Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Sentencing judge recommended prison camp for Elizabeth Holmes to serve her sentence

As reported in this new press piece, "District Judge Edward Davila has proposed sentencing Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes to a federal prison camp in Texas, according to court filings." Here is more:

“The Court finds that family visitation enhances rehabilitation,” Davila wrote in the filing, according to Bloomberg, which summarized the terms of Holmes’ sentencing.

The prison camp is located in Bryan, Texas, and was proposed as an alternative to Holmes serving her 11-year 3-month sentence at a California prison.  There’s a few prison camps like this one across the country that typically have a low security-to-inmate ratio, dormitory housing, and a work program. “...compared to other places in the prison system, this place is heaven.  If you have to go it’s a good place to go.” Alan Ellis, a criminal defense lawyer, told Bloomberg.

Keri Axel, a criminal defense attorney told Yahoo! Finance that it is common for non-violent offenders like Holmes to serve out their time at minimum security facilities.  “Sometimes they’re called ‘Camp Fed’ because they have a little bit more amenities, and they’re a little nicer places,” she said, adding the caveat, “they’re not great places. No one wants to be there.”

Although the judge has recommended the prison camp for Holmes’ incarceration, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons will make the final decision.  Holmes was sentenced to 11 years and three months in prison on November 18 after she was found guilty of defrauding Theranos investors out of millions of dollars as part of her failed blood-testing startup.  She was also sentenced to three years of supervision after her release.

Prior related posts:

November 23, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Prisons and prisoners, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Following Prez Biden's lead, Oregon Gov pardons over 47,000 marijuana possession convictions

As reported in this local artcle, around "45,000 people previously convicted of marijuana possession in Oregon will be pardoned and $14 million in fines forgiven, the Governor's Office announced Monday."  Here is more:

Gov. Kate Brown is pardoning the 47,144 convictions for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana going back several decades. Criminal convictions, even for possessing small amounts of marijuana that would be legal now, can be barriers to employment, housing and education.

“No one deserves to be forever saddled with the impacts of a conviction for simple possession of marijuana — a crime that is no longer on the books in Oregon,” Brown said in a statement Monday. “Oregonians should never face housing insecurity, employment barriers, and educational obstacles as a result of doing something that is now completely legal, and has been for years. My pardon will remove these hardships." She noted that while all Oregonians use marijuana at similar rates, Black and Latino people have been arrested, prosecuted and convicted of marijuana possession at disproportionate rates.

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union applauded Brown’s action on Monday, saying her move followed an important step by President Joe Biden last month to pardon thousands of people nationwide of federal convictions for marijuana possession. Officials with the ACLU of Oregon said Brown is the first governor take this action on pardoning. Sandy Chung, executive director of ACLU of Oregon, said they were grateful for Brown's use of clemency to address the state's outdated and racially-biased practices, including policies from the failed "War on Drugs."...

According to the Governor's Office, the pardon applies to electronically available Oregon convictions for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in pre-2016 cases in which the person was 21 years of age or older, where this was the only charge, and where there were no victims. This pardon does not apply to any other offense related to marijuana or other controlled substances. More information can be found online.

Following Brown's pardon, the Oregon Judicial Department will ensure that all court records associated with the pardoned offenses are sealed. About $14 million in unpaid court fines and fees associated with the pardoned convictions will be forgiven. The pardoned marijuana convictions will no longer show up on background checks of public court records, but the conviction may show up on background checks conducted by law enforcement officials or licensing authorities as a pardoned conviction....

Jessica Maravilla, policy director of ACLU of Oregon, said by eliminating $14 million in fines and fees, Brown is breaking down a massive barrier many have to housing, schooling and jobs. "For low-income communities and people of color, they can result in continued entanglement in the criminal legal system," she said. "The Governor’s forgiveness of $14,000,000 in fines and fees is a significant step in addressing unjust systemic burdens created by prior convictions — especially, in this case, for a crime that no longer exists.”

The official statement from Gov Brown's office is available at this link.

November 22, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

After another botched lethal injection effort, Alabama Gov orders moratorium on executions in state

As reported in this local article, "Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has ordered a halt to executions in the state after two failed attempts at lethal injections, calling for a 'top-to-bottom' review of the process."  Here is more:

The announcement came in the form of a press release sent Monday morning. According to the press release, the governor asked Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall to withdraw the state’s two pending motions in the Alabama Supreme Court to set executions for Alan Eugene Miller and James Edward Barber.

“Working in conjunction with Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm, Governor Ivey is asking that the Department of Corrections undertake a top-to-bottom review of the state’s execution process, and how to ensure the state can successfully deliver justice going forward,” the press release stated.

Ivey also asked the Alabama AG’s office to not seek additional execution dates for any other Alabama Death Row inmates until the review is complete. No timeline was provided. A spokesperson for the Alabama AG’s office said Marshall will ”have more to say on this at a later date.”

Miller was set to be executed on Sept. 22, but survived after prison workers couldn’t find a vein to start the intravenous line needed for the three-drug lethal injection cocktail before the death warrant expired at midnight. Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was set to die Nov. 17, experienced a similar situation and also survived after officials couldn’t start an IV.

A federal judge has ordered the ADOC must preserve evidence from both failed execution attempts.

“For the sake of the victims and their families, we’ve got to get this right. I don’t buy for a second the narrative being pushed by activists that these issues are the fault of the folks at Corrections or anyone in law enforcement, for that matter. I believe that legal tactics and criminals hijacking the system are at play here,” Ivey said in the statement. “I will commit all necessary support and resources to the Department to ensure those guilty of perpetrating the most heinous crimes in our society receive their just punishment. I simply cannot, in good conscience, bring another victim’s family to Holman looking for justice and closure, until I am confident that we can carry out the legal sentence.”

Hamm also made a statement, which was sent alongside the governor’s. “I agree with Governor Ivey that we have to get this right for the victims’ sake. Everything is on the table – from our legal strategy in dealing with last minute appeals, to how we train and prepare, to the order and timing of events on execution day, to the personnel and equipment involved. The Alabama Department of Corrections is fully committed to this effort and confident that we can get this done right.”...

The Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama Arise, and Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty sent a joint statement applauding the decision. After the July execution of Joe Nathan James Jr., the groups launched a campaign called “Pull Back the Curtains” to call for transparency in the execution process.

“The ‘Pull Back The Curtains’ campaign references the fact that corrections workers are starting the execution process without public scrutiny. Every government program, especially executions, should be transparent from the start,” the groups said in a statement. “We are relieved that there will be a review, and dismayed that our state won’t simply throw out this archaic and unnecessary punishment. Among other things, at a minimum this review should assess the toll taken on corrections workers & establish PTSD support for tortured prisoners and corrections officers alike.”

November 22, 2022 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, November 21, 2022

Does Prez Biden's clemency record in 2022 deserve some praise on the day of turkey pardons?

Prez Biden today engaged in the annual turkey pardon silliness at the White House, and I found this array of headlines about the event amusing:

From AP, "Biden opens holidays, pardons turkeys Chocolate and Chip"

From CNN, "Biden pardons Thanksgiving turkeys: 'No ballot stuffing, no fowl play'"

From Fox News, "80-year-old Biden falsely claims Delaware has most chickens in the nation"

Media biases aside, I usually have my own bias toward criticizing each and every president on this day for pardoning turkeys so regularly while granting clemencies to people so rarely.  Here are a few prior posts of this vintage:

But, as the title of this post asks, I am wondering whether I have to use this day in 2022 to praise rather than criticize President Joe Biden's clemency record.  Back in April, as detailed here, Prez Biden used his clemency pen to grant three pardons and 75 commutations.   And last month, as detailed here, Prez Biden pardoned many thousands of persons federally convicted of simple possession of marijuana.  This record puts Prez Biden way ahead of any other modern President in terms of clemency grants in his first few years in office, and I do think that merits some praise.

That said, as perhaps the title of this post hints, I also think there is far more that a president can and should do with the clemency pen, and so I am eager to push Prez Biden to do more, a lot more.  There are still many thousands of persons serving excessive federal prison terms and hundreds of thousands pf persons burdened with the collateral consequences of low-level federal convictions.  Though I am prepared to praise Prez Biden for what he has done so far, I also want to make sure he knows there is a lot more clemency work to do.

November 21, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Tennessee Supreme Court finds state's uniquely harsh automatic life sentences unconstitutional for juvenile offenders

On Friday of last week, as summarized at this court webpage, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued a set of notable opinions addressing the constitutionality of the state's automatic life sentencing scheme for juveniles.  Here is, from the court website, links to: "the court's opinion in Tennessee v. Tyshon Booker, authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee and joined by Special Justice William C. Koch, Jr., the separate opinion concurring in the judgment authored by Justice Holly Kirby, and the dissenting opinion authored by Justice Jeff Bivins and joined by Chief Justice Roger Page."  Together, all the opinions run more than 50+ dense pages; they are all worth a read and cannot be easily summarized in a blog post.  But I can provide a poor-man's account (and also link to this local press coverage).

As explained in these opinions, Tennessee law requires a minimum term of 51 years in prison before parole consideration for murderers even for juveniles.  As the opinion for the court explains:  "Compared to the other forty-nine states, Tennessee is a clear outlier in its sentencing of juvenile homicide offenders.  So much so that Tennessee’s life sentence when automatically imposed on a juvenile is the harshest of any sentence in the country.  No one, including the dissent, disputes that a juvenile offender serving a life sentence in Tennessee is incarcerated longer than juvenile offenders serving life sentences in other states."

And so, decides the majority:

Tennessee is out of step with the rest of the country in the severity of sentences imposed on juvenile homicide offenders.  Automatically imposing a fifty-one-year-minimum life sentence on a juvenile offender without regard to the juvenile’s age and attendant circumstances can, for some juveniles, offend contemporary standards of decency....

Tennessee’s automatic life sentence when imposed on juvenile homicide offenders is an outlier when compared with the other forty-nine states, it lacks individualized sentencing which serves as a bulwark against disproportionate punishment, and it goes beyond what is necessary to accomplish legitimate penological objectives.  For these reasons, we hold that Tennessee’s automatic life sentence with a minimum of fifty-one years when imposed on juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment.

As for the remedy:

We exercise judicial restraint when remedying the unconstitutionality of the current statutory scheme for sentencing juvenile homicide offenders.  Rather than creating a new sentencing scheme or resentencing Mr. Booker, we apply the sentencing policy adopted by the General Assembly in its previous enactment of section 40-35-501.... Under this unrepealed statute, Mr. Booker remains sentenced to a sixty-year prison term and is eligible for, although not guaranteed, supervised release on parole after serving between twenty-five and thirty-six years.  Thus, at the appropriate time, Mr. Booker will receive an individualized parole hearing in which his age, rehabilitation, and other circumstances will be considered.

The dissenting opinion starts this way:

I respectfully dissent from the result reached by a majority of the Court today.  Quite frankly, I find the policy adopted as a result of the plurality opinion of Justice Lee and the concurring opinion of Justice Kirby to be sound.  However, it is just that.  It is a policy decision by which the majority today has pushed aside appropriate confines of judicial restraint and applied an evolving standards of decency/independent judgment analysis that impermissibly moves the Court into an area reserved to the legislative branch under the United States and Tennessee Constitutions.

November 20, 2022 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Nebraska Supreme Court upholds constitutionality of judges imposing death sentences after jury fact-finding

I just recently saw an interesting and lengthy new ruling from the Nebraska Supreme Court rejecting an array of procedural challenges to the state's capital sentencing scheme. Here is how the unanimous 60+ page opinon in State v. Trail, 312 Neb. 843 (Neb. Nov. 10, 2022) (available here), gets started:

The defendant was convicted by a jury of murder in the first degree and criminal conspiracy to commit first degree murder.  He was also convicted, pursuant to a plea, of improper disposal of human skeletal remains.  A three-judge panel sentenced the defendant to death.  The defendant asserts on appeal that the three-judge panel erred in determining the sentence of death was not excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. Alternatively, he argues Nebraska’s death penalty scheme is unconstitutional because it allows a panel of judges rather than a jury to make findings of whether the aggravating circumstances justify the death penalty and whether sufficient mitigating circumstances exist which approach or exceed the weight given to the aggravating circumstances. The defendant also challenges the constitutionality of death qualifying the potential jurors, arguing that it creates a conviction-prone jury.  Finally, the defendant challenges the denial of his pretrial motion to sever the conspiracy and murder charges, the court’s release of the victim’s mother from sequestration after she testified, the denial of his motion for a mistrial after a verbal outburst and act of self-harm in front of the jury, and the denial of a motion for a new trial after evidence was submitted allegedly demonstrating the selfharm would not have occurred but for the alleged misconduct of jail staff.  We affirm.

Here are a few passages from near the end of this Trail opinion summarizing its constitutional conclusions:

In several cases, we have rejected the argument that because the right to a jury determination is limited to guilt or innocence of the crimes charged and the determination of the aggravating circumstances, Nebraska’s sentencing scheme is unconstitutional under the 6th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and article I, §§ 3 and 6, of the Nebraska Constitution.  In State v. Gales, we explained that Apprendi and Ring do not stand for the proposition that a jury, rather than a judge or judges, must make the sentencing determinations listed under § 29-2522.  Rather, Apprendi and Ring affected only the narrow issue of whether there is a Sixth Amendment right to have a jury determine the existence of any aggravating circumstance upon which a capital sentence is based....  By leaving to the three-judge panel the ultimate lifeor-death decision upon making the selection decisions of whether the aggravating circumstances justify the death penalty and whether sufficient mitigating circumstances exist that approach or exceed the weight given to the aggravating circumstances, Nebraska’s sentencing scheme does not violate the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial or article I, § 6, of the Nebraska Constitution.....

In State v. Mata, we rejected the defendant’s argument that a system wherein a three-judge panel weighs the aggravating and mitigating circumstances without guidance from the jury is arbitrary and capricious under the 8th and 14th Amendments.  In State v. Hessler,  we rejected the defendant’s argument under the Eighth Amendment that a sentencing panel is not in as good of a position as the jury to assign a weight to the aggravating circumstances, to weigh aggravating circumstances against mitigating circumstances, or to determine the sentence. While Trail’s 8th Amendment arguments are somewhat different from those addressed in Mata and Hessler, he presents no reason to depart from our holdings in those cases that Nebraska’s statutory scheme, delegating to the three-judge panel determinations of whether the aggravating circumstances justify the death penalty and whether sufficient mitigating circumstances exist that approach or exceed the weight given to the aggravating circumstances, does not violate the 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution or article I, § 9, of the Nebraska Constitution.

November 19, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 18, 2022

Any final thoughts on today's federal sentencing of Elizabeth Holmes?

As I write this post, the federal sentencing of the Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes is scheduled to begin after she was found guilty of four of 11 charges of fraud at a jury trial this past January. I have to go teach my 1L Crim law class in a few minutes, so I might be slow to report the outcome if the sentencing is quick.  But I can here seek any pre- (or post-)sentencing final thoughts, aided by this New York Times lengthy preview piece (which, as I note below, has some technical errors).  Here are excerpts:

Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, recently praised Elizabeth Holmes’s thoughtful focus and “determination to make a difference.”  The actress Ricki Noel Lander said Ms. Holmes was “a trustworthy friend and a genuinely lovely person.”  And Channing Robertson, who was a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford University, commended Ms. Holmes for her “compassion for others.”

Their comments were part of a cache of more than 100 letters that were filed over the last week to a federal judge in San Jose, Calif., in an effort to reduce the punishment for Ms. Holmes, the founder of the failed blood testing start-up Theranos. In January, she was convicted of four counts of defrauding investors about Theranos’s technology and business dealings. She is scheduled to be sentenced for those crimes on Friday.

Ms. Holmes, 38, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, according to federal sentencing guidelines for wire fraud. Her lawyers have requested 18 months of house arrest, while prosecutors have asked for 15 years of imprisonment.  The probation officer in Ms. Holmes’s case has recommended a sentence of nine years.

The decision lies with Judge Edward J. Davila of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, who oversaw Ms. Holmes’s trial last year. In addition to the letters from her supporters asking for leniency, he is set to take into account lengthy memos filed by her lawyers and prosecutors, and will consider whether Ms. Holmes has accepted responsibility for her actions.

Most notably, Judge Davila must weigh the message that Ms. Holmes’s sentence sends to the world. Her high-profile case came to symbolize the excesses and hubris of Silicon Valley companies that often play fast and loose with the law. Theranos raised $945 million from investors, valuing the company at $9 billion, on the claim that its technology could accurately run many tests on a single drop of blood. But the technology never worked as promised.

Few tech executives are ever found guilty of fraud. So a lighter sentence for Ms. Holmes could send the wrong signal to the industry, legal experts said. “This is a case with more deterrence potential than most,” said Andrew George, a white-collar defense lawyer at Baker Botts. “Judge Davila will be sensitive to any impression that this person of privilege got a slap on the wrist.”...

Since Ms. Holmes was convicted, other high profile start-up founders have also come under scrutiny, prompting further debates over start-up ethics. Trevor Milton, the founder of the electric vehicle start-up Nikola, was convicted last month on charges of lying about his company’s technology. Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, is under numerous investigations after his company suddenly collapsed into bankruptcy last week....

Prosecutors said in court filings that significant prison time for her would send a message to other entrepreneurs who stretched the truth. A long sentence would not only “deter future start-up fraud schemes” but also “rebuild the trust investors must have when funding innovators,” they wrote.

I am pretty sure that each of Holmes' four fraud convictions carry a 20-year maximum sentence, so technically she faces a maximum of 80 years in prison.  In addition, I believe "according to federal sentencing guidelines" calculations put forward by the prosecution, the guidelines actually call for a life sentence (which is not formally possible, though the 80-year max would be essentially a functional life sentence).  That all said, I am sticking to my 10-year sentence as the betting line over/under, though I am thinking I might be inclined to take the over.

Prior related posts:

November 18, 2022 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Prison Policy Initiative reports on "Winnable criminal justice reforms in 2023"

Via email, I learned that the Prison Policy Initiative already has produced its "guide to winnable criminal justice reforms" for 2023.  As explained over at the PPI site, "this briefing is not intended to be a comprehensive platform," but the list is intended "to offer policymakers and advocates straightforward solutions that would have the greatest impacts on reducing incarceration and ameliorating harms experienced by those with a conviction history, without further investments in the carceral system."   Via the email sent my way, here links to part of the guide and additional context:

The reforms focus on nine areas:

Each reform explains the problem it seeks to solve, points to in-depth research on the topic, and highlights solutions or legislation introduced or passed in states.  While this list is not intended to be a comprehensive platform, we’ve curated it to offer policymakers and advocates straightforward solutions that would have the greatest impacts without further investments in the carceral system and point to policy reforms that have gained momentum in the past year.  We have focused especially on those reforms that would reduce the number of people needlessly confined in prisons and jails.  We made a conscious choice to not include critical reforms that are unique to just a few states, or important reforms for which we don’t yet have enough useful resources to be helpful to most states.

November 16, 2022 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Sentencing Commissions and Guidelines: A Case Study in Policy Transfer"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Arie Freiberg and Julian V. Roberts now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Over the past few decades, the traditional, discretionary approach to sentencing has been progressively replaced by structured regimes often administered by sentencing commissions or councils.  Sentencing guidelines of one kind or another have proliferated across the common law world and constitute the most significant development in sentencing in a century.  This article examines the creation and subsequent proliferation of sentencing commissions since the establishment of the first commissions in Minnesota and Pennsylvania in 1978.

The article explores the process by which the idea of a sentencing commission and its guidelines has spread to other jurisdictions.  This process, referred to as policy transfer, diffusion, transplantation, convergence, translation or policy learning, modelling or borrowing, can provide insight into why a policy innovation in one jurisdiction is emulated or adapted in another, and the means by which such innovations are communicated over time and between jurisdictions. 

November 16, 2022 in Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Latest Gallup polling highlights "Steady 55% of Americans Support Death Penalty for Murderers"

Republicans-remain-most-supportive-of-death-penaltyThe quoted portion of the title of this post is the title of this recent Gallup report on its latest polling on opinions regarding the death penalty.  Here are excerpts:

The majority of Americans, 55%, are in favor of the death penalty for convicted murderers in the U.S. While this marks the sixth consecutive year that support for capital punishment is between 54% and 56%, it is below the 60% to 80% readings recorded in the four prior decades between 1976 and 2016.

When Gallup initiated this measure in 1936, 59% of U.S. adults favored the death penalty for convicted murderers -- and majorities have supported it since then, with the exception of several readings taken between 1957 and March 1972, including the record-low 42% in 1966.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in June 1972, majorities continued to back it. When it was reinstated in 1976, public support for it grew until it peaked at 80% in 1994. At least 60% of U.S. adults favored capital punishment until 2017, when support dipped to the lowest point since 1972, and today it remains at that level.

The latest findings are from an Oct. 3-20 Gallup poll that was conducted during the trial of the gunman who murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.  On Oct. 13, the jury in the highly publicized trial spared him the death penalty and instead sentenced him to prison for the rest of his life. The decision was met with disappointment from many of the victims' families, who thought the gunman should be put to death.

Partisans' views of the death penalty differ sharply, with majorities of Republicans (77%) and independents (54%) favoring it but a majority of Democrats opposed (63%) and 35% in favor.

Since 2000, when Gallup began tracking the measure annually in its Crime survey, Republicans' support has been the most consistent. No less than 72% of Republicans have been in favor of the death penalty, and the latest reading is not statistically different from the 2000 reading of 80%.

Over the same period, independents' support has been as high as 68% and has only once fallen below the majority level (to 49% in 2020). The current reading is down 14 percentage points compared with 2000.

Democrats' support for capital punishment has not been at the majority level since 2012 and has varied the most of the three party groups, ranging from 34% to 65% since 2000. Democrats' latest reading is essentially unchanged from last year's record low for them and is 21 points lower than the 2000 reading.

November 16, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Local prosecutor seeking LWOP sentence for Michigan school shooter Ethan Crumbley

As reported in this local article, "Oakland County prosecutors plan to seek a life sentence without the chance of parole for the teenage boy who killed four classmates and injured a teacher and six other students at Oxford High School last year."  Here is more:

Ethan Crumbley, 16, pleaded guilty Oct. 24 to terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of attempted murder and 12 counts of felony firearm. Crumbley killed Oxford students Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana and Justin Shilling.

The Oakland County Prosecutor's Office filed a motion Monday notifying the court that it planned to seek a life without parole sentence. "As we previously stated, there have been no plea bargains, no charge reductions, and no sentence agreements," David Williams, Oakland County's chief assistant prosecutor, said Tuesday in a statement. "The shooter has been offered and promised nothing. The motion filed yesterday is a formal declaration of our intent to seek the maximum possible sentence in this case."

Paulette Michel Loftin, Crumbley’s lawyer, said in October before Crumbley entered his plea that he was remorseful and wanted to accept accountability and do the right thing. Pleading guilty was his idea, she said. Crumbley was 15 years old at the time of the shooting on Nov. 30, 2021....

A first-degree murder conviction usually comes with an automatic life without parole sentence, but teenagers are entitled to a hearing where their attorneys can argue for a lighter sentence and present mitigating testimony and evidence about their client's life.  Prosecutors can also put on a case for why their requested sentence is warranted. This hearing is held because of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles are unconstitutional. The sentencing process is scheduled to start in February.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald has said that "every person who was in Oxford High School that day will have a chance, if they want to, to speak in their own words about how this has affected them."

Ethan's parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, are charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors accused them of "gross negligence" leading up to the murders. They face up to 15 years in prison.

As detialed in this post, just a few months ago the Michigan Supreme Court issued a series of rulings addressing, and generally restricting, when and how juveniles convicted of homicide can receive sentences of life with or without parole.  I would expect that a mass shooting at a school would still be a prime case for a discretionary LWOP sentencing, but Crumbley’s relatively young age and his apparent remorsefulness could open up the possibility of a lesser sentence.

Prior related post:

November 15, 2022 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (13)

Monday, November 14, 2022

"President Biden's Pardons: What It Means for Cannabis and Criminal Justice Reform"

Bac4c356-7915-4767-bd62-7e39643a3eb3The title of this post is the title of this exciting webinar scheduled for next month (December 13 starting at 12noon), which is organized by Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and the Last Prisoner Project. Here is a bit of the backstory and the panel lineup:

On October 6th, 2022, President Biden issued a proclamation granting pardons to over 6,500 people with federal simple possession of marijuana offenses.  In an acknowledgment of the fact that the vast majority of cannabis convictions take place on the state level, President Biden simultaneously encouraged the country’s governors to use their clemency power to issue similar grants.  While the President’s executive actions are an unprecedented and important step forward, there is still much more work ahead to fully redress the harms of cannabis criminalization.

Please join the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center and the Last Prisoner Project as we host a panel of experts to discuss how these pardons will affect people with cannabis convictions on their record, how states could act on the President's call, and what implications this may have for the future of cannabis and criminal justice reform in the United States.

Panelists:

Elizabeth G. Oyer, U.S. Pardon Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice

JaneAnne Murray, Associate Clinical Professor of Law, Director of the University of Minnesota Law School Clemency Project

Sarah Gersten, Executive Director and General Counsel, Last Prisoner Project

Moderator:

Douglas A. Berman, Newton D. Baker-Baker & Hostetler Chair in Law; Executive Director of the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center

More details and a simple registation form can be found at this link

November 14, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Three Justices dissent from the denial of cert in Ohio capital case reversed by Sixth Circuit

This morning's Supreme Court order list is most notable for a 14-page dissent from the denial of cert in a capital case from Ohio, Shoop v. Cunningham.  The dissent was authored by Justice Thomas and joined by Justices Alito and Gorsuch.  Here is how it gets started:

In 2002, respondent Jeronique Cunningham concluded an armed robbery of his drug dealer with a spray of bullets that killed a teenager and a toddler.  An Ohio jury convicted him of capital murder, and the trial court sentenced him to death.  Twenty years later, the Sixth Circuit ordered an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the foreperson’s presence on the jury deprived Cunningham of due process — either because the foreperson received prejudicial outside information about Cunningham or because she was biased by an undisclosed relationship with the victims’ families.  In analyzing the first claim, the Sixth Circuit once again flouted the deferential standard of review demanded by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA).  In analyzing the second claim, the Sixth Circuit applied an incorrect framework to justify a fishing expedition based on allegations with no admissible factual foundation.

To correct these manifest abuses of the Sixth Circuit’s habeas jurisdiction, I would grant Ohio’s petition and summarily reverse the judgment below.  Therefore, I respectfully dissent from denial of certiorari.

November 14, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Sentencing memos paint very different pictures of Elizabeth Holmes

Two Reuters articles and ledes highlight the very different portraites of Elizabeth Holmes drawn in recent sentencing filings:

"Elizabeth Holmes seeks to avoid prison for Theranos fraud":

Elizabeth Holmes urged a U.S. judge not to send her to prison, as the founder of Theranos Inc prepares to be sentenced next week for defrauding investors in the blood testing startup. In a Thursday night court filing, lawyers for Holmes asked that she receive 18 months of home confinement, followed by community service, at her Nov. 18 sentencing before U.S. District Judge Edward Davila in San Jose, California.

The lawyers said prison time was unnecessary to deter future wrongdoing, calling Holmes, 38, a "singular human with much to give" and not the robotic, emotionless "caricature" seen by the public and media. "No defendant should be made a martyr to public passion," the lawyers wrote. "We ask that the court consider, as it must, the real person, the real company and the complex circumstances surrounding the offense."

"U.S. seeks 15 years for Elizabeth Holmes over Theranos fraud":

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes should spend 15 years in prison and pay $800 million in restitution to investors defrauded in the blood testing start-up, U.S. prosecutors recommended late on Friday.  The Department of Justice recommendation, made in a court filing, came as Holmes prepares to be sentenced next week.

"Considering the extensiveness of Holmes' fraud... the sentencing of 180 months' imprisonment would reflect the seriousness of the offenses, provide for just punishment for the offenses, and deter Holmes and others," the prosecutors said.

The sentencing filings in this high-profile case are, unsurprisingly, quite entextensive ensice.  Holmes sentencing memorandum runs 82 pages, is available at this link, and here is part of its "preminary statement":

Section 3553(a) requires the Court to fashion a sentence “sufficient, but not greater than necessary,” to serve the purposes of sentencing.  If a period of confinement is necessary, the defense suggests that a term of eighteen months or less, with a subsequent supervised release period that requires community service, will amply meet that charge. But the defense believes that home confinement with a requirement that Ms. Holmes continue her current service work is sufficient.  We acknowledge that this may seem a tall order given the public perception of this case — especially when Ms. Holmes is viewed as the caricature, not the person; when the company is viewed as a house of cards, not as the ambitious, inventive, and indisputably valuable enterprise it was; and when the media vitriol for Ms. Holmes is taken into account.  But the Court’s difficult task is to look beyond those surface-level views when it fashions its sentence.  In doing so, we ask that the Court consider, as it must, the real person, the real company and the complex circumstances surrounding the offense conduct, and the important principle that “no defendant should be made a martyr to public passion.” United States v. Gupta, 904 F. Supp. 2d 349, 355 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (Rakoff, J.).  As discussed in more detail in the pages that follow, this is a unique case and this defendant is a singular human with much to give.

The Government's sentencing memorandum runs 46 pages, is available at this link, and here is part of its "introduction":

The Sentencing Guidelines appropriately recognize that Holmes’ crimes were extraordinarily serious, among the most substantial white collar offenses Silicon Valley or any other District has seen.  According to the Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”), they yield a recommended custodial sentence beyond the statutory maximum.  The factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553 — notably the nature and circumstances of the offense, the need for the sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offense and promote respect for the law, and the need for both specific deterrence and general deterrence — demand a significant custodial sentence.  With these factors in mind, the government respectfully recommends a sentence of 180 months in custody.  The Court should also order Holmes to serve a three-year term of supervised release, pay full restitution to her investors (including Walgreens and Safeway), and pay the required special assessment for each count.

I think I'd put the over/under for this sentencing at around 10 years of imprisonment, but I could readily imagine a judge going much higher or much lower.

Prior related posts:

November 13, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (9)

Saturday, November 12, 2022

New district court opinion "holds that § 922(g)(8) is unconstitutional under Bruen's framework"

A few months ago, in a series of posts right after the Supreme Court's big Second Amendment decision Bruen (basics here), I suggested that a number of broad federal criminal firearm prohibitions might be subject to new constitutional challenges (see posts here are here).  I focused on how the Bruen court's recasting of Second Amendment analysis might impact the federal felon-in-possession statute, 18 USC § 922(g)(1) and the federal drug-user-in-possession statute, 18 USC § 922(g)(3).  Interestingly, as detailed in prior posts here and here, a few district courts have already declared other parts of § 922 unconstitutional.  And this past week a new opinion adds § 922(g)(8) to the post-Bruen carnage.

Title 18 USC § 922(g)(8) makes it a federal crime for any person to possess a firearm while subject to a domstic violence restraining order.  In his opinion in US v. Perez-Gallan, No. PE:22-CR-00427-DC (SD Texas Nov. 10, 2022) (available here), US District Judge David Counts works through Bruen analysis to conclude "that § 922(g)(8) is unconstitutional under Bruen's framework." The opinion is 30+ pages long, and it starts and ends this way:

Before Bruen, the Second Amendment looked like an abandoned cabin in the woods.  A knot of vines, weeds, and roots, left unkempt for decades, crawling up the cabin’s sides as if pulling it under the earth.  Firearm regulations are that overgrowth.  Starting with the Federal Firearms Act in 1938, laws were passed with little — if any — consideration given to their constitutionality.  That is, until the Supreme Court intervened in Bruen.

No longer can lower courts account for public policy interests, historical analysis being the only tool.  But after growing unchecked for almost 100 years, today’s tangle of gun laws has left lower courts with a gordian knot.  And after engaging with this Nation’s tradition of firearm regulations several times already, the Court’s unanswered question is whether Bruen demands lower courts manicure the Second Amendment’s landscape by scalpel or chainsaw....

How strictly or flexibly a court reads Bruen impacts its conclusion.  Bruen’s mandate is that a gun regulation’s constitutionality hinge solely on the historical inquiry.  According to Bruen, that can be this Court’s only consideration. The Court concedes, therefore, that a court reading Bruen strictly could have arguably stopped after Section IV of this Opinion.

That said, this Court embraces Bruen’s charge.  Thus, after sifting through the history above, this Court finds that the Government did not prove that § 922(g)(8) aligns with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation and declines the Government’s invitation to insert its own public policy concerns rather than following Bruen.  As a result, the Court holds that § 922(g)(8) is unconstitutional under Bruen’s framework.

Some prior recent related posts:

November 12, 2022 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

After getting 241-year sentence as juvenile, Bobby Bostic released on parole after 27 years in prison

In this post late last year, I provided an update on the case of Bobby Bostic, who had been sentenced in Missouri as a teenager in the 1990s to 241 years in prison.  Because MIssouri law was changed, Bostic was able to secure parole after serving over a quarter century behind bars.  And this past week, as reported in this lengthy local piece, Bostic was formally released on parole.  Here are excerpts from the piece with some legal context

Standing on the Missouri Capitol steps moments after being released from prison, Bobby Bostic said the first place he planned to visit was his mother’s grave in St. Louis — a city he’d last freely walked in 1995. “I’m a free man all because of you all who supported me,” Bostic, 43, said Wednesday morning while surrounded by friends and family donning matching sweatshirts that read “Bobby Bostic is Free.”

“While I cannot change what happened so many years ago,” he said, “I will mentor and teach young people to take a different path than I did when I was a young child myself.”

Bostic was imprisoned in 1995 for a crime he committed when he was 16, when he was an accomplice in two armed robberies in St. Louis.  Now-retired St. Louis judge Evelyn Baker sentenced Bostic to 241 years, with the first chance at parole being when Bostic turned 112.

Baker sentenced him to die in prison without giving him an official life sentence. “Your mandatory date to go in front of the parole board will be the year 2201,” Baker told Bostic at his sentencing date in 1997. “Nobody in this room is going to be alive in the year 2201.”

By sentencing him in this way, Bostic wasn’t protected under a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that mandated parole hearings for juveniles who’ve been sentenced to life without parole.  Bostic’s case fell into a legal loophole that existed in Missouri and only a few other states.  Missouri courts had held that this mandate didn’t apply to juveniles like Bostic, who received a sentence for multiple offenses that added up to life in prison.  All of Bostic’s legal remedies were exhausted by 2018, when his petitions to both the Missouri Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court were denied without comment.

But then in 2021, Republican Rep. Nick Schroer of O’Fallon successfully pushed legislation to allow juveniles who have been sentenced to 15 years or more to be eligible for parole after serving 15 years in prison.  Bostic is one of about 100 people who got a new chance at parole after the law passed....

Baker, who came to regret how she handled the case in 1995, became one of Bostic’s biggest allies, appearing as his advocate in front of the parole board last year.  “Bobby should’ve had a chance,” Baker said Wednesday, explaining that only after she sentenced him did she learn that teenagers’ brains aren’t fully developed.  “I had no awareness at that time that Bobby, by being certified to be tried as an adult, did not become an adult,” Baker said. “He was still a 16-year-old boy.”

On Dec. 12, 1995, Bostic and then 18-year-old Donald Hutson robbed a group of six people at gunpoint who were delivering Christmas gifts to a needy family in St. Louis, according to the ACLU’s 2017 petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.  During the robbery, two people were shot at.  One received a tetanus shot because the gunshot grazed his skin. The other testified that he was not injured at all.

After the robbery, Bostic and Hutson forced a woman into her car and drove off.  They robbed her and then, at Bostic’s insistence, let her go, the petition states.  Then, Bostic and Hutson threw their guns in the river and used the money to buy marijuana.  Bostic was pulled over by the police and ultimately charged with 18 felonies....

Bostic said he plans on taking things “one day at a time,” doing things he never had the chance to do — like learn to drive, use the internet and talk on a cell phone for the first time.  On Wednesday, he returned home to St. Louis. “It’s perfect because I know St. Louis,” he said, “But I’ve got to relearn it.”

Prior related posts:

November 12, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, November 11, 2022

SCOTUS takes up case to address reach of federal two-year mandatory minimum added prison term for identity theft

I missed late yesterday that the Supreme Court issued a tiny order list on Thursday that granted cert on a single new case.  This news is exciting for those of us interest in seeing a bit more criminal action on the SCOTUS docket, and this SCOTUSblog posting has the details:

The Supreme Court announced on Thursday afternoon that it will weigh in on what it means to commit identity theft. After holding their private conference a day early because Friday is a federal holiday, the justices released a one-sentence order list that added one new case to their merits docket for the 2022-23 term: Dubin v. United States.

The defendant in the case is David Dubin, who was convicted of Medicaid fraud.  As the dispute comes to the Supreme Court, Dubin is challenging a separate conviction under a federal law that makes it a crime to use another person’s identity in the process of committing another crime.  Federal prosecutors contend that Dubin’s use of his patient’s name on a false Medicaid claim violated the statute, adding an extra two years to his one-year sentence for fraud.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld Dubin’s conviction and sentence, and on rehearing a deeply divided full court affirmed that decision. Dubin appealed to the justices in June, and they agreed on Thursday to take up his case, which will likely be argued sometime early next year.

Here is how the question in the case is presented by the defendant in his cert petition:

The federal aggravated identity theft statute provides: “Whoever, during and in relation to any felony violation enumerated [elsewhere in the statute], knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person, shall, in addition to the punishment provided for such felony, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 2 years.” 18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1).

The question presented is whether a person commits aggravated identity theft any time he mentions or otherwise recites someone else’s name while committing a predicate offense.

November 11, 2022 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wouldn't pardons and commutations for those who served be a great way for Prez Biden to honor Veterans Day?

Veterans-original_cropThe question in the title of this post is inspired by today's national holiday, Veterans Day.  Based on the latest data from Bureau of Justice Statistics, from this March 2021 report "Survey of Prison Inmates, 2016: Veterans in Prison," veterans make up over 5% of the federal prison population (and nearly 8% of state prison populations).  Moreover, as an important new initiative from the Council for Criminal Justice has highlighted, roughly "one third of veterans report having been arrested and booked into jail at least once in their lives, compared to fewer than one fifth of non-veterans."  In other words, at both the federal and state level, there are surely no shortage of justice-involved veterans who could and should be a focus of concern and attention on this important day and for whom clemency consideration would be justified.

Though I am not expecting that Prez Biden will celebrate this Veterans Day by making a special effort to grant commutations or pardons to a special list of veterans, I have long thought criminal justice reform advocates ought to lean into this day by urging the President and all Governors to make a tradition of using clemency powers in this kind of special and distinctive way on this special and distinctive day.  As I have noted before, a key slogan for this day is "honoring  ALL who served," not just those who stayed out of trouble after serving.

Some (or many) prior related posts: 

November 11, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Another important look at the role of prosecutors in second-look sentencing

Many years ago, I had the honor of giving a keynote speech at a conference focused on the work of prosecutors where I suggested they should be much more involved in reviewing past sentences.  That speech, whi got published as Encouraging (and Even Requiring) Prosecutors to Be Second-Look Sentencers, 19 Temple Political & Civil Rights L. Rev. 429 (2010), came to mind as I read this new Marshall Project piece headlined "Prosecutors in These States Can Review Sentences They Deem Extreme. Few Do."  I recommend the lengthy and effective piece in full, and here is a brief excerpt:

Louisiana is one of five states that has recently passed prosecutor-initiated resentencing laws, along with California, Washington, Illinois and Oregon.  Five others — New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Georgia and Maryland — considered similar bills this year, though none were brought to a vote.

Many incarcerated people view these laws as a way to get fresh eyes on their cases.  Advocates for criminal justice reform say the laws are needed to help reduce mass incarceration.

But their reach so far has been concentrated in the offices of a few district attorneys, mainly in urban areas, according to a review by The Marshall Project.  One reason is the high cost of reviewing old cases, prosecutors say. There are also moral and political issues.  Some prosecutors are philosophically opposed to the notion of overturning sentences handed down by a judge, and others fear pushback from voters.

Some of many recent prior related posts:

A small sampling of my prior writing on this front:

November 11, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 10, 2022

"Dresser Drawer Pardons: Pardons as Private Acts"

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

Can a President issue a pardon without telling anyone but the recipient that she has issued it?  Yes, the President can grant a valid pardon without telling anyone but the recipient of her grace that she has done so.  While a defendant must plead a pardon for a court to take notice of it and quash an indictment, the document may otherwise lay buried in a sock drawer in case it is ever needed without losing any of its force or effect.

In this article, I make the case for secret pardons based upon Supreme Court precedent dating back to Chief Justice Marshall’s tenure on the Court.  In the years since Marshall’s 1833 ruling in United States v. Wilson, the Court has repeatedly reaffirmed the historical and formalist approach to the pardons clause that Marshall inaugurated.  Declaring that English practice should be the guide to the federal pardons clause, Marshall endorsed the understanding of pardons maintained by English treatise writers.  Marshall and the English writers describe pardons as a kind of deed or private act.

Besides validating secret pardons, the fact that pardons are to be treated as private acts or deeds also teaches us that oral pardons are likely invalid and that self-pardons are utterly nugatory.  Along the way to these conclusions, I confront the oddity of the Court-backed legal truth that pardons are private acts, explaining how a power with so many public consequences for the criminal justice system could possibly be considered a private act.  I also consider an abortive challenge to the historical–formalist approach to the pardon power established by Chief Justice Marshall that Justice Holmes raised in the 1920s.  Studying the clash between Marshall and Holmes allows us to see clearly the difference between Holmes’ legal realism and Marshall’s antiquarian formalism.

November 10, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

So, does anyone already have "hot takes" on what election results might mean for criminal justice reforms?

Because votes are still being counted nationwide and especially because control of the US Senate may not be resolved until a Georgia run off in December, it is way too early to make any confident predictions about the national policy landscape for the next few months or the next few years.  But with marijuana reform getting mixed results in five states — winning in the big states of Maryland and Missouri, losing in the smaller states of Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota — there is already a basis to make a lot of mixed predictions about the short- and long-term future of marijuana reforms.  Likewise, with crime and punishment being a big part of lots of other candidate campaigns that have been called, maybe it is not too early for folks to have interesting views on what the 2022 election means for crime and punishment issues in 2023 and beyond.

So, dear readers, please feel free to use the comments to flag any especially notable races (or exit polls) that you think are especially important for informed political or policy view on criminal justice issues post-election 2022.  And, as the title of this post suggests, "hot takes" are more than welcome.

November 9, 2022 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (9)

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

How many federal LWOP sentences have been reduced via 3582(c)(1)(A) and on what grounds?

The question in the title of this post was prompted by a notable new ruling sent my way, US v. West, No. 06-21185 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 7, 2022), which grants a sentenced reduction motion for a prisoner serving a federal LWOP sentence.  Before discussing that opinion (which can be dowloaded below), I will note that Figure 2 of the USSC's latest Compassionate Release Data Report from September 2022 reports that 27.9% of the over 4000 prisoners who have had their 3582(c)(1)(A) motions granted were serving original sentences of "20 years or more."  In other words, since the First Step Act became law in December 2018, well over 1000 persons serving sentences of 20 or more years have received sentence reductions.  But, to my knowledge, the USSC has not provided further details with any data specifically regarding prisoners serving LWOP securing compassionate release or regarding the reasons judges commonly give when reducing LWOP sentences.

General numbers and broader trends aside, the ruling in West makes for an interesting read because the judge here decides that Apprendi error as well as unwarranted sentencing dispartity provided extraordinary and compelling reasons for a sentence reduction.  Here is how the West opinion gets started:

Roy West is in year 17 of a life without parole sentence.  The indictment and case submitted to the jury should have netted West not more than ten years in prison.

Errors on the part of competent people — prosecutors, defense counsel, probation officers and, ultimately, this judge at the time of sentencing — resulted in the imposition of a sentence in violation of the law on West.  Even skilled appellate counsel failed to raise the sentencing error.

West has no way to correct this extraordinary and compelling error — and end his days in prison — but through his now pending motion for sentence reduction (compassionate release).

18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), as amended by the First Step Act of 2018, opens an avenue for this Judge to correct a fundamentally unfair sentence that did not exist before.  Justice and faith in our judicial system demand correction for the benefit of Roy West.

This human error on multiple levels, the resulting sentencing disparity, the absence of any other avenue for relief, and West’s extraordinary rehabilitation constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons for sentence reduction.  The 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors support a sentence reduction as well.

Download West CR opinion

November 8, 2022 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 07, 2022

Are there going to be five executions in four US states over the next ten days?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by my quick look this morning at the "Upcoming Executions" page over at the Death Penalty Information Center.   That page shows that Texas has two executions scheduled, and Alabama, Arizona and Oklahoma each have one execution scheduled, between November 9 and November 17.  If all five of these executions go forward, it will be the most executions completed in the US within such a short period of time in a decade.  (In 2012, between November 6 and 15, Texas completed three executions and Ohio and Oklahoma also completed one execution.)

So many executions in a short period would be a pretty dramatic break from recent norms throughout the US.  Since roughly the start of the pandemic, the US has averaged only about one execution per month as various states have continued to have various difficulties with converting death sentences into completed executions.  Even before COVID hit, the US averaged only about two executions per month when President Trump was in office and less than four executions per month during President Obama's years in the oval office. (About seven executions per month was the national average during President Clinton's second term, and around five per month was the national norm for most of President Bush's two terms).

With all the recent political discussions about crime and crime policy, I have been a bit surprised that we have not seen a significant uptick in chatter about capital punishment polcies and practices this election season.  But it does seem we may be on the verge of an uptick in the number of executions this November.

UPDATE:  I just saw this notable new Salon commentary by Austin Sarat headlined "Crime is a hot issue, but even Republicans don't talk about the death penalty: That's good news."  I recommend the full extended piece, and here are a few excerpts:

In the past, politicians at every level responded to public concerns about crime with law-and-order campaigns in which promises to bring back or enforce the death penalty featured prominently....

Throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries, death-penalty ballot measures have been used as tools of partisan and political advantage, largely to increase turnout among a targeted portion of the electorate in order to benefit "law and order" candidates.

But not this year.

Only in Alabama will voters be asked to decide on a death-penalty ballot measure. It would "require the governor to provide notice to the attorney general and make reasonable efforts to notify a designated family member of a victim before granting a commutation (a reduced sentence such as life imprisonment) or reprieve (temporary stay of execution) of a death sentence." ...

But in campaigns up and down the ballot, even as conservative candidates have accused their opponents of being soft on crime and promised robust anti-crime measures, Republican gubernatorial candidates in Arizona, Georgia, New York and Oklahoma have said little or nothing about the death penalty....

Whatever the verdict delivered by voters this week may be, the relative invisibility of the death penalty in this year's political campaigns is a clear sign of the progress abolitionists have made in changing the national temperature on that issue.

November 7, 2022 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Three notable dissents from denials of cert in criminal case on latest SCOTUS order list

The Supreme Court this morning released this 54-page(!) order list, and nearly 50 pages are comprised of dissents from the denial of cert by a handful of justices in five distinct cases. Here is a (too brief) accounting of the three criminal cases in this number:

In Anthony v. Louisiana, Justice Sotomayor dissents from the denial of certiorari, joined by Justice Jackson, and her 15-page dissent concludes this way:

Our criminal justice system holds prosecutors to a high standard. The prosecutor is “the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty.” Berger, 295 U. S., at 88.  From that special role, “improper suggestions, insinuations, and, especially, assertions of personal knowledge are apt to carry much weight against the accused when they should properly carry none.” Ibid....

These principles demand careful scrutiny of the rare cases in which a prosecutor takes the stand as a sworn witness in a jury trial.  Because this case presents one of the most egregious instances of prosecutorial testimony amounting to prosecutorial misconduct, I respectfully dissent from the Court’s refusal to issue a summary reversal.

in In Khorrami v. Arizona, Justice Gorsuch dissents from the denial of certiorari (which was not joined by Justice Kavanaugh, though he did indicate he would grant the petition).  His 10-page dissent starts and concludes this way:

The State of Arizona convicted Ramin Khorrami of serious crimes before an 8-member jury.  On appeal, Mr. Khorrami sought a new trial, arguing that the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution guarantee individuals like him a trial before 12 members of the community....

For almost all of this Nation’s history and centuries before that, the right to trial by jury for serious criminal offenses meant the right to a trial before 12 members of the community.  In 1970, this Court abandoned that ancient promise and enshrined in its place bad social science parading as law.  That mistake continues to undermine the integrity of the Nation’s judicial proceedings and deny the American people a liberty their predecessors long and justly considered inviolable.  Today’s case presented us with an opportunity to correct the error and admit what we know the law is and has always been.  Respectfully, we should have done just that.

In Chinn v. Shoop, Justice Jackson dissents from the denial of certiorari, joined by Justice Sotomayor, and her 2-page dissent starts and concludes this way:

This is a capital case involving a violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). There is no dispute that, during the capital trial of petitioner Davel Chinn, the State suppressed exculpatory evidence indicating that the State’s key witness, Marvin Washington, had an intellectual disability that may have affected Washington’s ability to remember, perceive fact from fiction, and testify accurately....

Because Chinn’s life is on the line, and given the substantial likelihood that the suppressed records would have changed the outcome at trial based on the Ohio courts’ own representations, see Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 112 (2011), I would summarily reverse to ensure that the Sixth Circuit conducts its materiality analysis under the proper standard.

November 7, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Recapping last week's SCOTUS arguments in two complicated review procedure cases

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court hear arguments in two complicated criminal cases: Jones v. Hendrix, which I previewed here last week, and Cruz v. Arizona, a capital case.  These cases have not garnered that much general attention, surely because they both involve complicated procedural issue.  Still, the folks at SCOTUSblog have detailed reviews of the arguments, and I have also seen a few other discussions of the arguments:

Jones:

From SCOTUSblog, "In habeas case, the liberal justices try to untangle a complex statute"

From Law & Crime, "Justice Alito Concerned that Freeing Legally Innocent Man from Prison Would Clog Up the Federal Courts"

 

Cruz:

From SCOTUSblog, "Arizona asks court to approve “Kafkaesque” treatment of due-process claim from man on death row"

From Cronkite News, "Supreme Court presses state on its rejection of Arizona death-row appeal"

From the Arizona Republic, "U.S. Supreme Court hears oral argument of Arizona man on death row"

November 6, 2022 in Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, November 04, 2022

Oklahoma Gov extends execution stay for Richard Glossip as courts still consider innocence claim

As reported in this AP piece, "Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt granted another temporary reprieve to death row inmate Richard Glossip, pushing his scheduled execution back until February 2023 so that an appeals court has more time to consider his claim of innocence."  Here is more:

Stitt, who is locked in a tough reelection contest, issued an executive order on Wednesday that delays Glossip’s execution, which was scheduled for Nov. 21. Stitt’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A clemency hearing for Glossip that was scheduled before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board next week also will be delayed.

Glossip received the death penalty for the 1997 murder-for-hire killing of his boss, motel owner Barry Van Treese. Prosecutors acknowledge Glossip did not kill Van Treese, but maintain that he paid the hotel maintenance man, Justin Sneed, to do it. Sneed, who received a life sentence but was spared the death penalty, was a key witness in two separate trials in which Glossip was convicted.

Attorney General John O’Connor said in a statement that he respects the governor’s decision but remains confident in Glossip’s guilt. “After 25 years, justice is still on hold for Barry Van Treese and his family,” O’Connor said. “Mr. Van Treese was in a room of the motel he owned when he was brutally murdered with a baseball bat by Justin Sneed, an individual Richard Glossip hired to work at the motel and later enlisted to commit the murder. Two different juries found Glossip guilty of murder for hire.”...

Glossip asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for a new evidentiary hearing following the release of an independent investigation by Houston law firm Reed Smith that raised new questions about his guilt. The firm’s report did not find any definitive proof of Glossip’s innocence, but raised concerns about lost or destroyed evidence and a detective asking leading questions to Sneed to implicate Glossip in the slaying....

A bipartisan group of 62 Oklahoma legislators, led by Republican state Rep. Kevin McDugle, have signed a request that a new evidentiary hearing be granted. Glossip, now 59, has long maintained his innocence.

He has been scheduled to be executed three separate times, only to be spared shortly before the sentence was set to be carried out. He was just hours from being executed in September 2015 when prison officials realized they had received the wrong lethal drug, a mix-up that helped prompt a nearly seven-year moratorium on the death penalty in Oklahoma.

November 4, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Is the US "on the verge of a new wave of mass incarceration"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new Time commentary by Udi Ofer given the headline "Politicians' Tough-on-Crime Messaging Could Have Devastating Consequences."  Here are some extended excerpts from a piece that merits reading in full:

In the majority of hotly contested 2022 midterm races across the country, tough-on-crime rhetoric is at the top of the agenda.  Close to 60% of Republican spending on campaign ads since September has been on the topic of crime, with tens of thousands of ads running on the issue, and Democrats have responded with their own $36 million war chest.  Not since the height of America’s mass incarceration era has the nation seen law and order politics play such an outsized role in candidate races up and down the ballot.  The outcome could put the country in danger of entering a new era of more mass incarceration....

While Republicans are leading this charge, both parties are playing with fire, as the political rhetoric being deployed this election season has the potential to trigger a new surge in incarceration, as occurred following previous election cycles that starred tough-on-crime rhetoric.  Between 1973-2009, the nation saw an exponential growth in incarceration, from approximately 200,000 people in prisons and jails in 1973 to 2.2 million by 2009, making the U.S. the largest incarcerator in the world, with a rate 5 to 10 times higher than Western Europe and other democracies.  Hundreds of new laws and practices passed at the local, state, and federal levels, including new mandatory minimums with harsh sentences, more cash bail and pretrial detention, and more aggressive prosecutorial and policing practices like stop-and-frisk....

Along with mass incarceration came extreme racial inequities that spread well beyond the carceral system.  A Black boy born in the 2000s had a 1 in 3 chance of ending up incarcerated, compared to a 1 in 17 chance for a white boy.  Mass incarceration has contributed significantly to the racial achievement gap, poorer health outcomes in Black communities, and economic hardship for Black families....

This crisis in mass incarceration, which only recently began to dip, has roots that run deep in efforts to politicize and racialize crime.  Mass incarceration has been fueled by moments like the one we are living in today, where following years of gains on civil rights, a backlash ensues and crime is conflated with reforms and civil rights protests....

It wasn’t until the past 10 years that a bipartisan movement for criminal justice reform formed, pushing for an alternative approach.  This movement by Democrats and Republicans has worked together in states across the country to pass bipartisan reforms, such as sentencing reform in Louisiana and Oklahoma, bail reform in New Jersey and Colorado, second chance laws in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Utah, drug law reform in Oregon and Rhode Island, and much more.  The nationwide prison population began to drop to 1.2 million, and the U.S. moved from first to fifth place in the global ranking of imprisonment rates, right between Cuba and Panama.  Families were reunited with their loved ones, and some of the states that have seen the largest decrease in incarceration are also some of the safest states in the nation, like New Jersey.

But today, just as nationwide incarceration rates were beginning to slowly drop, public anxiety over crime is being turned into a wedge issue between the two political parties to undermine progress made on civil rights and criminal justice reform.  Bail reform, police reform, parole reform, and sentencing reform are wrongfully being blamed for a rise in crime....

Candidates for office can resist the tough-on-crime impulse that has grown so common since Barry Goldwater’s 1964 run for office. They can provide a new vision for safety, one that many communities have been calling for — one the emphasizes prevention and investments in public health, schools, jobs, housing and community support structures, and relegates incarceration to the last possible option, after all other intervention efforts have failed.

In fact, research conducted by organizations like Vera Action and HIT Strategies has found that while voters care deeply about crime, they want more than the one-dimensional tough-on-crime message being delivered.  Candidates benefit by articulating a vision that recognizes that public safety is achieved when we provide people with the resources they need to thrive, like earning a living wage, receiving a good education, and having stable housing.  Voters understand that police shouldn’t be the ones charged with solving every social problem, from kids skipping school to mental health needs to homelessness. Instead, voters are seeking long term solutions rooted in prevention, like a good education and a good job.

So far, too few politicians on both the right and left are moving away from the reflexive tough-on-crime rhetoric that has proven to be so devastating in the past.  It won’t be clear until after the midterms how much this rhetoric has impacted voter choices, but the damage may have already been done.  Unless more politicians change course, the U.S. is on the verge of a new wave of mass incarceration — as history repeats itself.

There is much to commend in this piece (including in parts I did not reprint here), and I think there is a very sound basis to expect and fear that heightened concerns about crime and the new wave of political rhetoric being deployed this election season likely will slow or even impede various parts of the agenda in the bipartisan movement for criminal justice reform.  One obvious "for example" here is the now-stalled effort to equalize crack and powder cocaine sentences at the federal level.  The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in Sept 2021, by a tally of 361-66, to pass the EQUAL Act to equalize powder and crack cocaine sentences, but concerns about "soft-on-crime" attacks have seemingly kept the Senate from moving forward.  

But slowing down on-going reform efforts is a long way from "a new wave of mass incarceration."  As this commentary suggests, both voters and their representatives now understand the importance of a variety of policy responses to crime concerns.  More broadly, we now generally see a far more nuanced discussion of mandatory minimum sentences, drug policy issues and even the death penalty than we did a generation ago.  For example, though a number of GOP Senators have now come out against the EQUAL Act, their competing bill still involves reducing crack sentences a good deal (while also raising cocaine sentences a bit).  And at least one GOP Senator, Mike Lee, is still actively campaigning on his bipartisan criminal justice reform work in the FIRST STEP Act.  In other words, while we may only see a "one-dimensional tough-on-crime message" in 30-second TV ads, I sense most policy-makers still recognize the need for so-called "smart-on-crime" reform efforts.

Ultimately, a lot of political and policy forces that developed over decades provided the infrastructure for modern mass incarceration, and a lot of countering political and policy forces also developing over decades have contributed to the (slow) decline in incarceration rates in recent years.  I do not think one political cycle alone will dramatically change all the trends and dynamics that have brought us to this somewhat fraught moment.  But I do think, as this commentary stresses in many ways, there are plenty of political and policy lessons to learn from both older and more recent developments.  Interesting times.

November 3, 2022 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Some more criminal justice policy and politics as 2022 mid-term election approaches

There are any number of commentaries about crime and punishment issues in this mid-term election cycle as we close in on a final vote.  Here a few pieces that caught my eye recently:

From The Marshall Project, "Why Millions of Americans Will Be Left Out of the Midterms"

From the Niskanen Center, "Voters care about crime. Here’s what lawmakers should do about it."

From Stateline, "The Push to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession Continues, Town by Town"

From the Vera Institute, "How Mass Incarceration Shapes Our Elections"

From Vox, "The reason Republican attacks on crime are so potent"

From the Washington Examiner, "Democrats struggle against Republicans on crime issue"

UPDATE: I just saw this notable new American Prospect piece headlined "How Democrats Mishandled Crime: The most effective issue for Republicans in this midterm is a result of Democratic elites failing to understand what their diverse base of working-class voters wants."

November 3, 2022 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

After victims's statements, Parkland shooter formally sentenced to life without parole

As detailed in this NBC News piece, headlined "Parkland school shooter sentenced to life in prison without parole after emotional victims’ statements," a high-profile sentencing was completed today in Florida. Here are some details:

Following dramatic statements from victims and victims' families, a Florida judge formally sentenced Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz to life in prison without parole Wednesday for the 2018 campus massacre that killed 14 students and three staff members.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer followed the jury’s recommendation to spare the 24-year-old the death penalty, instead sentencing him to a lifetime behind bars. Last month, in a 9-3 vote, a jury leaned toward sending Cruz to death row, but Florida law dictates that anything less than a unanimous vote automatically shifts the sentence to life without parole.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, while the defense had asked for life in prison. The jury’s decision on Oct. 13 shook family members of victims who were visibly distraught by the verdict....

Ilan Alhadeff, father of Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, who was killed in the shooting, said Wednesday during his victim impact statement, Cruz’s inevitable life sentence brings him little satisfaction. He deserved death, Alhadeff said.

“Let me show how angry and frustrated I am with the judicial system. After 4 ½ grueling years, a failed judicial system did not hand down a death sentence to the murderer of my daughter and 16 others,” he said. “Do I see this as accountability? Absolutely not. Do we now have closure? Let me be clear, absolutely not. What I see is that the system values this animal’s life over the 17 now dead. Worse, we sent a message to the next killer out there that the death penalty would not be applied to mass killing. This is wrong and needs to be fixed immediately.”

Sam Fuentes was shot in the leg and struck in the face with shrapnel during the massacre. She said Wednesday in court she watched Cruz kill two of her friends. “You shot me in the leg. If you looked me in the face, like I’m looking at you right now, you would see the scars on it from the hot shrapnel that was lodged into it. Do you remember after you sprayed my classroom with bullets, standing in the door, peering in to see the work you’ve done? Do you remember my little battered, bloody face looking back at you? I could have sworn we locked eyes,” she said....

Cruz wore a mask for the first part of the hearing, until Jennifer Guttenberg, the mother of victim Jaime Guttenberg, admonished the shooter during her victim impact statement. “You shouldn’t be sitting there with a mask on your face. It’s disrespectful to be hiding your expressions under your mask when we as the families are sitting here talking to you,” she told him.

Linda Beigel Schulman, mother of Scott Beigel, who taught geography at the school and coached cross country, said her son saved students' lives before the gunman took his. Beigel Schulman said Wednesday that Cruz has "prison justice" ahead of him. "You will spend the rest of your miserable life having to look over your shoulder worried about every single minute of your day, of your life, and scared out of your mind, fearful for someone to take you out."

On Tuesday, other survivors of the shooting and victims’ loved ones had the chance to deliver impact statements before the sentence was formally announced. Stacey Lippel, a teacher at Parkland who was shot and survived, told Cruz: “You don’t know me but you tried to kill me.” “I will have a scar on my arm and the memory of you pointing your gun at me ingrained in my brain forever,” she said before the court, looking Cruz in the eyes.

Some prior related posts:

November 2, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Constitutional Limits on the Imposition and Revocation of Probation, Parole, and Supervised Release After Haymond"

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

In its Apprendi line of cases, the Supreme Court has held that any fact found at sentencing (other than prior conviction) that aggravates the punishment range otherwise authorized by the conviction is an “element” that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.  Whether Apprendi controls factfinding for the imposition and revocation of probation, parole, and supervised release is critically important.  Seven of ten adults under correctional control in the United States are serving terms of state probation and post-confinement supervision, and roughly half of all prison admissions result from revocations of such terms.  But scholars have yet to confront the effect of the Court’s Apprendi rulings on the regulation of conditional release in the states.  This Article takes on that project.

The Article makes three contributions.  First, it explains why and how the Apprendi doctrine applies to judicial findings at initial sentencing that either lengthen the term of conditional release an offender must serve or mandate incarceration instead of conditional release.  State courts continue to divide on these questions.

Second, regarding factfinding at the revocation stage, the Article tackles the many questions left open by the Court’s only effort to consider Apprendi in the revocation context — United States v. Haymond.  The Article defends two due process analyses, derived from past precedent and Justice Breyer’s controlling concurrence in Haymond, that are better suited than the Apprendi doctrine to protect against legislative overreach in the revocation context. Scholarship discussing Haymond has barely mentioned Justice Breyer’s analysis.  This Article gives his controlling concurrence the attention it deserves.  Combined, these due process analyses provide a sound middle ground between the rigid application of Apprendi’s rules to conditional release and the limitless use of revocation to punish new criminal conduct.

Third, the Article applies these  analyses to state statutes governing the imposition and revocation of probation and post-confinement supervision. This long-overdue state-centered focus provides needed guidance for policymakers designing conditional release policies that reserve more punitive sentences for more egregious cases.

November 2, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Federal judge orders briefing on whether to appoint historian to resolve challenge to federal felon gun possession ban after Bruen

This new CNN article, headlined "Federal judge blasts the Supreme Court for its Second Amendment opinion," alerted me to a notable new opinion emerging from new challenges to federal felon in possession laws in the wake of the Supreme Court's new Second Amendment standards set forth in Bruen.  Here are the basics from the press piece:

A federal judge based in Mississippi has released a scorching order expressing frustration with the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment opinion issued last summer and ordered the Justice Department to brief him on whether he needs to appoint an historian to help him decipher the landmark opinion.

The opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen changed the framework judges must use to review gun regulations. Going forward, Justice Clarence Thomas said that a gun law could only be justified if it is “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Judge Carlton Reeves — who is considering a case concerning a federal statute prohibiting felons from possessing firearms — said he is not sure how to proceed.  “This court is not a trained historian,” Reeves wrote in an order released last week.  “The justices of the Supreme Court, as distinguished as they may be, are not trained historians,” he continued. “And we are not experts in what white, wealthy and male property owners thought about firearms regulation in 1791,” he said.  The Bruen decision, he said, requires him to “play historian in the name of constitutional adjudication.”

Reeves, who sits on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, ordered the parties, including the Justice Department, to brief him on whether he should appoint a historian within 30 days.  “Not wanting to itself cherry-pick the history, the Court now asks the parties whether it should appoint a historian to serve as a consulting expert in this matter,” he said.

The challenger to the felon possession law, Jesse Bullock, says the regulation cannot withstand the Supreme Court’s latest decision interpreting the Second Amendment. “Founding era legislatures did not strip felons of the right to bear arms simply because of their status as felons,” Bullock argued.  

The full six-page order in US v. Bullock is available at this link. Here are a few passages:

Bruen instructs courts to undertake a comprehensive review of history to determine if Second Amendment restrictions are “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” 142 S. Ct. at 2130. In fact, Justice Alito commends the majority for its “exhaustive historical survey.” Id. at 2157 (Alito, J., concurring).  

But historical consensus on this issue is elusive.  As the Seventh Circuit put it, “scholars continue to debate the evidence of historical precedent for prohibiting criminals from carrying arms.”  United States v. Yancey, 621 F.3d 681, 684 (7th Cir. 2010) (collecting authorities); see also United States v. Skoien, 614 F.3d 638, 650 (7th Cir. 2010) (Sykes, J., dissenting) (“scholars disagree about the extent to which felons — let alone misdemeanants — were considered excluded from the right to bear arms during the founding era.”)....

This Court is not a trained historian.  The Justices of the Supreme Court, distinguished as they may be, are not trained historians. We lack both the methodological and substantive knowledge that historians possess. The sifting of evidence that judges perform is different than the sifting of sources and methodologies that historians perform.  See id. at 2177 (Breyer, J., dissenting) (“Courts are, after all, staffed by lawyers, not historians.”).  And we are not experts in what white, wealthy, and male property owners thought about firearms regulation in 1791.  Yet we are now expected to play historian in the name of constitutional adjudication....

Not wanting to itself cherry-pick the history, the Court now asks the parties whether it should appoint a historian to serve as a consulting expert in this matter.  See Fed. R. Evid. 706.  This Court is acquainted with the historical record only as it is filtered through decisions of the Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeals.  An expert may help the Court identify and sift through authoritative sources on founding‐era firearms restrictions. 

As many of the readers of this blog surely know, the author of this interesting order is not just a federal district judge, he is also the new Chair of the US Sentencing Commission. Interesting times.

Prior recent related posts:

November 1, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (7)

"Ohio's Not So Uncommon Punishment: Hold Your Sign in Shame"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Jon Michael Hilsheimer, a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This paper is part of a student paper series supported by OSU's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, and here is its abstract:

Some first-year criminal law courses briefly discuss alternative punishments under the header of “scarlet letter” or “shaming” punishments.  Beyond a brief discussion in class and a case or two in the casebook, students are left without a clear picture of how frequently judges engage with these forms of alternative sentencing.  This paper provides an overview of shaming punishments in Ohio.  While it may not account for all instances of shaming punishments that have been administered, or a complete list of the judges that engage with the practice, this paper shows that the practice is not an infrequent occurrence in Ohio.  After providing a brief overview of the landscape of these punishments, this paper surveys how appellate level courts in other jurisdictions have handled challenges to shaming penalties.  The piece then concludes by applying the majority approach using Ohio’s statutory code and posits that there are insufficient statutory grounds for the current practice.

November 1, 2022 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 31, 2022

Previewing SCOTUS argument on federal statutory collateral review mechanisms

Though the Supreme Court's oral argument today in the affirmative action cases is understandably garnering lots of attention, criminal justice fans should not forget that tomorrow brings oral argument in a big interesting federal CJ case with Jones v. HendrixThis SCOTUSblog preview, titled "On the narrow road to challenge a federal conviction, when is a vehicle 'inadequate'?," provides a detailed preview that starts this way:

On Tuesday, the justices will hear argument in Jones v. Hendrix, the latest in a string of cases that raise profound questions about the rights of prisoners who claim to be innocent to challenge their convictions. Last year, the court restricted the ability of state prisoners to develop new evidence to support claims that their attorneys failed to investigate leads that could have shown they were factually innocent.  Jones involves a federal prisoner who is legally innocent — the conduct a jury found he committed isn’t a crime.  But should that fact relieve him from his 27-year prison sentence?  In the Supreme Court’s habeas corpus jurisprudence, the answer is never simple.  Indeed, the case comes before the court as a three-way split: the petitioner, Marcus DeAngelo Jones, challenged his conviction in a federal habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, arguing that the “motion to vacate” his conviction provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is inadequate to afford him relief.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled he cannot pursue a petition because he already filed a motion under Section 2255, which bars him from filing a successive petition, and he should have raised his claim earlier.  The federal government — which prosecuted Jones — says the 8th Circuit got the reasoning wrong but the outcome right: It urges the Supreme Court to correct the lower court’s error but deny Jones relief. 

And here are a couple of additional previews of Jones, which seems to me to be the most important federal criminal law case of the current SCOTUS Term to date:

From JD Supra, "Jones v. Hendrix: An Attempt to Save 28 U.S.C. § 2255’s 'Saving Clause'"

From Law360, "Habeas Case May Open Prison Door For Retroactive Innocents"

October 31, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Guns, Mass Incarceration, and Bipartisan Reform: Beyond Vicious Circle and Social Polarization"

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

Gun violence in modern America persists in the face of irreconcilable views on gun control and the right to bear arms.  Yet one area of agreement between Democrats and Republicans has received insufficient attention: punitiveness as a means of gun control.  The United States has gravitated toward a peculiar social model combining extremely loose regulations on guns and extremely harsh penalties on gun crime.  If someone possesses a gun illegally or carries one when committing another crime, such as burglary or drug dealing, draconian mandatory minimums can apply.  These circumstances exemplify root causes of mass incarceration: overreliance on prisons in reaction to social problems and unforgiving punishments for those labeled as “violent” criminals.  Contrary to widespread misconceptions, mass incarceration does not primarily stem from locking up petty, nonviolent offenders caught in the “War on Drugs.”  Most prisoners are serving time for violent offenses.  Steep sentence enhancements for crimes involving guns illustrate how American justice revolves around counterproductive, costly practices that disproportionately impact minorities.

This multidisciplinary Article envisions future reforms with the capacity to transcend America’s bitter polarization.  A precondition to change is not for conservatives and liberals to wholeheartedly agree on issues like systemic racism or the right to bear arms.  Rather, possibilities for penal reform are likelier when each side can come to the negotiating table for its own reasons.  A paradigm shift in conservative America may prove especially indispensable, as Republicans tend to be more supportive of harsh punishments and Democrats are unlikely to achieve reform nationwide on party-line votes.  This shift has already occurred to an extent given the rise of penal reform in red states.  But both conservatives and liberals have failed to significantly reduce mass incarceration by recurrently excluding “violent” offenders from reform initiatives.

The Article explores how conservatives and liberals could gradually converge toward sentencing reform on gun crime.  This could ultimately have a ripple effect on American sentencing norms, leading them closer to those of Western democracies with more effective and humane penal systems.  Such bipartisanship is less elusive than it might seem.  A rehabilitative approach toward gun crime fits with the evolution of American conservatism, which believes that guns should not be vilified since they are part of the nation’s identity.  Similarly, the rehabilitation of people convicted of gun crime is consistent with cornerstones of modern American liberalism, namely stricter gun control and opposition to mass incarceration as an unjust, racist system.  As opposite sides will probably retain much of their worldview even if their perspectives evolve to a degree, new ways of thinking could help bring reformers together.  These social transformations cannot be predicted but should be theorized.

October 31, 2022 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 28, 2022

US Sentencing Commission finalizes its policy priorities for for the 2022-2023 amendment year

This morning brought the first public US Sentencing Commission hearing in nearly four years, which was convened to finalize the USSC's priorities for the coming amendment year.   This new USSC news release describes all the details with links to key documents:

The United States Sentencing Commission today unanimously approved its policy priorities for the 2022-2023 amendment year ending May 1, 2023. Among its top priorities is implementation of two significant changes made by the First Step Act of 2018.

The First Step Act amended the statute providing for compassionate release to allow defendants for the first time to file for compassionate release, without having the Director of the Bureau of Prisons make a motion. This procedural option is not yet accounted for in the guidelines, leading most appellate courts to hold that the Commission’s policy statement governing compassionate release does not apply to motions filed by defendants. At the same time, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the debate about what constitutes “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for compassionate release took center stage across the nation with differing results.

“The conflicting holdings and varying results across circuits and districts suggest that the courts could benefit from updated guidance from the Commission, which is why we have set this as an important part of our agenda this year,” said Judge Carlton W. Reeves, chair of the Commission. 

In addition, the First Step Act made changes to the “safety valve,” which relieves certain drug trafficking offenders from statutory mandatory minimum penalties. The Act expanded eligibility to certain offenders with more than one criminal history point. The Commission intends to issue amendments to section 5C1.2 to recognize the revised statutory criteria and consider changes to the 2-level reduction in the drug trafficking guideline currently tied to the statutory safety valve.

The Commission also set out its intent to implement criminal provisions contained in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which includes increased penalties for certain firearms offenses, and other legislative enactments that require Commission action.

The Commission published tentative priorities and invited public comment in September, receiving more than 8,000 letters of public comment in response. “The Commission is appreciative of the feedback it has received from all corners of the federal sentencing community,” stated Reeves. “As we now pivot to work on the final priorities set forth today, we look forward to a careful and detailed examination of these issues and our continued interaction with the public to ensure the federal sentencing guidelines properly reflect current law and promote uniformity in sentencing.”

The Commission will also address circuit conflicts, examine other key components of the guidelines relating to criminal history, and begin several multi-year projects, including an examination of diversion and alternatives-to-incarceration programs. “A number of judges and others within the court family expressed strong support for the programs within their own district,” Reeves said. “The Commission looks forward to hearing more from experts and researching more fully the benefits of these programs.”

The Commission will also study case law relating to guidelines commentary and continue its examination of the overall structure of the advisory guideline system post-U.S. v. Booker.

A complete list of final priorities may be found here and in an upcoming edition of the Federal Register.

From a quick review, the biggest change in the finalized priorities from the proposed priorities seems to be the addition of this new item: "(10) Consideration of possible amendments to the Guidelines Manual to address sexual abuse or contact offenses against a victim in the custody, care, or supervision of, and committed by law enforcement or correctional personnel."

As I mentioned after the release of the proposed USSC priorities, there are lots and lots of "hot topics" covered in many of the topics now to be tackled by the Commission in this list of now finalized priorities. I am extremely excited to see what the new Commission has planned for these topics.

A few prior related posts:

UPDATE:  The folks at Marijuana Moment have spotlighted via this report, headlined "Federal Commission Considers Changes To How Past Marijuana Convictions Can Affect Sentencing For New Crimes," that the USSC's finalized priorities included a notable addition with regard to low-level marijuana offenses and criminal history.  Here are the details:

The federal U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) says it is considering possible amendments to guidelines on whether, and to what extent, people’s criminal history for marijuana possession can be used against them in sentencing decisions for new convictions.

On Friday, the independent branch of the federal judiciary unanimously approved 14 policy priorities for an amendment cycle ending in May 2023. The cannabis item wasn’t included in an earlier version of the priority proposal list circulated for public feedback earlier this month, but it was added and adopted after President Joe Biden issued a mass marijuana pardon proclamation....

Now, USSC is calling it a priority to look into amending the guidelines for defendants’ criminal history reviews when it comes to “the impact of simple possession of marihuana offenses.”...

While the commission must still develop and pass any potential amendments to its guidelines, it is possible that it could soon be the case that prior simple cannabis possession offenses would be a non-issue from a sentencing perspective for new defendants. It is also potentially the case that a new sentencing policy for cannabis criminal histories could be retroactively applied.

October 28, 2022 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, October 27, 2022

"Courts Without Court"

The title of this post is the title of this new article just published by the Vanderbilt Law Review and authored by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson. Here is its abstract:

What role does the physical courthouse play in the administration of criminal justice?  This Article uses recent experiments with virtual courts to reimagine a future without criminal courthouses at the center.  The key insight of this Article is to reveal how integral physical courts are to carceral control and how the rise of virtual courts helps to decenter power away from judges.  This Article examines the effects of online courts on defendants, lawyers, judges, witnesses, victims, and courthouse officials and offers a framework for a better and less court-centered future.  By studying post-COVID-19 disruptions around traditional conceptions of place, time, equality, accountability, and trial practice, this Article identifies how legal power can be shifted away from the courts and into the community.

October 27, 2022 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Federal judge gives "real break" due to defendant's autism with home confinement sentence (when prosecutors urged nearly 5 years)

I have not been following closely or blogging about some of the latest sentencing of the January 6 rioters.  But this latest story from Politico, headlined "Jan. 6 rioter gets probation not prison after judge finds autism played a role; U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden concluded that severe mental illness significantly mitigated ‘the blameworthiness’ of the defendant," struck me as worth noting.  Here are the basics:

A Jan. 6 rioter who wielded a hatchet and smashed two windows with a flagpole will serve no jail time, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, finding that Asperger’s syndrome made him susceptible to the influence of the mob.

Nicholas Rodean of Frederick, Md., attempted to address U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden Wednesday and visibly struggled to complete thoughts and sentences while explaining and apologizing for his Jan. 6 conduct. At one point, he clutched his head in frustration.

McFadden ultimately chose to sentence Rodean to 240 days of home confinement.  But he said he was convinced that Rodean’s severe mental illness significantly mitigated “the blameworthiness of your conduct.”

It was an unexpected turn for a defendant whose health struggles were largely discussed under seal during his nearly two-year criminal case. Rodean was charged on Jan. 11, 2021 for his role in the Capitol breach.  McFadden found him guilty during a bench trial in July of shattering two Capitol windows with a flagpole, as well as other crimes associated with breaking into the building and disrupting congressional proceedings....

Rodean’s attorney, Charles Burnham — who also represents Donald Trump associates Jeffrey Clark and John Eastman in ongoing Jan. 6 matters — said Rodean had become fixated on politics during the pandemic, when he was isolated and without his typical support structure. He said Rodean was particularly susceptible to the influence of “assertive male figures” like Trump. And once inside the Capitol, he added, Rodean was similarly drawn in by Chansley, who commanded the attention of the crowd that day.

Rodean’s parents sat in the courtroom during the sentencing proceedings, and his sister Kimberly addressed McFadden, during which she expressed worry that prison would devastate her brother’s mental health and sideline his newly successful dog-walking business.  “Autistic people do not fare well in prison,” she said.

But it was Rodean’s own statement to the judge that appeared to be most affecting. For nearly 15 minutes, Rodean struggled to articulate his conduct on Jan. 6, describing how he consumed an intense amount of media about the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests that, at times, led to rioting. On Jan. 6, he took an Uber to the Stop the Steal rally at which Trump appeared, and then marched along with the crowd. Someone then handed him an object that he used to smash the two windows that had already been struck by other rioters.

“I am really sorry about breaking the window,” he said. “I am really sorry about other crimes that I did.”

“Are you ever going to do anything like this again?” McFadden asked him.

“No,” Rodean replied.

A day earlier, McFadden sentenced Jan. 6 defendant Hunter Seefried to 24 months in prison for similarly joining the early breach of the building and engaging in the same standoff with police outside the Senate chamber.

Prosecutors had initially recommended a 57-month sentence for Rodean.  “There is no indication that he holds any regrets regarding his participation in the riot that day,” the Justice Department wrote in a sentencing recommendation filed last week.

But in his own sentencing memo, Burnham urged McFadden to consider Rodean’s mental health and a doctor’s evaluation that found prison would be uniquely dangerous for his client.

Burnham said Rodean is susceptible to being taken advantage of, easily triggered by loud noises and other stimuli and would likely be put in protective custody by corrections officials who may not have the training for someone with Asperger’s syndrome — forcing him into prolonged periods of isolation.  “We submit that Nicholas’ ‘history and personal characteristics’ make this a unique case among the hundreds of prosecutions to come out of that day,’ Burnham wrote.

October 26, 2022 in Offender Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

GOP state legislators file articles of impeachment against Philly DA Larry Krasner

As reported in this new AP piece, "Pennsylvania state House Republicans on Wednesday introduced a measure to impeach Philadelphia’s Democratic district attorney, saying they may add session days to get the job done before the two-year legislative term expires next month."  Here is more:

Rep. Martina White, the only House Republican who currently represents the city, sponsored the 22-page resolution aimed at removing District Attorney Larry Krasner a year after he was overwhelmingly reelected.

White and about two dozen other House Republicans announced the move at a Capitol news conference.  White accused Krasner of “dereliction of duty and despicable behavior” and running an office with a “staggering amount of dysfunction.” She said Krasner is “responsible for the rise of crime across our city.”

Krasner tweeted just before the news conference that those seeking his removal “don’t allege I’ve committed a crime.”...

White’s impeachment resolution takes aim at his management of the office, policies regarding not prosecuting prostitution or marijuana possession cases, treatment of immigration defendants, gun crimes and cash bail. Backers of his removal blame him for recent sharp increases in the city’s number of killings.

“His lack of proper leadership serves as a direct and proximate cause of the crisis currently facing the city of Philadelphia,” White’s resolution states, alleging his policies “have eviscerated the district attorney’s office’s ability to adequately enforce the laws of this commonwealth” and endangered city residents and visitors.

The measure was sent to the Judiciary Committee. If the House votes to impeach Krasner, a trial in the Senate would require a two-thirds vote to remove him from the job.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican from Centre, said the House will take up the proposal “as soon as it hits the floor” and has been reported out by the Judiciary Committee, which appears likely.

The House is only scheduled to be back in session Nov. 14-16, when leadership contests for the coming two-year session are likely to be a major distraction. But Benninghoff said the timing of the introduction of White’s impeachment resolution “has nothing to do with the election” that will occur Nov. 8.

Impeachment and removal by the Legislature is exceedingly rare, occurring most recently against Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen nearly three decades ago.

October 26, 2022 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

"The Efficiency Mindset and Mass Incarceration"

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

Efficiency often carries a positive connotation. To be efficient, especially in a job, is to get things done quickly and with little wasted effort.  As such, it makes sense that lawyers and judges see efficiency, especially in the form of plea bargaining, as a normative good, particularly since it can be used in individual cases to achieve fair results in an often unfair system.  But this view of efficiency masks the darker side of the efficient administration of justice, which has contributed to some of the underlying causes of mass incarceration.

To combat mass incarceration, reformers must think seriously about how to break lawyers and judges of their efficiency mindset.  Legal culture change in criminal courts is unlikely to be driven by legislation, court action, or lawyers and judges themselves.  Instead, this Essay suggests other sources of power that may break the efficiency mindset.  By examining these sources of power — both inside and outside of the legal culture — the Essay hopes to offer some ideas for how legal actors might start to, or be forced to, re-envision their role in mass incarceration.

October 26, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Just why is it "not in the public’s best interest" for the feds to refuse to transfer to Oklahoma a prisoner scheduled for execution?

I recall a notable case from just over a decade ago in which Rhode Island was refusing to turn a suspected murderer in state custody to the federal government because of concern that he would be subject to the federal death penalty (see story blogged here and here).   As noted here, the en banc First Circuit ultimately ruled that Rhode Island had to surrender custody of Pleau for trial on pending federal charges.  Pleau thereafter pleaded guilty to federal murder charges and avoided being sentenced to death, but not before engendering lots of interesting and notable discussion of federal and state criminal justice authority and power (see, e.g., this commentary explaining why "the decision about appropriate criminal sentencing, and particularly about the application of the death penalty, [should be placed] back into the hands of individual states [in order] to reverse the trend toward the federalization of criminal law").

This bit of capital history, and the question in the title of this post, all came to mind when I focused on this notable recent news piece out of Oklahoma.  The story is headlined "Federal inmate set for state execution denied transfer to Oklahoma custody," and here are excerpts:

The Oklahoma attorney general is asking the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to reconsider a decision his office says could amount to unprecedented federal interference in the state’s execution process.

Federal officials have denied the state’s request to transfer federal inmate George John Hanson, known as John Fitzgerald Hanson in his Oklahoma death-sentence case. A Tulsa County jury found Hanson guilty of murdering retired Tulsa banker Mary Bowles and Owasso trucking company owner Jerald Thurman in 1999 and sentenced him to death.

Hanson, 58, is currently housed in the U.S. Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana, serving a life sentence plus 107 years for a series of armed robberies he committed after the murders but was convicted of and sentenced for while the state case was ongoing. He has since exhausted his appeal opportunities in Oklahoma and is slated for execution by lethal injection on Dec. 15, pending a clemency hearing Nov. 9 where Gov. Kevin Stitt could grant him mercy.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler requested the AG’s assistance after receiving a formal notice in late September of the denial that cited a reason set forward in the U.S. Code. The DA’s Office provided the Tulsa World a copy of the letter from the Bureau of Prisons.

“(The law) authorizes the Bureau of Prisons to transfer a prisoner who is wanted by a State authority to that State authority’s custody if it is appropriate, suitable, and in the public’s best interest,” the letter reads in part. “The Designation and Sentence Computation Center … has denied the request for transfer, as it is not in the public’s best interest.”

Kunzweiler balked at the vague term and said in a news release that the decision reeked of politics. In the release last week, the DA said he was “outraged” and has demanded a greater explanation. “The crimes for which Hanson is serving time in federal custody were committed after his involvement in the murders of Mary Bowles and Jerald Thurman,” he wrote. “Of what reasonable purpose is there for him to remain in federal custody — at taxpayers’ expense — when he can and should be delivered to Oklahoma authorities for the rendition of the punishment he received here?”

Kunzweiler listed several state and federal agencies from which he has sought assistance in the matter, and a spokeswoman for Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said O’Connor has reached out to a Bureau of Prisons regional director “to see if he will reconsider his refusal to transfer Hanson to Oklahoma.”

The bureau’s Office of Public Affairs declined to comment for this story, stating that “based on privacy, safety, and security reasons, we do not comment on inmate’s conditions of confinement, to include transfers or reasons for transfers.”

The Tulsa World has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the bureau seeking an internal document that could clarify the conditions under which the decision was made.

Like the folks at the Tulsa World, I would like to hear more from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons about just why is has decided that it is "not in the public’s best interest" to allow a state to complete a seemingly lawful capital sentence.  I am not an expert on prisoner transfer protocol, but I certainly think at least some greater transparency is wholly justified here.

UPDATE I failed to see that Chris Geidner has been writing about this case on his Substack, Law Dork, including a new post with the latest breaking legal developments: 

"Oklahoma wants the feds to transfer a man in federal prison to their custody so they can kill him"

"Breaking: Oklahoma sues the Biden administration in the state's quest to kill John Hanson"

October 25, 2022 in Death Penalty Reforms, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (9)

Monday, October 24, 2022

Prez Biden suggests disinterest in broader marijuana clemency as activists protest on behalf of pot prisoners

This new Marijuana Moment piece, headlined "Biden Has No Intention Of Extending Marijuana Pardons To Help People Jailed For Selling It, He Suggests," reports on new comments from the President about his recent clemency activity.  Here is how it starts:

President Joe Biden on Friday again touted his recent marijuana pardons proclamation, but indicated that he has no intention of granting relief to people who are in prison for selling cannabis.  “I’m keeping my promise that no one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana,” he said. “None. And the records, which hold up people from being able to get jobs and the like, should be totally expunged. Totally expunged.”

“You can’t sell it,” the president added. “But if it’s just use, you’re completely free.”

The comments come as activists are planning a protest including civil disobedience at the White House for Monday aimed at calling attention to those who are left behind by Biden’s existing cannabis clemency action.

It’s not clear if the president’s latest remarks simply describe the scope of his current marijuana pardons, which came alongside a separate move to review the drug’s current scheduling status under federal law, or if they are an indication he is ruling out broadening the scope of clemency relief in the future.

The latter scenario would be a great disappointment to the advocates behind the planned White House protest. Those groups, including Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Last Prisoner Project, DCMJ and others, sent a letter to Biden this month, calling his moves to date “a great first step” but saying they “did nothing to address the thousands of federal cannabis prisoners currently incarcerated.”

This extended Washington Post piece, headlined "Sentenced to 40 years, Biden’s marijuana pardons left him behind," discusses the planned protest and the prisoners who are the focal point for additional clemency advocacy:

Protesters are expected to gather outside the White House on Monday to advocate for people ... incarcerated for what they would consider nonviolent offenses that involve marijuana, especially as public perception of the substance has shifted.  Cannabis is now legal for recreational adult use in Washington, D.C., two territories and 19 states.  It is on the ballot in five more states next month.

For those hoping to see marijuana law and policy reforms untangle the legacy of the country’s war on drugs, Biden’s announcement this month that he’d pardon people convicted of federal simple possession did not go far enough. And meaningful post-conviction reform still remains largely elusive in an America that echoed with promises to scrutinize criminal justice following the murder of George Floyd.

The Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit working on cannabis criminal justice reform that lobbied the White House on this issue, has estimated that there are roughly 2,800 people in federal prison due to marijuana-related convictions, a statistic the organization said stems from a 2021 report from Recidiviz, a nonprofit that uses technology and data to build tools for criminal justice reform....

The first step in ending the war on drugs — which has disproportionally affected Black and Brown communities — is releasing people who have been incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offenses, said Jason Ortiz, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Offenses like cultivation, distribution and conspiracy, Ortiz said, are the same actions major companies are able to commercialize and profit from today. “There are multibillion dollar companies that sell thousands and thousands of pounds of cannabis a year and operate in multiple states. So if we’re going to allow for that type of commerce to happen, everyone in prison who did anything even remotely close to that should be immediately let out.”

I think it notable and worth noting that we actually have no clear accounting of how many persons may still be serving federal prison terms for "nonviolent marijuana offenses."  This recent analysis of federal prison data from January 2022 by the US Sentencing Commission suggests the number of imprisoned marijuana trafficking offenders was "only" around 2200 as of the start of this year.  Notably, the federal marijuana prisoner number was around 7500 based on USSC data from just five years ago, but sharp declines in federal marijuana prosecutions (discussed in this article) and COVID-era prison population reductions have had a huge impact on the total number now incarcerated for federal marijuana offenses.

Prior recent related posts:

UPDATE: Here is a new Washington Post piece about the protest headlined "With speeches, stars and a blow-up joint, protesters press Biden on pot."

October 24, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Drug Offense Sentencing, Pot Prohibition Issues, Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 23, 2022

US Sentencing Commission reports receiving "more than 8,000 public comment submissions pertaining to proposed priorities"

This past Friday, the US Sentencing Commission reported on the public comments it received in response to the USSC's tentative policy priorities for the 2022-2023 guideline amendment year (which were announced late last month).  Here is how the USSC describes on its website homepage what was set its way: "The Commission received more than 8,000 public comment submissions pertaining to proposed priorities for the 2022-2023 amendment year."

I would guess that eight thousand(!) comments amounts to some kind of record for the USSC.  This large number of comments surely reflects a kind of "pent up demand" given the need for guideline reforms to fully implement the First Step Act and other issues that have festered over the last four years while the Commission has lacked a quorum.  But I also suspect it reflects that many advocates may realize, circa Fall 2022, that the new USSC may be more willing and more able to advance certain federal criminal justice reforms than any other federal actors right now.

The USSC has provided a "sample of these letters" reflecting public comment at this link.  It is notable and interesting to see comments there from a Senator, from multiple federal judges, from prosecutors and defense attorneys, from probation officers, and from all sorts of interest groups and interested individuals.  Kudos to everyone involved in sharing a wide array of views to help the USSC's with its important work.  And, this Friday brings the first public US Sentencing Commission hearing in nearly four years, on October 28, to finalize the USSC's priorities for the coming amendment year.

A few prior related posts:

October 23, 2022 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, October 21, 2022

Federal judge sentences Steve Bannon to 4 months of imprisonment for contempt of Congress

As reported in this USA Today piece, "Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon was sentenced to four months in prison Friday, three months after his conviction on contempt of Congress charges for defying a subpoena from the special House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack." Here is a bit more:

The Justice Department had sought a six month prison term for Bannon and recommended that he pay a maximum fine of $200,000 for "his sustained, bad-faith."... While Bannon initially refused to comply with the panel's summons, citing a claim of executive privilege, prosecutors said Monday that the Trump operative's actions were "aimed at undermining the Committee’s efforts to investigate an historic attack on government."

Bannon's attorneys argued that a sentence of probation was more appropriate. "The legal challenges advanced by Mr. Bannon were not meritless or frivolous and were aimed at protecting his constitutional rights," attorney Evan Corcoran argued in court documents. "For these reasons, the fact that Mr. Bannon chose to put the Government to its burden at trial should not preclude him from receiving a reduction to his offense level based on acceptance of responsibility."

Prior related posts:

October 21, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 20, 2022

"Violent Crime and Public Prosecution: A Review of Recent Data on Homicide, Robbery, and Progressive Prosecution in the United States"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new study looking at relationships between prosecutorial policies and crime. The full study is apparently not yet available, but this executive summary provides lots of details and also has this extended abstract:

What caused the sharp increase in homicide in dozens of major cities in the United States in 2020 is the source of acrid debate.  Most academic researchers have attributed the sudden increase in homicide to changes in the availability of guns, shifts in policing, and the pandemic’s aggravation of chronic strains in civil society such as homelessness, ill mental health, and drug abuse.  Others have hypothesized that the increase in homicide is the result of the election of prosecutors whose pledges to reform the system of criminal justice have discouraged the police from stopping and arresting emboldened lawbreakers.

We examined the most timely, reliable, and comprehensive set of data on homicide and robbery that was publicly available in the summer of 2022.  We took three different approaches to the analysis of these data: we pooled data from 65 major cities, conducted a statistical regression analysis of trends in violent crime as well as larceny in two dozen cities, and compared the incidence of homicide before and after the election of progressive prosecutors in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles, cities where we are conducting on-going research on changes in criminal justice.  We have also compared trends in recorded crime across all counties in Florida and California since 2015.

We find no evidence to support the claim that progressive prosecutors were responsible for the increase in homicide during the pandemic or before it.  We also find weak evidence to support the claim that prosecutors of any broad approach to crime and justice are causally associated with changes in homicide during the pandemic.  We conclude that progressive prosecutors did not cause the rise in homicide in the United States, neither as a cohort nor in individual cities.  This conclusion echoes the findings of most of the research to date in this field.

This new piece in The Atlantic, headlined "What’s Really Going On With the Crime Rate?: Cities with progressive prosecutors may not exactly resemble the dystopian landscapes you’ve heard so much about," discusses this new study at some lengthy.

October 20, 2022 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Might the recent marijuana pardons by Prez Biden "make things worse for criminal legal reform"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Slate commentary by John Pfaff headlined "Biden’s Focus on Marijuana Is Part of the Problem." One should read the full lengthy piece to understand the full "hot take," but here are some excerpts (with my complaints to follow):

A bigger concern, though, is not just that the policy might accomplish very little, but that it might make things worse for criminal legal reform in the long run because it reinforces a false narrative about the causes of mass punishment in general and mass incarceration in particular.  It’s a narrative that shapes — or, better put, misshapes — policy.

Most Americans are deeply misinformed about why people are in prison.  A survey in 2017 found that solid majorities across the ideological spectrum agreed with the claim that a majority of people in U.S. prisons are there for drug crimes. That’s a far cry from reality: 14 percent of people in state prisons were locked up for drug offenses at the time, a number that has fallen since then.  (Those held in state prisons make up 90 percent of the nation’s incarcerated population.)  This misbelief likely contributed to the next two results from that survey: while majorities of liberals, moderates, and conservatives favored lesser sanctions for those convicted of non-violent crimes who posed little risk of reoffending, majorities of all three groups also opposed lesser sanctions for those convicted of violence who likewise pose little risk of reoffending.

We think we can decarcerate with easy choices.  We cannot.

Nationally, in 2019 almost 60 percent of all people in state prisons were convicted of violence; those convicted of just homicide or rape make up nearly 30 percent of the overall prison population....  If we released everyone held in state prisons convicted not just of marijuana crimes, nor just of drug offenses, but of all non-violent offenses combined, we would still have one of the world’s highest incarceration rates.  Unsurprisingly, this means that violent crimes are also at the heart of racial disparities in U.S. prison populations, as a recent study by the Council on Criminal Justice made clear.

Yet reforms continue to refuse to grapple with this reality.  A 2020 report by the Prison Policy Initiative found nearly 100 state reforms in recent years that had explicitly refused to extend the changes to those convicted of violence.  In some cases, the tradeoff between non-violent and violent crimes is explicit.  In 2016, Maryland’s Democratic legislature scaled back sanctions for non-violent crimes, but also increased punishment for violent offenses.  And just recently, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill to limit the use of solitary confinement, long viewed by behavioral scientists as torture, an indication of the lack of stomach for deeper reforms even among so-called progressive state leaders.

The inability to discuss crimes of violence remains clear in our current politics. Oz’s attacks on Fetterman on crime are now echoed in Wisconsin, where Republican Sen. Ron Johnson says Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes demonstrated “far greater sympathy for the criminal or criminals versus law enforcement or the victims.”  Anecdotal attacks about violent crime have already caused two different New York governors to roll back the state’s 2020 bail reform law, before it was even possible to assess its impact.  Even with new evidence suggesting reform did not contribute much if anything to rising crime in 2020, further rollbacks loom for 2023.  And Virginia recently amended a law that expanded the ability of people in prison to earn good time credits to expressly exclude those who were serving time for any crime of violence.

Meanwhile, as state prison populations fell nationwide by 15 percent from 2010 to 2019, Bureau of Justice Statistics data suggests that the number of people locked up for violence fell by just 1 percent; a separate analysis of the BJS data conducted by the Council on Criminal Justice estimated that the numbers confined for violence actually rose over that time, undermining the declines in drug and property cases.

Talking exclusively about drugs does little in the short-run and reinforces a narrative that appears to affirmatively undermine the sorts of difficult discussions we need to have about the ways we respond to violence.  There are things that Biden could have done, or at least done at the same time, that could have taken advantage of his bully pulpit.

He could have encouraged state and local governments to think about alternative ways to address not just crime, but serious violence.  Biden’s August 2022 Safer America Plan did include some funding for just this but that part of the plan was always secondary to the push to hire more police; it was even framed merely as a way to free up the police to focus more on violence....

He could have announced a push for a repeal of the PLRA or AEDPA, two Clinton era laws that continue to impose real costs on people held in prison or challenging potentially wrongful convictions.  Or, he could have pushed harder to amend the federal code to eliminate qualified immunity for police, or pushed state legislatures to pass such bills, about 35 of which have been proposed in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder only to almost all be thwarted by police union lobbying.  Such an approach could help improve police-community relations, which in turn could help address the single biggest challenge we face in reducing violence: the general unwillingness of victims of violence to contact the police.

It’s true that these are long-shot proposals.  But short of pardoning every single person in federal prison — an impossibility — nothing any president does will have a significant impact on the size and reach of a criminal legal system that is almost entirely driven by local politics, policies, and funding.  The president’s biggest power is his ability to shape the debate around criminal legal policy, not the policy itself.

Biden’s proposal here did nothing to shape that debate. There are lots of ways he could have taken steps to push the discussion in the direction it needs to go, but he disappointingly chose to highlight, once again, marijuana.  That choice will make it harder to move the reform discussion beyond where it has mostly been mired for the past decade.

I am a big fan of so much of Pfaff's work, especially his emphasis on "the numbers," but there is much about this commentary that just does not add up.  For starters, these World Population data of incarceration rates suggests that the US would easily fall out of the top 10 in incarceration rates if we cut our prison population 40% by releasing everyone held for non-violent offenses.  Pfaff has long been eager to say we must not ignore violent offenders when thinking about the problem of mass incarceration.  That is basically right, but dramatic decreases in our use of prison for non-violent offense would still make a very big impact AND his own commentary highlights why this is far more politically achievable than massive cuts to sentences for violent offenders.  (Indeed, there is good reason to hope and expect that much shorter and many fewer prison sentences for non-violent offenses would serve as an essential first step to laying the foundation for reducing the overall severity scale of all our punishments.)  

More generally, Pfaff claims there is an "inability to discuss crimes of violence," but I am seeing plenty of discussion (and political ads) about crimes of violence and especially murder having increased considerably over the last few years.  When violent crime has spiked — which it clearly has and which Pfaff does not discuss — and when many polls indicate many voters are troubled greatly by this spike — which they clearly have and which Pfaff does not discuss — one should not be surprised that politicians are responsive to voter concerns about violent crime in their actions and rhetoric.  Indeed, I think it notable (and encouraging) that some criminal justice reform efforts continue moving forward (at least for non-violent crimes) even when "tough on crime" political conditions seems to be prevalent.

And while I support various reforms to PLRA and AEDPA and qualified immunity, I am not aware of any significant research or evidence that such reform will reduce violence in our communities.  If there was such evidence, these reforms could and likely would become a central element of reform supported by politicians on both sides of the aisle.  There are all sort of good arguments for all sorts of criminal justice reforms, but wishing away the facts of increased violent crime (and increased voter concerns about violent crime) will surely "make things worse for criminal legal reform in the long run," much more than will Prez Biden granting blanket pardons to thousands of marijuana possession offenders. 

October 20, 2022 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

"Inflation and the Eighth Amendment"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Meara Maccabee, a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.  This paper is part of a student paper series supported by OSU's Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, and here is its abstract:

As inflation pushes the prices of goods higher and higher, the monetary thresholds that separate misdemeanor thefts from felony thefts deflate.  This paper argues that deflated felony thresholds provide courts a unique opportunity to wade into what is typically 'properly within the province of legislatures': sentence proportionality.  Because inflated thresholds are the result of a natural economic event, rather than legislative enactment, courts have more deference to find felony sentences disproportionate when the underlying theft would have constituted a misdemeanor absent inflation.

October 19, 2022 in Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

New FAMM report: "Grading the States: The State Compassionate Release Report Card Project"

Compassionate-Release-MapAs detailed in this press release, the folks at FAMM have today released a lot of new materials and resources focused on how states approach compassionate release for state prisoners.  Here are details from the press release:

Today, FAMM has released a compassionate release report, including report cards for every state, grading compassionate release programs designed for incarcerated people struggling with certain extraordinary circumstances, such as a terminal or age-related illness.

“It was not surprising, but still disheartening to see so little improvement in compassionate release across the country since we first examined state compassionate release in 2018,” said Mary Price, FAMM’s general counsel and author of the report. “Lawmakers across the country fund compassionate release programs that sit idle and leave people to die in prison – including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There comes a point in a person’s sentence where they are so sick that incarceration loses any meaning or worse, becomes torture. If the programs are broken and can’t be used effectively, the lawmakers should fix them.”

In concert with the report, FAMM today also released a new national poll which found that 70% of Americans, across political lines, support compassionate release programs.

“At a time of concern about rising rates of crime, why are so many states wasting their limited resources to incarcerate sick and elderly people?” said Kevin Ring, FAMM’s president. “Committing to compassionate release programs could allow for funds to be better used to address concerns about crime.”

FAMM graded the compassionate release programs for each state in several categories before assigning a letter grade. The map of results is below.

The report is an update to “Everywhere and Nowhere: Compassionate Release in the States,” a comprehensive, state-by-state report on the early-release programs. That report was released in 2018.

October 19, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Get ready: new US Sentencing Commission soon to finalize new policy priorities

Though MLB playoffs and NCAA and NFL action are what usually get me going this time of year, in 2022 my inner federal sentencing nerd has as much to look forward to as my inner sports fan.  Specifically, after receiving a few weeks ago the US Sentencing Commission's new tentative policy priorities for the 2022-2023 amendment year, next week brings the excitement of the first public US Sentencing Commission hearing in nearly four years, on October 28, to finalize the USSC's priorities for the coming amendment year.

For those eager to pre-game all the USSC action, the Commission has now released here a "very special episode" of its official podcast, Commission Chats.  This is "Episode 9: Meet Our New Chair!" and it gets previewed this way:

In this very special episode, newly appointed Commission Chair Carlton W. Reeves discusses highlights of his career as a lawyer and judge, including the moment he learned he was not only nominated as a member but also Chair of the Commission.  Judge Reeves also shares his goals for the Commission this amendment year and hopes for this season's Jackson State Tigers. (Published October 17, 2022)

And, for even more intense pre-game action, the folks at FAMM have put together this great panel discussion for Monday October 24 titled "Guess Who's Back: The Sentencing Commission's Return & the 2022-2023 Amendment Cycle."  Here is a preview of the FAMM overview:

After over 3 years without a Sentencing Commission, the Commission is now back in action.  What does this mean for criminal justice reform?  Join FAMM and our special guests as we provide an overview of the Commission's role in criminal justice reform, what we know the Commission will prioritize this guideline amendment cycle, the legal landscape that has developed in the absence of a Commission, and the impact of all this on real people.

So get ready, get ready, because here they come!

October 18, 2022 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 17, 2022

Feds urging six months' imprisonment and $200,000 fined for Steve Bannon as punishment following his convictions for criminal contempt of Congress

As detailed in this extended ABC News piece, the "Justice Department is asking a federal judge to sentence Steve Bannon, adviser to former President Donald Trump, to six months in prison and make him pay a $200,000 fine for his conviction on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress, according to a new court filing." Here is more of the basics:

Bannon was found guilty in July of defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.  He had been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 panel for records and testimony in September 2021.

Bannon is set to be sentenced on Friday at the D.C. courthouse by federal judge Carl Nichols at 9 a.m.  His lawyers are expected to submit their own sentencing memo Monday.

The Government's 24-page sentencing memorandum is available at this link, and it starts this way:

From the moment that the Defendant, Stephen K. Bannon, accepted service of a subpoena from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol (“the Committee”), he has pursued a bad-faith strategy of defiance and contempt.  The Committee sought documents and testimony from the Defendant relevant to a matter of national importance: the circumstances that led to a violent attack on the Capitol and disruption of the peaceful transfer of power. In response, the Defendant flouted the Committee’s authority and ignored the subpoena’s demands.  The Defendant, a private citizen, claimed that executive privilege—which did not apply to him and would not have exempted his total noncompliance even if it had—justified his actions.  Then, on the eve of trial, he attempted an about-face, representing to the Committee that former President Donald J. Trump had waived executive privilege and freed the Defendant to cooperate.  But this proved a hollow gesture; when he realized that his eleventh-hour stunt would not prevent his trial, the Defendant’s cooperative spirit vanished.  Despite the removal of the only purported barrier to his compliance, to this day the Defendant has not produced a single document to the Committee or appeared for testimony.  For his sustained, bad-faith contempt of Congress, the Defendant should be sentenced to six months’ imprisonment—the top end of the Sentencing Guidelines’ range—and fined $200,000—based on his insistence on paying the maximum fine rather than cooperate with the Probation Office’s routine pre-sentencing financial investigation.

UPDATE: Steve Bannon has also today submitted his sentencing memorandum, which can be found at this link. Here is its starting "summary":

The ear of a sentencing judge listens for the note of contrition. Someone was convicted. Did they learn their lesson? This case requires something more. It involves larger themes that are important to every American. Should a person be jailed when the caselaw which sets forth the elements of the crime is outdated? Should a person be jailed for the doing the exact same thing that was done by the highest law enforcement officers in this country, yet they received no punishment? Should a person who has spent a lifetime listening to experts – as a naval officer, investment banker, corporate executive, and Presidential advisor – be jailed for relying on the advice of his lawyers? Should a person be jailed where the prosecutor declined to prosecute others who were similarly situated – with the only difference being that this person uses their voice to express strongly held political views? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then a sentence of probation is warranted. Because we believe that the answer to each of these questions is no, we respectfully ask this Court to impose a sentence of probation, and to stay the imposition of sentence pending appeal.

October 17, 2022 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Half dozen GVRs provide only "excitement" for CJ fans in latest SCOTUS order list

Regular readers now know I am making a regular habit (see here) of complaining about the relative lack of interesting criminal matters on the Supreme Court's docket this Term.  That reality leads me to eagerly await each new SCOTUS order list with the hope the Justices will add something spicy for sentencing fans (or really any criminal cases concerning more than just intricate procedural issues).  So, I opened today's SCOTUS order list ... and the title and start of this post surely made it plain that there were not any exciting new criminal justice cert grants or even opinions dissenting about any denials (in fact, there were no cert grants or opinions at all).

That said, I was intrigued to see that the new order list did include six GVRs based on criminal justice rulings last Term.  Specifically, there were five GVRs based n Ruan (basics here) and one based on Concepcion (basics here).  I have not kept a running list of the number of GVRs from these cases or others, but maybe that will be my best bet for SCOTUS excitement these days.

But hope springs eternal in the SCOTUS fall, and the Justices will release another order list in a couple of weeks on October 31.  Perhaps someone can scare up some spirited cert grants for that special day.  And, not to be forgotten, a big case for federal prisoners seeking review of convictions and sentences, Jones v. HendrixNo. 21-857, is be argued on November 1.  (And, as I will discuss in another coming post, in the meantime sentencing fans do have the excitement of the first public US Sentencing Commission hearing in nearly four years on October 28.)

October 17, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)