Monday, July 15, 2019

Senator Cory Booker proposes bold "second look" resentencing law

Continuing his pattern of putting forth bold criminal justice reform proposals, Senator Cory Booker is now promoting a notable new second look sentencing law.  This new NBC News article, headlined "Cory Booker aims to give aging prisoners 'a second look': The Democratic presidential candidate is unveiling new legislation to take prison reform another step forward," provides some of the details.  Here are excerpts:

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is unveiling new legislation that would give more federal prisoners the chance at early release, building on perviously passed criminal justice reform that some supporters say didn't go far enough.

The First Step Act, passed in 2018, was a rare bipartisan feat in Congress, bringing some of the most liberal and conservative lawmakers together with President Donald Trump to enact the biggest reforms to the criminal justice system since the tough-on-crime laws of the 1980s and 1990s.  While the new law led to the release of thousands of federal inmates, thousands more were ineligible.

William Underwood, 65 years years old, is one inmate who wasn't eligible for release under the First Step Act.  He has been in federal prison for 30 years, convicted of conspiracy, racketeering and non-violent drug-related crimes.  Although it was his first felony conviction, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole under mandatory sentencing guidelines.

Booker, who first met Underwood in 2016, says he's a prime example of the kind prisoner who should be eligible for release.  He points to Underwood's age, the time he's already served and his record of good behavior as as reasons why more reforms are needed, noting that even the prison guards have said Underwood doesn’t belong there.

Booker’s legislation would address people like Underwood.  The Matthew Charles and William Underwood Second Look Act, named after Underwood and Charles, the first person released because of the First Step Act, would give those serving long sentences a second chance.

The bill would also give people who have served more than ten years an opportunity to petition the court for release. And for prisoners over the age of 50, they would be offered the presumption of release, which means the the judge would have to show that the inmate should remain behind bars because they are a threat to society.

The measure likely faces an uphill battle in part because it would shift the burden onto the judicial system to make the case that a prisoner should remain locked up. Another component that is expected to be controversial is that there is no exclusions for certain crimes.  (The type of crimes included in the First Step Act encompassed low-level, non-violent crimes.)  Booker’s office argues that it would be much tougher for someone convicted of a violent crime to be released because a court must find that the inmate is not a risk and the inmate must show readiness to re-enter society....

“I hope that this creates a much bigger pathway for people to be released, to save taxpayer dollars, to reunite families,” Booker said.  “This system of mass incarceration that now has more African Americans under criminal supervision than all the slaves in 1850 is an unjust system, and I intend to do everything I can to tear down the system of mass incarceration."

Booker was instrumental in the passage of the First Step Act, which had the support of President Donald Trump under the direction of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Kim Kardashian.  As a presidential candidate he’s running against a number of candidates introducing plans revolving around criminal justice and his bill is a direct response to frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, who was critical to the passage of the tough-on-crime bills of the 80s and 90s.  Biden is expected to unveil a criminal justice reform plan in the coming weeks, which is expected to include a prohibition on mandatory minimum sentences.

Prior recent related post:

July 15, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Another encouraging report on DOJ's commitment to FIRST STEP Act implementation

This new AP piece, headlined "Barr: Justice Dept. is ‘all in’ on criminal justice overhaul," provides another notable report on the work of Justice Department officials as the next stage of FIRST STEP Act implementation is set to get started.  Here are excerpts:

On a visit this past week to Edgefield — a facility with a medium-security prison and minimum-security camp — Attorney General William Barr took a firsthand look at some of the programs in place, from computer skills to cooking, auto mechanic training and factory work. He met with prison staff and a handful of inmates, including some who will be released early under the First Step Act.

Barr’s visit signaled a major policy shift since his first stint as attorney general in the early 1990s, when he exuded a tough-on-crime approach, advocating for more severe penalties, building more prisons and using laws to keep some criminals behind bars longer. Barr has said he will fully support and carry out the law....

During a tour that lasted nearly three hours, Barr also met with a prison psychologist, inmates who act as mentors in faith and drug-treatment programs, and with instructors who help prisoners create resumes and participate in job fairs. Passing through the narrow hallways, Barr peeked through the windows of some classrooms where inmates were completing computer skills and GED programs.  In one room, where older computers and typewriters lined the walls, Barr chatted about re-entry programs and heard from mentors who teach their fellow inmates how to prepare for the job interviews.

But some of the prison’s programs — like the culinary arts and auto repair programs — tend to be very popular among inmates and have wait lists.  As he walked through Edgefield, Barr told Hugh Hurwitz, the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons, they needed to make sure there were enough programs available to a wide swath of inmates.  “We’re focusing on building on the programs, the re-entry programs we need, and getting the funding to do it,” Barr said in an interview this past week with The Associated Press....

The Justice Department has been working to meet the deadlines set by Congress for the First Step Act and is expected to unveil a risk-assessment tool this week that will help to evaluate federal inmates and ultimately could speed up their release.  Barr said the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons are both “all in in terms of making it work.”

“I’m impressed with how it’s going,” Barr said of the First Step Act’s implementation. “While there are a few things I probably would have done a little bit different, I generally support the thrust of the First Step Act.”

A few of many prior related posts:

July 15, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, July 14, 2019

"Some Doubts About 'Democratizing' Criminal Justice"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by John Rappaport and recently posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

The American criminal justice system’s ills are by now so familiar as scarcely to bear repeating: unprecedented levels of incarceration, doled out disproportionately across racial groups, and police that seem to antagonize and hurt the now-distrustful communities they are tasked to serve and protect.  Systemic social ailments like these seldom permit straightforward diagnoses, let alone simple cures.  In this case, however, a large, diverse, and influential group of experts — the legal academy’s “democratizers” — all identify the same disease: the retreat of local democratic control in favor of a bureaucratic “machinery” disconnected from public values and the people themselves.  Neighborhood juries, for example, internalize the costs of punishing their own; neighborhood police, “of” and answerable to the community, think twice before drawing their weapons or stopping a local boy on a hunch. The experts and detached professionals who populate our dominant bureaucratic institutions, in contrast, are motivated by different, less salubrious, incentives.  Across the gamut of criminal justice decisionmaking, the democratizers maintain, the influence of the local laity is a moderating, equalizing, and ultimately legitimating one.  A generous dose of participatory democracy won’t solve all our problems, but it’s our best shot to get the criminal justice system back on its feet.

This Article’s warning is plain: don’t take the medicine.  “Democracy” and “community” wield undeniable rhetorical appeal but will not really fix what ails us — and may just make it worse.  The democratization movement, the Article argues, rests on conceptually problematic and empirically dubious premises about the makeup, preferences, and independence of local “communities.”  It relies on the proudly counterintuitive claim that laypeople are largely lenient and egalitarian, contrary to a wealth of social scientific evidence.  And ultimately, democratization’s dual commitments are on a collision course.  The democratizers simultaneously devote themselves to particular ends — amelioration of the biased and outsized carceral state — and to a particular means — participatory democracy.  What happens if, as this Article predicts, the means do not produce the ends? Which commitment prevails?  Worse yet, venerating lay opinion distracts from alternative visions of “democratic” criminal justice that more credibly tackle the critical question of how best to blend public accountability with evidence and expertise.

July 14, 2019 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

All the Jeffrey Epstein news that's fit to print

My various criminal justice news feeds are chock full of stories about the prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein and its echoes.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the New York Times is giving plenty of ink to this story, and here are just some of the notable pieces from the last few days that should interest criminal justice justice fans:

A few prior related posts:

July 13, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

More encouraging news of how FIRST STEP Act is reorienting DOJ priorities

USA Today has this fascinating new lengthy article under the headlined "Roofing, paving, artisanal bread: Feds look to kick-start law that will free hundreds of inmates." As the headline suggests, the article is about all the interesting activity afoot to effectively implement the FIRST STEP Act. I recommend the article in full, and here are excerpt:

Set in the foothills of the soaring Rocky Mountains, the mud-colored cluster of Depression-era structures has been a fixture in the federal penal system for decades.  Although just 10 miles south of Denver, notoriety has rarely found its way here except on the occasions when the Federal Correctional Institute Englewood’s worn cellblocks have housed the likes of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling and disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich

Now, the 320-acre compound — distinguished by coils of razor wire and guard tower — is poised to play a leading role in a major criminal justice experiment.  Justice Department officials, including newly-installed Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, have cut a path to this unlikely place in recent days to tout a series of rehabilitation programs that could be key to supporting the early release and re-entry of waves of federal inmates set to be released as part of a criminal justice overhaul approved by Congress last year.

Inside Englewood, a culinary arts program is training aspiring chefs to pump out artisanal breads, pastries and cakes.  An architectural drafting operation, manned by inmates, has produced designs for hundreds of chain restaurants and is assisting with a flood prevention project for the Port Authority of New York.

The prison’s signature enterprise, however, may be its most promising.  Thirteen inmates are part of a roofing and road paving crew that travels the country more than seven months of the year tending to repairs and new construction at federal government installations scattered from the Great Lakes to New England.  The crew members, many of whom have acquired valuable commercial drivers’ licenses while in prison and the skills to operate heavy machinery, have saved the federal government nearly $30 million in labor costs during the past three years, federal authorities said.

"I never thought I would get a chance to do something like this in prison," said Littlelee Ragsdale, a 36-year-old Wyoming man who is in the midst of a nine-year term for methamphetamine and heroin distribution. "This a great opportunity for a real career outside of here. It's not just one of those jobs to get by. Re-entry (to the free world) is now a realistic goal."

Leaning on the promise of Englewood’s programs and others like them scattered across the Bureau of Prisons system, Attorney General William Barr later this month is expected to unveil a tool that could shave years from the sentences of non-violent offenders like Ragsdale as part of the First Step Act, a sweeping law designed to reduce the federal prison population while easing offenders' transition back to their communities.  Congress approved the law last year with support from both parties.  Barr is set to lay out rules on July 19 for evaluating federal inmates that could speed their path toward release. On the same day, a separate provision of the law will prompt the release of an estimated 2,200 non-violent offenders based on a re-calculation of the credit they receive for good behavior while in custody....

The vast federal prison system has long been a drag on the government, soaking up more than a quarter of the Justice Department's $28 billion budget.  Even though its prison population has dropped since 2014, with 180,664 inmates, it is still the largest penal system in the United States.  The system holds more than seven times as many inmates as it did in 1980, at the start of the nation's drug war and a "tough-on-crime" strategy that featured mandatory minimum prison sentences for repeat drug offenses that doomed some inmates to more than two decades behind bars.  More than 45% of federal inmates are now serving terms for some type of drug offense, by far the largest offense grouping in the system....

Longtime advocates for such criminal justice reforms, who also have often been the fiercest critics of the Justice Department, are encouraged by the recent action but are wary of the challenges confronting full implementation of the law.  "I think they are doing their best to get prepared," said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which has long highlighted the impact of harsh sentencing policy on families of the incarcerated. "The real test will be in the implementation of all of the different pieces."

I viewed passage of the FIRST STEP Act as such a big deal is because it created formal legal structures and reasons for the Justice Department to worry more about helping improve the prospects for people in federal prison and on their way out of federal prison rather than being only focused on putting more people in federal prison and trying to keep them in federal prison.  I find this article encouraging because it highlights how, thanks to the FIRST STEP Act, DOJ is now giving more time and attention to "a series of rehabilitation programs" (and apparently to promoting their DOJ's work to the press).

More generally, I believe Kevin Ring and other reform advocates are right to be encouraged by some aspects of DOJ's approach to the FIRST STEP Act, but the really big implementation tests are just getting started with release of the risk and needs assessment system coming next week and then BOP having up to 2.5 years to fully implement next steps.  I continue to be encouraged by big and small developments in this space, and I think we might even see the election season come to provide reform benefits rather than burdens.  If FIRST STEP Act implementation goes too slowly or poorly, Dems on the campaign trail might seek to assail the efficacy of a signature achievement of Prez Trump, and Prez Trump might in turn put added pressure on DOJ and others to do better.  (Indeed, I think DOJ's encouraging work to date and especially AG Barr's expected timely release of the risk and needs assessment system is a product of an eagerness to look good in the eyes of the President.)

A few of many prior related posts:

July 11, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

"Criminal Justice Reform: A Survey of 2018 State Laws"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new white paper from The Federalist Society authored by Robert Alt. Here is how the document gets started:

State legislatures across the country took significant strides in reforming their criminal justice regimes throughout 2018. States revised their existing criminal codes, passed new legislation, and amended their constitutions in order to address a range of criminal justice concerns.  Several states enacted similar legislative reforms, and a survey of the changing criminal justice landscape reveals that states were most willing to modify their criminal laws in the areas related to pre-trial detention or bail reform, civil asset forfeiture, marijuana legalization, drug-induced homicide, and opioid abuse. Although not an exhaustive list of new criminal justice legislation, the most notable reforms fall generally among those categories.

Criminal justice reform did not trend in a singular direction.  Some reform measures, for example, appear designed to liberalize drug-enforcement by legalizing medical and recreational use of marijuana, while others establish more severe penalties and stricter enforcement protocols for fighting criminal drug trafficking and opioid abuse.  Two states made significant changes to their pretrial detention protocols, giving state judges more latitude to use risk-assessment tools and easing the financial burdens that the cash bail systems had placed upon low-income criminal defendants.  Several states amended their civil asset forfeiture laws to make their asset forfeiture process more transparent and to make asset forfeiture more difficult for law enforcement. Still other states, like Massachusetts, adopted sweeping reform measures across virtually their entire criminal code.

Support for and against criminal laws and punishments do not tend to break along traditional partisan lines.  Although some legislative reforms proved politically contentious, including several of the statewide ballot initiatives, others were largely bipartisan efforts that saw legislatures and governors from both ends of the political spectrum reach tenable compromises.  Some reform measures even passed their state legislatures unanimously.

July 10, 2019 in Recommended reading, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Compassionate Release Training in DC (and online) next week

This NACDL tweet flags an important training opportunity taking place in DC and online next week for folks interested in getting in on some of the most exciting legal change brought about by the FIRST STEP Act.  Here is an image with the details:

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If that image does not do the trick, here is the text of a tweet from Mary Price of FAMM with the essentials:  "Calling all pro bono lawyers!  Want to learn how to help prisoners seeking Compassionate Release? We are training (live and by webinar) on Monday, July 15!  RSVP to agprobono @ akingump.com"

July 10, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

En banc Ninth Circuit works through Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and juvenile resentencing under federal guidelines

In this post around this time last year, I noted work on an amicus brief in support of a Ninth Circuit en banc petition in US v. Riley Briones.  The original ruling in Briones had a split Ninth Circuit panel affirming the district court's adoption of the federal sentencing guidelines as the key factor in the course imposing a life without parole federal sentence on a juvenile offender.   But after granting en banc review, the Ninth Circuit has now vacated the LWOP sentence and remanded for resentencing by a 9-2 vote.  The new majority opinion in Briones, available here, has a lot to say about Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and juvenile sentencing, and here are a few excerpts:

Taken together, Miller, Montgomery, and Pete make clear that a juvenile defendant who is capable of change or rehabilitation is not permanently incorrigible or irreparably corrupt; that a juvenile who is not permanently incorrigible or irreparably corrupt is constitutionally ineligible for an LWOP sentence; and that a juvenile’s conduct after being convicted and incarcerated is a critical component of the resentencing court’s analysis....

We reaffirm that when a substantial delay occurs between a defendant’s initial crime and later sentencing, the defendant’s post-incarceration conduct is especially pertinent to a Miller analysis. See id.; see also Montgomery, 136 S. Ct. at 736 (“The petitioner’s submissions [of his reformation while in prison] are relevant . . . as an example of one kind of evidence that prisoners might use to demonstrate rehabilitation.”).  The key question is whether the defendant is capable of change.  See Pete, 819 F.3d at 1133.  If subsequent events effectively show that the defendant has changed or is capable of changing, LWOP is not an option.

The district court’s heavy emphasis on the nature of Briones’s crime, coupled with Briones’s evidence that his is not one of those rare and uncommon cases for which LWOP is a constitutionally acceptable sentence, requires remand.  We do not suggest the district court erred simply by failing to use any specific words, see Montgomery, 136 S. Ct. at 735, but the district court must explain its sentence sufficiently to permit meaningful review.  See Carty, 520 F.3d at 992 (“Once the sentence is selected, the district court must explain it sufficiently to permit meaningful appellate review . . . . What constitutes a sufficient explanation will necessarily vary depending upon the complexity of the particular case . . . .”).  When a district court sentences a juvenile offender in a case in which an LWOP sentence is possible, the record must reflect that the court meaningfully engaged in Miller’s central inquiry.

And here is a concluding substantive paragraph from the dissent:

Thus, despite evidence of Briones’s rehabilitation, youth when the heinous crimes were committed, and youth-related characteristics, the record supports that Briones’s crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility, as opposed to transient immaturity. The district court therefore imposed a permissible sentence.  Notably, the majority does not conclude that a life without parole sentence is impermissible in this case. Instead, although the majority claims otherwise, the majority’s opinion vacates the district court’s sentence because the district court failed to find that Briones was permanently incorrigible. But as discussed above, there is no requirement for the district court to make any specific findings before imposing a life without parole sentence.  In short, the majority, citing Montgomery, states that it “do[es] not suggest the district court erred simply by failing to use any specific words,” Maj. at 19.  But in clear contravention of Montgomery, that is precisely why it has reversed. We remand for the district court to do again what it has already done.

July 9, 2019 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 08, 2019

Two new open access articles from FSR issue on "The Tyranny of the Trial Penalty"

In this post last month, I highlighted the publication of the latest extraordinary (double) issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter titled "The Tyranny of the Trial Penalty: The Consensus that Coercive Plea Practices Must End."  As mentioned before, this FSR issue includes 16(!) original pieces on various aspects of "The Trial Penalty," and it is fully available on-line at this link

Though a full subscription to FSR is needed for full on-line access to all FSR content, the University of California Press has graciously agreed to make various articles from this special issue available to all on-line for a limited period.  Valuable, the issue's terrific introduction authored by Norman Reimer, executive director of NACDL, and his colleague Martín Sabelli, NACDL's second vice president, is to remain freely available for an extended period of time.  And this week, these two additional pieces are now accessible to all (with first paragraphs quoted here):

Two empirical facts underlie ongoing policy debates over plea-trial differences in federal punishment: defendants who are convicted at trial receive significantly harsher sentences, and the overwhelming majority of federal defendants forego their constitutional right to jury trial and enter into plea agreements.  A passel of studies finds large plea-trial differences in federal sentencing.  Across jurisdictions, offense types, and time periods, research convincingly demonstrates that defendants convicted at trial receive more severe punishments than similar defendants who plead guilty.  This “trial tax” or “plea discount” is among the most robust findings in the empirical sentencing literature (Johnson 2019).  At the same time, guilty plea rates in both state and federal courts have ballooned.  In federal court, more than 97 percent of convicted defendants plead guilty (Motivans 2019), lending credence to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s observation that “plea bargaining is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system” (Missouri v. Frye, 132 S. Ct. 1399, 1407 (2012)).

Weaponizing Justice: Mandatory Minimums, the Trial Penalty, and the Purposes of Punishment by Mary Price

The trial penalty is one of the most lethal tools in the prosecutor’s kit.  With it, the government coerces defendants to plead guilty and punishes those who don’t. It transforms what should be a defendant’s considered and informed decision about whether to exercise the constitutional right to be judged by a jury of one’s peers in open court into a backroom roll of the dice.  It is the criminal justice equivalent of a shakedown — more extortion than orderly proceeding.

Prior related posts:

UPDATE: The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has this new news release about the FSR issue, which includes these quotes from the Guest Editors who helped make it happen:

The articles included in this special issue underscore one hopeful reality: the breadth of concern with the trial penalty’s central role in perverting the U.S. system of justice reflects unprecedented consensus,” explain Editors Reimer and Sabelli in their “Editors’ Observations” introduction.  “Critics of the decline of the jury trial and the institutional coercion that is the trial penalty in action span the ideological perspective.  This is not the system of justice that the architects of this democracy envisioned, nor is it the system that people deserve, especially as the nation has evolved.  The country may still have a long way to go to purge racism and all forms of irrational disparity from its criminal justice system. But it has come far enough that it is long past time to tolerate a system that extracts years of a person’s freedom as the price to access fundamental rights. NACDL is determined to promote study and seek reform on the federal level and throughout the various states to minimize the tyranny of the trial penalty. This edition of the Federal Sentencing Reporter is an important step in that process.”

July 8, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Summer reading (with a Fall cover date) from the American Journal of Criminal Law

Over the holiday week, I noticed that American Criminal Law Review already has published its Fall 2019 issue, and that this issue includes a number of articles that sentencing fans may want to add to their summer reading list: 

The Biased Algorithm: Evidence of Disparate Impact on Hispanics by Melissa Hamilton

Is Mass-Incarceration Inevitable? by Andrew Leipold

Defining the Proper Role of “Offender Characteristics in Sentencing Decisions: A Critical Race Theory Perspective by Lisa Saccomano

Cruel, Unusual, and Unconstitutional: An Originalist Argument for Ending Long-Term Solitary Confinement by Merin Cherian

Pandora’s Algorithmic Black Box: The Challenges of Using Algorithmic Risk Assessment in Sentencing by Leah Wisser

July 8, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Recommended reading, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 07, 2019

"Statutory Federalism and Criminal Law'

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

Federal law regularly incorporates state law as its own.  And it often does so dynamically so that future changes to state laws affect how federal law will apply.  For example, federal law protects against deprivations of property, but states largely get to define what property is.  So when a state changes its property law, it automatically influences the effect of federal law.  This interdependence eases the tension that would otherwise arise when two different governments issue overlapping regulations.

This Article is the first to identify how rare meaningful use of dynamic incorporation is in criminal law and also how this scarcity impairs that law.  With some notable exceptions, Congress ordinarily acts alone in criminal law.  But using dynamic incorporation more often would redress two problems: the political inertia that leads to a one-way ratchet in criminal law and the limited accountability for enforcement discretion.

Marijuana laws provide a compelling example.  Federal law flatly prohibits all marijuana use.  But forty-six states now have laws that conflict with federal law, and 93 percent of Americans believe that medicinal marijuana should be lawful.  The only legislation Congress has managed to pass in response to this conflict makes heavy use of dynamic incorporation.  This example and others suggest that dynamic incorporation reduces the inertia that ordinarily makes it difficult for Congress to pass responsive legislation in criminal law.  What is more, dynamic incorporation creates additional flexibility that prevents these kinds of conflicts from arising in the first place.

Dynamic incorporation also furthers separation of powers values.  Local and federal enforcement officials have crafted joint relationships that make local officials a critical part of federal enforcement.  This relationship is efficient, but it also enables local officials to evade state law constraints.  Local officials use this ability to exacerbate, among other things, sentencing disparity.  Dynamic incorporation rebalances power by giving state legislatures the opportunity for greater oversight of enforcement discretion, enhancing enforcement accountability.

July 7, 2019 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Deputy AG Rosen provides notable update on FIRST STEP Act implementation

USA Today has this new article focused on the work of new Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, and deep into the lengthy article is an encouraging update on developments with the FIRST STEP Act. Here are the details:

In his first month, Rosen has sought a fuller understanding of the opioid crisis in America and has taken a lead role in Justice's implementation of bipartisan criminal justice legislation aimed at easing sentences for non-violent drug offenders, reducing the federal prison population and assisting offenders' transition back into their communities.

Rosen said Justice is on schedule to deliver a critical tool to assess the needs and risks of future recidivism for federal prisoners. The program, required under the First Step Act, a sweeping measure intended to reduce the nation's prison population, is due by July 19.

On the same date, the federal Bureau of Prisons is set to recalculate the amount of so-called "good time" earned by federal offenders, an action that is expected to result in the release of 2,200 offenders to their home communities.

Rosen, who was touring the federal prison in Englewood, Colo., earlier this week in advance of the actions slated for later this month, said Justice was "pushing hard" to abide by the requirements of the new legislation.

Since the First Step Act was signed into law in December, Rosen said 1,093 drug offenders have been released from federal prisons as part of a provision that reconciled overly harsh sentences issued to crack cocaine offenders.  Another 171 low-risk elderly inmates and 46 chronically-ill offenders also have been released under terms of the legislation.

"I’m putting my personal attention on that," Rosen said of the legislation. "The attorney general is, too."

I had heard from various sources that the Justice Department was on track to release the important risk and needs assessment tool on July 19, which in turn enabled the "good time fix" of the FIRST STEP Act to finally get implemented. I am pleased to hear somewhat officially that this will all be happening later this month, and that both AG Barr and DAG Rosen are invested in properly administering these parts of the FIRST STEP Act. The good time fix will immediately impact thousands of persons in federal prisons and impact hundreds of thousands more in the years to come. And the risk/needs tool should impact tens of thousands of federal prisoners as well.

A few of many prior related posts:

July 6, 2019 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 05, 2019

Emphasizing why community supervision realities must be focal point for criminal justice reforms

As noted in this post, last month the the Council of State Governments Justice Center produced this dynamic report spotlighting that a large percentage of all state prison admissions "are due to violations of probation or parole for new offenses or technical violations" and that "technical violations, such as missing appointments with supervision officers or failing drug tests, account"for almost a quarter of all state prison admissions.  Fittingly, I have recently seen two commentaries highlighting this CSG report to stress the importance of criminal justice reform efforts giving attention to this piece of the system.  Here are links to these pieces and a snippet therefrom:

From The Hill, "Want to cut the prison population?  Start by tackling probation reform" by Nila Bala:

Sadly, imprisoning technical violators often drives them even deeper into the criminal justice system. With a prison sentence, individuals can lose their jobs, their homes, and their children, which are all of the important social supports they had formed in their community, making them more likely to return to crime.  Imprisoning individuals for technical violations is also costing taxpayers to the tune of $2.8 billion in incarceration costs.

We should save prison beds for those who have committed serious and violent offenses instead of for those who have broken curfew or failed to pay a probation fee. Instead of imprisoning technical violators, we should hold them accountable in the community in ways that do not harm public safety.  By eliminating prison terms for technical violations, or at least by capping the length of their prison stays, states can work to reduce their prison numbers in a significant way.  Along with the reform of supervision conditions, we can work to limit probation to those who really need it and to divert the many lower risk individuals away from the system altogether.

If there is one foundational value that we can adopt in the criminal justice system to change its ethos, it is human dignity. It should not fall by the wayside when people are released from prison.  It is even more important as we welcome individuals back into the social fabric of our communities. The Council of State Governments report guides states in asking how they can limit the supervision to prison pipeline.  With this data, states hold the potential to reform their supervision practices in ways that improve public safety, yield valuable cost savings, and respect the human dignity of all.

From USA Today, "As candidates search for criminal justice talking points, parole and probation reform should top list" by Megan Quattlebaum and Juliene James:

Instead of moving people away from prison, the use of parole and probation is a prime contributor to still stubbornly high incarceration rates. This undermines people’s ability to reintegrate into a free society after conviction.

The nation can and should focus efforts and resources on reducing new criminal behavior. By keeping people out of prison, we can better ensure that they keep their jobs, stay connected to their families and have a fair chance at contributing to society.

The nation's probation and parole disproportionately burdens poor and minority communities. Black Americans account for more than 30% of the people on probation and parole, despite being only 13% of the U.S. population. How can we expect people to live successful lives when they’re under the constant scrutiny of unforgiving criminal justice supervision?

Red and blue states alike have prison systems that are straining under the weight of incarcerating significant numbers of people who have violated their supervision.

State lawmakers need to start looking at their own statistics and asking whether probation and parole are serving their intended goals. What types of new offenses are responsible for supervision revocations? What practices and programs can discourage people under supervision from committing new crimes? What is a better way to handle technical violations?

A few prior recent related posts:

July 5, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Imagining an Independence Day in which Governors and the President compete to use their clemency powers to enhance liberty and freedom

I was pleased my news feed this morning included this local article from Arkansas headlined "Gov. Hutchinson announces pardons for 10 people."   Here are the details from the article:

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday that he will grant pardons to 10 people, including two from right here in the Mid-South.

Larry Smith of Marion was convicted on felony drug and misdemeanor assault charges in Crittenden County in 2005.  Wayne Wilson of Gosnell was convicted in 1971 and 1995 on burglary, petit larceny and first-degree assault in Mississippi County.  In both cases the applicants have completed their jail sentences, fulfilled all parole requirements and paid all fines connected to their cases.

Theodis Akins of Hampton, Virginia; Shakeylla Allen of Alexander; Miranda Jones Childers of Charlotte; John Dougan of North Little Rock; LaToya Hopson of Hot Springs; Rommie McDaniel of Bradford;Pierre Newman of Little Rock; and Robert Seay III will also receive a pardon, Hutchinson said

I often use Independence Day as an opportunity to encourage everyone to think about Americans who could benefit from more liberty -- see, e.g., Hey Prez Trump, how about honoring Independence Day by using your clemency power to give some more Americans more liberty? and  "What to the American imprisoned is the Fourth of July?" -- and this news out of Arkansas got me to imagining an America in which Governors and the President compete to enhance freedom through all sorts of clemency grants.  In a country in which we have managed to make a July 4th tradition of eating hot dogs and competing over who can eat the most hot dogs, I do not think it is such a bad idea to imagine competition around enhancing freedom on the day we celebrate out country's declaration about the importance of freedom.

July 4, 2019 in Clemency and Pardons, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Spotlighting challenges at intersection of trying kids as adults and sexual offenses

The decision to try a juvenile offender as an adult often serves as a kind of sentencing decision. That reality, plus the always wrought policy and politics surrounding sex offenses, leads me to be interested in reactions to this new New York Times piece headlined "Teenager Accused of Rape Deserves Leniency Because He’s From a ‘Good Family,’ Judge Says." Here are excerpts from the lengthy front-page story:

The 16-year-old girl was visibly intoxicated, her speech slurred, when a drunk 16-year-old boy sexually assaulted her in a dark basement during an alcohol-fueled pajama party in New Jersey, prosecutors said.

The boy filmed himself penetrating her from behind, her torso exposed, her head hanging down, prosecutors said. He later shared the cellphone video among friends, investigators said, and sent a text that said, “When your first time having sex was rape.”

But a family court judge said it wasn’t rape. Instead, he wondered aloud if it was sexual assault, defining rape as something reserved for an attack at gunpoint by strangers.  He also said the young man came from a good family, attended an excellent school, had terrific grades and was an Eagle scout.  Prosecutors, the judge said, should have explained to the girl and her family that pressing charges would destroy the boy’s life.

So he denied prosecutors’ motion to try the 16-year-old as an adult. “He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college,” Judge James Troiano of Superior Court said last year in a two-hour decision while sitting in Monmouth County.

Now the judge has been sharply rebuked by an appeals court in a scathing 14-page ruling that warned the judge against showing bias toward privileged teenagers.  In doing so, the appeals court cleared the way for the case to be moved from family court to a grand jury, where the teenager, identified only as G.M.C. in court documents, will be treated as an adult. New Jersey law allows juveniles as young as 15 to be tried as adults when accused of serious crimes, and the grand jury will weigh whether to indict him on the sexual assault accusation.

In recent years, judges across the country have come under fire for the way they have handled sexual abuse cases. One of the most notorious was in 2016, when a judge in California sentenced a Stanford University student to six months in jail after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.  After an intense public backlash, California voters recalled the judge.

Judge Troiano, who is roughly 70, was one of two family court judges whom appeals courts in New Jersey have criticized in recent weeks over relatively similar issues.

In the other case, the appellate division reversed another judge’s decision not to try a 16-year-old boy as an adult after he was accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl in 2017.  The second family court judge, Marcia Silva, sitting in Middlesex County, denied a motion to try the teenager as an adult and said that “beyond losing her virginity, the State did not claim that the victim suffered any further injuries, either physical, mental or emotional.”

The appellate judges also upbraided Judge Silva, overturning her decision and noting that the teenager could be culpable because the 12-year-old was not old enough to provide consent in the first place.

The judge in Monmouth County, Mr. Troiano, was scolded by the appellate court, according to the panel’s decision.  “That the juvenile came from a good family and had good test scores we assume would not condemn the juveniles who do not come from good families and do not have good test scores from withstanding waiver application,” the panel wrote in its decision.

Family court cases are typically closed to the public, but the judges’ comments surfaced in June when the appeals court decisions were made public, joining a series of contentious sexual assault cases that have ignited outrage over a legal system that advocates for victims say is warped by bias and privilege.

In the first case, heard by Judge Troiano, it is unclear from court documents when and specifically where in New Jersey the incident involving the two 16-year-olds took place. But prosecutors said it occurred during a party packed with 30 other teenagers.  The case was highlighted by a New Jersey radio station, 101.5....

In an interview, Christopher J. Gramiccioni, the county prosecutor said, “This is conduct that should be punished in adult court.” “We subscribe to the idea that the juvenile system is supposed to be rehabilitative,” he said.  “But when you’re dealing with charges as serious as these, it’s a whole different ball of wax.”...

Mr. Gramiccioni said New Jersey has a progressive juvenile system: Juvenile cases are not shown to juries, juvenile records are kept from public view and sentences are typically more lenient than when a person is tried as an adult.  A recent law made it illegal to try defendants younger than 15 as adults.

July 3, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

State judge finds Kentucky still failing to implement properly death penalty exemption for defendants with intellectually disability

A helpful reader sent me this news story from Kentucky headlined "Kentucky judge declares state's death penalty protocol unconstitutional."  Here are the basics:

A Kentucky judge has struck down the state's death penalty protocol as unconstitutional because it does not explicitly prohibit the execution of prisoners with intellectual disabilities.

Ruling on a motion brought by a dozen inmates on death row, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled Tuesday that the regulation is invalid because it doesn't automatically suspend an execution when the state corrections department’s internal review shows a condemned person has an intellectual disability.

Granting a motion filed by the Department of Public Advocacy, Shepherd said the state's rules are flawed because they would allow a prisoner with intellectual disabilities to be executed if he or she declines further appeals.  The U.S. Supreme Court “categorically prohibits the execution of intellectually disabled persons,” Shepherd noted.

Assistant Public Advocate David Barron said all executions in Kentucky already had been stayed because of questions about the state's means of lethal injection, as well as other issues. Tuesday's ruling continues that stay, he said.

Barron called the opinion "a sound ruling that recognizes what we have been arguing for years."  He said the corrections department has “doggedly persisted” in refusing to recognize the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling 17 years ago by taking “reasonable steps to ensure that an intellectually disabled person is not executed.”

The Kentucky attorney general’s office, which defended the regulations, is reviewing the ruling, spokesman Kenneth Mansfield said.

July 3, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

"The Founders' Forfeiture"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Kevin Arlyck now available via SSRN that seems like especially good Fourth of July week reading. Here is its abstract:

Civil forfeiture is, in a word, controversial.  Critics allege that law enforcement authorities use forfeiture as means of appropriating valuable assets from often-innocent victims free of the constraints of criminal process.  Yet despite recent statutory reforms, a significant obstacle to meaningful change remains: Under longstanding Supreme Court precedent, the Constitution imposes few limits on civil forfeiture.  Relying on a perceived historical tradition of unfettered government power to seize and keep private property in response to legal violations, the Court has consistently rejected claims to constitutional protections.  Faced with an unfriendly historical tradition, forfeiture’s critics have tried to limit history’s relevance by asserting that forfeiture was traditionally used for limited purposes, but such arguments have fallen on deaf ears.

As this Article explains, forfeiture’s critics are right, but for the wrong reasons.  Based on original research into more than 500 unpublished federal forfeiture cases from 1789 to 1807, this Article shows — for the first time — that forfeiture in the Founding era was significantly constrained.  But not by judges. Instead, concern over forfeiture’s potential to impose massive penalties for minor and technical legal violations spurred Alexander Hamilton and the First Congress to establish executive-branch authority to return seized property to those who plausibly claimed a lack of fraudulent intent.  What is more, Hamilton and subsequent Treasury Secretaries understood themselves to be obligated to exercise that authority to its fullest extent — which they did, remitting forfeitures in over 90% of cases presented to them.   The result was an early forfeiture regime that was expansive in theory, but in practice was constrained by a deep belief in the impropriety of taking property from those who inadvertently broke the law.

Understanding early forfeiture’s true nature has significant implications for current debate about its proper limits.  The existence of meaningful constraints in the Founding era calls into question key historical propositions underlying the Court’s permissive modern jurisprudence, and suggests that history may offer an affirmative basis for identifying greater constitutional protections today.  This is also an opportune moment to reexamine forfeiture’s historical bona fides.  In addition to a growing public outcry over civil forfeiture, there are hints that members of the current Supreme Court may be willing to reconsider its constitutionality.

July 2, 2019 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 01, 2019

Two more notable imprisonment reductions using § 3582(c)(1)(A), one for LWOP term and another to remedy BOP's "abysmal health care"

As regular readers know, ever since the passage of the FIRST STEP Act, I have been talking up 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) as a critical and valuable new mechanism to reduce problematic prison sentences in any and every case in which a defendant presents "extraordinary and compelling reasons" supporting the reductions.  Earlier this month, I posted here and posted here two notable examples of judges finding notable reasons sufficient to reduce a sentence while making clear that the new FIRST STEP Act allows a judge broad authority to "determine whether any extraordinary and compelling reasons" justified a reduction in a prison term.  US v. Cantu, No. 1:05-CR-458-1, 2019 WL 2498923 (S.D. Tex. June 17, 2019) (finding extraordinary that government urged release to home confinement); see also US v. Cantu-Rivera, Cr. No. H-89-204, 2019 WL 2578272 (SD Tex. June 24, 2019) (finding FIRST STEP Act amendment of LWOP sentences supported finding of "extraordinary and compelling reasons").

Now I see that just late last week, at least two more district court issues two more important reductions in prison terms based on § 3582(c)(1)(A).  First, in US v. Johns, No. CR 91-392-TUC-CKJ, 2019 WL 2646663 (D. Ariz. June 27, 2019), a judge decided to reduce an LWOP drug conspiracy term because the defendant was 81 years old, now 81 years old, had served almost 23 years of his sentence and is "is rapidly deteriorating due to his age." Though an emphasis on old and and health is not unusual in this setting, I think the reduction of any federal LWOP sentence is noteworthy. 

Second, and even more interesting, US v. Beck, No. 1:13-CR-186-6, 2019 WL 2716505 (M.D.N.C. June 28, 2019).  In Beck, the judge authored a lengthy explanation for her reduction of the sentence to time served, and the start and conclusion provides an overview of the court's thinking:

Angela M. Beck is a federal prisoner serving a sentence for drug and firearms offenses.  She has cancer in her left breast and the Bureau of Prisons has not provided appropriate medical care for her disease, with repeated delays that have prevented her from timely obtaining urgent tests and treatment.  In the meantime, her cancer spread to her lymph nodes and possibly to her right breast.  Ms. Beck has filed a motion under the First Step Act of 2018 seeking immediate compassionate release.  Because Ms. Beck’s invasive cancer and BoP’s history of indifference to her treatment constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons, and because the § 3553(a) factors support a sentence reduction to time served, the motion for compassionate release will be granted....

Ms. Beck committed serious drug and firearms offenses with her husband in 2012 and 2013 that warrant substantial punishment.  She has served over six years of her sentence, nearly two of them with breast cancer treated so untimely as to significantly reduce her chances of survival.  Ms. Beck’s invasive cancer and the abysmal health care BoP has provided qualify as “extraordinary and compelling reasons” warranting a reduction in her sentence to time served.  See 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A)(i).  While the old policy statement is not directly applicable to motions filed by defendants, a reduction is consistent with its general guidance and the Sentencing Commission’s intent.  With appropriate supervision, Ms. Beck poses little risk of recidivism or danger to the community.  She has already served an arduous sentence, and the § 3553 factors support a sentence reduction.  As such, Ms. Beck is entitled to compassionate release.

Just a few more remarkable stories made possible by the FIRST STEP Act.  I know many advocates hoped and wanted for the FIRST STEP Act to go a lot further and do a lot more.  But I continue to see a number of provisions of the Act as passed, particularly 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) and a few other provisions, as have a whole lot of potential to do a whole lot of good if used well.  (Indeed, I am hoping folks hoping to get retroactive relief from recent SCOTUS decisions like Rehaif and Davis and Haymond come to see the power and potential of § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i).

A few prior related posts on § 3582(c)(1)(A) after FIRST STEP Act:

July 1, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Urging US Sentencing Commission to "undertake a top-to-bottom review" of harsh federal sentencing guidelines

I am very pleased to see US District Judge Lynn Adelman taking to the pages of the Washington Post to pen this new opinion piece under the headline "There’s another tough-on-crime law Democrats should focus their criticism on." I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Some of the Democratic presidential candidates have criticized the tough-on-crime legislation enacted during the 1980s and 1990s, arguing that it contributed to the mass incarceration that shames the country today.  The candidates and other critics have focused on the 1994 crime bill, which provided incentives for states to build more prisons and impose longer sentences, and the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established harsh sentences for drug offenses, particularly those involving crack cocaine.

The criticism of these provisions is entirely justified.  But not enough attention has been paid to another 1980s-era tough-on-crime law that is still very much with us, causing substantial unnecessary incarceration, particularly of African Americans and Hispanics: the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act.

Among its “reforms,” the law eliminated parole for federal offenders and created the U.S. Sentencing Commission that then promulgated the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  The act, the commission and the guidelines have been a disaster, and a debate by lawmakers about their status is long overdue.  As a result of the sentencing guidelines, as well as sentencing practices in state courts, the United States is now an outlier not just among democracies but among all nations....

The commission established harsh sentencing guidelines and barred judges from putting defendants on probation except in rare instances.  Over the next 20 years, the commission regularly amended the guidelines, making them even more severe.

The average federal sentence increased from 28 to 50 months afterward and, with the abolition of parole, the average time that a defendant served increased from 13 to 43 months....   Between 1987 and 2019, the federal prison population increased from about 50,000 to 219,000 before dropping to about 180,000.  In 2005, with the landmark decision in United States v. Booker, the Supreme Court struck down the mandatory feature of the guidelines, giving judges the opportunity to establish a less punitive sentencing regime.  In subsequent decisions, the court made clear that judges had no obligation to follow the guidelines.

Unfortunately, district court judges have largely failed to take advantage of Booker to ameliorate the harshness of the federal sentencing system.  After Booker, judges slightly reduced the length of sentences, from 47.9 months in fiscal 2003, to 44 months in 2018.  Shockingly, the number of offenders receiving prison-only sentences actually increased, from 83.3 percent in fiscal 2003 to 87.8 percent in fiscal 2018.  The sentencing commission could lead the way in pressing judges to take Booker to heart, given the commission’s considerable authority regarding federal sentencing policies, but it has provided little leadership.  For too long, the commission has focused instead on trying to minimize inter-judge disparities in sentencing.

The commissioners might better understand the impact of its policies if they ventured outside Washington and held public hearings in urban and rural America about federal sentencing guidelines.  Hearing firsthand about the devastating effect on families of the United States’ punitive approach, particularly in drug cases, might open some commissioners’ eyes.

Ideally, the commission would then undertake a top-to-bottom review of the guidelines, with an eye toward recommending as many noncustodial sentences as possible and reducing the length of prison sentences.  Putting a dent in federal mass incarceration would set an example for state correctional systems.

In fairness, the commission in recent years has taken some important steps in the right direction.  Particularly significant was its 2014 decision to reduce all drug guidelines by two levels and to make the policy retroactive, thereby reducing sentences for some 32,000 prisoners.  Congress’s recently enacted First Step Act was another move in the right direction, addressing the disparity in punishment for offenses involving crack and powder cocaine. But more needs to be done to reset a system that has done untold harm over the past three decades.  At a minimum, the Sentencing Reform Act should be substantially revised.  Congress was foolish to have abolished parole and should overturn that decision.

This commentary provides a terrific and needed reminder that the Booker decision did not considerably mute the punitive impact of harsh sentencing guidelines (even though I think it has tended to considerably mute the amount of criticism of these guidelines). As mentioned in this post last week, right now the US Sentencing Commission is unable to function fully because it only has two of seven Commissioner slots filled. So "public hearings in urban and rural America" in conjunction with a "top-to-bottom review" of the guidelines cannot really happen unless and until we get a slate of new Commissioners with an interest in such an agenda. I hope this piece gets those folks in the campaigns and on Capitol Hill who are really committed to criminal justice reform to be thinking about the potential that a reform-oriented Commission might have.

July 1, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Based on statutory proportionality review, split New Mexico Supreme Court dismiss death sentences for two murderers left on state's death row a decade after legislative abolition

As well reported in this Courthouse News Service piece, headlined "New Mexico Supreme Court Vacates Two Remaining Death Sentences," the final anti-death penalty shoe finally dropped in New Mexico a full decade after the state's legislature repealed its death penalty.  Here ere are the basics:

A divided New Mexico Supreme Court Friday set aside the death sentences of the last two men awaiting execution in the state, ruling that the penalties were disproportionate in comparison to sentences in similar murder cases.  The death penalty was abolished in New Mexico in 2009, but the death sentences of Timothy Allen and Robert Fry remained in place, because they were convicted and sentenced years before the change.

Allen and Fry were sentenced under a New Mexico law that requires the state’s highest court to review “comparative proportionality” in capital punishment cases.  State lawmakers adopted the 1976 law to ensure that the death penalty was not being imposed in ways that would violate inmates’ constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Writing for the majority Friday, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Barbara J. Vigil said justices found “no meaningful distinction” between the circumstances of Allen and Fry’s cases and those of similar murder cases.  “The absence of such a distinction renders the ultimate penalty of death contrary to the people’s mandate that the sentence be proportionate to the penalties imposed in similar cases,” Vigil said in the 147-page opinion.

Retired Justices Edward L. Chávez and Charles W. Daniels joined the majority decision, which did not address concerns over potential violations to Allen and Fry’s constitutional rights. Daniels wrote in a concurring opinion that “equally culpable” defendants in murder cases escaped the death penalty, adding that New Mexico has not imposed the death penalty in a “proportionate” way.  “A killer’s crimes reflect who he is,” Daniels said.  “What we do to the killer reflects who we are.”

Chief Justice Judith K. Nakamura wrote in the dissenting opinion that the majority misinterpreted the law.  “The Majority misstates the governing law and has done what our Legislature would not: repeal the death penalty in its entirety for all defendants in New Mexico,” said Nakamura, who was joined in dissent by retired Justice Petra Jimenez Maes.  “They perceive in the language authority to conclude that, because so few offenders in New Mexico have ever been sentenced to die, no offenders shall ever again be sentenced to die in New Mexico.”

The full 147-page ruling is available at this link, and here is how the Court's opinion gets started:

In this case we revisit our statutory responsibility to ensure that the death penalty is reserved for the most heinous crimes.  Since 1979, the New Mexico Legislature has directed this Court to ensure that “the death penalty shall not be imposed if . . . the sentence of death is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases.” NMSA 1978, § 31-20A-4(C)(4) (1979, repealed 2009).

In 2009, the Legislature abolished the death penalty as a sentencing option for murders committed after July 1, 2009.  Today, Petitioners Robert Fry and Timothy Allen, who committed their crimes before 2009, are the last inmates who remain on death row in New Mexico.  Fry and Allen filed Petitions for Writs of Habeas Corpus seeking to dismiss their death sentences in light of the prospective-only application of the repeal.

In this consolidated appeal of the district court’s denial of Petitioners’ motions to dismiss their death sentences, we hold that Petitioners’ death sentences are disproportionate and violate Section 31-20A-4(C)(4).  Guided by our recognition that our Legislature intended for comparative proportionality review to protect against the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty, we conclude that there is no meaningful basisfor distinguishing Fry and Allen from the many similar casesin which the death penalty was not imposed.  Because Petitioners’ death sentences are statutorily disproportionate to the penalties imposed in similar cases, we remand each case to the district court to impose a sentence of life imprisonment.

Though taking longer in New Mexico than elsewhere, this ruling continues the well-established trend of state courts finding one way or another to give retroactive effect to the statutory repeal of the death penalty even when a legislature has sought to explicitly provide for the carrying out of prior lawful death sentence.

July 1, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 28, 2019

In federal prosecution following state conviction, Charlottesville killer James Fields gets LWOP sentence

As reported in this Reuters piece, headlined "Charlottesville neo-Nazi sentenced to life, judge says 'too great a risk' to release," a very high-profile defendant who has been subject to both state and federal prosecutions for a very high-profile crime, received his federal sentence today.  Here are the details: 

A federal judge imposed a life sentence on the self-described neo-Nazi who killed Heather Heyer by crashing his car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, after a white supremacist rally, saying release would be “too great a risk.”

The 22-year-old neo-Nazi, James Fields of Maumee, Ohio, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He had sought a lesser sentence, apologizing after the court viewed video of him plowing his car into a crowd after the Aug. 12, 2017, “Unite the Right” rally, also injuring 19 people.

U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski, was unmoved by his plea, saying he had had to avert his eyes while the court viewed graphic video of the attack that showed bodies flying into the air as Fields crashed into them. “Just watching them is terrifying,” Urbanski said. “The release of the defendant into a free society is too great a risk.”...

Heyer’s parents described the grief of losing their daughter. “It was an incident I will never fully recover from,” said Heyer’s father, Mark Heyer. Her mother, Susan Bro, described herself as “deeply wounded” and recounted crying uncontrollably at times.

Ahead of Friday’s sentencing hearing, prosecutors noted that Fields had long espoused violent beliefs. Less than a month before the attack he posted an image on Instagram showing a car plowing through a crowd of people captioned: “you have the right to protest but I’m late for work.”

Even after the attack, Fields remained unrepentant, prosecutors said, noting that in a Dec. 7, 2017, phone call from jail with his mother, he blasted Bro for her activism after the attack. “She is a communist. An anti-white liberal,” Fields said, according to court papers filed by prosecutors. He rejected his mother’s plea to consider that the woman had “lost her daughter,” replying, “She’s the enemy.”

Fields pleaded guilty to the federal hate crime charges in March under a deal with prosecutors, who agreed not to seek the death penalty.

He was photographed hours before the attack carrying a shield with the emblem of a far-right hate group. He has identified himself as a neo-Nazi.

Fields’ attorneys suggested he felt intimidated and acted to protect himself. They asked for mercy, citing his relative youth and history of mental health diagnoses.

Intriguingly, this report completely leaves out the fact that James has also been subject to prosecution in Virginia state court, which resulted in a jury conviction and a recommendation of a 419-year plus life sentence.  The details of these proceedings are covered in some prior posts linked below.

Prior related posts:

June 28, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Just how huge is the mess and challenge for lower federal courts after SCOTUS decisions in Davis, Haymond and Rehaif?

I feel like, in order to really understand their import, I will need weeks, maybe months, to reread and reflect on the three decisions that were big wins for federal criminal defendants handed down by SCOTUS in the last week.  But, of course, lower courts do not have an academic's luxury of time to make sense of US v. Davis, No. 18-431 (S. Ct. June 24, 2019) (available here; discussed here), US v. Haymond, No. 17-1672 (S. Ct. June 26, 2019) (available here; discussed here) and Rehaif v. US, No. 17-9560 (S. Ct. June 21, 2019) (available here; discussed here). 

I suspect some lower courts are already starting to get motions from federal prisoners or defendants in pending cases that are based on these rulings.  And the Supreme Court's final order list this morning has a bunch of remands based on these rulings that highlight the coming work for federal Circuit Courts as well.  (For those interested in an accounting, I counted sixth Davis GVRs, one Haymond GVR, and four Rehaif GVRs.)

I will not try in this post to sort out the likely litigation echoes of these cases, but I will try to crowd source opinions as to which of these cases will prove most impactful and consequential.  Of course, impactful and consequential can be defined lots of different ways — e.g., it might be gauged based on the number of disruptions of prior convictions and sentences, emergence of a new jurisprudence, possible legislative responses, total volume of cites and litigation, etc.  Without getting too bogged down in trying to define these terms, I just want to put the question out there for collective engagement among the always informed and thoughtful readers of this blog:

Among the trio of Davis, Haymond and Rehaif, which of these recent rulings by SCOTUS for a federal criminal defendant do you think will prove to be the most impactful and consequential?

June 28, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

SCOTUS, in final order of OT 2018, adds two more federal criminal cases to docket for next Term

The Supreme Court released its final order list for the Term today, and it unsurprisingly starts with a bunch of remands based on its recent big criminal rulings.  I will do a distinct post on those remands, and here will instead focus on a few of the 11+ cases in which SCOTUS granted certiorari review for hearing the cases in the fall.  Most of these cases (some of which are consolidated) deal with civil issues, but I see two that are federal criminal matters: Kelly, Bridget v. United States, No. 18-1059, and Shular, Eddie v. United States, No. 18-6662.

SCOTUSblog has this page covering Kelly, which emerges from the high-profile "Bridgegate" scandal in New Jersey and present this issue:  "Whether a public official 'defraud[s]' the government of its property by advancing a “public policy reason” for an official decision that is not her subjective “real reason” for making the decision."

And the Shular case is yet another case raising an important technical issue in the application of the Armed Career Criminal Act, with the cert petition presenting this question: "Whether the determination of a 'serious drug offense' under the Armed Career Criminal Act requires the same categorical approach used in the determination of a 'violent felony' under the Act?"

Last but not last, the SCOTUS order list ends with a cert denial in a South Carolina case, McGee v. McFadden, No. 18-7277, which prompted an eight-page dissent from Justice Sotomayor starting this way:

Pro se petitioner Shannon McGee has a strong argument that his trial and resulting life sentence were fundamentally unfair because the State withheld material exculpatory evidence.  See Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83, 87 (1963).  The state courts offered flawed rationales for rejecting that claim. Nevertheless, the District Court denied McGee federal habeas relief, and both the District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit summarily declined to grant McGee a “certificate of appealability” (COA), 28 U.S.C. §2253(c), concluding that his claim was not even debatable.  Without a COA, McGee cannot obtain appellate review on the merits of his claim.  See ibid.  Because the COA procedure should facilitate, not frustrate, fulsome review of potentially meritorious claims like McGee’s, I would grant the petition for writ of certiorari and reverse the denial of a COA.

June 28, 2019 in Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 27, 2019

"Somewhere Between Death Row and Death Watch: How Courts Have Precluded Capital Defendants From Raising Execution-Related Claims"

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

Most discussion on capital punishment focus on the merits of the death penalty generally.  While those arguments are surely important, for as long as capital punishment remains in the United States, safeguarding defendants’ rights throughout the capital sentencing process — including through execution — is crucial.  As part of that effort, this Article identifies a portion of the often-overlooked capital appellate process that effectively divests defendants of significant claims.

This issue is illustrated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Bucklew v. Precythe and Dunn v. Price, which provided insight in a lot of contexts.  Contributing to the conversation on the Court’s recent decisions, this Article explains how Bucklew and Dunn provided insight into not-so-obvious aspects of capital punishment with which defendants often struggle.  Specifically, Bucklew and Dunn illustrate the procedural predicament defendants face in raising execution- and warrant-related claims.  On one hand, courts determine that execution-related claims are not ripe, or premature, when raised before a defendant is under an active death warrant.  On the other, as in Bucklew and Dunn, when the defendant is under an active death warrant, courts determine the claims are brought too late, suspecting a game of delay.  Thus, as this Article explains, the proper time for defendants to raise execution-related claims is caught somewhere between death row and death watch, and courts have essentially precluded defendants from properly raising and being heard on these issues.

Addressing this concern, this Article canvasses potential solutions.  Ultimately, this Article concludes that the best solution is for states to enact and courts to enforce uniform warrant procedures, an example of which is outlined here. 

June 27, 2019 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ruling 5-4, SCOTUS upholds constitutionality of blood test of unconscious driver

The Supreme Court handed down its last notable criminal justice ruling of the Term with a decision in favor of police powers in Mitchell v. Wisconsin, No. 18-6210 (S. Ct. June 27, 2019) (available here).  Here is the (no longer all that) surprising cast of voting characters:

ALITO, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which ROBERTS, C.J., and BREYER and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG and KAGAN, JJ., joined. GORSUCH, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Here is how Justice Alito's pularity opinion gets started:

In this case, we return to a topic that we have addressed twice in recent years: the circumstances under which a police officer may administer a warrantless blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test to a motorist who appears to have been driving under the influence of alcohol. We have previously addressed what officers may do in two broad categories of cases.  First, an officer may conduct a BAC test if the facts of a particular case bring it within the exigent-circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment’s general requirement of a warrant.  Second, if an officer has probable cause to arrest a motorist for drunk driving, the officer may conduct a breath test (but not a blood test) under the rule allowing warrantless searches of a person incident to arrest.

Today, we consider what police officers may do in a narrow but important category of cases: those in which the driver is unconscious and therefore cannot be given a breath test.  In such cases, we hold, the exigent circumstances rule almost always permits a blood test without a warrant.  When a breath test is impossible, enforcement of the drunk-driving laws depends upon the administration of a blood test.  And when a police officer encounters an unconscious driver, it is very likely that the driver would be taken to an emergency room and that his blood would be drawn for diagnostic purposes even if the police were not seeking BAC information.  In addition, police officers most frequently come upon unconscious drivers when they report to the scene of an accident, and under those circumstances, the officers’ many responsibilities — such as attending to other injured drivers or passengers and preventing further accidents — may be incompatible with the procedures that would be required to obtain a warrant. Thus, when a driver is unconscious, the general rule is that a warrant is not needed.

Here is how Justice Thomas's fifth vote concurring opinion gets started:

Today, the plurality adopts a difficult-to-administer rule: Exigent circumstances are generally present when police encounter a person suspected of drunk driving — except when they aren’t.  Compare ante, at 13, with ante, at 16. The plurality’s presumption will rarely be rebutted, but it will nevertheless burden both officers and courts who must attempt to apply it.  “The better (and far simpler) way to resolve” this case is to apply “the per se rule” I proposed in Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U.S. 141 (2013) (dissenting opinion).  Birchfield v. North Dakota, 579 U. S. ___, ___ (2016) (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part) (slip op., at 3). Under that rule, the natural metabolization of alcohol in the blood stream “‘creates an exigency once police have probable cause to believe the driver is drunk,’” regardless of whether the driver is conscious.  Id., at ___ (slip op., at 4).  Because I am of the view that the Wisconsin Supreme Court should apply that rule on remand, I concur only in the judgment.

Here is how Justice Sotomayor's dissenting opinion gets started:

The plurality’s decision rests on the false premise that today’s holding is necessary to spare law enforcement from a choice between attending to emergency situations and securing evidence used to enforce state drunk-driving laws. Not so. To be sure, drunk driving poses significant dangers that Wisconsin and other States must be able to curb. But the question here is narrow: What must police do before ordering a blood draw of a person suspected of drunk driving who has become unconscious? Under the Fourth Amendment, the answer is clear: If there is time, get a warrant.

And Justice Gorsuch's dissent is just this one paragraph:

We took this case to decide whether Wisconsin drivers impliedly consent to blood alcohol tests thanks to a state statute. That law says that anyone driving in Wisconsin agrees — by the very act of driving—to testing under certain circumstances.  But the Court today declines to answer the question presented. Instead, it upholds Wisconsin’s law on an entirely different ground — citing the exigent circumstances doctrine. While I do not doubt that the Court may affirm for any reason supported by the record, the application of the exigent circumstances doctrine in this area poses complex and difficult questions that neither the parties nor the courts below discussed.  Rather than proceeding solely by self-direction, I would have dismissed this case as improvidently granted and waited for a case presenting the exigent circumstances question.

June 27, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Taking more stock of the many shades of Justice Neil Gorsuch in criminal cases

I-dont-always-vote-in-favor-of-criminal-defendants-but-when-i-do-justice-alito-starts-drinking-dos-eIn this post on Monday, fresh on the heels of noticing Justice Neil Gorsuch's notable votes for the claims of federal criminal defendants in US v. Gundy and Rehaif v. US and Davis v. US, I reviewed Justice Gorsuch's interesting and varied votes and role in big contested criminal cases from the SCOTUS docket this Term.  Of course, Wednesday brought another data point via the Court's ruling in US v. Haymond, a case in which Justice Gorsuch provided a key swing vote in a 5-4 ruling for another federal criminal defendant and wrote a potent plurality opinion extolling the importance of the Sixth Amendment jury trial right (basics here).

But lest one let four notable late-in-the-Term votes unduly shape one's view of Justice Gorsuch's approach in criminal cases, Leah Litman has this new Slate commentary designed to make sure nobody comes to think Justice Gorsuch is always channeling the late Justice William Brennan.  The piece is bluntly headlined "Neil Gorsuch Is No Friend to Criminal Defendants," and everyone interested in this topic should read the whole thing.  Here are excerpts:

Writers like to depict him as a friend to criminal defendants; the tone of several pieces even makes it sounds like he is among the most-criminal-defendant-friendly justices on the modern court.  And some commentators who cannot resist the blazing hot countertakes have even suggested that Gorsuch is better for criminal defendants than a Justice Merrick Garland would have been.

Where to start?  Even just a few cases from the Supreme Court’s current term make it clear that Gorsuch is no friend to criminal defendants.  The fact that he rules against the government in some number of criminal cases, and occasionally departs from his more law-and-order conservative colleagues in doing so, does not change that fact.  At most, Gorsuch is as good for criminal defendants as the least-criminal-defendant-friendly Democratic appointee.  That hardly makes him a hero.  On some cases, Gorsuch has played the villain....

It is true that Gorsuch sometimes departs from his conservative colleagues and rules for criminal defendants.  It is also true that his seemingly libertarian instincts lead him to be more friendly to criminal defendants than Justice Brett Kavanaugh....  But all of these examples hardly establish that Gorsuch is a friend to criminal defendants. The fact that his aggressive approach to constitutional law, which largely frees him from the constraints of stare decisis, occasionally leads him to reshape the law in ways that favor criminal defendants should not obscure the many times that he has reached out to reshape the law in ways that would meaningfully harm them.

Notably, Ramesh Ponnuru already has this partial response to this piece at the National Review under the headline "A Gorsuch Made Mostly of Straw." Here is how it closes:

The attention to Gorsuch’s pro-criminal defendant rulings really could create a misleading impression about his jurisprudence generally and it is worth providing a more complete sense of it.  But I am left thinking that Gorsuch’s defenders have mostly not argued for him as a friend of criminal defendants — nor should they have, since a Supreme Court justice shouldn’t approach the kind of cases that come before him with a bias for or against criminal defendants.

My quick take it that Justice Gorsuch is particularly drawn to arguments from defendants (especially federal defendants) that concern the structural elements of the Constitution and our criminal justice system that protect individual liberty.  At the same time, he seems particularly unmoved by arguments made by state defendants (especially state capital defendants) that concern when he may consider "mere" matters of justice administration that can and should be trusted to the states. In this regard, he seems to approach the criminal docket somewhat akin to the Justice he replaced, Justice Antonin Scalia, and that is enough for me to anoint him the most interesting person on the Court in criminal cases (see silly picture above).

What strikes me as particularly interesting for the Court as a whole with respect to its criminal jurisprudence is the fact that the Chief Justice and Justice Brett Kavanaugh seem to becoming the yang to Justice Gorsuch's yin.  In capital cases, Chief Justice and Justice Kavanaugh seem often at least a bit more inclined to vote in favor of a capital defendant (Madison v. Alabama and Flowers v. Mississippi) come to mind, whereas in some of the structural cases they are disinclined to rule for a federal defendant (as in Davis v. US and US v. Haymond).  Interesting times.

Prior related post:

June 27, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Notable new comments about crime and prosecutions from AG William Barr in speech to United States Attorneys

I noted last week that I have not recently posted too many speeches on crime and punishment from Justice Department leaders in part because there have not been too many of these speeches lately.  But today, Attorney General William Barr delivered these extended remarks as the "Opening Remarks at the U.S. Attorney's Conference" in Washington DC.  The whole speech is worth reading, and here are some excepts:

We can all be rightly proud of this Administration’s record on violent crime.  We have made impressive progress. But we must keep up a full court press.  There are still areas of the country where we have not made sufficient headway. For many communities in America, armed criminals and violent crime are still the norm.  We cannot accept this status quo.

That is why the Department remains committed to driving down violent crime, including through the vigorous prosecution of firearms offenses.  I have been glad to see that prosecutions under § 922(g) are at an all-time high.  We need to maintain our focus on getting illegal guns off the streets and out of the hands of violent criminals.  I want all of our offices to work with their state and local partners on “Triggerlock” cases that take advantage of stiff federal penalties to punish and deter violent felons. I also want to see vigorous enforcement of the background-check process, both against prohibited persons who “lie and try” and against firearm dealers who skirt the process. We need to provide real deterrence.  I look forward to working with all of you to step up our drive against gun crime.

As you all know, we also cannot reduce violent crime without confronting the role of gangs and other criminal organizations.  Working with our state and local partners, we must keep sustained pressure on these groups, which are primary drivers of violent crime. Many of these criminal organization have national or transnational profiles, and thus require a coordinated federal strategy....

While I am talking about violent crime, I want to make clear that, while our focus is often on predatory violence, I am also deeply concerned about the rise in hate crimes that we have seen over the past decade.  We must have zero tolerance for violence that is motivated by hatred for our fellow citizens — whether on the basis of their racial, religious, or sexual characteristics.  We also need to take a strong stand against those who would use violence to intimidate people from exercising their rights to free speech and to participate in the democratic process.

In addition to guns and gangs, the other significant driver of violent crime is drug crime, which represents another priority for the Department.  When I returned to the Department as Attorney General, it was disheartening to learn about the state of the drug problem across the country.  In most respects, the problem is much worse than when I left the Department in 1993.  I believe that the last Administration was not aggressive enough in fighting the drug threat; a lot of ground was lost; and a tsunami was allowed to build up that has been hitting the country.

We cannot be discouraged.  When I look at the overdose deaths, the blighted lives, and the families and communities broken by drug addiction, it reminds me why we cannot surrender.  We must work harder than ever.

I am proud that this Administration has shone a much-needed light on the opioid epidemic and that the Department has taken a number of dramatic steps to tackle this national crisis head on. And while there are encouraging signs of progress, our work is far from over.  On the streets, the rise of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids has been followed by 100-times stronger car-fentanyl and by mixtures of fentanyl with cocaine and other drugs.  We must also continue our efforts to prevent and punish diversion of licit drugs, another area where the Department has done great work.  And, as you know, while opioids are the most acute problem in many areas of the country, in other areas Mexican methamphetamine is surging.  We must keep fighting and keep innovating to match the ever-evolving threat....

As I alluded to earlier, there are also a number of other focused initiatives that I hope to see continue and strengthen during my tenure.  For me, the elder-fraud initiative provides a great example for how the Department can use its resources with a high return.  Not only is the elderly population among our most vulnerable citizens, but we are learning more and more about the role of foreign and transnational criminal organizations in perpetrating these schemes.  Another area I want see us redouble our efforts is in prosecuting human trafficking violations, especially those involving children....

That should give you a sense of my views on the priorities of the Department. But my charge today is not for you go out into the field and to maximize prosecutions in each of these categories. You will always need to strike a balance.  And as you do, here are a few things to keep in mind:

First, in a Department like ours, the notion of priorities should not be confused.  We have an obligation to enforce federal law, and that means covering all of the bases as best we can. If we say that the Department will prioritize violent crime prosecutions, we know that this cannot mean we ignore civil-rights violations or environmental crimes.  We must try our best to enforce federal law across the board with the limited resources we have.

A necessary corollary is that federal prosecutors must exercise sound discretion to strike a balance.  This balance requires that each of you adapt the Department’s general priorities to the specific circumstances of your districts. Thus, while opioids represent the greatest drug threat in many districts, others face greater problems with methamphetamines or cocaine.  And while transnational criminal organizations may be the primary driver of violent crime in one city, another may struggle with more localized, home-grown groups.  Our Department priorities are never intended to take your eyes off the leading problems in your district, including the great work of your civil divisions, which protect government resources by defending the United States and rooting out fraud against the government. Each of you is responsible for determining where we can have the biggest impact in advancing the safety and well-being of your communities....

Fairness must inform all that we do. After all, the whole concept of our American constitution was to establish a Government that could serve the common good while checking government power to protect individual liberty. And that is the Constitution we are sworn to support and defend.  As you carry out your mission, I rely on you to lead wisely, hold those who injure the public accountable, and zealously represent the United States in court, while at the same time maintaining unshakable confidence in the rule of law and justice for all. That is your charge, and I know that you embrace it willingly, and well.

June 26, 2019 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The Future of Presidential Clemency Decisionmaking"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and timely new article authored by Paul Larkin and now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

The Framers gave the president the clemency power when the federal government and the nation were in their infancy.  The president has far more demands on his time today than George Washington did in 1789.  The time necessary to make clemency decisions, even if done properly (and it has not always been done that way) alone could keep a large number of aides busy full time, let alone exhaust a chief executive troubled by the prospect that too many innocent people are rotting in prison or that too many people have been sentenced to the slow death of unnecessarily long terms of imprisonment.  Accordingly, the question is whether the president should leave clemency judgments to others, particularly ones who are professionals at sentencing.

Some scholars have suggested reinstituting some form of parole.  Yet, I think that we not will see a rebirth of parole any time soon.  The criticisms that persuaded Congress to abandon parole in the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 have not disappeared or lost their force.  Proof can be seen in the fact that, during the debate over the First Step Act of 2018, neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate seriously considered reinstituting parole to address the overcrowding that federal prisons have witnessed over the last decade-plus.  Other scholars urge Congress to adopt a “second-look” resentencing system.  That also is unlikely.  The suggestion that Congress reinstitute some type of second-look mechanism would be scorned as the attempted resurrection of parole under an alias.  Indeed, the First Step Act approached this issue by using well-settled good-time and earned-time credit systems to decide whether and when to release prisoners, not a second-look mechanism.

A third option, however, can be found in a provision of the First Step Act modifying the gatekeeper role played by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) since the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 went into effect.  An argument can be made that district courts now can resentence prisoners because prisoners can now go to court to argue that “extraordinary and compelling reasons” justify their early release without needing the BOP to ask a court for that relief.  That type of change to the law, however, is far from the type of interstitial fleshing out that Congress traditionally delegates to others.  Nonetheless, it remains to be seen how the Supreme Court will resolve that issue.

June 26, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

SCOTUS, via splintered 5-4 ruling, decides that supervised release revocation procedures used in Haymond are unconstitutional

Via a divided opinion thanks to the separate vote of Justice Breyer, the Supreme Court this morning ruled in favor of a federal criminal defendant's claim that the procedures used to revoke his federal supervised release term and send him back to prison was unconstitutional in US v. Haymond, No. 17-1672 (S. Ct. June 26, 2019) (available here).  Here is the vote/opinion break down in the case:

GORSUCH, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which GINSBURG, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and THOMAS and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined.

Here is how Justice Gorsuch's lead plurality opinion starts:

Only a jury, acting on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, may take a person’s liberty.  That promise stands as one of the Constitution’s most vital protections against arbitrary government.  Yet in this case a congressional statute compelled a federal judge to send a man to prison for a minimum of five years without empaneling a jury of his peers or requiring the government to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  As applied here, we do not hesitate to hold that the statute violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

Because Justice Breyer's fifth vote is essential to the result here, his short concurring opinion demands quoting at length. So:

I agree with much of the dissent, in particular that the role of the judge in a supervised-release proceeding is consistent with traditional parole. See post, at 9–10 (opinion of ALITO, J.).  As 18 U.S.C. §3583 makes clear, Congress did not intend the system of supervised release to differ from parole in this respect. And in light of the potentially destabilizing consequences, I would not transplant the Apprendi line of cases to the supervised-release context.  See post, at 4–5....

Nevertheless, I agree with the plurality that this specific provision of the supervised-release statute, §3583(k), is unconstitutional.  Revocation of supervised release is typically understood as “part of the penalty for the initial offense.”  Johnson v. United States, 529 U. S. 694, 700 (2000).  The consequences that flow from violation of the conditions of supervised release are first and foremost considered sanctions for the defendant’s “breach of trust” — his “failure to follow the court-imposed conditions” that followed his initial conviction — not “for the particular conduct triggering the revocation as if that conduct were being sentenced as new federal criminal conduct.”  United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual ch. 7, pt. A, intro. 3(b) (Nov. 2018); see post, at 12–13.  Consistent with that view, the consequences for violation of conditions of supervised release under §3583(e), which governs most revocations, are limited by the severity of the original crime of conviction, not the conduct that results in revocation.  See §3583(e)(3) (specifying that a defendant may as a consequence of revocation serve no “more than 5 years in prison if the offense that resulted in the term of supervised release is a class A felony, [no] more than 3 years in prison if . . . a class B felony,” and so on).

Section 3583(k) is difficult to reconcile with this understanding of supervised release.  In particular, three aspects of this provision, considered in combination, lead me to think it is less like ordinary revocation and more like punishment for a new offense, to which the jury right would typically attach.  First, §3583(k) applies only when a defendant commits a discrete set of federal criminal offenses specified in the statute.  Second, §3583(k) takes away the judge’s discretion to decide whether violation of a condition of supervised release should result in imprisonment and for how long.  Third, §3583(k) limits the judge’s discretion in a particular manner: by imposing a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of “not less than 5 years” upon a judge’s finding that a defendant has “commit[ted] any” listed “criminal offense.”

Taken together, these features of §3583(k) more closely resemble the punishment of new criminal offenses, but without granting a defendant the rights, including the jury right, that attend a new criminal prosecution.  And in an ordinary criminal prosecution, a jury must find facts that trigger a mandatory minimum prison term. Alleyne, 570 U. S., at 103.

Accordingly, I would hold that §3583(k) is unconstitutional and remand for the Court of Appeals to address the question of remedy.  Because this is the course adopted by the plurality, I concur in the judgment.

And here is how Justice Alito's dissent starts:

I do not think that there is a constitutional basis for today’s holding, which is set out in JUSTICE BREYER’s opinion, but it is narrow and has saved our jurisprudence from the consequences of the plurality opinion, which is not based on the original meaning of the Sixth Amendment, is irreconcilable with precedent, and sports rhetoric with potentially revolutionary implications.  The plurality opinion appears to have been carefully crafted for the purpose of laying the groundwork for later decisions of much broader scope.

WOW! I am surprised and disappointed that the Chief Justice and Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh all sign off on Justice Alito's dissent. I thought for sure one or more of them would be inclined to vote with the defendant in this case on at least a narrow ground.  But it seems Justice Gorsuch was so eager to swing for the Fifth and Sixth Amendment fences, he could not get any of these other Justices to stay on his team in this notable case.  I will need a few hours, probably a few days, to figure out just what this means now and for the future of Fifth and Sixth Amendment sentencing jurisprudence.  For now, I will just say WOW again.

UPDATE: I see this new post at Crime & Consequences on this ruling with this adroit title "An Odd 'Supervised Release' Law Bites the Apprendi Dust."

June 26, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

District Court finds statutory sentence reform among "extraordinary and compelling reasons" for reducing LWOP sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)

As regular readers know, ever since the passage of the FIRST STEP Act, I have been talking up 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) as a critical and valuable new mechanism to reduce problematic prison sentences in any and every case in which the defendant presents "extraordinary and compelling reasons" for the reductions.  Though to date it seems this imprisonment-reduction authority granted by 3582(c)(1)(A) has been used almost only for so-called compassionate release situations in which a prisoner was extremely ill or had an extreme family situation, I posted here yesterday a recent example of a judge finding other reasons sufficient to reduce a sentence and making clear that the new FIRST STEP Act allows a judge broad authority to "determine whether any extraordinary and compelling reasons" justified a reduction in a prison term.  United States v. Cantu, No. 1:05-CR-458-1, 2019 WL 2498923 (S.D. Tex. June 17, 2019).

Interestingly, around the time I was blogging about the Cantu ruling, another US District Court judge was issuing another important § 3582(c)(1)(A) ruling in United States v. Cantu-Rivera, Cr. No. H-89-204 (SD Tex. June 24, 2019) (available for download below).  This one, penned by Judge Sim Lake, is the first cases I have seen in which a defendant serving an LWOP sentence has had his sentence reduced to time served (30 years!) via a motion under § 3582(c)(1)(A).  This new Cantu-Rivera ruling, which runs only six pages and merits a full read, includes these notable passages:

Mr. Cantu-Rivera meets the age-related definition of extraordinary and compelling circumstances in U.S.S.G.§ lBl.13, comment. (n.l(B)).  He is 69 years old, he is experiencing serious deterioration in physical health because of the aging process (arthritic conditions in multiple joints, cataracts, diabetes, prostrate conditions), and he has served 30 years in prison....

The Court also recognizes the extraordinary degree of rehabilitation Mr. Cantu-Rivera has accomplished during the 30 years he has been incarcerated.  That rehabilitation includes extensive educational achievements, including Mr. Cantu-Rivera's completion of over 4,000 hours of teaching while in federal prison to complete a Teaching Aide apprenticeship with the Department of Labor.  The extraordinary degree of rehabilitation is also evident in Mr. Cantu-Rivera's service as a teaching assistant in several prison facilities for high-school equivalency and English-as-a­ Second-Language programs and his service in the BOP's suicide watch program, helping to care for inmates placed in solitary confinement due to suicide attempts.  Finally, the Court recognizes as a factor in this combination the fundamental change to sentencing policy carried out in the First Step Act's elimination of life imprisonment as a mandatory sentence solely by reason of a defendant's prior convictions.  § 401(a)(2)(A)(ii), 132 Stat. at 5220 (codified at 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)).  The combination of all of these factors establishes the extraordinary and compelling reasons justifying the reduction in sentence in this case.

Download Cantu-Rivera Opinion

A few prior related posts on § 3582(c)(1)(A) after FIRST STEP Act:

June 25, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Expecting (good?) criminal justice reform questions in the coming Democratic debates

Long-time readers know I cannot resist gearing up for big Presidential debates by suggesting some criminal justice and sentencing questions I would like to hear asked and encouraging readers to do the same.  (And if you want to see how the shape and nature of the criminal justice debate evolves in four-year increments, you might enjoy looking through this blog's archive of posts connected to Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues and Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues and Campaign 2016 and sentencing issues.)

This new Time piece purports to tell you "Everything You Need to Know" with the first Democratic debate(s) slated for later this week.  The Time article mentions some of the topics sure to arise during the debates (e.g., Medicare for All, student debt, Green New Deal), but it does not flag criminal justice issues.  Still, for the first time that I can remember, I will genuinely be surprised if these debates fail to explore some hot-button criminal justice reform issues that actually do (somewhat) divide the Dem field such as prisoner voting, the death penalty, marijuana reform and even clemency powers.

Given that we are still more than six months away from even the first primary or caucus votes, I expect I will have plenty of time to suggest some good and tough questions for various debates.  For today, I will have fun suggesting a question that I know will never be asked but interests me very much:

Proposed question: "Given stated concerns about mass incarceration and criminal justice reforms, and especially given the challenges of implementing the FIRST STEP Act, do you think it is especially problematic that the US Sentencing Commission has lacked a full slate of Commissioners for all of the Trump Administration and now lacks a quorum for completing any work?  If so, can you name a few people whom you might consider appointing to the Sentencing Commission, and do you feel confident these appointees could quickly secure Senate confirmation?"

Because this is such an "inside baseball" kind of issue, this might be perceived as more of a "gotcha" question (especially given that then-candidate Barack Obama said some some foolish things about federal sentencing issues back in summer 2007 that showed an ignorance about the USSC's work).  But I would really like to see the current problems with the US Sentencing Commission highlighted in a high-profile setting, and I think a question about the USSC could quickly reveal who really understands how the federal criminal justice system operates structurally.

As always for these posts, I welcome reader feedback on my question as well as other suggested questions for the many, many coming debates.

June 25, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Which Presidential Candidate Would Give David Barren His Freedom?"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Filter commentary authored by Rory Fleming.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

David Barren is a Black man from Pittsburgh who was sentenced in 2010 to life without parole in the federal criminal justice system.  That was during President Obama’s tenure — despite his heavily implying that no one should serve more than 20 years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense — and while Attorney General Eric Holder ran the Department of Justice.

Barren was accused of leading a conspiracy involving the distribution of over 150 kilograms of cocaine — though trial transcripts show that federal prosecutors, the defense attorney and the judge had huge difficulty determining how much cocaine there really was.  While the government claimed that there was $1.2 million of drug money to be seized, court documents show it was $76,000 plus Barren’s house, worth approximately $500,000.

Anrica Caldwell, Barren’s fiancée, believes that federal prosecutors on the case demanded life in retaliation for his actually taking them to trial — something of a unicorn in the federal justice system, in which 97 percent of cases end in plea deals.  At least one of his co-conspirators got only four years in prison for the conspiracy, after testifying against Barren.

Obama felt bad for him, but only to a point. He commuted Barren’s sentence to 30 years on his final day in office.  As Barren himself wrote in an email to Reason reporter CJ Ciaramella, he got a “reduction from LIFE in letters, to life in letters and numbers.”

Caldwell, an elementary school teacher in Pittsburgh, is the vice president of CAN-DO, an organization that tirelessly fights for clemency for nonviolent federal drug prisoners. “Baby, I’m gonna die in here,” Barren told her in a call from prison in January 2017.  He is currently 54, and not due to be released until 2034....

But at least one presidential candidate, Senator Cory Booker — recognizing that as things stand, nothing is going to change in time to save people like Barren — is going for broke. Indeed, Booker’s new clemency plan aims at reducing sentences for potentially tens of thousands of people serving federal time for drugs.  Unlike Obama, he said he would do it by executive order — constituting a White House clemency recommendation panel that is not hamstrung by the US Department of Justice, which currently houses the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

This would arguably represent the first time in US history that a president told federal line prosecutors to stuff their hyper-carceral, alarmist agenda.  Obama buckled significantly to their pressure by leaving many people like Barren out to dry on de facto life sentences. “People assume that Obama’s clemency initiative means 1,700 people are kicking their feet up now at home,” said Caldwell, “and that’s just not true.”

Barren’s case is pending before the Trump White House for additional clemency relief, and Caldwell hopes this could be seen as an opportunity for Trump to prove he is serious about the issue before an election year.

Two other presidential candidates could follow Booker’s ambitious clemency reasoning.  In the Queens District Attorney race, perhaps the biggest criminal justice referendum of the year, both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have joined liberal media in endorsing Tiffany Cabán, who promises more proportional sanctions for both nonviolent and violent crime.

Sanders and Warren should talk about their plans for criminal justice reform in more detail, as it is the biggest civil rights issue of our time.  Would they give a man like David Barren a chance? Or would they, too, let his clock run out before he can see his loved ones from outside of the bars?

A few of many older and recent related posts: 

June 25, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Clemency and Pardons, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 24, 2019

New District Court ruling confirms that "any extraordinary and compelling reasons" can now provide basis for reducing imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)

As regular readers know, even since the passage of the FIRST STEP Act, I have been talking up 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) as a critical and valuable new mechanism to reduce problematic prison sentences in any and every case in which the defendant presents "extraordinary and compelling reasons" for the reductions. To date, it seemed that the imprisonment reduction authority granted by 3582(c)(1)(A) had been used almost only for so-called compassionate release situations in which a prisoner was extremely ill or had an extreme family situation.

But now, thanks to this posting by Shon Hopwood, I see that District Court Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo resentenced Conrado Cantu under this provision via a thorough and thoughtful order explaining why, in the wake of the FIRST STEP Act, "when a defendant brings a motion for a sentence reduction under the amended provision, the Court can determine whether any extraordinary and compelling reasons other than those delineated in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13 cmt. n.1(A)–(C) warrant granting relief." United States v. Cantu, No. 1:05-CR-458-1, 2019 WL 2498923 (S.D. Tex. June 17, 2019) (reprinted opinion available for download below).

As Shon explains in this post, this Cantu case may be the first in which a federal judge has "held that nothing in the statutory text of § 3582(c), nor the Sentencing Guidelines, precludes a judge from making its own determination of what are 'extraordinary and compelling' circumstances warranting a reduction of sentence."  Shon and I think this is exactly the right reading of 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) after the changes made by the FIRST STEP Act.  Before FIRST STEP, the Bureau of Prisons was the gatekeeper for what motions should be brought for a reduction of imprisonment based on "extraordinary and compelling reasons."  Congress was clearly discontent with how that was going (and for good reason), and so now judges are to decide without a gatekeeper when  a term of imprisonment should be reduced based on "extraordinary and compelling reasons."

In light of all the big federal criminal justice rulings on behalf of criminal defendants in the last few days (especially Rehaif and Davis), I am wondering and hoping litigants and judges might now start to see the value of using 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) to operationalize some new precedents rather than rely only or even primarily on 2255 motions.  There are a number of problematic procedural issues that can arise when a prisoner tries to get a favorable SCOTUS ruling applied retroactively through a 2255 motion.  But if the prisoner can show that a new SCOTUS ruling is part of what provides "extraordinary and compelling reasons" for a prison reduction (and such a reduction is in keeping with the traditional 3553(a) factors), perhaps motions via 3582(c)(1)(A) will go down easier than 2255 motions.

Download United States v Cantu

A few prior related posts on § 3582(c)(1)(A) after FIRST STEP Act:

June 24, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Gundy, Rehaif and Davis, oh my: object lessons in results-oriented jurisprudence

Wo-maab21165With apologies to Dorothy and with uncertainty about just which Justices should be cast as the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion, the title of this post is meant in part to reflect how I am feeling overwhelmed trying to process the results and votes in three big federal criminal justice cases over the last three workdays, namely Gundy v. US, 17-6086 (S. Ct. June 20, 2019) (available here; discussed here), Rehaif v. US, No. 17-9560 (S. Ct. June 21, 2019) (available here; discussed here), and US v. Davis, No. 18-431 (S. Ct. June 24, 2019) (available here; discussed here). 

Beyond being overwhelmed by 150+ pages of dense SCOTUS text, I am also struck by my sense that so many of the Justices in these cases have had their opinions shaped by the likely or feared results of a ruling one way or another.  To this end, this passage from the majority opinion penned by Justice Gorsuch today in Davis caught my eye:

In the end, the dissent is forced to argue that holding §924(c)(3)(B) unconstitutional would invite “bad” social policy consequences.  Post, at 34.  In fact, the dissent’s legal analysis only comes sandwiched between a lengthy paean to laws that impose severe punishments for gun crimes and a rogue’s gallery of offenses that may now be punished somewhat less severely.  See post, at 1–2, 30–34.  The dissent acknowledges that “the consequences cannot change our understanding of the law.”  Post, at 34.  But what’s the point of all this talk of “bad” consequences if not to suggest that judges should be tempted into reading the law to satisfy their policy goals?

I am not inclined to use this post to rail against results-oriented jurisprudence, in part because I think all jurisprudence is results-oriented in one sense or another.  But with Gundy, Rehaif and Davis all so new and raw, and with surely lots of fall-out and follow-up to flow from these decisions, I could not resist a post spotlighting a little (Emerald City) legal realism.  And with Haymond still in the works, perhaps even the Sixth Amendment Wizard will be revealed before too long.

P.S.:  If anyone is eager to cast certain Justices as the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion (or the Wicked Witch or Glinda or the Wizard or Auntie Em or even Toto), feel free to have at it in the comments.

UPDATE: Here are links to the SCOTUSblog analyses of these opinions:

On Gundy by Mila Sohoni, "Court refuses to resurrect nondelegation doctrine"

On Rehaif by Evan Lee, "Felons-in-possession must know they are felons"

On Davis by Leah Litman, "Vagueness doctrine as a shield for criminal defendants"

June 24, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Accounting Justice Gorsuch's votes (and opinions) so far this SCOTUS Term in big criminal cases

I am going to need a few hours (and days and weeks) to fully process the latest huge vagueness ruling from SCOTUS today in US v. Davis (basics here).  But Justice Gorsuch's latest decision to serve as the fifth vote (and to write the opinion for the Court) in this major ruling for a federal criminal defendant has me now eager to do a (too) quick accounting of his work in this space this Term.  Though we still await two more notable criminal rulings this Term — US v. Haymond and Mitchell v. Wisconsin — I do not think it is too early to start reviewing the Term that was and Justice Gorsuch's particularly interesting role in the criminal docket.

I am going to focus here on major contested criminal justice ruling from OT 2018 (going in the order argued), and I welcome feedback on this accounting as I start taking stock:

US v. Gundy, 5-3 ruling for feds, Justice Gorsuch in dissent for federal defendant

Madison v. Alabama, 5-3 ruling for state capital defendant, Justice Gorsuch in dissent for state

Stokeling v. US, 5-4 ruling for feds, Justice Gorsuch in majority

Garza v. Idaho, 6-3 ruling for state defendant, Justice Gorsuch in dissent for state

Bucklew v. Precythe, 5-4  ruling for state in capital case, Justice Gorsuch authors majority

Gamble v. US, 7-2 ruling for feds, Justice Gorsuch in dissent for federal defendant

Mont v. US, 5-4 ruling for feds, Justice Gorsuch in dissent for federal defendant

Flowers v. Mississippi, 7-2 ruling for state capital defendant, Justice Gorsuch in dissent for state

Davis v. US, 5-4  ruling for federal defendant, Justice Gorsuch authors majority

Rehaif v. US, 7-2 ruling for federal defendant, Justice Gorsuch in majority

Assembling this abridged list of notable criminal justice rulings this Term confirms my instinct that state capital defendants ought not be looking to get a vote from Justice Gorsuch (with the Chief Justice and Justice Kavanaugh seeming the most likely to swing), while federal defendants ought to be reasonably hopeful to get his vote in contested cases.  Though I hope and expect I the fine folks at SCOTUSblog and others can and will be do a more rigorous accounting on these matters at some point, I am eager to prime on-going conversations about how the current Court continues to be so very interesting and somewhat unpredictable on so many criminal cases.

June 24, 2019 in Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

SCOTUS, ruling 5-4, finds part of 924(c) unconstitutionally vague in Davis

This morning the Supreme Court in US v. Davis, No. 18-431 (S. Ct. June 24, 2019) (available here), has issues another huge ruling finding an important federal criminal statute unconstitutionally vague. The majority opinion in Davis is authored by Justice Gorsuch and starts this way:

In our constitutional order, a vague law is no law at all.  Only the people’s elected representatives in Congress have the power to write new federal criminal laws. And when Congress exercises that power, it has to write statutes that give ordinary people fair warning about what the law demands of them.  Vague laws transgress both of those constitutional requirements.  They hand off the legislature’s responsibility for defining criminal behavior to unelected prosecutors and judges, and they leave people with no sure way to know what consequences will attach to their conduct.  When Congress passes a vague law, the role of courts under our Constitution is not to fashion a new, clearer law to take its place, but to treat the law as a nullity and invite Congress to try again.

Today we apply these principles to 18 U. S. C. §924(c).  That statute threatens long prison sentences for anyone who uses a firearm in connection with certain other federal crimes. But which other federal crimes?  The statute’s residual clause points to those felonies “that by [their] nature, involv[e] a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” § 924(c)(3)(B).  Even the government admits that this language, read in the way nearly everyone (including the government) has long understood it, provides no reliable way to determine which offenses qualify as crimes of violence and thus is unconstitutionally vague.  So today the government attempts a new and alternative reading designed to save the residual clause. But this reading, it turns out, cannot be squared with the statute’s text, context, and history.  Were we to adopt it, we would be effectively stepping outside our role as judges and writing a new law rather than applying the one Congress adopted.

Justice Kavanaugh authors a very lengthy dissent for himself and three other Justices that starts this way:

Crime and firearms form a dangerous mix. From the 1960s through the 1980s, violent gun crime was rampant in America.  The wave of violence destroyed lives and devastated communities, particularly in America’s cities.  Between 1963 and 1968, annual murders with firearms rose by a staggering 87 percent, and annual aggravated assaults with firearms increased by more than 230 percent.

Faced with an onslaught of violent gun crime and its debilitating effects, the American people demanded action. In 1968, Congress passed and President Lyndon Johnson signed the Gun Control Act.  That law made it a separate federal crime to use or carry a firearm during a federal felony. Despite that and other efforts, violent crime with firearms continued at extraordinarily dangerous levels.  In 1984 and again in 1986, in legislation signed by President Reagan, Congress reenacted that provision of the 1968 Act, with amendments.  The law now prohibits, among other things, using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a federal “crime of violence.” 18 U. S. C. §924(c)(1)(A).  The law mandates substantial prison time for violators.

Over the last 33 years, tens of thousands of §924(c) cases have been prosecuted in the federal courts. Meanwhile, violent crime with firearms has decreased significantly.  Over the last 25 years, the annual rate of murders with firearms has dropped by about 50 percent, and the annual rate of nonfatal violent crimes (robberies, aggravated assaults, and sex crimes) with firearms has decreased by about 75 percent.  Violent crime in general (committed with or without a firearm) has also declined. During that same time period, both the annual rate of overall violent crime and the annual rate of murders have dropped by almost 50 percent.  Although the level of violent crime in America is still very high, especially in certain cities, Americans under the age of 40 probably cannot fully appreciate how much safer most American cities and towns are now than they were in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.  Many factors have contributed to the decline of violent crime in America. But one cannot dismiss the effects of state and federal laws that impose steep punishments on those who commit violent crimes with firearms.

Yet today, after 33 years and tens of thousands of federal prosecutions, the Court suddenly finds a key provision of §924(c) to be unconstitutional because it is supposedly too vague. That is a surprising conclusion for the Court to reach about a federal law that has been applied so often for so long with so little problem.  The Court’s decision today will make it harder to prosecute violent gun crimes in the future.  The Court’s decision also will likely mean that thousands of inmates who committed violent gun crimes will be released far earlier than Congress specified when enacting §924(c). The inmates who will be released early are not nonviolent offenders.  They are not drug offenders.  They are offenders who committed violent crimes with firearms, often brutally violent crimes.

June 24, 2019 in Gun policy and sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Supreme Court grants cert on AEPDA rules limiting habeas petitions

The Supreme Court this morning via this order list granted cert on a number of cases, one of which, Banister v. Davis, 18-6943, concerns federal habeas procedures.  Here is how the grant appears on the order list:

The motion of petitioner for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted, and the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted limited to the following question: Whether and under what circumstances a timely Rule 59(e) motion should be recharacterized as a second or successive habeas petition under Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524 (2005).

June 24, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, June 23, 2019

"Madison and the Mentally Ill: The Death Penalty for the Weak, Not the Worst"

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

Time and again, we are told that the death penalty is for the worst of the worst offenders, so how is it that the severely mentally ill end up in the snare of the capital justice system in the first place?  This essay — a transcribed (and slightly edited) version of a keynote speech given at Regent University’s 2018 law review symposium on mental health and the law — endeavors to answer that question.

The journey starts with deinstitutionalization of the severely mentally ill in the 1970s, and reinstitutionalization through the criminal justice system thereafter.  It then turns to the capital justice process, which not only fails to screen out those with severe mental illness, but is filled with hazards that make this cohort of offenders even more likely to be convicted and sentenced to death.  Next it turns to death row, and the conditions of solitary confinement in which the sick get sicker, and languish that way until it is time to die. Finally, the discussion turns to the doctrinal failsafe of competency to be executed, and explains why so many with severe mental illness fall through the cracks. 

The reality of the death penalty is that it is not for the worst of the worst.  It is for the weak among the worst — the most vulnerable offenders in a variety of ways, and executing those with severe mental illness is just a testament to the truth of that claim.

June 23, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, June 22, 2019

"Judges should be able to take a 'second look' at prison sentencing"

The title of this post is the title of this recent USA Today op-ed authored by Kevin Sharp and Kevin Ring. Based on the title alone, regular readers should know I am keen on the ideas in this piece, and here are excerpts:

It’s time we took bold steps that would give most prisoners an incentive to work hard to change their lives and successfully reintegrate into society, making us all safer when they do. It’s time for Congress and state legislatures to adopt broad “second look” sentencing laws.

We have both worked with people who have taken extraordinary steps to rehabilitate themselves in prison. One of us is a former federal judge who resigned, in large part, because he could no longer stand to impose the excessive and unjust prison terms Congress mandates in so many cases. The other is a former prisoner and the leader of a national organization that works with thousands of families directly impacted by harsh federal and state sentencing laws.

We know that implementing second-look laws, which would allow judges to review every offender’s sentence after a certain period — say 10 or 15 years — could reform our criminal justice system in a way that would recognize the capacity for rehabilitation, ensure public safety and reduce excessive sentences.

Second-look laws would give any individual hoping for a second chance more than enough time to show that he or she has earned it. Knowing that an opportunity for resentencing exists would very likely improve morale and behavior inside prisons, benefiting prisoners and corrections officers alike.

There is nothing more frightening than living in an environment where there is no hope. Moreover, there is ample evidence to suggest that lengthier sentences do not make us safer, yet our country continues to impose some of the harshest prison terms in the Western world....

Although presidents and many governors have the authority to shorten excessive sentences and reward extraordinary rehabilitation, they rarely use it. Over the past 40 years, executives have been loath to take any risks with their political futures. We need to move beyond short-term fear and follow what we know to be true about human nature and people’s capacity to change. Enacting second-look laws would allow us to reduce the unnecessary harm we are causing to some of our fellow citizens and improve public safety for all of us.

Under second-look laws, public safety would be preserved by ensuring that prosecutors, probation officers and pretrial services, along with prison officials, are involved in any resentencing in order to make the court aware of a given individual’s rehabilitation, or lack thereof. It’s more likely that adopting second-look laws would make our communities safer and decrease the strain on our prison system by preventing us from wasting our limited anti-crime resources warehousing people who pose little or no safety risk.

If we want to safely reduce our nation’s prison population, we need to stop throwing people away and start recognizing the human capacity for rehabilitation and redemption. We need to commit to second chances, and we can start by promising to give everyone a second look.

A few of many, many prior related posts and related writings:

June 22, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Rounding up of some political criminal justice reform stories as 2020 election kicks into next chapter

The next phase of the 2020 election season gets started this coming week with the first of what seems likely to be too many Democratic primary debates.  As long-time blog readers know, I always get (too?) excited by what different folks might say on the trail about criminal justice issues, and this season it seem likely that criminal justice issues will get far more attention than any time in recent memory.  Consequently, I am not surprised to be seeing already a number of media stories and commentaries about criminal justice chatter amidst the campaign, and I expect to be having lots to blog about on this front in the months to come.  For now, here is a round up of just a few pieces I have seen this past week in this arena:

June 22, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, June 21, 2019

SCOTUS finds mens rea of "knowing" distributes in gun statute in Rehaif

The Supreme Court ruled for a federal criminal defendant today in classic criminal law mens rea case in Rehaif v. US, No. 17-9560 (S. Ct. June 21, 2019) (available here). Justice Breyer authored the opinion for the Court, which starts this way:

A federal statute, 18 U. S. C. §922(g), provides that “[i]t shall be unlawful” for certain individuals to possess firearms. The provision lists nine categories of individuals subject to the prohibition, including felons and aliens who are “illegally or unlawfully in the United States.” Ibid.  A separate provision, §924(a)(2), adds that anyone who “knowingly violates” the first provision shall be fined or imprisoned for up to 10 years. (Emphasis added.)

The question here concerns the scope of the word “knowingly.”  Does it mean that the Government must prove that a defendant knew both that he engaged in the relevant conduct (that he possessed a firearm) and also that he fell within the relevant status (that he was a felon, an alien unlawfully in this country, or the like)?  We hold that the word “knowingly” applies both to the defendant’s conduct and to the defendant’s status.  To convict a defendant, the Government therefore must show that the defendant knew he possessed a firearm and also that he knew he had the relevant status when he possessed it.

Justice Alito penned a lengthy dissent, which was joined by Justice Thomas and starts this way:

The Court casually overturns the long-established interpretation of an important criminal statute, 18 U. S. C. §922(g), an interpretation that has been adopted by every single Court of Appeals to address the question.  That interpretation has been used in thousands of cases for more than 30 years.  According to the majority, every one of those cases was flawed. So today’s decision is no minor matter.  And §922(g) is no minor provision. It probably does more to combat gun violence than any other federal law.  It prohibits the possession of firearms by, among others, convicted felons, mentally ill persons found by a court to present a danger to the community, stalkers, harassers, perpetrators of domestic violence, and illegal aliens.

Today’s decision will make it significantly harder to convict persons falling into some of these categories, and the decision will create a mountain of problems with respect to the thousands of prisoners currently serving terms for §922(g) convictions.  Applications for relief by federal prisoners sentenced under §922(g) will swamp the lower courts.  A great many convictions will be subject to challenge, threatening the release or retrial of dangerous individuals whose cases fall outside the bounds of harmless-error review.

June 21, 2019 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

SCOTUS finds Batson violation based on "extraordinary facts" in Flowers

The Supreme Court ruled for a criminal defendant today in a Batson challenge in Mississippi v. Flowers, No. 17-9572 (S. Ct. June 21, 2019) (available here). As with all criminal cases, I find the line up of the Justices notable:

KAVANAUGH, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and GINSBURG, BREYER, ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed a concurring opinion. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GORSUCH, J., joined as to Parts I, II, and III.

Here is part of the start of the lengthy opening of the opinion of the Court:

In Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), this Court ruled that a State may not discriminate on the basis of race when exercising peremptory challenges against prospective jurors in a criminal trial.

In 1996, Curtis Flowers allegedly murdered four people in Winona, Mississippi. Flowers is black. He has been tried six separate times before a jury for murder. The same lead prosecutor represented the State in all six trials.

In the initial three trials, Flowers was convicted, but the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed each conviction. In the first trial, Flowers was convicted, but the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the conviction due to “numerous instances of prosecutorial misconduct.”  Flowers v. State, 773 So. 2d 309, 327 (2000)....

In his sixth trial, which is the one at issue here, Flowers was convicted. The State struck five of the six black prospective jurors.  On appeal, Flowers argued that the State again violated Batson in exercising peremptory strikes against black prospective jurors. In a divided 5-to-4 decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the conviction.  We granted certiorari on the Batson question and now reverse....

Four critical facts, taken together, require reversal....

We need not and do not decide that any one of those four facts alone would require reversal. All that we need to decide, and all that we do decide, is that all of the relevant facts and circumstances taken together establish that the trial court committed clear error in concluding that the State’s peremptory strike of black prospective juror Carolyn Wright was not “motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.” Foster v. Chatman, 578 U.S. ___, ___ (2016) (slip op., at 23) (internal quotation marks omitted). In reaching that conclusion, we break no new legal ground.  We simply enforce and reinforce Batson by applying it to the extraordinary facts of this case. 

June 21, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (9)

Senator Cory Booker sets out "Restoring Justice Initiative" focused on providing clemency relief to thousands of federal offenders

ImagesAs reported in major media pieces ranging from Fox News to the New York Times to Vox, Senator Cory Booker on Thursday unveiled a major policy proposal as part of his presidential campaign.  The proposal is set for in this extended Medium post, titled "RESTORING JUSTICE: Cory’s Plan to Extend Clemency to People Serving Excessive Sentences."  I recommend this posting in full for all the details, and here are a few highlights (with links from the original):

The Restoring Justice Initiative builds on Cory’s long record of working to reform the broken criminal justice system. Since his days on the Newark City Council and as mayor, Cory has been a relentless advocate for criminal justice reform, building unusual coalitions to make real change.

In the Senate, his work was a critical factor in passing the First Step Act  —  a law that is turning the tide against mass incarceration.  In addition, Cory has pushed for bold legislative reforms, such as the Marijuana Justice Act.

The power to grant clemency, however, is a broad power granted exclusively to the president by Article II of the Constitution without requiring action by Congress  —  a power that President Booker would use immediately to begin correcting some of the most egregious abuses of the failed War on Drugs.

On day one of his presidency, he will initiate a historic clemency process for an estimated 17,000-plus nonviolent drug offenders serving unjust and excessive sentences  —  representing the most sweeping clemency initiative in more than 150 years....

Under the Restoring Justice Initiative, three broad classes of individuals serving sentences in federal prisons would be immediately considered for clemency.  Cory would use the power granted by the Pardon Clause of Article II of the Constitution to issue commutations for broad classes of individuals currently serving sentences for nonviolent drug offenses widely viewed as unduly harsh and rooted in racist and misguided federal policy.

Individuals serving sentences for marijuana-related offenses...

All told, as of 2012, the most recent year for which data is publicly available, 11,533 individuals are currently incarcerated in federal prisons for marijuana-related offenses.

Individuals serving sentences that would have been reduced under the First Step Act, if all the bill’s sentencing provisions had been applied retroactively:

The bipartisan First Step Act, approved by an 87–12 vote in the Senate, reduced the minimum sentences required for certain drug offenses.  Minimum sentences reduced in the First Step Act included mandatory life sentences for a third drug offense (changed to a 25-year minimum sentence); 20-year mandatory minimum sentences for a second drug offense (reduced to 15 years); and fixes to the 924c “stacking” mechanism. However, these reforms were not made retroactive, meaning that someone sentenced on December 20, 2018 is serving more time than someone sentenced a day later (the date the bill was signed) for an identical offense.  As of October 2017, 3,816 individuals in this category would be eligible for a sentence reduction in accordance with the First Step Act through clemency.

Individuals currently incarcerated with unjust sentences due to the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine:

The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine is a key driver of the gap in incarceration rates between Black and white people. In recent years, we have seen progress righting this historic wrong. For example, the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reduced the crack-to-powder disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, and the First Step Act made the change retroactive, leading to the release of more than one thousand people. A disparity in sentencing, however, still exists. This effort would eliminate entirely the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences retroactively, a reform that should have occurred decades ago.

On day one in office, Cory would sign an executive order initiating a clemency process for thousands of people currently serving unjust drug sentences. The EO would charge the Bureau of Prisons, the Defender Services Division of the U.S. Courts, and the United States Sentencing Commission with immediately identifying individuals within the classes cited above that meet the stated eligibility parameters for clemency. It would also enable individuals to self-identify and submit their names for consideration.

The initiative will also revamp and streamline the clemency process more broadly through the creation of an Executive Clemency Panel situated at the White House. For individuals granted clemency, a federal interagency council would make policy recommendations to the Administration and Congress to facilitate their successful reentry, including identifying job and training opportunities, investing in rehabilitation programs, and targeting evidence-based social services.

The bipartisan Executive Clemency Panel would be comprised of advisors representing diverse sets of expertise to expeditiously process all cases.  While the process would operate with a presumption of a recommendation of clemency, the panel would closely review cases and prison history and decline to forward recommendations for individuals who may pose a threat to public safety.  For individuals granted clemency, a federal interagency council would make policy recommendations to the Administration and Congress to facilitate their successful reentry, including identifying job and training opportunities and targeting evidence-based social services.

The panel would also give a special presumption for release for those that are 50 years of age or older and have served lengthy sentences  —  as all evidence suggests that people typically age out of crime and are far less likely to recidivate.  Cory would also appoint a senior official in the White House to advise him on criminal justice issues, charged with advancing a proactive reform agenda.

Sounds pretty darn good to me!

Prior recent related post:

June 21, 2019 in Clemency and Pardons, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 20, 2019

SCOTUS plurality says SORNA delegation of statute's reach to Attorney General "easily passes constitutional muster"

The Supreme Court this morning finally released its opinion in Gundy v. US, 17-6086 (S. Ct. June 20, 2019) (available here). Justice Kagan authored the lead opinion (joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg and Sotomayor), which starts this way:

The nondelegation doctrine bars Congress from transferring its legislative power to another branch of Government. This case requires us to decide whether 34 U.S.C. §20913(d), enacted as part of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), violates that doctrine. We hold it does not.  Under §20913(d), the Attorney General must apply SORNA’s registration requirements as soon as feasible to offenders convicted before the statute’s enactment.  That delegation easily passes constitutional muster.

Here is the full text of Justice Alito's concurrence, which served to provide the key fifth vote for the outcome:

The Constitution confers on Congress certain “legislative [p]owers,” Art. I, §1, and does not permit Congress to delegate them to another branch of the Government. See Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 531 U.S. 457, 472 (2001). Nevertheless, since 1935, the Court has uniformly rejected nondelegation arguments and has upheld provisions that authorized agencies to adopt important rules pursuant to extraordinarily capacious standards. See ibid.

If a majority of this Court were willing to reconsider the approach we have taken for the past 84 years, I would support that effort.  But because a majority is not willing to do that, it would be freakish to single out the provision at issue here for special treatment.

Because I cannot say that the statute lacks a discernable standard that is adequate under the approach this Court has taken for many years, I vote to affirm.

Justice Gorsuch's opinion, joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Thomas, starts this way:

The Constitution promises that only the people’s elected representatives may adopt new federal laws restricting liberty. Yet the statute before us scrambles that design.  It purports to endow the nation’s chief prosecutor with the power to write his own criminal code governing the lives of a half-million citizens.  Yes, those affected are some of the least popular among us.  But if a single executive branch official can write laws restricting the liberty of this group of persons, what does that mean for the next?

Today, a plurality of an eight-member Court endorses this extraconstitutional arrangement but resolves nothing.  Working from an understanding of the Constitution at war with its text and history, the plurality reimagines the terms of the statute before us and insists there is nothing wrong with Congress handing off so much power to the Attorney General.  But JUSTICE ALITO supplies the fifth vote for today’s judgment and he does not join either the plurality’s constitutional or statutory analysis, indicating instead that he remains willing, in a future case with a full Court, to revisit these matters.  Respectfully, I would not wait.

The time it took for Gundy to be resolved and this outcome suggests that the delay of Justice Kavanaugh's confirmation turned out to be a big deal in this one case.

June 20, 2019 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (7)

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

New Compassionate Release Clearinghouse to match lawyers with prisoners seeking release after FIRST STEP Act

This new press release, titled "FAMM, Washington Lawyers’ Committee, NACDL Launch Compassionate Release Clearinghouse," reports on an exciting new resource for helping to better implement a part of the FIRST STEP Act. Here are the details:

Thousands of sick, dying, and elderly federal prisoners who are eligible for early release will now have access to free legal representation in court through the newly established Compassionate Release Clearinghouse. The clearinghouse, a collaborative pro bono effort between FAMM, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), is designed to match qualified prisoners with legal counsel should they need to fight a compassionate release denial or unanswered request in court.

“People who can barely make it out of their beds in the morning should not have to go into court alone against the largest law firm in the nation,” said Kevin Ring, president of FAMM. “Congress was clear that it wanted fundamental changes in compassionate release, yet we’ve seen prosecutors continue to fight requests from clearly deserving people, including individuals with terminal illnesses. It’s gratifying to know we will be able to help people in a tangible and meaningful way.”

The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse recruits, trains, and provides resources to participating lawyers. The Clearinghouse’s design and implementation is being assisted by the Washington, D.C., law firm of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP through its partner Steve Salky.

“Sick and dying prisoners for years were unjustly denied release on compassionate release grounds by the Bureau of Prisons,” said Jonathan Smith, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “Now, prisoners will be assisted by dedicated and high-quality lawyers in seeking relief from the courts, evening the playing field, and allowing many of these prisoners to return home.”

The effort was made possible by the passage of the First Step Act, which addresses a well-documented, three-decades-long issue in which sick, elderly, and dying prisoners have been routinely denied early release by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Until December 2018, there was no mechanism to challenge or appeal those decisions. Now, prisoners are allowed to appeal directly to a sentencing judge if their petitions are denied or unanswered.

Since the passage of the First Step Act, prisoners have been filing motions for release, and some have been challenged by federal prosecutors. The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse will make sure those prisoners have an attorney to fight for them in court.

“NACDL is proud to participate in this critically important effort,” said NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer. “To make the promise of the First Step Act a reality for qualified sick, elderly, and dying prisoners, the nation’s criminal defense bar is committed to recruiting pro bono attorneys to be champions for those in need. Additionally, NACDL’s First Step Implementation Task Force will aggregate resources to support attorneys who undertake this important work.”

The Clearinghouse started matching attorneys with prisoners in need in February, and has matched more than 70 cases with pro bono attorneys. The Clearinghouse is actively recruiting additional attorneys and law firms to join in the effort.

As regular readers may recall (and as I have stressed in a number of prior posts), because  18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), the provision of federal law often known as "compassionate release," allows a court to reduce a prison sentence based on any and all "extraordinary and compelling reasons," it should not only be the "sick, dying, and elderly federal prisoners" who are potentially eligible for early release.  But, as this press release highlights, because there is already a history of extreme resistance toward releasing even the most deserving under this provision, it is heartening to see these groups work to make sure prisoners can get needed legal help to benefit from the reforms Congress is surely eager to see given full effect.

A few prior related posts on § 3582(c)(1)(A) after FIRST STEP Act:

June 19, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Confined and Costly: How Supervision Violations Are Filling Prisons and Burdening Budgets"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new dynamic online report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center. Everyone should check out the link to the report to see the dynamic features built therein, and here is some of the text from the report (with all caps from the original):

Probation and parole are designed to lower prison populations and help people succeed in the community. New data show they are having the opposite effect. Until now, national data regarding the impact of probation violations on prison populations have been unavailable, resulting in a lopsided focus on parole. The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center recently engaged corrections and community supervision leaders in 50 states to develop the first complete picture of how probation and parole violations make up states’ prison populations. The analysis revealed a startling reality.

45% OF STATE PRISON ADMISSIONS nationwide are due to violations of probation or parole for new offenses or technical violations.

Technical violations, such as missing appointments with supervision officers or failing drug tests, account for nearly 1/4 OF ALL STATE PRISON ADMISSIONS.

On any given day, 280,000 PEOPLE in prison — nearly 1 IN 4 — are incarcerated as a result of a supervision violation, costing states more than $9.3 BILLION ANNUALLY.

Technical supervision violations account for $2.8 BILLION of this total amount, and new offense supervision violations make up $6.5 BILLION. These figures do not account for the substantial local costs of keeping people in jail for supervision violations.

IN 13 STATES, MORE THAN 1 IN 3 PEOPLE in prison on any given day are there for a supervision violation.

IN 20 STATES, MORE THAN HALF OF PRISON ADMISSIONS are due to supervision violations.

Variation in these proportions across states is shaped by the overall size of each state’s supervision population, how violations are sanctioned, whether those sanctions are the result of incarceration paid for by the state or county, and how well state policy and funding enable probation and parole agencies to employ evidence-based practices to improve success on supervision.

June 19, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

"Testing Periods and Outcome Determination in Criminal Cases"

The title of this post is the title of this important new article authored by Fiona Doherty and now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

This Article introduces the concept of “Testing Periods” to explain how U.S. courts sort criminal defendants for incarceratory and non-incarceratory results. A Testing Period is a time period during which a criminal defendant agrees to abide by a set of prospective rules (such as avoiding “dirty urines” and remaining “clean” from drugs and alcohol), typically, but not always, as a function of plea bargaining.  Prosecutors and judges set the rules, and defendants must demonstrate that they can follow the rules to pass the test and successfully avoid prison.  Juries play no role in the system, and due process requirements diverge sharply from traditional norms.

The outcomes of most criminal cases are now determined through Testing Periods, which go by varied names like probation, problem-solving courts, suspended sentences, conditional plea agreements, and deferred adjudication.  The pervasiveness of Testing Periods has changed the orientation of outcome determination in criminal cases away from a retrospective analysis to a prospective one: Outcomes no longer depend on a backward-looking examination of the facts of a criminal charge, but instead on whether a defendant can pass a forward-looking test.  The power to create and administer Testing Periods has become the power to determine who goes to prison and for what reason.  The Article concludes that the widespread use of Testing Periods has recreated dynamics from a much older method of resolving criminal cases: the testing models used in the medieval ordeal system to separate “clean” defendants from “dirty” ones, and the “worthy” from the “unworthy.” 

June 19, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Seeking thoughts as we approach six months of implementing (and overseeing the implementation) of the FIRST STEP Act

I have been spending the day at Columbia Law School attending the great "Rewriting the Sentence" conference previously noted here and here and here.  All the panels have been terrific, and I am now blogging during the panel titled "A Federal Legislative Look: The First Step Act, and the Next Steps" because its moderator, the indefatigable Holly Harris, has urged everyone to get the word out that Representatives Doug Collins and Hakeem Jeffries have talked up a (needed) oversight hearing on FIRST STEP Act implementation "sooner rather than later."  The panel has emphasized that effective implementation of FIRST STEP is just as important as its initial passage, and it seems everyone recognizes that an oversight hearing in Congress can aid with effective implementation.

Speaking of implementation and oversight, I have been meaning to post these two recent letters sent to, and then coming from, the Department of Justice on this front:

Download Letter to AG William Barr and AD Hugh Hurwitz (1)

Download 2019-6-7 First Step Act - COURTESY COPY

There is far too much in both these letters to summarize easily what is herein. But those interested in many specifics of the FIRST STEP Act will be very interested in these letters.

Finally, as noted in the title of this post, we are getting ever closer to the six month mark since the FIRST STEP Act become law, and I would be grateful (in the comments or in other fora) to hear from all sort of folks about their views on the first six months of FIRST STEP implementation.

June 17, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable new comments from new Deputy AG Jeffrey Rosen to sheriffs

I have not recently posted too many speeches on crime and punishment from Justice Department leaders in part because there have not been too many of these speeches as DOJ leadership has been in transition. But today, Jeffrey Rosen delivered these extended remarks to the National Sheriffs' Association, which he describes as his "first public speech as Deputy Attorney General of the United States." The whole speech is worth reading, and here are some excepts:

Under this administration, we are not using top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions to crime.

Instead, since 2017, each of our 93 U.S. attorneys in your local communities has been directed to develop a customized crime reduction plan for their district — based on the input that they receive from state and local officials like you. We want you to tell us where the biggest dangers are in your counties — and then we’ll help you put the people who commit crimes behind bars.

We call this program project safe neighborhoods, and it is a proven strategy. Interestingly, it was modeled after a program that Attorney General Barr had created during his previous tenure as Attorney General. One of Attorney General Barr’s first policy decisions during his second tenure as Attorney General was to order the creation of a state and local law enforcement coordination section at the department, which will be responsible for further strengthening lines of communication between all levels of law enforcement....

And we have another message for violent criminals: I am happy to report that in the last fiscal year, the Justice Department charged the greatest number of violent crime defendants since we started to track this category more than 25 years ago — back when Bill Barr was Attorney General for the first time.

Department of Justice prosecutors also charged more than 15,000 defendants with federal firearms offenses, which is a record. They broke that record by a margin of 17 percent. What often is misunderstood about such statistics, however, is that many of these federal cases simply adopt and prosecute the great work done by state and local law enforcement in investigating and arresting the most dangerous criminals in our communities....

Our efforts have produced results. In the two years before President Trump took office, there was a significant nationwide increase in violent crime: the violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent. Robberies went up. Assaults went up nearly 10 percent. Rape went up by nearly 11 percent. Murder increased by a shocking 21 percent.

But today, under President Trump’s administration, crime rates have been falling. Homicide rates and violent crimes went down in 2017. Murders fell an additional 5.8 percent and violent crime fell an additional 4.5 percent last year in 2018. And, I am happy to report, in the first three months of this year, this downward trend has continued: once more murders and violent crimes are down even from last year.

But there remains one area in which far more progress needs to be made — and that is with regard to drug abuse. We are facing a grave situation today. In 2017, 70,000 Americans lost their lives to drugs — more than lose their lives in car crashes.

But we all know that the toll of drug abuse is not only in lives. It is the families torn apart by these drugs and the negative effects that ripple through our communities. Drug abuse has also led to millions of property crimes and violent crimes.

So I want to stand here today and underscore again what you heard from Attorney General Sessions last year: that the Department of Justice is here with you shoulder to shoulder in this fight against the drug epidemic ravaging our communities.

Over the last two years, under this administration, we have gained ground on multiple fronts. First of all, we have dramatically reduced the number of opioid prescriptions. Prescriptions for the seven most frequently abused prescription opioids are down more than 21 percent since 2016 — down to the lowest level in at least a decade.

Meanwhile the Department has increased its drug-prosecution productivity. The number of defendants charged with federal opioid-related crimes increased by 28 percent in 2018.

In confronting drug-related crime, another key element is the crisis at our southern border. For four years in a row, the Drug Enforcement Administration has stated publicly that “Mexican transnational criminal organizations are the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States; no other group is currently positioned to challenge them.” In some ways, it’s a misnomer to call it the “crisis at the border.” It gives the impression that everything is contained just a few states bordering Mexico. Not so. We all know that the crisis at the border is a driver to the drug crisis in our communities, oftentimes hundreds of miles away from the actual border.

The DEA so tells us that the majority of the heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl in this country got here across our southern border. Having a porous southern border makes every county in America more vulnerable to these drugs — whether your county is near the border or not.

June 17, 2019 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Via lengthy opinions, SCOTUS preserves "dual sovereignty" doctrine in Gamble

Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Court has decided not to overturn its longstanding "dual sovereignty" doctrine in the case of Gamble v. US, No. 17-646 (S. Ct. June 17, 2019) (available here). Here is how the Court's majority opinion, authored by Justice Alito, gets started:

We consider in this case whether to overrule a longstanding interpretation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. That Clause provides that no person may be “twice put in jeopardy” “for the same offence.” Our double jeopardy case law is complex, but at its core, the Clause means that those acquitted or convicted of a particular “offence” cannot be tried a second time for the same “offence.” But what does the Clause mean by an “offence”?

We have long held that a crime under one sovereign’s laws is not “the same offence” as a crime under the laws of another sovereign. Under this “dual-sovereignty” doctrine, a State may prosecute a defendant under state law even if the Federal Government has prosecuted him for the same conduct under a federal statute.

Or the reverse may happen, as it did here. Terance Gamble, convicted by Alabama for possessing a firearm as a felon, now faces prosecution by the United States under its own felon-in-possession law. Attacking this second prosecution on double jeopardy grounds, Gamble asks us to overrule the dual-sovereignty doctrine. He contends that it departs from the founding-era understanding of the right enshrined by the Double Jeopardy Clause. But the historical evidence assembled by Gamble is feeble; pointing the other way are the Clause’s text, other historical evidence, and 170 years of precedent. Today we affirm that precedent, and with it the decision below.

Notably, Justice Thomas pens an extended concurrence in Gamble, but does so "to address the proper role of the doctrine of stare decisis." Thereafter, Justice Ginsburg authors a lengthy dissent, and Justice Gorsuch authors an even longer dissent. I hope to have more to say about all these opinions in the days to come, but the close of Justice Gorsuch's dissent seem immediately blogworthy:

Enforcing the Constitution always bears its costs. But when the people adopted the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, they thought the liberties promised there worth the costs. It is not for this Court to reassess this judgment to make the prosecutor’s job easier. Nor is there any doubt that the benefits the framers saw in prohibiting double prosecutions remain real, and maybe more vital than ever, today. When governments may unleash all their might in multiple prosecutions against an individual, exhausting themselves only when those who hold the reins of power are content with the result, it is “the poor and the weak,” and the unpopular and controversial, who suffer first — and there is nothing to stop them from being the last. The separate sovereigns exception was wrong when it was invented, and it remains wrong today.

June 17, 2019 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)