterans Day by telling her she needed to serve her country and on Thanksgiving by telling her she needed to show her gratitude for him, prosecutors said.

While Highhouse, 49, was charged only with abusing one inmate and lying to authorities, prosecutors say he engaged in predatory conduct with at least six women from 2014 to 2019 — including one he counseled at a veterans hospital where he worked before joining the federal Bureau of Prisons, where allegations were routinely ignored.  “Highhouse ruined my life — he truly did,” one inmate said in a victim impact statement. “I don’t even go to Church anymore because of him.  I have no trust in the Church and really, I don’t trust anyone because of what he did.”

Highhouse, enabled by a toxic culture of abuse and coverups at the prison, warned victims not to report him, telling one of them “no one will believe you because you’re an inmate, and I’m a chaplain,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. At the same time, prosecutors wrote, a prison counselor would rail about inmates “snitching” on employees, suggesting they instead “tell Trump about it,” referring to then-President Donald Trump.

Prosecutors had sought a 10-year prison sentence.  His lawyers asked for two years, the low end of the federal guidelines, which called for a sentence of 24 to 30 months.  Gilliam’s seven-year sentence matched the recommendation of probation officers who conducted Highhouse’s pre-sentence investigation....

All sexual activity between a prison worker and an inmate is illegal. Correctional employees enjoy substantial power over inmates, controlling every aspect of their lives from mealtime to lights out, and there is no scenario in which an inmate can give consent.... Highhouse pleaded guilty on Feb. 23 to two counts of sexual abuse of a ward, two counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of making false statements to federal agents.

All of the charges stem from allegations Highhouse repeatedly abused a female prisoner over a nine-month span in 2018 and 2019. That woman said in a victim impact statement that she cried herself to sleep after testifying before a grand jury about Highhouse’s abuse....

Other allegations against Highhouse, previously kept quiet by Dublin officials, came to light during the investigation, prosecutors said....  In May, an inmate now incarcerated at another federal prison facility reported that Highhouse raped her multiple times in his chapel office after she sought him out for counseling, prosecutors said.

There are many disconcerting and notable aspects of this story, but I am still struck that a prison official/chaplain can sexually abuse a prisoner repeatedly and yet only face a guideline sentencing range of 24 to 30 months.  That range is, generally speaking, well below the guideline ranges typically facing lower-level drug offenders and lower-level fraudsters.

September 5, 2022 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (10)

Monday, August 01, 2022

"Sex Exceptionalism in Criminal Law"

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

Sex crimes are the worst crimes.  People widely believe that sexual assault is graver than nonsexual assault, uninvited sexual compliments are worse than nonsexual insults, and sex work is different from work.  Criminal codes create a dedicated category for sex offenses, uniting under its umbrella conduct as different as violent attacks and consensual commercial transactions.  This exceptionalist treatment of sex as categorically different rarely evokes discussion, much less debate.  However, sex exceptionalism is not natural or neutral, and its political history should give us pause. This Article is the first to trace, catalogue, and analyze sex exceptionalism in criminal law.  Through a genealogical examination of sex-crime law from the late eighteenth century to today, it makes several novel contributions to the debate over how criminal law should regulate sex.

First, the Article casts doubt on the conventional account that rape law’s history is solely one of sexist tolerance — an account that undergirds contemporary calls for broader criminal regulations and higher sentences.  In fact, early law established rape as the most heinous crime and a fate worse than death, but it did so to preserve female chastity, marital morality, and racial supremacy.  Sex-crime laws were not underenforced but selectively enforced to entrench hierarchies and further oppressive regimes, from slavery to social purity.  Second, this history suggests that it is past time to critically examine whether sex crimes should be exceptional.  Indeed, in the 1960s and 70s, the enlightened liberal position was that rape law should be less exceptional and harmonized with the law governing “ordinary” assault.

Third, the Article spotlights the invisible but powerful influence sex exceptionalism exerts on scholarship and advocacy.  Despite the liberal critique, sex exceptionalism flourished, and today it is adopted without hesitation.  Sex dazzles theorists of all types.  For sex crimes, retributivists accept exorbitant sentences, and utilitarians tolerate ineffective ones.  Critics of mass incarceration selectively abandon their principled stance against expanding the penal state.  Denaturalizing sex exceptionalism and excavating its troubling origins forces analysts to confront a detrimental frame underlying society’s perpetual enthusiasm for punitive sex regulation.

August 1, 2022 in Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 08, 2022

Split Wisconsin Supreme Court rejects transgender woman's arguments for changing her name on sex offender registry

The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a notable 4-3 ruling yesterday in State v. CG, 2022 WI 60 (Wisc. July 7, 2022) (available here), rejecting interesting arguments regarding the state's sex offender registry. Here is part of the start of the opinion of the court:

When Ella was 15 years old, she and another teenager, Mandy, sexually assaulted their supposed friend, 14-year-old Alan ... [and state] law required Ella to register as a sex offender.... Ella filed a postdispositional motion to stay registration....

Ella's legal arguments are grounded in her gender identity. She entered the juvenile justice system as a male. Sometime thereafter, Ella realized she was a transgender girl, i.e., a biological male who self-identifies as a girl. Ella has a traditionally masculine legal name she believes is incompatible with her gender identity.  Ella complains she is bound to "out herself" as a male anytime she is required to produce her legal name.  If Ella were not a sex offender, she could petition the circuit court for a legal name change under Wis. Stat. § 786.36 (2019–20);  however, another statute, Wis. Stat. § 301.47(2)(a), prohibits her from filing such a petition because she is a sex offender, although the State argues it does not prohibit her from using an alias provided she notifies the Department of Corrections (DOC) of her intent to do so in advance.

Ella raises two legal issues for our consideration.  She argues requiring her to register as a sex offender: (1) constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution as applied to her; and (2) violates her right to free speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Both arguments rest on Ella's inability to change her legal name to conform to her gender identity.

We reject both arguments.  Consistent with well-established precedent, we hold Ella's placement on the sex offender registry is not a "punishment" under the Eighth Amendment.  Even if it were, sex offender registration is neither cruel nor unusual. We further hold Ella's right to free speech does not encompass the power to compel the State to facilitate a change of her legal name.

Here is a key paragraph from the start of the dissent authored by Justice Bradley:

Although I agree that Ella's Eighth Amendment claim fails, I write separately to address the majority's First Amendment analysis and conclusions. It cuts short the First Amendment analysis by determining that the First Amendment isn't even implicated by the name change ban that accompanies Ella's registration as a sex offender. In making this determination, the majority takes an overly restrictive view of expressive conduct and denigrates the import of a legal name.

July 8, 2022 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

R Kelly given 30-year federal prison sentence for multiple racketeering and sex trafficking offenses

As this CNN article reports, "R&B singer R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday ... following his conviction last year on federal racketeering and sex trafficking charges stemming from his efforts over years to use his fame to ensnare victims he sexually abused." Here is more:

Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Kelly, 55, to more than 25 years behind bars, while his defense attorneys asked for 10 or fewer, saying prosecutors' request was "tantamount to a life sentence."

Survivors of Kelly's abuse held hands and prayed as US District Court Judge Ann Donnelly began reading his sentence. Kelly -- who wore a tan prison uniform, dark-rimmed glasses and a black mask at the hearing in federal court in Brooklyn -- showed no emotion.

"You left in your wake a trail of broken lives," Donnelly told Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly.  In deciding the sentence, Donnelly said she considered Kelly's own traumatic childhood, during which his attorneys said he was repeatedly sexually abused by a family member and a landlord.  "It may explain, at least in part, what led to your behavior," the judge said. "It most surely is not an excuse."...

Kelly's attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, said he would not address the court, pointing to the other criminal case faced by Kelly, but said before the sentence was read that her client "rejects that he is this monster."... Kelly made his only comment in response to the judge after Bonjean said he wouldn't speak: "Yes, your honor, that's my wish."...

Prior to sentencing, the court heard impact statements from seven of Kelly's victims, including Jane Doe 2, who testified at trial. "It's been 23 years since we knew each other, and you've victimized a lot of girls since then," she said, addressing Kelly. She later added: "Now it's your turn to have your freedom taken from you."...

Kelly is being held at a federal detention facility in Brooklyn and is expected to be moved back to Chicago, where he faces another federal trial in August on child pornography and obstruction charges. Childhood trauma revealed.

I believe federal prosecutors had argued in their sentencing memorandum that his guideline recommendation was life, which the defense claimed the guideline range was only 14 to 17.5 years.  I have not found a press report discussion how the guideline dispute was resolved, though this local article indicates that Judge Donnelly "said that her sentence is one 'I would have imposed regardless of the guidelines'."

June 29, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related posts:

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

Sunday, June 26, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior related post:

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Former reality star Josh Duggar sentencing to just over 12.5 years in federal prison for child pornography offense

In this post last week, I spotlighted the sentencing submission of the parties in a high-profile federal sentencing and asked "what federal sentence for former reality star Josh Duggar after child pornography convictions?".  I noted that the prosecution was asking for the statutory max of 20 years (and they said the guideline range was 30 to life), while Duggar asked for a sentence of five years.  The post generated a lot of thoughtful comments, and atomicfrog predicted "a sentence in the 10-12 year range."  That was pretty close, as this new BuzzFeed News piece explains in its headline: "Josh Duggar Has Been Sentenced To 12.5 Years In Prison Over Child Sexual Abuse Materials."

Though not discussed at length in the BuzzFeed piece, I surmise from this People article that the sentencing judge here may not have adopted all of the guideline enhancements pursued by the Government.  Here is a snippet:

Prosecutors had asked that he serve the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, while Duggar’s defense team had asked for five. “Duggar has a deep-seated, pervasive, and violent sexual interest in children,” Assistant US Attorney Dustin Roberts wrote in a sentencing memo.

Both Duggar's wife, Anna, and father, Jim Bob, were in court in Fayetteville on Wednesday for the sentencing.

On Tuesday, District Judge Timothy Brooks issued a 29-page opinion rejecting Duggar's plea for a new trial. "There is no merit to Mr. Duggar’s argument in favor of acquittal," the judge wrote....

After a lengthy hearing Wednesday in which he heard a number of objections from the defense, the judge sentenced Duggar to 151 months in prison.

You be the judge: what federal sentence for former reality star Josh Duggar after child pornography convictions?

Prior related posts:

May 25, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (7)

Monday, April 04, 2022

"No Check We Won't Write: A Report on the High Cost of Sex Offender Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this new article in the journal Sexual Abuse authored by Elizabeth Letourneau, Travis Roberts, Luke Malone and Yi Sun. Here is its abstract:

Child sexual abuse is a preventable public health problem that is addressed primarily via reactive criminal justice efforts.  In this report, we focus on the cost of incarcerating adults convicted of sex crimes against children in the United States.  Specifically, we summarize publicly available information on U.S. state and federal prison and sex offender civil commitment costs.  Wherever possible, we used government data sources to inform cost estimates.  Results indicate the annual cost to incarcerate adults convicted of sex crimes against children in the United States approaches $5.4 billion.  This estimate does not include any costs incurred prior to incarceration (e.g., related to detection and prosecution) or post-release (e.g., related to supervision or registration).  Nor does this estimate capture administrative and judicial costs associated with appeals, or administrative costs that cannot be extricated from other budgets, as is the case when costs per-prisoner are shared between prisons and civil commitment facilities.  We believe information on the substantial funding dedicated to incarceration will be useful to U.S. federal, state, and local lawmakers and to international policymakers as they consider allocating resources to the development, evaluation and dissemination of effective prevention strategies aimed at keeping children safe from sexual abuse in the first place.

April 4, 2022 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (10)

Thursday, March 24, 2022

In praise of the continued sentencing sensibility of the National Review's Andrew McCarthy

Though I have been intrigued by the considerable attention given to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's sentencing record even since Senator Josh Hawley's tweets flagged his concerns about about her writings, comments and sentencings in some sex offense cases (background here), I have been quite disappointed by what seemed to me to be a general failure by all of Senators on both sides of the aisle to engage thoughtfully with the deep challenges and profound humanity in any and all sentencing determinations.  District judges often say sentencing is the hardest part of their job, and this is true even in the run-of-the-mill cases when the facts are routine and the applicable statutory law is clear and the applicable guidelines are helpful.  (A few years ago, I gave a talk (written up here) partially titled "Sentencing is So Dang Hard" which details just some reasons I think judge are right to describe sentencing this way.)

Critically, in federal child pornography (CP) cases, the basic facts are rarely routine, the applicable statutory law is rarely clear, and the applicable guidelines are the very opposite of helpful.  In the CP setting, applicable statutory law is quite messy — e.g., what is the real difference between child pornography "possession" and "receipt", how should USSC policy statements be considered here — and the applicable guidelines are widely regarded as badly broken.  Those legal realities mean federal sentencing takes on extra layers of challenge in CP cases.  The challenges become especially profound when difficult and distinctive facts come along, such as in the oft-discussed Hawkins case where, according to this New York Times article, the prosecutor described "very unique circumstances" involving teenage offender and the defense presented an "evaluation by a psychologist asserting that Mr. Hawkins did not 'demonstrate sexual deviation' but was instead driven to watch the pornographic images as 'a way for him to explore his curiosity about homosexual activity and connect with his emotional peers'."

Under difficult circumstances during questions from mostly GOP Senators, Judge Jackson tried hard to explain her sentencing process and goals, and she did highlight some of the unique challenges these cases present in light of problematic guidelines.  But, based on the parts of the hearing I was able to watch, I was generally underwhelmed by the efforts of Judge Jackson's supporters to discuss with her more broadly the deep challenges and profound humanity that all sentencing decision-making involves.  And I heard precious little discussion of the particulars of the Hawkins case or other cases in which defendants present significant mitigating circumstances that find little or no expression is problematic guidelines. 

But, as the title of this post suggest, there is one commentator who has done a great job in this arena this week, and I want to give a particular shout out to the work he has done to consistently and effectively contextualizing these stories.  Specifically, the National Review's Andrew McCarthy has now done three lengthy pieces that are must-reads for everyone following these stories:

"Senator Hawley’s Disingenuous Attack against Judge Jackson’s Record on Child Pornography"

"Ho-Hum: The Cases Senator Hawley Cites Show Judge Jackson Is an Unremarkable Sentencer in Child-Porn Cases"

"Judge Jackson and Judiciary Committee Republicans Joust on Child-Porn-Possession Case against 18-Year-Old . . . Again"

I flagged the first of these pieces in a prior post, but I want to especially laud Mr. McCarthy for not being content with his important first salvo against this line of attack on Judge Jackson.  Mr. McCarthy makes clear that he is not a fan or supporter of Judge Jackson, but he has still been willing to write a significant series of detailed pieces documenting in so many ways why the sentencing discourse by the GOP here is so misguided.  Kudos to him (and the National Review) for such sentencing sensibility.

March 24, 2022 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Contextualizing Judge Jackson's mainstream sentencing record in federal child porn cases

A tweet stream by Senator Josh Hawley about writings, comments and sentencings by SCOTUS nominee Judge Jackson has kicked off a robust discussion of her attitudes toward sex offenders and those who download child pornography (CP). Senator Hawley's tweets referenced Judge Jackson's law school Note in the Harvard Law Review and questions she asked while on the US Sentencing Commission.  What the Senator references in these tweets struck me as not especially sensational nor ultimately a strong basis for questioning her judicial temperament or philosophy.  But he thereafter discussed Judge Jackson's below-guideline sentencing decisions in CP cases when she served as a federal district judge, and I certainly consider reviews of sentencing decisions to be a fair and sound component of assessing Judge Jackson's record as a jurist.

But, to be truly fair and sound, any review of Judge Jackson's CP sentencings must include proper context regarding the federal sentencing guidelines for CP which are widely recognized as dysfunctional and unduly severe.  As this recent US Sentencing Commission report explains, the CP guideline (2G2.2) "fails to distinguish adequately between more and less severe offenders" (p. 19), and "most courts believe §2G2.2 is generally too severe and does not appropriately measure offender culpability in the typical non-production child pornography case" (p. 22).  With the CP guidelines "too severe" and poorly designed to "measure offender culpability" in the digital age, federal judges nationwide rarely follow them.  Indeed, data in recent (and past) USSC reports document that Judge Jackson's record of imposing below-guideline CP sentences is quite mainstream because: (1) federal judges nationwide typically sentence below the CP guideline in roughly 2 out of 3 cases (p. 23), and (2) federal judges nationwide, when deciding to go below the CP guideline, typically impose sentences around 54 months below the calculated guideline minimum (p. 25).

Reviewing a brief accounting of nine CP cases sentenced by Judge Jackson (which I believe was produced by GOP Senators and/or staff and was forwarded to me), I was first struck by the fact that in a majority of these cases (5 of 9) the prosecution advocated for a below-guideline sentence and in three others the prosecution advocated for only the guideline minimum.  In other words, Judge Jackson was generally sentencing CP defendants in cases in which even the prosecution concluded mitigating factors meant that the guidelines were not a proper benchmark range in light of congressional sentencing purposes.  Notably, the recent USSC report indicates that the government formally moves for a below-range sentence in roughly 1 out of every 5 CP cases (p. 23); it is not clear if prosecutors made formal motions for departures or variances in Judge Jackson's CP cases, but it is clear that in the majority of these cases the prosecutors were the ones who requested a sentence below the CP guidelines.

In the nine cases, Judge Jackson followed the prosecutors' sentencing recommendations in two cases, and sentenced below the prison term suggested by the government in seven others.  One case, US v. Hillie, distorts the average deviation from the prosecutors' recommendations, as the government there sought a sentence of 45 years and Judge Jackson imposed a sentence of "only" 29.5 years. Leaving that case out of the average, in the other eight cases, Judge Jackson's sentence was only about 1.8 years below the recommendation of prosecutors (and about .6 years above the defense recommendations).  In those cases, Judge Jackson did sentence, on average, about 54 months below the calculated guideline minimum, but that degree of reduction from the guideline minimum is almost identical to the national average reduction according to the USSC report (p. 25).

In other words, Judge Jackson's record in these CP cases does show she is quite skeptical of the ranges set by the CP guidelines, but so too were prosecutors in the majority of her cases and so too are district judges nationwide (appointed by presidents of both parties).  I use the word "mainstream" to describe Judge Jackson's sentencing patterns here because they strike me as not at all out of the ordinary; there are surely federal judges who have sentenced CP offenders more harshly, but there are also surely federal judges who have sentenced CP offenders more leniently.  Judge Jackson's sentencing record in CP cases reflects the fundamental flaws of the CP guidelines (and perhaps a relatively mitigated group of offenders she was tasked with sentencing).  As I see it, these cases do not really reveal any kind of unique or uniquely concerning sentencing jurisprudence.

There is more to say on this topic — e.g., I suspect that Judge Jackson's views in these cases were usefully informed by (1) the unanimous bipartisan USSC report authored in 2012 which stressed "the current sentencing scheme results in overly severe guideline ranges for some offenders based on outdated and disproportionate enhancements" and (2) the Justice Department's 2013 follow-up letter that "joined in the call for a critical review of the existing sentencing guidelines for non-production child pornography crimes" — and I suspect we will hear a lot more on this topic in the days ahead.  For now, I will conclude where the title of this post starts: if and when we properly contextualize Judge Jackson's sentencing record in federal child porn cases, it looks pretty mainstream.

March 17, 2022 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (13)

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

"Ruined"

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

Judges play a critical role in one of the most important states of a criminal case’s adjudication — sentencing.  While there have been substantial limitations placed on the discretion judges can exercise in devising punishments, there are little to none on what judges say at such hearings when articulating their rationales for the sentences they impose on convicted defendants.  This Article examines the language judges use when sentencing defendants convicted rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse that describes victims of those crimes and the harms they have sustained, especially language that describes victims as “ruined,” “broken,” or “destroyed.”  The use of such language, while apparently meant to be empathetic, only serves to uphold misogynistic understandings of rape and sexual assault and actively harms victims. Judges trying to justify harsh sentences for defendants convicted of sex crimes also engage in shaming and exploitation of victims when saying that defendants have left victims “ruined” at sentencing.

In this Article I use traditional scholarly methods of reviewing and analyzing cases and legal doctrine to show why the use of such language is harmful to victims and flouts the purposes of criminal punishment.  However, I also engage in autoethnographic methods, relying on my own experiences of rape and sexual assault, as well as prosecuting such cases. This Article considers at how other fields such as medicine and public health have approached destigmatizing other historically stigmatized conditions like substance use and mental illness, arguing that judges should take similar steps to destigmatize being a victim of rape and sexual assault by more carefully considering their language use at sentencing.  I conclude by reflecting on the use of personal narrative in legal scholarship and in the classroom and argue that it can be a powerful tool that scholars should more openly embrace.

March 16, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 12, 2022

"Card Carrying Sex Offenders"

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

Although it is commonly believed that Americans have never been required to carry and show upon demand personal identification documents, the belief is incorrect.  Over time, select sub-populations have in fact been subject to such a requirement, including free-born and emancipated African-Americans until after the Civil War.  This article examines the targeting of yet another disfavored sub-population: individuals convicted of sex offenses, who are required to register with government authorities.

Today, roughly a dozen states require that registrants obtain and carry identification cards or driver’s licenses signifying their status.  Often, the branding is very overt, such as a stamp of “SEX OFFENDER” or “SEXUAL PREDATOR” in bight colored lettering.  At other times, it is more subtle, such as use of a “U,” denoting that the individual is a “Sexual Deviant.”  The federal government also brands registrants, requiring that their passports display a “unique identifier” stamped in a “conspicuous location.”  The passports must be shown to airport and customs officials, as well others when traveling abroad. With state laws, disclosure is even more pervasive: not only to police, upon demand, but also to myriad other individuals encountered in daily life, such as bank tellers and store clerks.

To date, the laws have faced only a few judicial challenges, which have condoned government branding in principle, yet at times required use of less graphic signifiers.  The decisions, while notable for their reasoning regarding government-compelled speech, have failed to address other significant constitutional concerns, including the First Amendment right of free association, the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Fifth Amendment privilege against compelled self-incrimination.  As important, courts have ignored the troubling implications of allowing governments to force individuals to publicly self-stigmatize and systematically compel, under threat of criminal sanction, that they be complicit in their own surveillance.  The article frames and illuminates these issues for the important coming important debate regarding the authority of government to target not only individuals convicted of criminal offenses, but anyone it thinks worthy of public stigmatization and monitoring, possibly for their lifetimes.

March 12, 2022 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

"Child Pornography and Criminal Justice Reform"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article now available via SSRN and authored by Dawinder Sidhu and Kelsey Robinson. Here is its abstract:

Drug offenses lie at the heart of the movement for criminal justice reform, and for good reason.  The defining attributes of prevailing drug policy — severe and disproportionate penalties owning to a retributive, factually flawed, and hurried congressional process — apply to the child pornography context as well.  In this Article, we identify the common issues with drug and child pornography sentencing and outline the doctrinal implications of this shared foundation, especially as to district court discretion to vary under Kimbrough v. United States.

Though drug sentencing is problematic enough, child pornography is arguably worse.  The U.S. Sentencing Commission has disavowed these guidelines and invited judges to vary from them.  Judges have done just that, varying in 63% of all cases, more than any other offense type.  Thus, in this Article, we also suggest how the improvements to this uniquely distressed area of law can inform criminal justice reform more generally, especially as to substantive reasonableness review under Gall v. United States, mandatory minimum sentences, and sunset provisions for penalty levels.

Child pornography is not part of the conversation for criminal justice reform.  We take on child pornography sentencing, and in doing so hope to ensure that the movement for criminal justice reform is both correct and complete.

January 25, 2022 in Booker in district courts, Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Gall reasonableness case, Kimbrough reasonableness case, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 21, 2022

Eleventh Circuit panel decides law enforcement violates First Amendment by placing Halloween warning signs on registered sex offenders' lawns

A couple of days ago, a unanimous Eleventh Circuit panel issued an interesting and notable ruling in McClendon v. Long, No. 21-10092 (11th Cir.  Jan. 19, 2022) (available here).  Here is how the court's opinion gets started:

In October 2018, two deputies from the Butts County Sheriff’s Office placed signs in the front yards of the residences of all 57 registered sex offenders within the County, warning “STOP” and “NO TRICK-OR-TREAT AT THIS ADDRESS.” Before Halloween 2019, three registered sex offenders living in Butts County sued, seeking to enjoin the Sheriff from placing the signs again. The district court denied a permanent injunction and granted summary judgment in favor of the Sheriff.

After review and with the benefit of oral argument, we conclude that the Sheriff’s warning signs are compelled government speech, and their placement violates a homeowner’s First Amendment rights.  Thus, we vacate the district court’s judgment in favor of the Sheriff and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

For many years, I have seen reports about (and have blogged a bit about) all sorts of "special" formal and informal rules applied to registered sex offenders by many localities around Halloween. Some of these rules have been challenged in various courts and a few have been enjoined.  But I cannot recall seeing any other federal circuit opinions on this recurring issue, and I suspect this ruling will be widely cited in future litigation over these kinds of issues.

January 21, 2022 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

"How Much Prison Time Could Ghislaine Maxwell Serve After Sex Trafficking Conviction?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new Newsweek article that explores a bit what I started thinking about upon hearing that Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein's "helper," had been convicted on five of six federal sex trafficking charges.  The simple technical answer to the question is 65 years, and the article provides these (helpful?) additional details:

The most serious charge Maxwell was convicted of, sex trafficking of a minor, carries a maximum prison sentence of 40 years.  She was also convicted of transporting a minor with the intent to engage in illegal sexual activity, a charge punishable by up to 10 years, as well as three other charges that each carry maximum sentences of five years.... It is unclear when she could be tried on two separate counts of perjury, which could also add a five-year sentence apiece.

[I]f 60-year-old Maxwell is given a sentence anywhere near the maximum allowable term, she may spend the rest of her life behind bars, especially since the federal prison system does not include parole. If federal prison sentencing guidelines are allowed and she is ordered to serve sentences concurrently, Maxwell could face as little as 10 years.

Maxwell was sent back to Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Center after the verdict was read on Wednesday.  She has been held at the facility in isolation since being arrested in July 2020. Maxwell is likely to remain there until she is sentenced and assigned to a federal prison....

It is unclear whether security measures for Maxwell will be altered in light of her convictions.  Maxwell has denied all of the charges that she was convicted of on Wednesday. Plans to launch an appeal have already been set in motion, her attorney Bobbi Sternheim told reporters after the verdict. "We firmly believe in Ghislaine's innocence," Sternheim said. "Obviously we are very disappointed with the verdict, we have already started working on the appeal and we are confident that she will be vindicated."

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan has yet to announce the date of Maxwell's pending sentencing hearing.

I think this article means to make the point that if federal sentencing guidelines are followed (not "allowed"), then Maxwell would be quite likely to get a term lower than the 65-year  statutory maximum available.  (It is perhaps worth noting that the most serious count of conviction now carries a statutory maximum sentence of life, but the stat max was "only" 40 years at the time of Maxwell's offense conduct.)

I am not an expert on guideline calculations for this set of offenses, but my sense is that the recommend range will be at least as high as 20 years, and perhaps even much higher.  It will be interesting to see the precise calculation and the sentencing advocacy by the prosecution and the defense in the months ahead.  It will also be interesting to watch if Judge Nathan's nomination to the Second Circuit, or the effort by some GOP Senators to question her sentencing work, could come to somehow impact Maxwell's eventual sentencing.

December 29, 2021 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (38)

Thursday, December 09, 2021

How many years and counting might reality TV star Josh Duggar now get after federal jury convictions on two child pornography charges?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this celebrity trial news from the AP: "Former reality TV star Josh Duggar was immediately taken into custody Thursday after a federal jury convicted him of downloading and possessing child pornography." Here is more:

The jury in Fayetteville, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock, found the 33-year-old Duggar guilty on one count each of receiving and possessing child pornography.  He faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for each count when he’s sentenced.... U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks said sentencing will happen in about four months, Fayetteville TV station KNWA reported. “We respect the jury’s verdict and we look forward to continuing this fight on appeal,” said Justin Gelfand, one of Duggar’s defense attorneys.

Duggar and his large Arkansas family starred on TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” until the network canceled the show in 2015 following revelations that he had molested four of his sisters and a babysitter. Authorities began investigating the abuse in 2006 after receiving a tip from a family friend but concluded that the statute of limitations on any possible charges had expired.

Duggar’s parents said he had confessed to the fondling and apologized . At the time, Duggar apologized publicly for unspecified behavior and resigned as a lobbyist for the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group. Duggar later apologized for a pornography addiction and for cheating on his wife, calling himself “the biggest hypocrite ever.” The judge in the child porn case ruled that jurors could hear testimony about how in 2003, Duggar admitted to molesting four girls.  A family friend testified that Duggar told her about the abuse.

Federal authorities said they began investigating after a Little Rock police detective found child porn files were being shared by a computer traced to Duggar.  A federal agent testified in May that images depicting the sexual abuse of children, including toddlers, were downloaded in 2019 onto a computer at a car dealership Duggar owned.  Duggar’s attorney argued that someone else downloaded or uploaded the images onto Duggar’s computer.  But the jury wasn’t swayed.

This DOJ press release, titeld "Federal Jury Convicts Former Reality Television Personality for Downloading and Possessing Child Sexual Abuse Material," provides these additional offense details and more of the sentencing specifics:

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Joshua James Duggar, 33, of Springdale, repeatedly downloaded and viewed images and videos depicting the sexual abuse of children, including images of prepubescent children and depictions of sadistic abuse.  Duggar, a former reality television personality who appeared with his family on the TLC series “19 Kids and Counting,” installed a password-protected partition on the hard drive of his desktop computer at his used car lot in Springdale to avoid pornography-detecting software on the device.  He then accessed the partition to download child sexual abuse material from the internet multiple times over the course of three days in May 2019.  The password for the partition was the same one he used for other personal and family accounts.  Duggar downloaded the material using the dark web and online file-sharing software, viewed it, and then removed it from his computer....

Duggar was convicted of receipt and possession of child pornography. His sentencing date has not been scheduled yet.  Receipt of child pornography is punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to 20 years. Possession of child pornography depicting prepubescent children has a maximum penalty of 20 years of imprisonment as well.  A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Though the exact sentencing range that Duggar will now face under the guidelines will depend on a lot of the particulars of his downloading activities, he is now certain to receive a federal prison term of at least five years due to his conviction on a receipt charge.  In addition, because the child porn guideline §2G2.2 has so many significant enhancement, he could be facing a guideline sentencing range of well over decade.  (Some USSC data for Fiscal Year 2020 here shows in Table 7 that the average national child porn sentence was about 8.5 years and the average sentence for child porn in the Western District of Arkansas was a few months over 7 years.  Though the child porn guidelines are quite harsh, they are the guidelines that judges depart down from most frequently.)

December 9, 2021 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (7)

Friday, November 19, 2021

Brock Turner 2.0 in New York?: privileged teen receives surprisingly lenient sentence for multiple sex offenses (and now national attention)

Because there are literally tens of thousands of state and federal sentences imposed every month, one can always find an array of notable stories of notable leniency and notable severity in individual sentencings.  But only a handful of sentencing stories ever garner broad national attention, and a variety of predictable and unpredictable factors usually account for what gives certain sentencing stories particular salience.  The case of Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, the 20-year old given only six months in a California jail for a sexual assault, had a bunch of factors that led it to receive more attention than any single state sentence of recent vintage.  I am now wondering if the lenient sentence this week of Christopher Belter might also have similar factors.

This USA Today article provide these details under the headline, "A New York man pleaded guilty to rape and sexual abuse charges. He wasn't sentenced to prison":

A New York man who pleaded guilty to rape and sexual abuse charges will not face prison time, and instead was sentenced to probation earlier this week. Christopher Belter, 20, in 2019 pleaded guilty to felony charges including third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse. He also pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor sexual abuse charges, according to multiple reports.

The crimes against four victims occurred when he was 16 and 17 years old. Three of the victims were 16 years old at the time, and one was 15. Belter was facing a maximum sentence of up to eight years in prison. But Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III on Tuesday gave the man eight years probation. The judge said a prison sentence would be "inappropriate.”

“I’m not ashamed to say that I actually prayed over what is the appropriate sentence in this case because there was great pain. There was great harm. There were multiple crimes committed in the case,” Murphy said, according to WKBW. “It seems to me that a sentence that involves incarceration or partial incarceration isn’t appropriate, so I am going to sentence you to probation,” he added.

Belter will have to register as a sex offender under his sentence, according to multiple reports.

Steven Cohen, an attorney representing one of the victims, said in a statement to USA TODAY that his client is “deeply disappointed in the sentencing.” He added that his client “threw up in the ladies room following the sentencing."

“I have been practicing law for over 30 years. If Chris Belter was not a white defendant from a rich and influential family, it is my belief he wouldn’t have received the original plea deal, and he would surely have been sentenced to prison,” Cohen said. “The greater harm, however, is that the sentencing in this matter would seem to perpetuate the insane belief that rape is not a serious crime and that its occurrence results in little consequence to the perpetrator. Our society needs to do much better,” he added.

Barry Covert, Belter's attorney, said the man “is tremendously remorseful for what he's done.” "There are clients who are never able to empathize with their victims no matter how much counseling they receive. Chris isn't one of them," he said, The Buffalo News reported....

The crimes occurred in 2017 and 2018 at Belter’s parents' home in Lewiston, New York. In 2019, judge Sara Sheldon, who has since retired, put Belter on two years’ interim probation. She said he could apply for youthful offender status, which would have lowered his maximum sentence and allowed him not to register as a sex offender.

Belter confirmed in court last month that he violated the agreement by installing software on a computer to view pornography. Murphy later denied Belter the youthful offender status, ruling that he would be sentenced as an adult.

Niagara County District Attorney Brian Seaman said in a statement obtained by USA TODAY: "Based on the seriousness of these crimes, the very powerful and emotional statements of the victims and the fact that Christopher Belter was already given a shot at interim probation and failed, my office has been very clear that we believed a prison sentence was entirely appropriate in this case.”

Here is just a sampling of some of the other national press coverage that this case is now receiving:

From ABC News, "Judge sentences admitted rapist to probation, no prison time"

From CBS News, "A judge sentenced a rapist to probation. One of his victims warns "he will offend again"

From NBC News, "Judge says prison 'inappropriate' for New York man who sexually assaulted 4 teens"

November 19, 2021 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (9)

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

US Sentencing Commission issues new report on "Federal Sentencing of Child Pornography: Production Offenses"

Back in June 2021, as detailed in this post, the US Sentencing Commission released this big report, running nearly 100 pages, titled "Federal Sentencing of Child Pornography: Non-Production Offenses."  A follow-up report, running "only 72 pages" was released today here under the title "Federal Sentencing of Child Pornography: Production Offenses."  This USSC website provides some "key findings" from the report, and here are some of those findings:

Prior recent related post:

US Sentencing Commission issues big new report on "Federal Sentencing of Child Pornography: Non-Production Offenses" 

October 13, 2021 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Split Tenth Circuit panel upholds constitutionality of Colorado's indefinite sentencing of sex offender for 37 years

A helpful reader made sure I did not miss the interesting split panel ruling last week by the Tenth Circuit in Wimberly v. Williams, No. 20-1128 (10th Cir. Sept. 29, 2021) (available here). The majority opinion starts by setting out the essence of the case of the panel's ruling:

In 1984, Mr. Bruce E. Wimberly pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual assault.  The Colorado trial court accepted his plea and considered the sentencing options. One option was a conventional sentence: a determinate prison term up to 24 years. But the Colorado Sex Offenders Act of 1968 provided a second option: an indeterminate term of confinement lasting anywhere from one day to life imprisonment.  The court chose the second option, made additional findings required by the statute, and imposed an indeterminate term of confinement ranging from one day to life imprisonment.

More than 24 years have passed.  With passage of this time, Mr. Wimberly argues that the Constitution requires his release because he didn’t receive a new hearing at the end of the 24-year determinate term (that the trial court chose not to impose).  Without a new hearing, Mr. Wimberly claims that his continued confinement violates his rights to equal protection and due process.

The federal district court rejected Mr. Wimberly’s arguments, and so do we.  The state trial court provided adequate procedural safeguards when imposing the indeterminate term of confinement, and that term could last anywhere from a single day to the rest of Mr. Wimberly’s lifetime.  The State thus had no constitutional duty to provide a new round of procedural safeguards 24 years into Mr. Wimberly’s indeterminate term.

Judge McHugh dissents, arguing that Colorado functionally subjected the defendant to an unconstitutional form of civil confinement in an opinion that starts this way:

Petitioner-appellant Bruce E. Wimberly has been imprisoned for over 37 years, which is more than a decade longer than the maximum permissible sentence for his underlying crimes.  Over this past decade, Colorado has denied Mr. Wimberly the procedural protections it affords to civil committees in its custody.  The majority sees no constitutional problem with this; but I do. I therefore respectfully dissent.

The majority’s conclusion stems from its premise that “it doesn’t matter whether we call this a sentence or a criminal commitment.” Maj. Op. at 9.  I reject this premise.  Mr. Wimberly is presently confined under the Colorado Sex Offenders Act of 1968 (“CSOA” or the “Act”), which, in a section titled “Indeterminate commitment,” provides that courts “may, . . . in lieu of the sentence otherwise provided by law, commit a sex offender to the custody of the [Department of Corrections] for an indeterminate term having a minimum of one day and a maximum of his or her natural life.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-904 (emphasis added). In my view, both U.S. Supreme Court precedent and Colorado state law support the conclusion that the CSOA provides for a scheme of criminal commitment, not sentencing.

From my premise that Mr. Wimberly is serving a criminal commitment, I further conclude Mr. Wimberly’s present confinement violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

October 3, 2021 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, September 27, 2021

R. Kelly now likely facing a long sentence after convictions on all federal sex trafficking charges

I have not been following the federal prosecution of R. Kelly closely, but a whole bunch of news alerts today let me know he is now entering the sentencing stage.  This CNN piece sets out the specifics of the guilty verdict: "Kelly was found guilty of nine counts -- one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act.  Of the 14 underlying acts for the racketeering count, he needed to be found guilty of at least two to be convicted of that count.  Jurors found prosecutors had proven all but two of the 14 underlying racketeering acts."  And, based in part on this NBC News account and other discussions of his wrongdoing, federal sentencing is likely to be grim for Mr. Kelly:

R. Kelly, the R&B superstar who has long been trailed by accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse, was found guilty Monday on all counts in a high-profile sex-trafficking case, capping a trial that featured hours of graphic testimony from the singer’s accusers.

Kelly, who has been in custody for much of the time since he was formally charged in 2019, was convicted on one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, a law that bars the transport of people across state lines “for any immoral purpose.”

Kelly, best known for the 1996 hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” pleaded not guilty to all charges in the case. The singer, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, did not take the stand in his own defense.

The prosecutors in the trial, which centered around the allegations of six people, alleged that the singer was a serial sexual predator who abused young women as well as underage girls and boys for more than two decades. Prosecutors further alleged that the singer and his entourage led a criminal enterprise that recruited and groomed victims for sex, arranging for them to travel to concerts and other events across the U.S.

In a closing argument that lasted two days, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Geddes accused Kelly and his entourage of using tactics from “the predator playbook” to control his victims. Kelly’s alleged tactics included confining victims in hotel rooms or his recording studio, managing when they could eat and use the bathroom, and forcing them to follow various “rules,” including demanding they call him “Daddy.”

“It is now time to hold the defendant responsible for the pain he inflicted on each of his victims,” Geddes said Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn.  “It is now time for the defendant, Robert Kelly, to pay for his crimes. Convict him.”...

​​The singer’s lawyers attempted to portray his accusers as “groupies” who sought to exploit his fame and take advantage of the #MeToo movement.  Deveraux Cannick, one of Kelly’s defense lawyers, argued that testimony from several of his client’s accusers was false, saying in his closing argument: “Where is the fairness to Robert? Where’s the integrity of the system?”...

“Surviving R. Kelly,” a Lifetime documentary series released in 2019 that featured testimony from several accusers, intensified calls for the singer to face legal consequences for his alleged pattern of abuse.  Kelly was previously acquitted on child pornography charges in 2008.

Though I doubt anyone will make a follow-up documentary titled "“Sentencing R. Kelly,” I will certainly plan to keep an eye on this case in the months to come because I suspect the feds will be seeking a pretty steep sentencing term (based on what should be severe guideline calculations) while the defense will surely seek a way below-guideline sentence.  The sentencing is apparently not scheduled until May 2022, so we will all have plenty of time to make predictions.

September 27, 2021 in Celebrity sentencings, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, September 24, 2021

"Sex Offender Registration in a Pandemic"

The title of this post is the title of this new piece authored by Wayne Logan now posted on SSRN. Here is its abstract:

This Essay, part of a symposium examining how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the criminal justice system, addresses whether, and how, state and local governments maintained their requirement that individuals convicted of sex offenses meet with authorities in person to confirm and update their registry information.  Focusing in particular on the first months of 2020, the tale told highlights the distinctiveness of registration: while many governmental operations were suspended, or went online, in-person registration very often persisted.  As a result, registrants were required to travel to a government office (perhaps by public transport), wait in a closed space very possibly with poor ventilation, sometimes for extended periods of time, where social distancing might not have been feasible.  If they failed to satisfy the registration requirement they faced significant criminal punishment.

The in-person registration requirement remained in effect even though registrants often share many of the same health and age-related characteristics of the broader at-risk population, risks often aggravated by sanitary problems associated with chronic homelessness (e.g., lack of access to soap for hand washing) that registrants often experience.  As a result, in-person registration posed the threat of registrants transmitting and contracting the virus, affecting not only the registrants themselves, but also friends, family, and employers, as well as the governmental authorities with whom they had to interact.  As states and localities undertook aggressive measures to stem the spread of COVID-19, the persistence of in-person registration provides a stark reminder of the continued exceptionalism of registration and the population it targets (individuals convicted of sex offenses).

The Essay explores the reasons accounting for this distinctiveness and provides some thoughts on how and why in-person registration persisted in the early stages of the pandemic when so many other governmental operations were suspended or significantly modified.

September 24, 2021 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Might SCOTUS be interested in taking up victim rights issues surrounding the Jeffrey Epstein case?

I find it somewhat surprising that the US Supreme Court has not yet ever taken up any cases dealing with the Crime Victims' Rights Act (CVRA), the 2004 legislation which significantly expanded the statutory rights of federal crime victims and creates duties on federal courts to ensure these rights are respected.  But, as highlighted by this new Politico article, headlined "Jeffrey Epstein accuser asks Supreme Court to uphold victims' rights," a high-profile case now provides them with a remarkable new opportunity to take up CVRA issues.  Here are the basics:

A woman who accused Jeffrey Epstein of sexually abusing her beginning when she was 14 is asking the Supreme Court to rule that federal prosecutors violated her rights by failing to consult her before cutting what critics have dubbed a sweetheart deal with the since-deceased financier and philanthropist.

The so-called nonprosecution agreement precluded U.S. authorities in south Florida from bringing federal charges against Epstein, despite similar allegations from dozens of women, if Epstein pleaded guilty to two state felonies related to soliciting a minor for sex.

Lawyers for Courtney Wild are asking the justices to overturn an appeals court ruling from June that held that Wild could not use a civil suit to enforce her rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, a law Congress passed in 2004 to guarantee victims of crime certain protections in the federal criminal justice system.

The 7-4 ruling from the full bench of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called the government’s actions in the case “shameful,” but concluded that while the statute gives victims rights to jump into federal criminal proceedings, it doesn’t allow them to sue when no such case was ever filed.

“The en banc decision leaves the Government free to negotiate secret, pre-indictment non-prosecution agreements without informing crime victims,” attorneys Paul Cassell, Brad Edwards and Jay Howell wrote in the high court filing.

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Paul Cassell yesterday had this lengthy post about his new cert petition under this full headline: "Was it Lawful for the Justice Department to Reach a Secret Non-Prosecution Agreement with Jeffrey Epstein Without Telling His Victims?: My cert petition to the U.S. Supreme Court asks it review the Eleventh Circuit en banc's decision concluding that Epstein's victims cannot enforce their right to confer with prosecutors under the Crime Victims' Rights Act because the Department never formally filed charges against Epstein." Here is how his post gets started (with links from the original):

Today I filed a cert petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to review whether crime victims can enforce their rights under the Crime Victims' Rights Act (CVRA) before prosecutors file charges.  The petition, filed by one of the nation's leading crime victims' attorneys, Bradley J. Edwards, and me on behalf of one of Epstein's victims — Courtney Wild — seeks review of a 7-4 en banc decision from the Eleventh Circuit.  The Circuit held that the CVRA is only triggered when prosecutors file federal charges. Before then, according to the Eleventh Circuit, prosecutors are free to conceal from victims any deal that they may strike with the target of a federal investigation — as they did in the Epstein case.  This issue has sweeping implications for the proper enforcement of the CVRA, and we hope that the Court grants Ms. Wild's petition to review this very important legal question.

September 1, 2021 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, July 01, 2021

"Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Laws: An Empirical Evaluation"

The title of this post is the title of this new book of essays.  I reached out to the editors of this text to provide a bit of background and context for this new volume:

Sex offender registration and community notification (SORN) surely numbers among the most significant social control methods of the past several decades. Although the Supreme Court in 2003 rejected two constitutional challenges to SORN laws (Connecticut Dept. of Public Safety v. Doe and Smith v. Doe), of late courts, including the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (Does v. Snyder, 2016), have cast a more critical eye, invalidating new generation SORN laws that have become more onerous and expansive in their reach. 

Since its origin in the early 1990s, basic questions have existed regarding the effects of SORN, including whether it actually achieves its intended purpose of reducing sexual offending. Cambridge University Press has just published a new book, edited by Professors Wayne A. Logan and J.J. Prescott, containing chapters from the nation’s leading social science researchers on the many important empirical questions surrounding SORN.  As readers might be aware, the American Law Institute, as part of its overhaul of the Model Penal Code’s sex offense-related provisions, has tentatively approved a slate of reforms advocating a vastly reduced approach to registration and discontinuation of community notification.  The book promises to be an invaluable resource as policy-makers begin to consider whether SORN laws should be retooled or perhaps done away with altogether. Here is the SSRN link and abstract for the book:

Despite being in existence for over a quarter century, costing multiple millions of dollars and affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals, sex offender registration and notification (SORN) laws have yet to be subject to a book-length treatment of their empirical dimensions, examining their premises, coverage, and impact on public safety.  This volume, edited by Professors Wayne A. Logan and J.J. Prescott, assembles the leading researchers in the field to provide an in-depth look at what have come to be known as “Megan’s Laws,” offering a social science-based analysis of one of the most important and controversial criminal justice system initiatives undertaken in modern times. The editors attach the title page, table of contents, and preface of the volume.

July 1, 2021 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

US Sentencing Commission issues big new report on "Federal Sentencing of Child Pornography: Non-Production Offenses"

Cover_CP-non-prodDespite only having a single commissioner, the US Sentencing Commissioner is continuing to produce interesting federal sentencing data and reports.  This latest USSC report, running nearly 100 pages, was released today under the titled "Federal Sentencing of Child Pornography: Non-Production Offenses."   This report drills into data from fiscal year 2019, and this webpage sets out these "key findings" from the report:

  • Facilitated by advancements in digital and mobile technology, non-production child pornography offenses increasingly involve voluminous quantities of videos and images that are graphic in nature, often involving the youngest victims.
    • In fiscal year 2019, non-production child pornography offenses involved a median number of 4,265 images, with some offenders possessing and distributing millions of images and videos.
    • Over half (52.2%) of non-production child pornography offenses in fiscal year 2019 included images or videos of infants or toddlers, and nearly every offense (99.4%) included prepubescent victims.
  • Constrained by statutory mandatory minimum penalties, congressional directives, and direct guideline amendments by Congress in the PROTECT Act of 2003, § 2G2.2 contains a series of enhancements that have not kept pace with technological advancements.  Four of the six enhancements — accounting for a combined 13 offense levels — cover conduct that has become so ubiquitous that they now apply in the vast majority of cases sentenced under § 2G2.2.
    • For example, in fiscal year 2019, over 95 percent of non-production child pornography offenders received enhancements for use of a computer and for the age of the victim (images depicting victims under the age of 12).
    • The enhancements for images depicting sadistic or masochistic conduct or abuse of an infant or toddler (84.0% of cases) or having 600 or more images (77.2% of cases) were also applied in most cases.
  • Because enhancements that initially were intended to target more serious and more culpable offenders apply in most cases, the average guideline minimum and average sentence imposed for nonproduction child pornography offenses have increased since 2005.
    • The average guideline minimum for non-production child pornography offenders increased from 98 months in fiscal year 2005 to 136 months in fiscal year 2019.
    • The average sentence increased more gradually, from 91 months in fiscal year 2005 to 103 months in fiscal year 2019.
  • Although sentences imposed remain lengthy, courts increasingly apply downward variances in response to the high guideline ranges that apply to the typical non-production child pornography offender.
    • In fiscal year 2019, less than one-third (30.0%) of non-production child pornography offenders received a sentence within the guideline range.
    • The majority (59.0%) of non-production child pornography offenders received a variance below the guideline range.
    • Non-government sponsored below range variances accounted for 42.2 percent of sentences imposed, and government sponsored below range variances accounted for 16.8 percent.
  • Section 2G2.2 does not adequately account for relevant aggravating factors identified in the Commission’s 2012 Child Pornography Report that have become more prevalent.
    • More than forty percent (43.7%) of non-production child pornography offenders participated in an online child pornography community in fiscal year 2019.
    • Nearly half (48.0%) of non-production child pornography offenders engaged in aggravating sexual conduct prior to, or concurrently with, the instant nonproduction child pornography offense in fiscal year 2019.  This represents a 12.9 percentage point increase since fiscal year 2010, when 35.1 percent of offenders engaged in such conduct.
  • Consistent with the key aggravating factors identified in the Commission’s 2012 Child Pornography Report, courts appeared to consider participation in an online child pornography community and engaging in aggravating sexual conduct when imposing sentences, both in terms of the length of sentence imposed and the sentence relative to the guideline range.
    • In fiscal year 2019, the average sentence imposed increased from 71 months for offenders who engaged in neither an online child pornography community nor aggravating sexual conduct, to 79 months for offenders who participated in an online child pornography community, to 134 months for offenders who engaged in aggravating sexual conduct.
    • In fiscal year 2019, offenders who engaged in aggravating sexual conduct were sentenced within their guideline ranges at a rate nearly three times higher than offenders who did not participate in online child pornography communities or engage in aggravating sexual conduct (44.3% compared to 15.6%).
  • As courts and the government contend with the outdated statutory and guideline structure, sentencing disparities among similarly situated non-production child pornography offenders have become increasingly pervasive. Charging practices, the resulting guideline ranges, and the sentencing practices of judges have all contributed to some degree to these disparities.
    • For example, the sentences for 119 similarly situated possession offenders ranged from probation to 228 months though these 119 possession offenders had the same guideline calculation through the application of the same specific offense characteristics and criminal history category.
    • The sentences for 52 similarly situated receipt offenders ranged from 37 months to 180 months though these 52 receipt offenders had the same guideline calculation through the application of the same specific offense characteristics and criminal history category.
    • The sentences for 190 similarly situated distribution offenders ranged from less than one month to 240 months though these 190 distribution offenders had the same guideline calculation through the application of the same specific offense characteristics and criminal history category.
  • When tracking 1,093 nonproduction child pornography offenders released from incarceration or placed on probation in 2015, 27.6 percent were rearrested within three years.
    • Of the 1,093 offenders, 4.3 percent (47 offenders) were rearrested for a sex offense within three years.
    • Eighty-eight offenders (8.1% of the 1,093) failed to register as a sex offender during the three-year period.

June 29, 2021 in Booker in district courts, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Post-Libby commutation developments, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 28, 2021

Colorado Supreme Court rules mandatory lifetime sex offender registration violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment

A helpful reader made sure I saw an interesting ruling, handed down today by a 6-1 vote, from the Colorado Supreme Court in People in the Interest of T.B., 2021 CO 59 (Colo. June 28, 2021) (available here).  Here is how the majority opinion starts:

T.B. committed two sexual offenses as a minor — the first when he was eleven years old and the second when he was fifteen.  Because he was twice adjudicated delinquent for unlawful sexual behavior, the Colorado Sex Offender Registration Act, §§ 16-22-101 to -115, C.R.S. (2020) (“CSORA”), requires T.B. to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his natural life.  Now an adult, T.B. seeks review of the juvenile court’s denial of his petition to deregister, arguing that CSORA’s mandatory lifetime sex offender registration requirement for offenders with multiple juvenile adjudications violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.  We agree.

Mandatory lifetime sex offender registration brands juveniles as irredeemably depraved based on acts committed before reaching adulthood.  But a wealth of social science and jurisprudence confirms what common sense suggests: Juveniles are different.  Minors have a tremendous capacity to change and reform.  As such, mandating lifetime sex offender registration for juveniles without providing a mechanism for individualized assessment or an opportunity to deregister upon a showing of rehabilitation is excessive and violates the Eighth Amendment.  Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the court of appeals and remand with instructions to order a new hearing on T.B.’s petition to deregister.

As the T.B. opinion notes, the Ohio Supreme Court has issued a similar ruling some years ago and top courts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have found due process problems with mandatory juve sex offender registration.  As the T.B. opinion also notes, the Colorado General Assembly recently passed a bill to eliminate mandatory lifetime sex offender registration for offenders with multiple juvenile adjudications, so the state likely will not have an interest in pursuing any appeal of this ruling.

June 28, 2021 in Offender Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Unanimous South Carolina Supreme Court decides sex offender registry is "unconstitutional absent any opportunity for judicial review to assess the risk of re-offending"

Last week, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued an interesting opinion about the state's sex offender registry in Powell v. Keel, No. 28033 (S.C. June 9, 2021) (available here), which concludes this way:

Although we find the State has a legitimate interest in requiring sex offender registration and such registration is constitutional, SORA's requirement that sex offenders must register for life without any opportunity for judicial review violates due process because it is arbitrary and cannot be deemed rationally related to the General Assembly's stated purpose of protecting the public from those with a high risk of re-offending.  Therefore, we hold SORA's lifetime registration requirement is unconstitutional absent any opportunity for judicial review to assess the risk of reoffending. We further hold subsection 23-3-490(E) permits dissemination of the State's sex offender registry information on the internet. We hereby reserve the effective date of this opinion for twelve (12) months from the date of filing to allow the General Assembly to correct the deficiency in the statute regarding judicial review.  Nonetheless, because the circuit court has already held a hearing in this case and determined Respondent no longer poses a risk sufficient to justify his continued registration as a sex offender, Appellants shall immediately remove Respondent from the sex offender registry.

June 13, 2021 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, May 28, 2021

High-profile reminder that parole is rarely a given, especially for a prisoner claiming innocence

Though decided earlier this month, a high-profile denial of parole is garnering headlines this week.  This USA Today story, headlined "Bill Cosby denied parole after he refuses sex offender treatment program," provides these details:

Bill Cosby will not be released from prison anytime soon.  The 83-year-old actor, who is currently serving three to 10 years in Pennsylvania state prison after being convicted of sexual assault in 2018, has been denied parole nearly three years into his sentence.

The Pennsylvania State Parole Board declined Cosby's parole request on May 11 partly over his need to participate in "a treatment program for sex offenders and violence prevention," and "failure to develop a parole release plan," according to a state board action letter provided to USA TODAY.  The board also cited a "negative recommendation" from the Department of Corrections.

Cosby's representative, Andrew Wyatt, told USA TODAY Thursday that the decision "is not a surprise" to the disgraced TV star because the board explicitly stated he would be denied parole "if he did not participate in SVP (Sexually Violent Predator) courses."  But Wyatt said Cosby, who has maintained his innocence, has no plans to attend the therapy programs. "The Cosby Show" star has previously said he expects to serve his full 10-year sentence and vowed to show no remorse for crimes he said he didn't commit.

"Mr. Cosby has vehemently proclaimed his innocence and continues to deny all allegations made against him, as being false, without the sheer evidence of any proof," Wyatt said in a statement to USA TODAY on Thursday.  "Mr. Cosby continues to remain hopeful that the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court will issue an opinion to vacate his conviction or warrant him a new trial."

Cosby was the first celebrity to go on trial in the #MeToo era and was convicted of drugging and raping Andrea Constand, a former professional basketball player who worked for his alma mater, Temple University, in Philadelphia in 2004.  Cosby appealed his conviction, citing multiple alleged "errors" by the trial judge in his case, but the state appeals court upheld his verdict in December 2019.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted Cosby's appeal in June 2020, thus raising the possibility it might be overturned in the future....

He's currently serving out his sentence at State Correctional Institution at Phoenix, a state prison in Skippack Township, Pennsylvania.  He will be eligible for parole in September after serving the three-year minimum of his sentence.  To be considered for parole, the Pennsylvania State Parole Board said Cosby not only needs to complete a treatment program, but he must maintain a "clear conduct record."

May 28, 2021 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

"When Animus Matters and Sex Offense Underreporting Does Not: The Sex Offender Registry Regime"

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

In Romer v. Evans the Court drew a constitutional distinction between civil laws enacted for a broad public purpose that justifies "the incidental disadvantages they impose on certain persons," and laws that have "the peculiar property of imposing a broad and undifferentiated disability on a single named group".  Laws of the second kind "raise the inevitable inference that the disadvantage imposed is born of animosity toward the class of persons affected."  The difficulty lies in deciding when the inference properly becomes a conclusion that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause.  The more sweeping and unusual the burdens imposed on the targeted group, the more difficult it may be to discern a common policy explaining them other than the forbidden purpose of harming their targets.  At some point the animus inference may be strong enough to require scrutiny of the laws' purported rationale, including whether it has any actual basis in fact.

An astonishingly broad array of burdens are imposed today on anyone ever convicted of almost any sexual offense of any kind or seriousness, including but extending far beyond their simple inclusion in publicized websites listing "sex offenders."  No similar regime has ever been imposed on any other group of law-abiding former felons who have fully served the sentence for the crime they committed years earlier.  This "registry regime" raises as strong an inference of animus as there was in any of the four cases in which the Court sustained such claims, and the claim that it is justified by the clearly valid purpose of reducing the incidence of sexual offending does not survive the scrutiny of scientific studies which find the registry ineffective and often counterproductive.  Nor does the fact that many sexual offenses are never reported to law enforcement authorities cast any doubt on the validity of those studies or on the legal or policy analyses relying on them.  Much of the registry regime must therefore fall under an Anti-Animus principle.

April 7, 2021 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, February 21, 2021

"Sex Offenders and the Free Exercise of Religion"

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

In a variety of ways, sex offenders in the United States find themselves in a difficult position.  One of the lesser-known ways relates to the free exercise of religion.  Sometimes by categorical statute, and sometimes by individualized parole, probation, or supervised-release condition, sex offenders can find themselves legally barred from places where children are present (or likely to be present).  Because children are usually present at religious services, sex offenders can find themselves unable to attend them altogether.  And this hardship has a bit of irony in it too.  Back in prison, sex offenders could worship freely with others; now ostensibly free, they can no longer do so.

This simple problem has real scope — tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of people barred from essentially all religious services, sometimes for decades, sometimes for life.  Moreover, these prohibitions are often vague and overbroad — and so restrictive that low-level administrators (like sheriffs and probation officers) are often pushed into softening or waiving them.  But this ends up creating a kind of licensing scheme, whereby low-level government officials make — on their own, without any formal criteria — ad-hoc and practically unreviewable decisions about who gets to go to church and under what conditions.  Risks of selective enforcement, discrimination, and abuse are obvious.

These rules have come into being as if concerns about the free exercise of religion have no weight at all.  But this is not the case.  And, in fact, a robust body of law protects the free exercise of religion, requiring exemptions from religiously burdensome laws.  Now this does not mean that sex offenders should be universally exempt from any and all restrictions regarding church attendance.  There are probably some people who pose such a threat to children that they should be kept away from churches.  Courts will have to answer tricky questions — who should be barred, who should decide who is barred, and on what criteria? — that require nuanced and elaborate answers.  Yet informed by analogies from other areas of law (like freedom of speech) where courts have wrestled with similar issues, this Article offers some recommendations that are analytically rigorous, practically realizable, and judicially manageable.

February 21, 2021 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Split Michigan appeals court upholds sentencing of mass molester Larry Nassar over claims of misconduct by sentencing judge

As detailed in posts here and here from nearly three years ago, there was a lot of chatter and commentary about the high-profile conduct of the Michigan state sentencing judge during the high-profile state sentencing of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor who sexually abused many girls under his care.  Today, as reported in this local press piece, Michigan appeals court judges opined on the sentencing judge's conduct in a split ruling upholding Nassar's sentencing.  Here are the details from the press report:

The Michigan Court of Appeals on Tuesday denied an appeal from serial sex offender Larry Nassar but one judge chastised the conduct of Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina during his sentencing. In a 22-page opinion, a three-judge panel split 2-1 against Nassar's effort to be resentenced by a new judge.  The former Michigan State University doctor was accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of women under the guise of medical treatment over more than two decades.  He also collected 37,000 images and videos of child pornography on his computer.

Nassar was sentenced in three courts to what amounted to a life sentence but appealed a 2017 sentence of 40-175 years issued by by Aquilina.  Though Nassar admitted guilt, he argued that his Ingham County sentence was invalid due to Aquilina's bias based on comments she made during his sentencing.

"Although Nassar argues that the judge 'made numerous statements throughout the proceedings indicating that she had already decided to impose the maximum allowed by the sentence agreement even before the sentencing hearing began,' the fact of the matter remains that the judge imposed a minimum sentence that fell within the range of Nassar’s agreed-upon plea," wrote appeals court Judges Thomas C. Cameron and Michael F. Gadola, who ruled against Nassar's appeal.

"Once a defendant has been adjudged guilty in a fair proceeding, 'the presumption of innocence disappears,'" Cameron and Gadola wrote. "A trial judge 'may, upon completion of the evidence, be exceedingly ill disposed towards the defendant, who has been shown to be a thoroughly reprehensible person.' We conclude that the judge’s imperfect articulation of these principles does not establish bias or an appearance of impropriety."

But appeals court Judge Douglas Shapiro dissented, saying the case is "bad facts making bad law." He wrote that Nassar is guilty for abusing his position of trust and the sentence is not disproportionate outside the range of his plea agreement. "I therefore sympathize with the majority’s wish to overlook the trial court’s errors," Shapiro wrote. "However, doing so makes bad law. The process by which this sentence was imposed challenges basic notions of judicial neutrality, due process, the right to counsel, and the use of social media by judges. The errors at sentencing were neither minor nor isolated and by approving of them, even if reticently, the majority invites further distortions of sentencing procedures."

Shapiro also said, "contrary to the prosecution’s argument on appeal, the responsibility of a judge to render decisions impartially does not end with a guilty verdict or plea."  "The facts that come to light during a trial or sentencing may be grounds for a fair and impartial judge to impose a harsh sentence, but even when doing so, it is the judge’s responsibility to maintain judicial neutrality, and determine a proper sentence on the basis of the defendant’s crimes and character rather than the judge’s personal anger, or the extent of revenge sought by the defendant’s victims," Shapiro wrote....

As the decision spread on Twitter, some expressed relief at the court's ruling. Kaylee Lorincz, one of the women abused by Nassar, tweeted that the decision was, "the best christmas gift I could ever ask for."

Jacob Denhollander, the husband of Rachael Denhollander — the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar — said he was glad he lived in America where someone like Nassar can seek appeals and find due process.  "The reminders, trauma, & triggers for victims means that the justice system is not primarily the place where victims find closure & peace," Denhollander tweeted. "Closure and peace comes from the communal response of belief and validation of the victims and their own ability to construct an identity apart from what was done to them. The justice system can be part of that, but can also be traumatizing."

Nassar was charged in Ingham County in 2017 with multiple counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct for abuse that occurred from 1998 to 2015. He was also charged in Eaton County with multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct, and also in federal court for possessing child pornography. In addition to his physician role at MSU, Nassar treated scores of athletes including the nation's top gymnasts while working for USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee....

Nassar argued that Aquilina showed bias in numerous ways such as saying that she had signed his "death warrant" during sentencing and also saying that the law did not allow her to impose cruel and unusual punishment on him. "If it did, I have to say I might allow what he did to all of these beautiful souls, these young women in their childhood, I would allow someone or many people to do to him what he did to others," said Aquilina.

In addressing Aquilina's comments, and other comments, during sentencing, the Cameron and Gadola wrote that Nassar had admitted guilt so the presumption of innocence had ended. "The sentencing judge’s statement was wholly inappropriate," they wrote. "In essence, the judge stated that she would allow physical retribution against Nassar if it were not constitutionally prohibited."

"Nassar has failed to establish plain error given that the sentencing judge’s comments did not indicate actual bias or prejudice," the majority judges continued. "We further conclude that Nassar has failed to establish that the alleged actual bias and/or prejudice affected his substantial rights. Specifically, as part of the plea agreement, Nassar agreed to a guidelines minimum sentence range between 25 and 40 years’ imprisonment for each count, with the sentencing judge having the discretion to determine the minimum sentence within that range as well as the discretion to determine the maximum sentence for all seven counts.

But Shapiro said Aquilina erred. "A guilty verdict terminates the presumption of innocence but it does not terminate a judge’s responsibility to exercise her judicial responsibilities consistent with the law and the Code of Judicial Conduct," he wrote.

I have quoted at length from this article because I cannot yet find the opinion online.  But that opinion is surely not to be the last work on these matters: I presume Nassar will appeal this decision up to the Michigan Supreme Court and perhaps thereafter in federal habeas (even though his various state and federal sentences for his many crimes surely ensure he will never see the outside of a prison even if he were to prevail on some of these matters).

Prior related posts:

UPDATE: A helpful reader via the comments flagged that the 16-page "unpublished" majority opinion is available here, and the six-page dissent is available here.

December 22, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, December 05, 2020

"Banishing ‘Sex Offenders': How Meaningless Language Makes Bad Law"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Guy Padraic Hamilton-Smith.  Here is its abstract:

An essay on how the term "sex offender" is functionally meaningless, and invites policy responses that are out of step with the reality of sexual harm.  These policy responses, in turn, hobble our efforts to reckon with sexual harm, foreclose accountability and redemption, and elide more effective approaches.

December 5, 2020 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 03, 2020

"#MeToo and Mass Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this new piece on SSRN authored by Aya Gruber.  Here is its abstract:

This Symposium Guest Editor’s Note is an adapted version of the Introduction to The Feminist War on Crime: The Unexpected Role of Women’s Liberation in Mass Incarceration (UC Press 2020).  The book examines how American feminists, in the quest to secure women’s protection from domestic violence and rape, often acted as soldiers in the war on crime by emphasizing white female victimhood, expanding the power of police and prosecutors, touting incarceration, and diverting resources toward law enforcement and away from marginalized communities.  Today, despite deep concerns over racist policing and mass incarceration, many feminists continue to assert that gender crime law is not tough enough.  This punitive impulse, I argue, is dangerous and counterproductive, and should be abandoned.  History reveals that feminists' carceral approach often exacerbated social inequalities by expanding and underwriting the repressive criminal system, that harmed defendants, victims, and their families and communities.

This essay begins with the feminist defense attorney dilemma I felt as a law student, when I trained to represent marginalized people against state prosecutorial power but did so with a dread of defending horrific rapists and batterers. Later, as a public defender, I represented clients like Jamal, an accused abuser whose story is related in detail, and I saw firsthand the costs of the tough-on-crime machine that carceral feminism built.  The essay then moves to the present day, with a discussion of the #MeToo movement and campus rape reform.  I counsel contemporary feminists that their noble fight against sexual misconduct can easily collapse into simple crime-control politics and urge them to articulate their complex beliefs about gender and violence without relying on penal discourses and institutions that are steeped in hypermasculinity and gratuitous violence.

October 3, 2020 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 21, 2020

Justice or injustice?: Golden State Killer gets LWOP for at least 13 murders and dozens of rapes after deal to avoid death penalty

As reported in this NBC News piece, a "former police officer known as the Golden State Killer for his crime spree across California in the 1970s and '80s was sentenced Friday to consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole."  Here is more about the crimes and punishment:

Joseph DeAngelo, 74, who had eluded authorities for decades, pleaded guilty in June to 13 counts of first-degree murder and 13 rape-related charges in a deal that spared him the death penalty.  He also publicly admitted to dozens more sexual assaults for which the statute of limitations had expired. Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman said Friday in a rare sentencing statement that DeAngelo would "meet his death confined behind the walls of state penitentiary."

"The court is not saying DeAngelo does not deserve to have the death penalty imposed," Bowman said, but given the age of the defendant and victims, a life sentence made more sense. Bowman said he hopes "survivors will find some resolution" after DeAngelo is permanently placed behind bars.

DeAngelo on Friday made a short statement in court addressing victims and their families. "I’ve listened to all your statements. Each one of them. And I’m truly sorry to everyone I’ve hurt. Thank you your honor," he said.

Prosecutors said DeAngelo admitted to harming 87 victims in 53 separate crimes spanning 11 California counties. As part of the plea agreement, he was required to register as a sex offender and pay restitution to the victims or their families, as well as any fees or fines. Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Thien Ho has said the scope of DeAngelo's crime spree is "simply staggering, encompassing 13 known murders and almost 50 rapes between 1975 and 1986."

DeAngelo's crime spree started while he was working as a police officer in Exeter, a northern California community in the San Joaquin Valley near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Over the years, his crimes morphed from stalking properties to serial rape and murder. DeAngelo went on to marry and raise his own family, escaping investigators' efforts to find him for decades, before he was arrested in Sacramento County in 2018. It is believed to be the first high-profile case to have been cracked with genetic genealogy. Authorities said they used "discarded DNA" to confirm that DeAngelo was the man generations of authorities and citizen sleuths had searched for....

Some of DeAngelo's victims are in their 80s and 90s. Some are dead. But those who were willing and able spent the week addressing DeAngelo in court in anticipation of his sentencing. Phyllis Henneman said she was 22 years old and "young and carefree" when her life changed forever in June 1976. She was home alone with her sister while their dad was out of town when DeAngelo attacked.

"Joseph DeAngelo, henceforth called 'the devil incarnate,' broke into my home, blindfolded me, tied me up, threatened my life with a knife and raped me," she said, describing DeAngelo's modus operandi, which also included tying up partners and spending hours in homes, leaving his victims wondering what terror would come next. "Life as I knew it irrevocably changed that day," she said in the statement read by her sister, Karen Veilleux. But DeAngelo's arrest and upcoming sentencing meant "his victims and their families are now free."

A recent HBO documentary, "I'll Be Gone in the Dark," detailed the gruesome attacks and the desperate effort to find the killer, even as the years wore on. The documentary is based on crime writer Michelle McNamara's book of the same name, in which she recounted her own obsessive effort to uncover the identity of the Golden State Killer and conviction that genetic genealogy would help her do it. McNamara, the wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, died in 2016, two years before DeAngelo's arrest. Bowman on Friday thanked McNamara by name, along with law enforcement, other citizen detectives and DeAngelo's victims for their "dogged persistence" in their quest to bring him to justice.

August 21, 2020 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, August 20, 2020

"Labeled For Life: A Review of Youth Sex Offender Registration Laws"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Juvenile Law Center. Here is an excerpt:

Over 200,000 individuals are on sex offender registries for offenses committed when they were children.  Registration can be life-long and can be imposed without any inquiry into the child’s individual circumstances or progress in treatment. Some states require community notification in addition to registration and reporting requirements.  Many young people face registration as a consequence of developmentally normal behavior, including playing doctor, streaking, sexting, and consensual teen romances.  While some youth commit serious sexual harm and should be held accountable for this conduct, they also need support and effective interventions to change their behavior; the vast majority of youth who act out sexually do not recidivate.  A meta-analysis reviewing 107 studies found that across behavior type, over 97% of children charged with sexual offenses never harm sexually again.  Moreover, after almost 30 years of placing children on registries, empirical research concludes that the practice does not prevent or reduce sexual violence. Rather, placing young people on registries fuels cycles of homelessness, incarceration, and trauma, for both the registrant and survivors.

Children on the registry — including some as young as 8 years old — face residency and employment restrictions as well as barriers to education; suffer the stigmatization of being labeled a sex offender; and can face possible incarceration for failing to meet onerous registration and reporting requirements.  A 2013 Human Rights Watch report examined the grave consequences befalling registered youth.  Over 85% of these youth reported serious mental health issues or suicidal ideation.  A 2017 study revealed that registered children are nearly twice as likely to have experienced an unwanted sexual assault that involved contact or penetration in the past year when compared to nonregistered children who have also engaged in harmful or illegal sexual behaviors.  They are also five times more likely to report having been approached by an adult for sex in the past year.  Children on sex offender registries are four times more likely to report a recent suicide attempt than non-registered children who have engaged in harmful or illegal sexual behavior.  Many registered youth also experience vigilantism in their communities, with 52% reporting harassment and physical violence directed at them.  Accessing and maintaining housing is also a major barrier for both registered youth and their families.  Over 44% of children experienced homelessness as a result of the restrictions placed on their housing due to registration.  Almost all registered individuals face financial challenges and barriers to employment.  In some states, registration fees are so prohibitive that many fall out of compliance and face incarceration....

Although some states have improved youth registration requirements through legislation, the consequence of registration for any period of time is severe. Leading researchers that have studied the impact of registration on young people have empirical data demonstrating the harm caused by registration.  Legislative advocacy is needed — in coordination with litigation — to eradicate youth registration. This statutory review demonstrates that regional differences and nuances of state youth registration laws preclude a “one size fits all” approach to reform. Strategies and research must be based on best practices for both incremental reform and efforts to completely abolish youth registration nationwide.  In addition, a federal legislative strategy will be a necessary and fundamental component of these efforts, as many states continue to be constrained by stringent requirements imposed by the Adam Walsh Act.  Moreover, states continue to look toward the federal government and changing federal youth registration law would be one way to inspire and lead states to do the same.  Most states that require juvenile registration do so without regard to either changing United States Supreme Court caselaw or the emergent research on its effectiveness at promoting public safety or the harm it causes children.  Against this backdrop, the time is now to set a targeted policy reform agenda to roll back these harsh registration laws.

August 20, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Offender Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

"Blanket Exclusions, Animus, and the False Policies They Promote"

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

Saying something is true does not make it so. A nd saying it louder does not make it truer.  But such is the legislative posture behind modern day sex offense registration laws that punish those who commit sex crimes because of entrenched myths that overstate the laws’ positive impact on public safety and exaggerate recidivism rates of offenders.  And it is not only registration schemes themselves that have been scaffold-ed by these myths, but numerous ancillary laws that exclude benefits to offenders strictly because they have committed sex offenses.

Sadly, this sticky, but false, narrative has provided the animus that galvanized implementation of registration and notification regimes. And in its most recent chapter, the narrative has been formalized into blanket exclusions — or what this article calls “all except for” provisions — that have inserted into a myriad of criminal justice reform efforts without much notoriety.

The effect?  Registrants and their families have been prohibited from broad-based and important ameliorative changes to the carceral state, many to which they should be entitled, and to which they are denied only because of their status as registrants.  Indeed, within comprehensive legislation covering numerous crime and sentencing reforms, these ubiquitous blanket exclusions have the markings of boilerplate language that have been introduced even where the new legislation has no rational relationship to the protection of the public’s safety or the prior sex offense conviction.

This article examines the moral panic and false data used to buttress blanket exclusion provisions — their inflated importance obvious. It concludes that these measures, which are un-tethered to public safety concerns, and only supported by governmental and community animus, violate fourteenth amendment protections.

August 12, 2020 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

"#MeToo and the Myth of the Juvenile Sex Offender"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Cynthia Godsoe recently posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

The #MeToo movement has brought much needed attention to the widespread and systemic nature of sexual harm. However, the broad, uncritical push to connect “#MeToo” to criminal prosecution has real downsides, revealing the pathologies and ineffectiveness of the criminal system and re-inscribing the very gendered and racialized hierarchies the movement seeks to eradicate.  The mainstream understanding of #MeToo amplifies the omission of sexual harm from most conversations on decarceration and criminal legal reform.  This side of the movement focuses almost exclusively on individual blame and punishment, ignoring the structural causes of gender violence, as well as meaningful survivor healing and offender accountability.  This is true both as to the scope of criminalization, which is ever-expanding particularly as to sexual harms, and to the response once harm occurs, which is almost always to advocate for longer prison sentences and more restrictions post-release, such as sex offender registration.

This Symposium essay explores these issues by thinking through the way that the mainstream #MeToo movement treats and responds to youth who either engage in or are victims of sexual harm.  Despite the fact that much of the #MeToo reckoning has focused on high-profile men who repeatedly exploit minors — think Jeffrey Epstein, R. Kelly, Kevin Spacey — minors themselves, some as young as eight, constitute one third of those adjudicated sex offenders and one quarter of those required to register, sometimes for life.  At the same time, harm to young people who do not fit a mainstream mold is ignored.  Thus, although girls of color are sexually assaulted at much higher rates than white girls, their victimhood continues to be overlooked and their responses to it even criminalized.

In this essay, I join abolitionist advocates in urging caution about the direction the #MeToo movement is taking, particularly with regard to young people.  Our punishment of sexual harm with respect to youth reveals three significant pathologies of the broader criminal legal system.  First, we rely almost exclusively on criminalization and punishment to address societal problems that have multiple causes beyond individual culpability.  Second, the system is immensely costly, in fiscal and, most importantly, human terms, with very low effectiveness, both at preventing and at redressing harm.  Indeed, punishing youth for sex offenses puts them at much greater risk for being sexually abused themselves by adults — undermining the primary stated goal of the sex offense criminal framework.  Third, the criminal treatment of “sex crimes” reinforces the very gendered and racialized hierarchies that animate them.  Girls and women of color continue to be undervalued and unprotected, while male survivors continue to be stigmatized and disbelieved.  Indeed, Tarana Burke, founded the #MeToo movement to recognize non-normative victims, particularly girls and women of color, and recently lamented the current movement’s public face: “We have to shift the narrative that it’s a gender war, that it’s anti-male, that it’s men against women, that it’s only for a certain type of person — that it’s for white, cisgender, heterosexual, famous women.”

I conclude with the counterintuitive suggestion that decriminalization and decarceration efforts should not only include conduct labelled as “sex offenses,” but likely should begin with them. Transforming our approach to sexual harm is one key piece of an abolitionist vision that seeks to move beyond carceral approaches to achieving racial and gender justice.

August 5, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 28, 2020

"Sentencing Rape A Comparative Analysis"

The title of this post is the title of this new book authored by Graeme Brown for which I received an announce from the publisher offering a discount for SL&P readers.  Here are the details:

This book presents an in-depth comparative study of sentencing practice for rape in six common law jurisdictions: England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.  It provides a thorough review of the medical literature on the physical and psychological effects of rape, the legal and philosophical literature on the seriousness of the offence, and the victim’s role in sentencing.  Given the increasingly common practice of perpetrators using mobile and online technologies to film or photograph the commission of sexual offences, the book examines recent socio-legal research on technology-facilitated sexual violence and considers the implications for sentencing.

By building on recent scholarship on judicial decision making in sentencing and case law — comprising over 250 decisions of the relevant appellate courts — the book explores and critically analyses judicial approaches to rape sentencing. The analysis is undertaken with a view to suggesting possible reforms to rape sentencing in ‘non-guideline’ jurisdictions.  In so doing, this book seeks to establish general principles for sentencing rape, assisting in the imposition of proportionate sentences.

This book will be of interest to judges and practising lawyers; to those researching criminal law, criminal justice, criminology, and gender studies; and to policy makers, including sentencing councils and commissions, in common law jurisdictions worldwide.

Graeme Brown is a solicitor and Assistant Professor in Criminal Law at Durham Law School, Durham University.

May 2020   |   9781509917570   |   328pp   |   Hbk   |    RSP: £75  

Discount Price: £60.  Order online at www.hartpublishing.co.uk – use the code HE6 at the checkout to get 20% off your order!

June 28, 2020 in Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Split Eleventh Circuit panel rules Jeffrey Epstein's victims had no rights under federal CVRA before any complaint or indictment

A divided Eleventh Circuit panel today handed down a very long opinion on an very interesting issue concerning the rights of victims of a very high profile (and now very dead) federal defendant. The opinion for the court authored by Judge Newsom in In re Courtney Wild, No. 9:08-cv-80736-KAM (11th Cir. April 14, 2020) (available here), gets started this way:

This case, which is before us on a petition for writ of mandamus, arises out of a civil suit filed under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act of 2004.  Petitioner Courtney Wild is one of more than 30 women — girls, really — who were victimized by notorious sex trafficker and child abuser Jeffrey Epstein.  In her petition, Ms. Wild alleges that when federal prosecutors secretly negotiated and entered into a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein in 2007, they violated her rights under the CVRA — in particular, her rights to confer with the government’s lawyers and to be treated fairly by them.

Despite our sympathy for Ms. Wild and others like her, who suffered unspeakable horror at Epstein’s hands, only to be left in the dark — and, so it seems, affirmatively misled — by government lawyers, we find ourselves constrained to deny her petition.  We hold that at least as matters currently stand — which is to say at least as the CVRA is currently written — rights under the Act do not attach until criminal proceedings have been initiated against a defendant, either by complaint, information, or indictment.  Because the government never filed charges or otherwise commenced criminal proceedings against Epstein, the CVRA was never triggered.  It’s not a result we like, but it’s the result we think the law requires.

Judge Hull issued a near 60-page dissenting opinion (roughly matching the length of the majority opinion). Here is are key passages from its opening:

This appeal presents legal questions of first impression in this Circuit regarding the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (“CVRA”), 18 U.S.C. § 3771, which grants a statutory “bill of rights” to crime victims.  In my view, the Majority patently errs in holding, as a matter of law, that the crime victims of Jeffrey Epstein and his co-conspirators had no statutory rights whatsoever under the CVRA.  Instead, our Court should enforce the plain and unambiguous text of the CVRA and hold that the victims had two CVRA rights — the right to confer with the government’s attorney and the right to be treated fairly — that were repeatedly violated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida....

I dissent because the plain and unambiguous text of the CVRA does not include this post-indictment temporal restriction that the Majority adds to the statute.  Although, as I discuss later, the two rights provisions at issue include other limiting principles, there is no textual basis for the bright-line, post-indictment only restriction the Majority adds to the statute.  Rather, the Majority’s contorted statutory interpretation materially revises the statute’s plain text and guts victims’ rights under the CVRA.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, in the CVRA’s plain text requires the Majority’s result.

It will now be very interesting to see if this this matter gets further attention from either the full Eleventh Circuit and/or the US Supreme Court.

April 14, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Harvey Weinstein sentence to (near max of) 23 years in state prison

As reported in this Hill article, "Harvey Weinstein — for decades considered one of Hollywood's most prominent and powerful producers — has been sentenced to 23 years in prison in his New York sexual assault trial." Here is more:

The prison term handed down by New York Supreme Court Judge James Burke was slightly less than the maximum sentence of 29 years that Weinstein faced.

In an unexpected move, Weinstein spoke ahead of his sentencing, reportedly telling the court he had "deep remorse." But, in an apparent reference to the "Me Too" movement, he said, "I think men are confused about all of this ... this feeling of thousands of men and women who are losing due process."...

Weinstein, 67, appeared in the New York courtroom after being convicted last month on two of five counts of sexual misconduct. While he was found guilty of a criminal sexual act and third-degree rape, he was acquitted on the most serious charges against him. Weinstein had faced up to four years in prison on the rape charge, and between five and 25 years for the criminal sexual act charge.

“We thank the court for imposing a sentence that puts sexual predators and abusive partners in all segments of society on notice," Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement. Weinstein's accusers, Vance said, "refused to be silent, and they were heard." "Their words took down a predator and put him behind bars, and gave hope to survivors of sexual violence all across the world," he said.

Donna Rotunno, Weinstein's attorney, said after the sentencing that she was "overcome with anger" at the term handed down. "Mr. Weinstein never really had a fair shake from day one," Rotunno told reporters, saying his defense team planned to file an appeal....

More than 80 women — including actresses Eva Green, Lupita Nyong'o and Uma Thurman — have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, ranging from harassment to rape. Weinstein had maintained his innocence, saying all the encounters were consensual.

Sexual assault allegations against Weinstein in 2017 — and a flood of public allegations of sexual misconduct against many in the entertainment industry that followed — helped spur the "Me Too" and Time’s Up movements and shined a spotlight on systemic sexual harassment. Following his conviction last month, Weinstein was hospitalized in New York after complaining of chest pains. He was later transferred to Rikers Island.  He also faces separate sexual assault charges in Los Angeles.

Prior related posts:

March 11, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Harvey Weinstein requesting (mandatory minimum) five-year prison sentence

As reported in this CNN piece, headlined "Harvey Weinstein's attorneys ask for him to receive the shortest possible prison sentence," defense attorneys have now filed their sentencing arguments a notable 7-page letter before the judge's scheduled sentencing on March 11.  Here are the basics:

Harvey Weinstein's defense attorneys are requesting a five-year prison sentence, the minimum for his first-degree criminal sexual act conviction, according to a sentencing letter provided by his spokesman.

His attorneys wrote in the letter to Judge James Burke that Weinstein's personal charitable giving, advanced age, medical issues and lack of a criminal history should lead to a lower sentence. They wrote that his life "has been destroyed" since the publication of an article in The New Yorker in October 2017 that alleged systemic abuse of women in the entertainment industry. "His wife divorced him, he was fired from The Weinstein Company, and in short, he lost everything," the attorneys wrote.

Weinstein, 67, was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape in a New York courtroom in late February based on accusations by Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann. He was acquitted of two more serious charges of predatory sexual assault, which could have come with a life sentence.

The movie producer faces a minimum of five years and a maximum of 25 years in prison for the criminal sexual act charge, and he faces up to 4 years in prison for the rape charge. His sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office argued in an 11-page court filing last week that Weinstein should receive a sentence that "reflects the seriousness of defendant's offenses." He led a "lifetime of abuse towards others, sexual and otherwise," prosecutors argued, and they highlighted three dozen uncharged incidents and accusations. "Starting in the 1970s, he has trapped women into his exclusive control and assaulted or attempted to assault them," prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon wrote in a letter. Noting that sentencing isn't limited "to the evidence at trial," Illuzzi-Orbon wrote that Burke has "wide discretion" to consider everything known about the defendant when the judge imposes his sentence on the disgraced movie mogul.

However, Weinstein's attorneys argued that the prosecution's request to consider 36 alleged bad acts in sentencing is "inappropriate," adding they intend to expound upon these issues at sentencing....

In the letter, Weinstein's attorneys said his medical issues mean any sentence above five years would effectively be a life sentence. "Given his age and specific medical risk factors, any additional term of imprisonment above the mandatory minimum — although the grave reality is that Mr. Weinstein may not even outlive that term — is likely to constitute a de facto life sentence."...

The attorneys said the trial "did not fairly portray who he is as a person," saying "his life story, his accomplishments, and struggles are simply remarkable and should not be disregarded in total because of the jury's verdict." Besides noting his commercial success and contributions to the entertainment industry, the attorneys highlighted Weinstein's philanthropic endeavors, including that he was an organizer for a 9/11 benefit concert that raised $100 million. The attorneys wrote that Weinstein "always remained involved in the forefront of various social justice causes" during his career.

The defense cited that he has no criminal history and wrote that in providing this information "do not in any way intend to denigrate the seriousness of the conduct for which he was found guilty," adding his background "should be given substantial consideration in reaching a just and appropriate sentence."

The full defense letter is available here, and sentencing fans may be especially interested in the last couple of pages in which the defense makes the case against consideration of uncharged conduct at sentencing. Here are excepts from this portion of the letter:

The People now ask this court to rely on more uncharged conduct in fashioning what they surely hope will be a draconian sentence.  To that end, by and large, the People ask that your honor consider 36 alleged bad acts in arriving at an appropriate sentence.  We submit that this request is inappropriate and intend on expounding upon these issues at sentencing.

First, these allegations have not been admitted, proven, or subject to adversarial testing in any meaningful manner and for the most part mirror allegations made by the People in other filings.  Reliance upon the People’s proffer would be improper.

Second, even under the federal standard, which does not apply, the People neglect to mention that under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) (the “3553(a) factors”), or at least the ones it tendentially cites, federal courts are not permitted by Due Process to consider whatever unsupported conjecture the People ask it to.  Rather, in order for “relevant, uncharged conduct” must be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence” standard” before a sentencing court can give it any weight or effect.  See United States v. Cordoba-Murgas, 233 F.3d 704, 708 (2d Cir. 2000)...

Third, the alleged bad acts cited by the People do not constitute “relevant conduct,” and thus, even in federal court, and even if proven, would not be proper for consideration at sentencing....

Fourth, in the course of the People’s efforts to bootstrap these allegations to its sentencing request, it is unclear if it has met requirements under both C.P.L. § 245.20(1)(k) and Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963)Brady applies equally to material relevant to both guilt itself as well as punishment....

Finally, as the court observed, all of the People’s evidence was vigorously contested at trial.  To add weight to a sentence based upon mere allegations, some of which predate even Ms. Sciorra’s rejected claims, would violate Due Process.

Based on the foregoing, Mr. Weinstein, through counsel, requests the Court expressly disregard the People’s request to use these alleged other bad acts as a basis for it sentencing determination as set forth in its March 6, 2020 letter.

Prior related post:

March 10, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Citing Williams v. New York repeatedly, NY prosecutors urge judge to consider Harvey Weinstein's "lifetime of abuse" at sentencing

As reported in this USA Today piece, headlined "Harvey Weinstein prosecutors seek tough sentence for his 'lifetime of abuse'," state prosecutors delivered to the sentencing judge in the Weinstein case a notable 11-page letter urging the judge to focus on a whole lot of uncharged conduct at this week's upcoming scheduled sentencing. Here are the basics:

Harvey Weinstein's sentence for his conviction on two sex crimes should reflect his "lifetime of abuse" as shown at his trial and in 36 other cases of sexual harassment and assault, workplace abuse and even physically assaulting a reporter, Manhattan prosecutors said in a letter to the trial judge released Friday.

The 11-page letter from Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi was sent to Judge James Burke in advance of Weinstein's sentencing on March 11, when prosecutors are expected to make an oral statement in court about the sentence.

The trial evidence, the testimony of the six accusers who took the stand, and additional allegations outlined in the letter, Illuzzi said, "show a lifetime of abuse towards others, sexual and otherwise." She asked the judge to "impose a sentence that reflects the seriousness of defendant's offenses, his total lack of remorse for the harm he has caused, and the need to deter him and others from engaging in further criminal conduct."

Weinstein was convicted Feb. 24 of third-degree rape and first-degree sexual assault involving two women, and was acquitted of three more serious charges. He could be sentenced to prison for a term ranging from five years to 25 years....

Prosecutors, who want Weinstein's sentence to fall at the longer end of the spectrum, compiled a list of accusations they collected over two years to demonstrate that Weinstein is a predator, even if he's been convicted of only two crimes. "As this court is well aware, in imposing what it deems to be a fair and just punishment, a sentencing court is not limited to the evidence at trial," Illuzzi wrote, citing precedent to argue that the judge has "wide discretion to consider all circumstances that shed light on a convicted person's background, history and behavior" in considering a sentence.

"Chief among the information considered at sentencing is the defendant's history of 'misconduct, whether or not it resulted in convictions,' " Illuzzi said, citing precedents in several federal cases.

Arthur Aidala, one of Weinstein's defense lawyers, told USA TODAY his team has no comment on the prosecution's letter. He said they expect to issue their own pre-sentencing letter to the judge on Monday....

The prosecution list of 36 allegations is divided into three categories: alleged acts of sexual assault and harassment; alleged abusive behavior in the work environment; and other alleged "bad acts." The earliest alleged sexual assault occurred in 1978 when an employee of his music promotion company in Buffalo said she was forced to share a New York City hotel room with Weinstein and woke up to find him raping her. The most recent alleged assault occurred in 2014 at the Cannes Film Festival where he allegedly trapped a woman in a hotel room bathroom and groped her while masturbating.

The full 11-page letter is available at this link, and it makes quite the interesting read. Hard-core sentencing fans know that, over seventy years ago, the Supreme Court upheld the use of uncharged conduct at sentencing in a case from New York, Williams v. New York, 337 U.S. 241 (1949).  Fittingly, Williams is the cited and quoted repeatedly in this sentencing letter from prosecutors to the sentencing judge.

March 7, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, January 27, 2020

Sixth Circuit panel declares one-day prison sentence (plus 10 years on supervised release) for large child porn possession substantively unreasonable

In a series of rulings in recent years, most notably United States v. Bistline, the Sixth Circuit has found sentences for child porn possession that lacked some significant prison time to be unreasonable.  Another such ruling was handed down this past on Friday in United States v. Demma, No. 18-4143 (6th Cir. Jan 24, 2020) (available here).  The 15-page panel ruling, authored by Judge Gilman, gets started this way: "This is yet another case raising the issue of whether a one-day sentence for a defendant convicted of possessing child pornography is reasonable. For the reasons set forth below, we determine that it is not."  The full opinion is worth a read, and here are some key passages:

At the sentencing hearing, the district court focused almost entirely on Demma’s individual characteristics in deciding not to impose a term of incarceration. It relied, in particular, on the testimony of Dr. Peterson and Dr. Tennenbaum, both of whom opined that Demma’s use of child pornography was directly caused by his service in the military and his resulting PTSD.

To be sure, the district court did not err by recognizing Demma’s military service and PTSD diagnosis under § 3553(a)(1) as considerations relevant to his sentence.  See United States v. Reilly, 662 F.3d 754, 760 (6th Cir. 2011) (explaining that the defendant’s military service and lack of criminal history were “permissible considerations in the ‘variance’ determination under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)”).  But the court in the present case gave these considerations unreasonable weight in deciding to vary downwards to an essentially noncustodial sentence....

Moreover, in focusing on the role of Demma’s military service as purportedly causing his crimes, the district court cast Demma more as the victim than the perpetrator, stating that Demma’s crimes were “the result of his voluntary service to his community and his country” and “an unintended consequence” of his decision to serve in the Army.  This court has explained, however, that “[k]nowing possession of child pornography . . . is not a crime that happens to a defendant.”  Bistline I, 665 F.3d 758, 765 (6th Cir. 2012)....

Our overall conclusion is that, based on the totality of the circumstances, the district court weighed some factors under § 3553(a) too heavily and gave insufficient weight to others in determining Demma’s sentence.  This is not to say that some other defendant possessing far fewer and less offensive images over a much shorter period of time might justify such an extreme downward variance, but that is not Demma’s case.  As this court noted in United States v. Elmore, 743 F.3d 1068 (6th Cir. 2014), a United States Sentencing Commission report states that “fully 96.6 percent of first-time child-pornography-possession convictions led to at least some prison time.” Id. at 1076 (emphasis in original).  We find no basis in the record for Demma to not become part of this overwhelming statistic.  

January 27, 2020 in Booker in the Circuits, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Split Second Circuit panel grants feds request for mandamus to preclude a jury nullification instruction in child porn case involving 15-year mandatory minimum

A helpful reader made sure I did not miss this How Appealing post flagging the fascinating split Second Circuit panel ruling yesterday in US v. Manzano, No. 18-3430 (2d Cir. Dec. 18, 2019) (available here).  The start of the majority opinion sets forth the basics:

Respondent Yehudi Manzano stands charged with production of child pornography, an offense punishable by a mandatory minimum term of fifteen years’ imprisonment, and transportation of child pornography, which is punishable by a mandatory minimum term of five years’ imprisonment.  Shortly before trial, he filed motions requesting permission to argue for jury nullification — in essence, that the jury should render a verdict not in accordance with the law — and to present evidence regarding the sentencing consequences of a conviction in this case.  On the eve of trial, the district court (Underhill, Chief Judge) granted Manzano’s request to argue jury nullification, but reserved decision on the admissibility of evidence regarding the sentencing consequences of a conviction.

The government now seeks a writ of mandamus directing the district court to (1) preclude defense counsel from arguing jury nullification, and (2) exclude any evidence of sentencing consequences at trial.  Applying settled law in this circuit, we hold that the government has a clear and indisputable right to a writ directing the district court to deny defense counsel’s motion for leave to argue jury nullification, and that the other conditions for mandamus relief are satisfied.  We further hold that, at this time, the government does not possess a clear and indisputable right to a writ directing the district court to exclude any evidence of sentencing consequences.

Here is the start of Judge Barrington Parker's partial dissent:

We are fortunate that the prosecutors in this Circuit nearly always bring a high degree of professionalism, good judgment, and common sense to bear in the exercise of their responsibilities.  This case presents the unusual circumstance where a conscientious jurist is confronted with a charging decision that, in his considered judgment, reflects an abuse of prosecutorial power.  Charging decisions are, of course, by and large the exclusive province of prosecutors. 

There is a straightforward solution that could avoid the problems raised by the petition and discussed in this dissent.  The petition should be held in abeyance and the case remanded to the District Court, at which time the prosecutors could revisit their charging decision. If they chose not to do so, they could provide information as to why they believed their decision was appropriate. If this approach did not resolve the problem, this Court could then revisit the petition.

Faced with the Government’s charging decision, Judge Underhill could, I suppose, have acquiesced in whatever the prosecutors wanted.  But he is not a piece of Steuben glass. Instead, witnessing what he perceived to be abuse, he pushed back.  I believe that most conscientious jurists would have done the same.  I have no difficulty concluding that Judge Underhill was right to do so.  “[F]ederal courts have authority under their supervisory powers to oversee the administration of criminal justice within federal courts.”  United States v. Johnson, 221 F.3d 83, 96 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Daye v. Attorney Gen., 712 F.2d 1566, 1571 (2d Cir. 1983)).  They should use these powers “to see that the waters of justice are not polluted” and “to protect the integrity of the federal courts.” United States v. Payner, 447 U.S. 727, 744 (1980); accord United States v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., 863 F.3d 125, 135 (2d Cir. 2017).  Their supervisory powers are not restricted to the protection of explicit constitutional rights.  McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332, 341 (1943).  The powers exist “in order to maintain respect for law” and to “promote confidence in the administration of justice.”  Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 484 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting); accord Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637, 642 (1974); United States v. Getto, 729 F.3d 221, 229 (2d Cir. 2013).  The supervisory powers should be sparingly exercised.  HSBC, 863 F.3d at 136.  Judges are not, of course, free to disregard the limitations of the law they are charged with enforcing under the guise of exercising supervisory powers or at other times.  Payner, 447 U.S. at 737.  But since Payner, we have recognized that within their supervisory powers, courts should “not hesitate to scrutinize the Government’s conduct to ensure that it comports with the highest standards of fairness.” Johnson, 221 F.3d at 96 (quoting United States v. Lawlor, 168 F.3d 633, 637 (2d Cir. 1999)). This requirement applies with particular force in contexts such as charging and sentencing, especially those involving mandatory minimum sentences, where the Government plays an “often decisive role.” Id.

Whether Judge Underhill went too far is debatable.  But because this case does not come close to meeting the exacting standards for mandamus, I respectfully dissent from the majority’s grant of a writ directing the District Court to allow no arguments for jury nullification.  I concur to the extent that the majority denies a writ directing the District Court to exclude at trial evidence of sentencing consequences.

This local article about the ruling reports that the defendant's lawyer is going to seek en banc review. I am not optimistic the full Second Circuit will take up this matter or resolve it different, but I would like to see these issues get a lot more attention particularly in light of recent Sixth Amendment jurisprudence.  Notably, in the recent Haymond case, Justice Gorsuch spoke broadly about the Framers' vision of the jury right and explained: "Just as the right to vote sought to preserve the people's authority over their government's executive and legislative functions, the right to a jury trial sought to preserve the people's authority over its judicial functions." But how can the people have authority over the judicial function if they are not fully informed of their rights and authority as jurors and not made aware of the possible consequences of their decisions?

December 19, 2019 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

"Pushed Out and Locked In: The Catch-22 for New York’s Disabled, Homeless, Sex-Offender Registrants"

The title of this post is the title of this new Yale Law Journal Forum piece authored by Allison Frankel. Here is its abstract:

Across New York, people are incarcerated for weeks, months, and even years after their prison release dates.  These individuals are not confined for violating prison disciplinary rules or committing new crimes. New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) detains them, instead, because they are homeless.  DOCCS refuses to release prisoners to community supervision without an approved address.  But for prisoners required to register as “sex offenders,” finding housing means navigating a web of restrictions that are levied exclusively on people convicted of sex crimes and that dramatically constrain housing options, particularly in densely populated New York City. These restrictions amount to effective banishment for registrants with disabilities, who face added obstacles to finding medically appropriate housing and are barred even from New York City’s homeless-shelter system.

As this Essay explores, the State of New York, and particularly New York City, pushes its poor, disabled sex-offender registrants into homelessness, and then prolongs registrants’ detention because of their homeless status.  This detention regime continues unabated, despite studies showing that sex-offender recidivism rates are actually relatively low and that residency restrictions do not demonstrably prevent sex offenses.  Rather, such laws consign registrants to homelessness, joblessness, and social isolation.  It does not have to be this way. This Essay suggests litigation strategies to challenge the prolonged detention of homeless registrants on statutory and constitutional grounds.  The Essay also offers policy solutions to improve New York City registrants’ access to housing and to untether an individual’s housing status from their access to liberty.  New York simply cannot and should not continue both to restrict registrants’ housing options and to detain individuals because they are homeless.

November 26, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Federal court finds First Amendment violated by sheriff's plan to place signs of sex offender homes on Halloween

A helpful reader spotlighted a new notable federal court ruling dealing with one example of how some local law enforcement officials sometimes use the Halloween holiday to single out registered sex offenders.  This local newspaper story, headlined "Judge sides with sex offenders in ‘no trick-or-treating’ fight," reports on the basics:

A federal judge on Tuesday said a Georgia sheriff’s plan to post “no trick-or-treating” signs at sex offenders’ homes was unconstitutional.

The ruling comes after three registered sex offenders sued Butts County Sheriff Gary Long to stop his office from the practice, which began last year with deputies planting signs that urged Halloween revelers against stopping. Deputies put up some of the signs while others among the county’s 200 registered sex offenders were told to display one themselves or face unspecified trouble, according to the complaint.

U.S. District Court Judge Marc T. Treadwell’s order applies only to the three plaintiffs, meaning it wouldn’t stop the sheriff’s office from placing signs at other registered sex offenders’ homes. But the judge said Long’s legal authority to place the signs was “dubious at best.”

The sheriff disagreed with the ruling but said he’d abide by it. He said he had deputies put the signs up last year because a popular trick-or-treating event on the square in downtown Jackson was cancelled, leading to an increase in door-to-door visits.

“While the vast majority of us may disagree with the Judge’s ruling, I strongly encourage you to NOT take matters into your own hands this Halloween,” Long wrote on Facebook. “Unfortunately, there is no time to appeal before this Halloween.”

Treadwell said the three men who sued are “by all accounts” rehabilitated and living law-abiding lives.“Yet their Sheriff finds it necessary to post signs in front of their homes announcing to the public that their homes are dangerous for children,” the judge wrote. “The Sheriff’s decision is not based on any determination that the Plaintiffs are dangerous. Nor is the Sheriff’s sign-posting founded on Georgia law.”

The sheriff’s plan to place the signs “run afoul” of the First Amendment because it compels the men to display the message even though they disagree with it. The sheriff said he’d sought legal advice in 2018 before placing the signs and believed it was appropriate.

The full 25-page ruling is available at this link, and here is its introduction:

The Plaintiffs are sex offenders. That is because many years ago they committed offenses that fall within the State of Georgia’s definition of sex offenses.  Since then, they have served their terms of imprisonment and have, as far as the law is concerned, paid their debts to society.  But because they have been classified as sex offenders, they remain subject to Georgia’s lifelong requirement that they register with their local sheriff. But by all accounts, they are rehabilitated.  They live productive, lawabiding lives.  Two of the named Plaintiffs live with their parents; one has a six-year-old daughter living with him.  The State of Georgia, under its system for classifying sex offenders, has not determined that they pose an increased risk of again committing a sexual offense.

Yet their Sheriff finds it necessary to post signs in front of their homes announcing to the public that their homes are dangerous for children.  The Sheriff’s decision is not based on any determination that the Plaintiffs are dangerous. Nor is the Sheriff’s sign-posting founded on Georgia law.  Rather, the Sheriff’s decision is based solely on the fact that the Plaintiffs’ names remain on Georgia’s registry of sex offenders.  Further, Sheriff Long plans, as he has in the past, to ban the Plaintiffs from expressing their disagreement with the signs and the message the signs convey.

The Plaintiffs object and seek relief from this Court.  The question the Court must answer is not whether Sheriff Long’s plan is wise or moral, or whether it makes penological sense.  Rather, the question is whether Sheriff Long’s plan runs afoul of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  It does.

October 31, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Many Colorado sentences now uncertain after court ruling precluding imposition of imprisonment for certain offenses and probation for others

A helpful reader alerted me to this interesting story from the Denver Post headlined "Hundreds of prisoners can seek new trials, freedom after Colorado Supreme Court rules sentences illegal." Here are the details of a shock being sent through the state's criminal justice system:

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled the sentences of hundreds — perhaps thousands — of criminal defendants serving time in Colorado prisons, some for violent sexual crimes, are illegal, giving many of them a renewed shot at freedom.

The court last month stunned the state’s judicial system when it ruled that defendants cannot be sentenced to both prison and probation for charges in the same case, deeming the sentences illegal and unenforceable.  The ruling applies to any defendant sentenced to prison followed by a probation term, and gives each the right to force prosecutors to start over.  Those already out of prison theoretically could request their plea deal be overturned, legal experts said.

“This is going to result in a ton of litigation,” defense attorney Scott Robinson said. “This appears clearly to go against what many defense lawyers and prosecutors have assumed to be true for years, that different types of sentences can be imposed on different charges in the same case.”

Prosecutors in at least four judicial jurisdictions, including Denver, have relied on the dual sentence as part of the plea agreement process, mostly for sex crimes where a defendant could be sentenced to an indeterminant number of years in prison and authorities wanted to ensure lifetime supervision should the defendant be released.

“My biggest concerns are that we can no longer do this and what do we do with those we’ve already done it to? What if they’re already in prison? Are they all released?” asked Mesa County District Attorney Daniel Rubinstein.  “If the sentence is invalidated, we could be back at square one, or worse.”

The high court’s decision is based on a 2014 Boulder County case in which a jury found Frederick Allman, 67, guilty of various theft and forgery crimes.  He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 10-year probation term that was to be concurrent with the parole he’d serve upon his release.  The Supreme Court, in a 7-0 decision, said the 2015 sentence by District Judge Andrew Macdonald was illegal.  [The decision is available at this link.]

“…The determination that probation is an appropriate sentence for a defendant necessarily requires a concordant determination that imprisonment is not appropriate,” Justice Brian Boatright wrote in the court’s opinion issued Sept. 23. “The probation statute gives courts guidance and discretion in choosing to grant probation.  However, it requires a choice between prison and probation. … The legislature intended to allow courts to choose only one or the other.  Probation is an alternative to prison.”

Attorney General Phil Weiser’s office has until Oct. 28 to file a petition for the court to re-hear the case.

The court’s decision primarily affects defendants who signed plea agreements, a number that could reach into the thousands as 95% of all criminal cases are settled with plea deals. Defendants convicted by a jury, as was Allman, would simply be resentenced since the jury verdict remains unchanged.

Prosecutors explain that a plea agreement would be handled differently than a guilty verdict because a defendant agreed to a specific outcome in exchange for the plea. Because the sentence is deemed illegal, defendants can rescind their original agreement. “If the sentence is invalidated, we would go back to reaffirm the plea agreement, or even start over,” Rubinstein said.

The Colorado District Attorney’s Council said a majority of the state’s 22 judicial districts won’t be affected, but at least four of them — 2nd (Denver), 18th (Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, Lincoln), 20th (Boulder) and 21st (Mesa) — have used sentences that fit those under scrutiny.

Attorney Tom Carberry, who won an earlier appeal for a client with a similar illegal sentence, said he’s uncovered at least 56 other cases with illegal sentences, the majority of them sexual assaults.  Three others are drug cases and two involve economic crimes.  All are in Denver. “Each of these defendants has the right to a lawyer appointed at state expense,” Carberry said of the breath of the Supreme Court decision.  “That will run into the millions” of dollars.

Denver DA Beth McCann did not elaborate on the scope of the problem in her jurisdiction, but said she’d rather not have to find out.  “We are very supportive of the Colorado attorney general’s plan to ask the court to reconsider its decision,” McCann said in an emailed statement. “We are concerned that if the decision stands, it will significantly impact many cases that have already been resolved.”

Other prosecutors are also trying to determine what the decision will mean for them.  “This decision will have a significant impact, for offenders and victims,” Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty said in an emailed statement to The Post.  “A defendant could come back to court seeking a hearing to correct an illegal sentence, or file motions alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. For survivors of sexual assault, this decision will be particularly harmful because they thought the case was over and the outcome certain.”...

In the 18th Judicial District, hundreds of cases could be impacted, many of them involving children, some going back years, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris Gallo, who heads the special victims unit that handles about 500 cases a year.  “For several years now, we’ve been pursuing resolutions where there were prison and probation components, trying to balance a punishment aspect and a longer supervisory aspect to the sentence,” Gallo said.  “I can’t even fathom the ultimate outcome of this decision, how many could be released, or its impact.  But more than half of our cases would be affected.”

Mesa County’s Rubinstein said although only about a half-dozen cases in his jurisdiction are affected, they are significant.  “The pleas would be invalidated, and it could be that a new offer is rejected,” Rubinstein said, noting prosecutors cannot change the terms of the agreement without beginning the case anew. “How does that work for a guy with five years in prison already.”  

Judges could theoretically say they’re not bound by the plea agreement and a defendant could take his chances with a new sentence, Rubinstein said. “(A judge) might think there’s been substantial time (in prison) and a judge won’t want to load up with additional punishment,” he said, “and the defendants might say they’ll take their chances with the judge.”  A good defense attorney, however, could find exploitable cracks, he said.  “They’ll look to see if the case is, perhaps, worse,” Rubinstein said.  “Witnesses move, they die, they don’t wish to participate. The chances of a trial could be better from their viewpoint.”

October 24, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

"Offline: Challenging Internet and Social Media Bans for Individuals on Supervision for Sex Offenses"

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

Tens of thousands of people across the United States are subject to bans on their Internet and social media access due to sex offense convictions.  This Article explains why, even for those on parole and probation, such bans are frequently over-broad, imposed on the wrong people, and are now ripe for challenge in light of the Supreme Court’s 8-0 decision in Packingham v. North Carolina

The first flaw with these bans is their mismatch between crime and condition.  They are imposed on individuals whose criminal records have no relation to online predatory activity or manipulation of minors.  The second flaw is their extreme over-breadth.  Rather than merely proscribing speech with minors or access to certain online forums, they cordon off the Internet itself, ostracizing offenders to an offline society.  While these flaws rendered Internet and social media bans constitutionally problematic before the Packingham decision, the Supreme Court’s imprimatur on free speech for individuals convicted of sex offenses could — and should — lead the way to future legal challenges of these bans.

October 8, 2019 in Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Without discussion of 3553(a) factors, Eleventh Circuit needs just one sentence to declare 120 years (LWOP) imprisonment for child porn offenses reasonable

Earlier this month in this post, I flagged the Sixth Circuit panel ruling in US v. Boucher, No. 18-5683 (6th Cir. Sept. 9, 2019) (available here), which concluded that a month-long sentence was unreasonably short after an intricate multi-page analysis of § 3553(a) factors.  The detailed circuit analysis especially faulted the district court's consideration of personal factors and the failure "to address the risk of sentence disparities."  In my post about the Boucher ruling, I noted that I favor reviewing courts conducting robust and searching forms of reasonableness review, but I  lamented the fact that circuit courts often seem much more interested in seriously questioning 30-day sentences when federal prosecutors appeal than in questioning 30-year sentences when federal defendants appeal.  

Interestingly, today I was alerted to a new Eleventh Circuit panel ruling in which it is not a 30-year sentences, but actually a 120-year sentence(!), that gets short shrift in the reasonableness review process.  Specifically, in US v. Kirby, No. 18-11253 (11th Cir. Sept. 17, 2019) (available here), the defendant was convicted after trial of three counts of producing child pornography and two counts of possessing child porn.   As described by the Eleventh Circuit panel, the defendant had a large (but not enormous) number of child porn images and he created (but did not distribute) many images of his "thirteen-year-old stepdaughter, either captured by hidden cameras in bathrooms or taken while Kirby was assisting his stepdaughter with stretches due to a sports injury [and also had one] pornographic image of a friend of [his] stepdaughter."  This is serious criminal behavior, but the district court responded (based it seems on a maxed-out guideline range of life) by maxing out all the counts to the statutory maximum and running the terms consecutively to arrive at sentence of 1440 months (120 years) of imprisonment.

In addition to making a technical challenge to how the guideline range of life was used by the district court, the defendant here contended that his sentence was substantively unreasonable.  After discussing the technical issues for a number of pages, here is the full substance of the Kirby panel's response to the reasonableness claim:

As an initial matter, Kirby’s argument is largely predicated on the erroneous conclusion that the district court imposed an above-guidelines sentence.  Regardless, the sentence was not unreasonable.  Before imposing the longest sentence that it could, the district court thoroughly discussed Kirby’s particularly heinous conduct and direct participation in the creation of child pornography, his breach of public trust as a police officer, and his total failure to take responsibility for his actions.

Without seeing the full factual record or the parties' briefs, I am disinclined to assert that the substantive judgment of reasonableness here was obviously wrong.  But where is the circuit concern in this case for the district court's consideration of personal factors and the failure to address the risk of sentence disparities?   And what does strike me as obviously wrong is the obvious fact that there is such a contrast in the amount of attention and deliberation given to the reasonableness claims in cases like Boucher and Kirby.  As long as reviewing courts (and so many others) are so much more likely to worry so much more about undue leniency than about undue severity, over-incarceration will still define our criminal justice systems.

September 18, 2019 in Booker in the Circuits, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, August 18, 2019

North Carolina Supreme Court holds mandatory lifetime GPS monitoring for some sex offenders violates Fourth Amendment

Four+ years ago as noted in this post, the US Supreme Court issued a short per curiam summary reversals in Grady v. North Carolina, No. 14-593 (S. Ct. March 30, 2015) (available here), in which the Court clarified and confirmed that the Fourth Amendment is applicable to sex offender monitoring.  That case was remanded back to the state courts, and late last week there was a major ruling by the Supreme Court of North Carolina in North Carolina v. Grady, No. 179A14-3 (N.C. Aug 16, 2019) (available here).  This split ruling establishes that persons other than Torrey Grady will benefit from the application of the Fourth Amendment in this setting.  Here is part of the start of the majority opinion (authored by Justice Earls) in this latest version of Grady:

The United States Supreme Court has determined that North Carolina’s satellite-based monitoring (SBM) of sex offenders, which involves attaching an ankle monitor “to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual’s movements,” constitutes a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.  Grady v. North Carolina, 135 S. Ct. 1368, 1370 (2015) (per curiam). The Supreme Court remanded the case for an examination of “whether the State’s monitoring program is reasonable — when properly viewed as a search.” Id. at 1371....

In accordance with this decision, this case was ultimately remanded to the superior court, which entered an order determining the SBM program to be constitutional.  The Court of Appeals reversed, but only as to Mr. Grady individually.  We conclude that the Court of Appeals erroneously limited its holding to the constitutionality of the program as applied only to Mr. Grady, when our analysis of the reasonableness of the search applies equally to anyone in Mr. Grady’s circumstances.  Cf. Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 82 (2010) (holding that state statutes mandating a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional as applied to a specific group, namely juveniles who did not commit homicide).

In North Carolina, “SBM’s enrollment population consists of (1) offenders on parole or probation who are subject to State supervision, (2) unsupervised offenders who remain under SBM by court order for a designated number of months or years, and (3) unsupervised offenders subject to SBM for life, who are also known as ‘lifetime trackers.’ ” State v. Bowditch, 364 N.C. 335, 338, 700 S.E.2d 1, 3 (2010).  Mr. Grady is in the third of these categories in that he is subject to SBM for life and is unsupervised by the State through probation, parole, or post-release supervision.  Additionally, Mr. Grady is a “recidivist,” which makes lifetime SBM mandatory as to him without any individualized determination of the reasonableness of this search.  Because we conclude that the relevant portions of N.C.G.S. §§ 14-208.40A(c) and 14- 208.40B(c) are unconstitutional as applied to all individuals who, like Mr. Grady, are in the third Bowditch category and who are subject to mandatory lifetime SBM based solely on their status as a “recidivist,” we modify and affirm the opinion of the Court of Appeals.

And here is a paragraph from the start of the dissenting opinion authored by Justice Newby:

Using the remand as an opportunity to make a broad policy statement, the majority, though saying it addresses only one statutory classification, recidivist, applies an unbridled analysis which understates the crimes, overstates repeat sex offenders’ legitimate expectations of privacy, and minimizes the need to protect society from this limited class of dangerous sex offenders.  The majority’s sweeping opinion could be used to strike down every category of lifetime monitoring under the SBM statute.

August 18, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)