Sunday, February 05, 2023

US Representatives create new "Bipartisan Second Chance Task Force"

I was intrigued and pleased to come across this press release from this past week discussing a new bipartisan group of Representative working on an important criminal justice issue.  Here are the details:

Representatives David Trone (D-MD), John Rutherford (R-FL), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) announced the creation of the Bipartisan Second Chance Task Force in an effort to promote policies that will improve reentry outcomes and reduce employment barriers for returning citizens.  At the time of its launch, the Task Force comprised of 26 Members of Congress (13 Democrats and 13 Republicans).

During its inaugural event, members and co-chairs were joined by Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director, Colette Peters, and Acting Head of National Institute of Corrections, Alix McLearen, for an introductory briefing on the challenges that the BOP faces in establishing and maintaining successful reentry programming.

Over 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons every year in the United States, and recent studies show that formerly incarcerated people are currently unemployed at an average rate of over 27 percent.  The new task force aims to address these barriers to successful reentry by developing and promoting reform policies in Congress and hosting monthly roundtable discussions.

“Returning citizens continue to face hurdles that prevent them from rebuilding their lives and becoming productive members of society. After paying their debts to society, they are effectively shut out of housing, employment, financial support – you name it.  This isn’t fair, and this isn’t right,” said Congressman Trone.  “As a businessman, I know firsthand that there is a lot of value in hiring returning citizens and giving folks a second chance.  I’m proud to co-found and co-chair the Bipartisan Second Chance Task Force so that we work together – Republicans and Democrats – to address the problems in our criminal justice system head-on, and provide returning citizens with the resources they desperately need.”

“As a lifetime member of law enforcement, I saw firsthand how difficult it can be for those leaving our jails and prisons to re-enter society.  From getting an ID to finding a job, stable housing, and healthcare, these individuals face many barriers to success after incarceration. When I was sheriff, I created a robust reentry program in Northeast Florida, and I look forward to continuing that work in Congress.  Helping the formerly incarcerated become productive members of society makes our communities safer and reduces the number of repeat offenders.  That’s not being soft on crime, that’s being smart on crime,” said Congressman John Rutherford.  “I look forward to working with Representatives Trone, Armstrong, and Blunt Rochester, and all of my colleagues on the Second Chance Task Force, to support those reentering society and reduce recidivism.”...

Other Members of Congress in the Task Force include Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Nancy Mace (R-SC), Danny Davis (D-IL), G.T. Thompson (R-PA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Stephanie Bice (R-OK), Dan Goldman (D-NY), Barry Moore (R-AL), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Rick Crawford (R-AR), Glenn Ivey (D-MD), Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), David Rouzer (R-NC), Brittany Pettersen (D-CO), Randy Weber (R-TX), Wiley Nickel (D-NC), Dan Meuser (R-PA), Susan Wild (D-PA), John James (R-MI).

February 5, 2023 in Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Federal judge gives cocaine trafficker time served ... and a requirement that she complete her JD program

Here is another notable sentencing story that might keep the comments buzzing  This one comes from the ABA Journal under the headline "Federal sentence includes law school, and attorneys wonder why."  Here are the basics (with links from the original):

Based on federal sentencing guidelines, people found guilty of trafficking large amounts of cocaine usually face lengthy sentences.  However, a Texas defendant received what many say is an unusual punishment: five days in prison with credit for time served and direction from the judge to complete her JD.

Chelsea Nichole Madill was accused of trafficking 28.5 kilos of cocaine in a 2018 criminal complaint.  She was charged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, and in 2019, Madill pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute a Schedule II drug.

Federal sentencing experts say the average penalty for that crime is around five years.  In addition to the law school piece and no prison time, Madill was sentenced to three years of supervised release.  The 2023 sentencing judgment was written by Southern District of Texas Chief Judge Randy Crane.

Much of the record is sealed, and whether Madill attended or completed law school is not disclosed. There is someone with that name listed as a 2L Florida A&M University College of Law student bar association board member.  A 2019 order authorized travel expenses for Madill, directing the U.S. marshal to obtain the cheapest means of noncustodial transportation possible between her Florida residence and the McAllen, Texas, courthouse....

Madill did not respond to an ABA Journal interview request sent through LinkedIn, and her phone number listed in court records was disconnected. FAMU Law also did not respond to ABA Journal interview requests....

Jesse Salazar, the assistant U.S. attorney assigned to the case, referred an ABA Journal interview request to a public affairs officer.  The PAO said the office did not object to the sentence. Richard Gould, a federal public defender, represented Madill.  A receptionist at the Southern District of Texas Federal Public Defender’s Office told the ABA Journal Gould does not speak to reporters....

The sentence is unique, says Michael Heiskell, a Texas attorney and president-elect of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Indeed, being a law student could have resulted in a longer sentence if the court was persuaded a defendant’s legal education helped them commit the crime, he adds.

“Kudos to her and her counsel for being able to convince the court to do this. Hopefully, this gives her the motivation to complete her JD. Maybe her story resonated with the judge since he is obviously an attorney,” says Heiskell, a former state and federal prosecutor who does criminal defense work.

According to Heiskell, credit for time served is unusual in drug cases involving delivery, and the sentencing range for Madill’s conviction is between 87 and 108 months.  He adds that a purpose of the federal sentencing guidelines is to avoid disparities, so Madill’s sentence may be useful for defendants with cases similar to hers.  “You would want to make the argument of the courts being consistent in its sentencing for cases such as this. If I had a situation where my client was learning to be a plumber, electrician, etc., I would cite this case,” Heiskell says.

The ABA Journal reporter called me about this  case; I mentioned that, given that the plea was entered in 2019 and then the sentence was not imposed until 2023, it seems quite likely the defendant provided some cooperation in exchange for a reduced sentence. The article does not quote me on that point, but does highlight some of my other speculations for the very special law-school-completion condition of supervision.

For those so interested, here is the exact language in the sentencing entry from Chief Judge Crane: "You must continue to participate and complete an educational program designed to receive a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree." I joked to the ABA Journal reporter that, in some quarters, this condition might be viewed as "cruel and unusual punishment." That quote also did not make the article,  But now that the piece is published, I am eager to hear reactions to this very lawyerly federal sentence.

February 4, 2023 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (10)

Friday, February 03, 2023

Notable new grant of sentence reduction for California medical marijuana operator given nearly 22 years in federal prison back in 2008

I was pleased to learn late last night about a notable new ruling out of a federal district court in US  v. Scarmazzo, No. 1:06-cr-000342 DAD (E.D. Ca. Feb 2, 2023) (available for download below).  The case involves Luke Scarmazzo, a California medical marijuana dispensary operator who was federally prosecuted in the mid-2000s and was sentenced to 262 months in federal prison back in 2008.  As detailed in the 29-page opinion posted below, the federal district judge decision to reduce his sentence to time served (already more than 14 years).  The who sentence merits a full read for a host of reasons, and here are just a few key concluding passages: 

Having considered the parties’ briefing and reviewed the relevant case law, the undersigned’s current view is as follows.  This court clearly has the authority to reduce a mandatory minimum sentence in granting compassionate release.  Halvon 26 F.4th at 570. However, where, as here, the minimum mandatory sentence is still authorized by Congressionally enacted federal law that has not been subsequently subject to even non-retroactive amendment, the district court should not grant compassionate release based solely upon its conclusion that the originally imposed mandatory minimum sentence was unduly harsh.  See Thacker, 4 F.4th 569, 574. Nonetheless, this court has broad discretion to consider the harshness of the sentence in light of the current landscape in combination with other factors in determining whether extraordinary and compelling circumstances warrant the granting of compassionate release in a given case. Concepcion, 142 S. Ct. at 2396; Chen, 48 F.4th at 1095; Aruda, 993 F.3d at 802; Jones, 980 F.3d at 1111....

When considering the unique confluence of all of these circumstances — changes in the legal landscape with respect to federal enforcement of laws relating to distribution of marijuana in California; the significant disparity in the sentence actually served by co-defendant Montes and the 14+ years already served in prison by defendant Scarmazzo; defendant’s good behavior, meaningful employment, volunteer work, pursuit of educational opportunities during his imprisonment; defendant’s solid release plans including job offers and family support; the lack of danger posed to the community were he to be released; and defendant Scarmazzo’s difficult family circumstances that have developed during his imprisonment — the court is persuaded that the granting of the requested relief is appropriate at this point and is supported by both extraordinary and compelling circumstances and consideration of the sentencing factors set forth at 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).

Download CR opinion in Scarmazzo case

February 3, 2023 in Drug Offense Sentencing, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, February 02, 2023

"Circumventing Mandatory Minimum Sentences Through Legal Representation – An Integrated Methods Study of Drunk Driving Violations"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article now available via SSRN authored by Jonathan Hasson and Abraham Tennenbaum.  Here is its abstract:

Most common law nations impose minimum sentences for drunk driving.  Israel introduced a mandatory minimum law in 1995 requiring a two–year license disqualification regardless of intoxication level.  In theory, the new law allows minimal room for deviation. In practice, however, our study demonstrates that the law in action has diverged significantly from “blackletter law.”  Through an integrated historical, quantitative, and qualitative analysis that follows the law from its inception to the present day, we explore the root causes of this deviation and the mechanisms of circumvention.

Based on quantitative data collected on drunk driving cases between 2008 and 2022 and a survey of professionals specializing in traffic law, we highlight how the law’s perceived harshness has contributed to plea bargains becoming the normative means of circumventing the law.  This circumvention undermines the law’s original intention, that is, uniformity, proportionality, and equity in sentencing.  Multiple variables including appearances in court, legal representation, jurisdiction, and the judge’s identity result in comparably guilty defendants receiving different sentences.  Given these disparities, we propose replacing the current minimum sentence with a graduated minimum based on intoxication levels; limiting prosecutorial and judicial discretion; and providing court date reminders and public counsel to minimize harm to vulnerable populations.

February 2, 2023 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Notable trifurcation ruling in federal capital case against Tree of Life mass murderer

The criminal law professor listserve brought to my attention the interesting capital criminal procedure story coming this week from federal court in Pittsburgh.  This local article, headlined "Judge rules Tree of Life death penalty sentencing would occur in 2 phases," provides the basics:

If Robert Bowers is found guilty later this year of killing 11 worshippers inside a Squirrel Hill synagogue in 2018, his sentencing will be broken into two separate phases, a judge ruled this week.  The trial for Mr. Bowers, accused in the Oct. 27, 2018, mass shooting at the synagogue where three congregations — Tree of Life or L’Simcha, Dor Hadash and New Light — were holding Shabbat services, is set to begin in April.

Eleven were killed in the shooting: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, David and Cecil Rosenthal, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger. Two other worshippers and several police officers were injured.

Mr. Bowers’ defense team had sought to split the sentencing phase of the trial — if there is a sentencing phase — into two distinct segments, which would ultimately make the federal case against Mr. Bowers a three-part trial. The trial itself will take place, after which a jury will decide upon Mr. Bowers’ guilt. If he is found guilty, there will be two parts to the sentencing phase.  In the first, jurors will consider whether federal prosecutors have proved that Mr. Bowers is eligible for the death penalty, which the government is seeking. In the second, jurors will decide upon a sentence for Mr. Bowers.

Most notably, the decision by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Colville means that, if there is a sentencing phase, jurors won’t hear victim-impact statements until after they’ve decided if Mr. Bowers is eligible for the death penalty. Defense attorneys had sought this split sentencing, noting that otherwise “the jury will hear the highly emotional and prejudicial victim impact evidence in the same proceeding in which they consider whether the elements of a federal capital crime have been proven.”

In short, defense counsel feared jurors would be unduly swayed to decide Mr. Bowers was eligible for the death penalty if they heard the victim impact statements before making that decision. Federal prosecutors, in expressing opposition to splitting the sentencing phase, noted that the law does not require such a distinction. Plus, they noted, separating the sentencing phases “would unduly complicate the penalty phase, introduce significant risk of jury confusion and run counter to the court’s interest in judicial economy.”

Judge Colville ultimately agreed with the defense, ruling sentencing will be broken into two parts “in an abundance of caution.” He noted that while the court is not required to split the sentencing phase, it has the discretion to do so. 

US District Judge Colville's 14-page opinion granting the defendant’s "Motion to Trifurcate" is available here:

Download USA_v._BOWERS__Docket_No._2_18

February 2, 2023 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Only three weeks now to US Sentencing Commission's first public hearing on its proposed guideline amendments

My long-standard status as a sentencing nerd is surely be debate, but I can make the case again when I admit that I got more than a bit giddy upon seeing this official notice from the US Sentencing Commission announcing its "Public Hearing on Proposed Amendments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines."  Here are the deets:

Pursuant to Rule 3.2 of the Rules of Practice and Procedure of the United States Sentencing Commission, a public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, February 23 and Friday, February 24, 2023 to commence at 9:00 a.m. (ET) on both days.

The public hearing will be held in the Mecham Conference Center in the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building, One Columbus Circle, NE, Washington, DC. The hearing will be streamed live below.

The purpose of the public hearing is for the Commission to receive testimony on proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines related to Compassionate Release, Sexual Abuse of a Ward, and Acquitted Conduct.

Because there are many more issues covered in the USSC's proposed amendments, and because the comment period runs through mid-March, I suspect these scheduled two days of public hearings are just the first of what may be a series of hearings. How exciting.

A few of many prior recent related posts:

February 2, 2023 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

New Massachusetts bill provides sentence reductions for when "incarcerated individual has donated bone marrow or organ(s)"

The comments to this blog have been, as the kids like to say, "on fire" lately.  And I suspect and hope lots of different folks will have lots of different opinions to share (respectfully) about a new bill introduced in The 193rd General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Specifically, as reported in this Insider article and detailed in the bill available at this link, some legislators in Massachusetts have introduced a proposal that provides a notable new way for incarcerated individual reduce a term of imprisonment.  The headline of the press piece notes the essentials: "A proposed Massachusetts bill would give inmates up to a year off their sentence — if they donate their organs."  Here are more of the particulars:

Forget sentence reductions for good behavior: With a proposed bill making its way through the Massachusetts legislature, inmates could receive up to a year off their jail sentence by donating their organs.

Bill HD.3822, called the "Act to establish the Massachusetts incarcerated individual bone marrow and organ donation program," would allow eligible incarcerated people to receive no fewer than 60 but no more than 365 days off their sentences for donating their marrow or organs. It has not passed through the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

The act, if passed, would create a five-person panel to oversee the implementation of the program, made up of two Department of Corrections officials, an organ donation specialist from a state hospital, and two advocates focusing on organ donation and prisoners' rights. The panel would determine eligibility standards and file reports of annual donations and "estimated life-savings associated with said donations." "There shall be no commissions or monetary payments to be made to the Department of Correction for bone marrow donated by incarcerated individuals," the proposed text reads....

State Rep. Judith Garcia, one of the co-sponsors, explained the proposal with an infographic on Twitter, saying the Massachusetts organ donation waiting list has nearly 5,000 people on it, disproportionately impacting Black and Hispanic residents, with no existing path to organ donation for incarcerated people, even if a relative were in need of a donation. The bill would "restore bodily autonomy to incarcerated folks by providing opportunity to donate organs and bone marrow," the graphic read.

"It seems like something out of a science fiction book or horror story," Kevin Ring, president of the nonprofit organization Families Against Mandatory Minimums, told Insider. "It's just this sort of idea that we have this class of subhumans whose body parts [we] will harvest because they're not like us or because they're so desperate for freedom that they'd be willing to do this."

Ring, a former lobbyist who served 20 months in federal prison on public corruption charges as part of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, said he would have considered doing anything to reduce his sentence while he was incarcerated, making the whole thing feel like a coercive idea that "preys on that desperation." "In most state systems, you earn good time credits from participating in programming that is intended to reduce your risk of reoffending, so those things make sense," Ring said, listing examples like drug treatment programs and job training to show initiative and work toward rehabilitation. "Those are things that are at least connected, relevant, to releasing them early. This one seems like it's not, though and it just begs the question, like, how about two years off for a limb, for an amputee? What's going on here? It's dark."

In an email sent to Families Against Mandatory Minimums and reviewed by Insider, a cosponsor of the bill, State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, told Ring the legislation would "only establish support to those incarcerated and provide guidelines, clarity, and transparency for a potential life-saving voluntary deed."...

Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts, a legal aid group, said in a statement to Insider that the intent behind the bill made sense to try to address issues of racial inequity and the need for organ donation, but didn't appear to be a comprehensive solution due to the risk of coercion....

Ring told Insider he doesn't think it's likely the bill will become law, given an especially negative response to it on social media. "We're in the criminal justice movement, we appreciate that people make mistakes," Ring told Insider. "I can't believe these people are some sort of Frankenstein monsters, I think they just goofed. They're probably well-intentioned, but it's just a disastrous idea."

I am eager to hear all sorts of comments any aspects of this bill, but my first question is whether anyone thinks this proposal would be unconstitutional. I suspect lots of folks may have strong thoughts about whether this bill is good or bad policy, but I would be interested to hear if anyone have a strong constitutional take as well.

February 1, 2023 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Sad accounting of 150-year prison term for child-porn possession after 3-year plea deal had been offered

The Miami Herald has this extended and sad review of an 150-year state sentence imposed on a person with schizophrenia who possessed child pornography.  The case provide an example of the "trial penalty" and all sort of other factors that can contribute to extreme prison terms.  The piece is headlined "‘Extreme injustice’: Homeless man with untreated schizophrenia fights 150-year sentence."  I recommended the lengthy article in full and here are excerpts:

The crime that Jared Stephens committed is not in dispute.  The question is whether he should die in prison for it.

On a stormy September day in 2016, Stephens — a former wrestler at Arizona State University who became homeless after years of untreated schizophrenia — walked into a Best Buy in Sweetwater.  He snatched a $399.99 laptop, stuffed other merchandise totaling $157.96 into a brown Publix tote bag and tried to walk out without paying.

Confronted by employees, he resisted, then pulled his own laptop out of a backpack and did something extraordinarily irrational. “Look, I have child pornography!” he declared.  He was telling the truth. Stephens, then 25, marched in and out of the store with his laptop playing a video of child abuse, tilting his computer screen so it was visible to a surveillance camera, according to an arrest report.  He proceeded to lie down between two sets of sliding doors at the store’s entrance, perusing illicit images as shoppers flowed by, until police arrived and hauled him to jail.

That unhinged act sent Stephens on an odyssey through the criminal justice system, resulting in a sentence that has no parallel in local courts for a similar crime: 150 years in state prison — to be followed by a 120-day stint in the Miami-Dade County jail.  The sentence — handed down by Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Veronica Diaz in 2018, with a minimum of public explanation — was 147 years longer than the three-year term state prosecutors initially proposed in a plea deal and 129 years longer than the 21-year term the state asked for at sentencing.  It was also dozens of times greater than the typical sentence for possession of child pornography....

Stephens ... made outlandish claims in open court at his criminal trial, asserting he could command African armies and shut off electricity to Russia with the power of his mind.  He largely refused to talk to his lawyers, much less cooperate in his defense. Court-appointed psychologists diagnosed him with schizophrenia... He had also suffered his own shocking trauma as a child — a fact that went unmentioned at his sentencing because he never told his defense lawyers.  Fan Li, a private attorney now representing Stephens, said that courts are ill-equipped to handle people experiencing mental illness, leading to widespread “unjust prosecutions and sentences.”...

Stephens’ presumptive release date is July 4 — Independence Day — 2166, when he would be 175. He did not produce or distribute the illegal images, which would typically lead to a longer sentence.... Had he gone along with the state and accepted a plea deal when it was originally offered, he could have gotten just three years in prison, as well as treatment in a program for “mentally disordered sex offenders.”  That sentence would have been in line with those given to other, similar offenders, according to court documents submitted by his lawyers.

Instead, he chose to fight the case.  State prosecutors responded by upping the charges from one count of child porn possession — with a maximum of five years in prison — to 30 counts, with a maximum of 150 years, based on a forensic analysis that found a cache of illegal images on his computer.

Between 2000 and 2017, Miami-Dade judges decided that nearly one-third of defendants who, like Stephens, possessed child porn — without producing it or passing it around to others — should not be sent to prison, according to data from the Florida Department of Corrections.  Those sent to prison received a median term of three years, according to the data, which was submitted in a court filing by Stephens’ defense team.  Only one other local case resulted in such a lengthy sentence: Adonis Losada, a former performer on the longtime Univision show “Sabado Gigante,” received a 153-year term.  The trial for Losada was later ordered redone, resulting in a sentence slashed by two-thirds.

January 31, 2023 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (83)

Monday, January 30, 2023

Effective coverage of compassionate release challenges at the state level

Since the First Step Act made it much easier for federal prisoners to get their motions for sentence reductions before judges, discussion and debate (and litigation) over the federal approach to so-called compassionate release has been robust.   And, on-going consideration by the US Sentencing Commission of changes to its guidelines for these sentence reductions ensures that the federal debate will remain robust for the foreseeable future.

But, helpfully, the folks at Bolts have been doing the important work of making sure we do not lose sight of how these sorts of issues play out in state prisons systems.  Most recently, Bolts published an extended piece on these topics focused on Oregon, and it has published prior pieces focused on California and New York.  Here are the extended headlines of these pieces, along with links:

By Piper French, "In Oregon’s Prisons, Terminally Ill People Are Left with Little Recourse: Proposed legislation would ease the extraordinarily difficult road that incarcerated Oregonians face in securing compassionate release."

By Piper French, "California Passes Bill to Expand Prison Releases for Terminally Ill People: Few people leave prison under California’s compassionate release program, but a new measure could allow more incarcerated people to live out their final days at home."

By Victoria Law, "Prison Officials Routinely Deny Hearings to Terminally Ill New Yorkers: The frequent refusal to send medical parole cases to the state board has frustrated advocates and raises questions about the murky criteria preventing most sick people from making their case."

January 30, 2023 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 26, 2023

New year and new Congress brings a new effort to advance new EQUAL Act

Regular readers likely recall some of my posts over the last two years about the EQUAL Act, a bill to reform federal crack cocaine sentencing by finally treating crack and powder cocaine the same at sentencing.  In short form, passage of the bill looked somewhat likely when the US House of Representatives passed it overwhelmingly in September 2021; but, as detailed in posts here and here from the first half of 2022, opposition from some key Republican Senators prevented the bill from getting to the desk of President Biden.  And, as detailed in this post, a lame-duck session compromise bill to the finish line.

Of course, the start of 2023 means a new Congress, so there needs to be a new version of the EQUAL Act introduced.  Interestingly, as this new FAMM press release highlights, there is already a "coalition of law enforcement, justice reform, and civil rights organizations urg[ing] Congress to pass the EQUAL Act" even before a new version has been formally introduced.  As the press release explains: "Today, FAMM along with 20 additional organizations sent a letter to Sens. Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham (the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, respectively) urging them to schedule a markup for the EQUAL Act as soon as it is reintroduced this Congress."  Here are parts of the letter:

We write today to urge you to schedule a mark-up for the EQUAL Act as soon as it is reintroduced. We believe that moving the bill early this year will help prevent the same disappointing fate the bill suffered last Congress....

Last Congress, the EQUAL Act was one of only a few pieces of legislation to enjoy clear bipartisan support. The House of Representatives passed the bill in September 2021 with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 361-66. The Senate version of the bill enjoyed the support of more than 60 senators, but never received a vote in committee or on the floor. To ensure this strong bipartisan bill reaches President Biden’s desk, we urge you and your committee to begin work on this urgent piece of legislation immediately.

Notably, but not surprisingly, this letter to Congress makes no mention of the fact that, as discussed here, US Attorney General Garland released last month new federal charging guidelines that including instructions to federal prosecutors to treat crack like powder cocaine at sentencing.  Though these new charging guidelines do not have the legal force of statutory reform, they might readily lead members of Congress to see less urgency in advancing reform or even to be more resistance to reform as we saw late last year.  Fingers crossed that EQUAL can gather momentum again and actually finally eliminate the pernicious and unjustified crack/powder disparity once and for all.

A few of many prior posts on the EQUAL Act:

January 26, 2023 in Drug Offense Sentencing, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Jury trials on hold in New Orleans because of apparent long-running failure to comply with new law to allow certain persons with felony convictions to serve as jurors

This local article, headlined "Jury trials in New Orleans criminal court halted through February," reports on interesting development in the Big Easy.  Here are the highlights:

Criminal court judges in New Orleans decided on Monday afternoon to put all jury trials on hold until at least March amid allegations that the court has been illegally excluding people with felony convictions from serving on juries for the last year and half.  In addition to delaying many criminal trials that were set to be held over the next five weeks, the decision is likely to bolster concerns over the legitimacy of dozens of jury trials in New Orleans dating back to August of 2021.

In a letter on Monday, Chief Judge Robin Pittman informed a lawyer for Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), Emily Posner, that jury venires — the legal term for the panel from which jurors are drawn — would be “deferred for the remainder of January 2023 and February of 2023.” VOTE, whose membership consists primarily of formerly incarcerated individuals, first raised concerns about the summons process in a letter to criminal court judges earlier this month....

The decision comes after the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal halted the attempted murder trial of Samuel Preston in New Orleans midway through jury selection last week, and ordered the trial judge in the case, Rhonda Goode-Douglass, to hold a hearing on whether or not the court has been using an outdated summons process in violation of state law.

In 2021, the Louisiana legislature changed the law to allow people with felony convictions to serve on juries as long as they have been off of probation or parole for five years, and are not under indictment. Prior to that, no one with any past felony conviction was able to serve on a jury.  The new law was signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, and went into effect on August 1, 2021.  But despite the new law, defense attorneys have argued that the criminal court in New Orleans has been continuing to exclude anyone with a past felony conviction by sending out summons with outdated information and failing to update their online questionnaire for jurors....

In their letter, VOTE pointed to summonses sent to potential jurors as recently as this year that still indicated anyone with a felony conviction was barred from jury service.  In addition, a questionnaire that potential jurors are required to fill out online asks about felony convictions, but does not inquire when an individual completed parole or probation. The organization urged the court to resummon a new jury pool before resuming jury trials “in a manner that respects the rights of jurors” as guaranteed by state law.

But the judges at that time declined to do so, and moved forward with trials last week, including that of Preston. Lawyers for Preston with the Orleans Public Defenders Office, echoing the allegations made by VOTE, attempted to get his jury pool thrown out, arguing that excluding all people with felony convictions from potentially serving on his jury violated Preston’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. Goode-Douglass denied that challenge, but in response to a supervisory writ the Fourth Circuit sided with Preston and ordered an evidentiary hearing.

In another case out of Orleans Parish criminal court, Michael Shorts, who was found guilty of second degree murder in July of last year, has challenged his conviction based in part on the same allegations that his jury was not summoned in accordance with the recent change to state law. Lawyers for Shorts filed a motion in his case last week arguing that the “crucial legal error” in the summons process entitles him to a new trial. It is set for a hearing in front of Judge Laurie White on Feb. 1.

In addition to any individuals with felony convictions who received a jury summons since the law changed and did not respond due to misinformation on the form, or were excluded once they attempted to fill out the questionnaire, there are also open questions regarding how many people with felony convictions may have been permanently purged from the list of people who receive summons in the first place. If that’s the case, lawyers for Preston have argued, “then the systemic exclusion of those prospective jurors cannot be remedied by merely changing the language of the summons and the questionnaire.”

January 25, 2023 in Collateral consequences, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Different approaches to death penalty administration from different governors

When it comes to the administration of the death penalty, governors tend to have a huge (and outsized?) role at the state level.  Historically, that role has been exercised through grants of executive clemency, though it can also shape in various ways how death sentencing operates or how executions are conducted.  With the start of a new year, I have seen a number of notable new stories about a number of governors seeking to impact how their states approach capital punishment.

From the AP, "Arizona executions on hold amid review ordered by governor":

Arizona’s attorney general has put a hold on executions in the state until the completion of a review of death penalty protocols ordered by the new governor due to the state’s history of mismanaging executions.

The review ordered Friday by Gov. Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s first Democratic governor since 2009, came as the state’s new Democratic attorney general, Kris Mayes, withdrew her Republican predecessor’s request for a warrant to execute a convicted killer who initially asked to be executed but later backed out of that request.  While Hobbs’ order didn’t declare a moratorium on the death penalty, Mayes will not seek court orders to execute prisoners while the review is underway, said Mayes spokesperson Richie Taylor.

From the Nashville Scene, "Bill Lee Tries to Keep Lethal Injection Alive: Rather than reconsidering capital punishment, the governor will make leadership changes after a damning investigation into Tennessee executions":

In April of last year, the governor — then the media, then the public — learned that the state had bungled drug testing in the hours leading up to the planned execution of 72-year-old Oscar Franklin Smith. Lee issued a last-minute reprieve for Smith and, days later, suspended executions through 2022, citing “technical issues” with the state’s lethal injection process....

On Jan. 9, Frank Strada — previously the deputy director of Arizona’s Department of Corrections — assumed the role of commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Correction with an explicit mandate to bring back Tennessee executions.

From Florida Politics, "Gov. DeSantis calls for juror ‘supermajority’ to suffice in death penalty cases":

Gov. Ron DeSantis started out his week with the Florida Sheriff’s Association (FSA), where he discussed his desire to allow juries to administer the death penalty via a supermajority vote, rather than requiring unanimity.  “Fine, have a supermajority. But you can’t just say one person (can decide against the death penalty). So maybe eight out of 12 have to agree? Or something. But we can’t be in a situation where one person can just derail this,” DeSantis said at the group’s winter conference in St. Johns County, discussing death penalty verdicts left unachieved because of a rogue juror.

DeSantis told the FSA Monday that he wants a “supermajority” to constitute a sufficient vote count for execution. The pitch comes in the wake of the Parkland killer not getting the death penalty because of what DeSantis called one person’s “idiosyncratic” approach to the proceedings, though there ultimately were three votes not to execute the murderer.

January 24, 2023 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (10)

Monday, January 23, 2023

US Sentencing Commission provides "Public Data Briefing: Proposed 2023 Criminal History Amendment"

Among many notable and consequential proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines, the US Sentencing Commission has noticed a number of proposals connected to criminal history issues.  And today the Commission posted here a "Public Data Presentation for Proposed Criminal History Amendment."  Here is how this release (which includes a video and associated slides) is described on the USSC website:

The Commission is seeking public comment on proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines.  Commission staff prepared a data presentation to inform public comment on a proposed amendment related to criminal history and the Commission’s implementation of 28 U.S.C. § 994(j).  This briefing presents data on following aspects of criminal history to help inform public comment on the three-part proposed amendment:

  • status points;
  • offenders with zero criminal history points; and,
  • simple possession of marijuana offenses.

January 23, 2023 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Justice Gorsuch dissents from denial of cert in "civil" tax case involving Excessive Fines challenge

The new SCOTUS order list released this morning appears to relist again (re-relist?) the set of acquitted conduct cases that I have been following closely (some background here and here).  In addition to that notable news, the order list also including an intriguing short dissent from the denial of cert in Toth v. US, a case involving a woman who failed to disclose a foreign bank account being "assessed a civil penalty of $2.1 million — half of the balance of Ms. Toth’s account — plus another $1 million in late fees and interest."   The First Circuit turned back an Excessive Fines challenge, and Justice Gorsuch explained why he found this troublesome (with some cites removed): 

It held that the Constitution’s protection against excessive fines did not apply to Ms. Toth’s case because the IRS’s assessment against her was “not tied to any criminal sanction” and served a “remedial” purpose.

This decision is difficult to reconcile with our precedents. We have recognized that the Excessive Fines Clause “traces its venerable lineage” to Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights. Timbs v. Indiana, 586 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2019) (slip op., at 4–5).  We have held that “[p]rotection against excessive punitive economic sanctions” is “‘fundamental’” and “‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.’” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 7).  And all that would mean little if the government could evade constitutional scrutiny under the Clause’s terms by the simple expedient of fixing a “civil” label on the fines it imposes and declining to pursue any related “criminal” case.  Far from permitting that kind of maneuver, this Court has warned the Constitution guards against it.  See Austin v. United States, 509 U. S. 602, 610 (1993) (“[T]he question is not, as the United States would have it, whether [a monetary penalty] is civil or criminal, but rather whether it is punishment.”)....

Nor is a statutory penalty beneath constitutional notice because it serves a “remedial” purpose. Really, the notion of “nonpunitive penalties” is “a contradiction in terms.” United States v. Bajakajian, 524 U. S. 321, 346 (1998) (Kennedy, J., dissenting).  Just take this case.  The government did not calculate Ms. Toth’s penalty with reference to any losses or expenses it had incurred.  The government imposed its penalty to punish her and, in that way, deter others.  Even supposing, however, that Ms. Toth’s penalty bore both punitive and compensatory purposes, it would still merit constitutional review.  Under our cases a fine that serves even “in part to punish” is subject to analysis under the Excessive Fines Clause.  Austin, 509 U. S., at 610 (emphasis added).

Ms. Toth and her amici identify still more reasons to worry about the First Circuit’s decision.  They say it clashes with the approach many other courts have taken in similar cases.  Pet. for Cert. 18–25 (collecting cases).  They observe that it incentivizes governments to impose exorbitant civil penalties as a means of raising revenue. Id., at 25–30.  And they contend that it is difficult to square with the original understanding of the Eighth Amendment.  Brief for Professor Beth A. Colgan as Amicus Curiae on Pet. for Cert. 4–13.  For all these reasons, taking up this case would have been well worth our time.  As things stand, one can only hope that other lower courts will not repeat its mistakes.

January 23, 2023 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (7)

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Warranted or unwarranted disparity?: noting different punishments for disrupting different government branches

This lengthy new NBC News piece shines a spotlight on the notable, but arguably justified, disparity between how disruptive protesters at Congress and at the Supreme Court are punished.  The full headline for the piece highlights its essentials: "Protesting against Congress may get you a $50 fine. Disrupting the Supreme Court is a different story. Protesters disrupting oral arguments can face at least a night in jail and a criminal conviction."  Here are some excerpts:

When Emily Paterson was arrested for protesting abortion law changes during a Supreme Court hearing in November, she spent the night in jail and now has a criminal conviction on her record. Across the street, Jack Murphy met a different fate when she did something similar in the Senate chamber three years earlier: She paid a $50 fine and was released a few hours later.

Such is the differing nature of punishment for nonviolent protesters during official proceedings in Washington, with the Supreme Court, which has its own police department, viewed as being tougher than the Capitol Police, which has jurisdiction over the Capitol and its surrounding campus, which borders the Supreme Court building.

It’s a sore point for Mark Goldstone, a lawyer who regularly represents Washington protesters. Supreme Court protesters are treated “more harshly” in a couple of different ways, he said, referring only to those participating in nonviolent protests and not violent attacks like the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. On Capitol grounds, the police “process you and release you,” Goldstone said, while at the Supreme Court, “you are going to spend the night in jail" and likely face prosecution....

Those familiar with Washington protests point to some possible reasons protesters are treated differently.  One is that the Capitol Police has a lot more protesters to deal with, sometimes needing to process hundreds of people quickly.  In contrast, although protests outside the Supreme Court building are common, it is relatively unusual for people to disrupt court proceedings inside the courtroom.

There are also inherent differences between the two institutions.  Congress is where democratically elected representatives meet and a place where members of the public have a right to express their views.  The high court, meanwhile, is not directly accountable to the people and likes to see itself as nonpolitical.  As such, there may be a desire to crack down on protesters to help maintain that image.  The respective police departments have different legal powers too, which could affect how they resolve cases.

As I see it, protesters who disrupt SCOTUS oral arguments are generally likely to be a lot more disruptive to the functioning of SCOTUS, and be more harmful and disrepectful to the lawyers who have prepared for months for 30 minutes of time to represent their clients before the Justice, than protesters in Congress.  Of course, as the events of January 6, 2021 should remind us, some protesters can be very disruptive of the work on Congress.  But the practicalities of the functioning of different branches, not some notion of political "image," seems to me to make the disparity here more warranted than unwarranted.  But perhaps others have distinct views.

January 22, 2023 in Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, January 19, 2023

"The Problem with Capital Pleas"

The title of this post is the title of this recent paper authored by William W. Berry III available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

In United States v. Jackson, the Supreme Court recognized the importance of protecting an individual's jury trial rights in capital plea bargaining.  With the subsequent Brady trilogy, however, the Court’s plea bargaining doctrine migrated away from Jackson and accepted pleas in capital cases as long as the defendant had counsel.

Over the past twenty years, the capital punishment landscape has significantly narrowed, with only twenty new death sentences a year, most coming from the few counties that have the economic resources to pursue the death penalty. The decreased likelihood of receiving a death sentence could, in theory, convince more capital defendants to go to trial as opposed to entering plea deals, especially as juries, even in Texas, are increasingly disinclined to impose death sentences.  But the risk of execution remains too heavy a thumb on the scale.  The effect of this dynamic is that prosecutors essentially have the power to impose mandatory LWOP sentences in homicide cases, simply by threatening to pursue the death penalty.

As such, this essay makes the case that, taken together, the values of the Fifth (right not to plead guilty), Sixth (trial by jury, right of confrontation, right to present witnesses), and Eighth Amendments (right to heightened scrutiny in capital cases) should lead the Court, legislatures, or prosecutors themselves to eliminate plea agreements in capital cases, particularly those that result in LWOP sentences.  Such bargained sentences almost certainly reflect the coercion of the prosecutor in an unequal bargaining dynamic rather than a voluntary acceptance of a proportional punishment for one’s crime.

January 19, 2023 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

En banc Eleventh Circuit limits reach of career offenders under USSG based on plain text of guideline for drug offenses

Last month, as noted in this post, the en banc Eleventh Circuit gave federal drug defendants a big sentencing win by giving a broad reading to the FIRST-STEP-amended mandatory-minimum safety valve provision.  A helpful reader alerted me to the fact that today the en banc Eleventh Circuit issued another ruling that helps some drug defendants at sentencing in US v. Dupree, No. 19-13776 (11th Cir. Jan.18, 2023) (available here).  This matter is another case with a Kisor role shifting guidleine interpretation (background here), and here is how the opinion of the Court begins:

This appeal requires us to consider whether an inchoate offense qualifies as a “controlled substance offense” for purposes of the career offender sentencing enhancement under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. U.S. Sent’g Guidelines Manual § 4B1.2(b) (U.S. Sent’g Comm’n 2018). In this case, the district court sentenced Brandon Dupree as a career offender based partly on his conviction for conspiring to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846.  Dupree appealed his sentence, arguing that his § 846 conspiracy conviction could not serve as a predicate for his career offender enhancement because the Guidelines’ definition of “controlled substance offense” omitted conspiracy and other inchoate crimes.

A panel of this Court affirmed Dupree’s sentence, concluding that our decisions in United States v. Weir, 51 F.3d 1031 (11th Cir. 1995), and United States v. Smith, 54 F.3d 690 (11th Cir. 1995), foreclosed his argument.  United States v. Dupree, 849 F. App’x 911 (11th Cir. 2021) (unpublished), reh’g en banc granted, opinion vacated 25 F.4th 1341 (11th Cir. 2022). We granted Dupree’s petition to rehear the case en banc.  After careful consideration, and with the benefit of oral argument, we hold that the definition of “controlled substance offense” in § 4B1.2(b) does not include inchoate offenses.  We therefore vacate Dupree’s sentence and remand to the district court for resentencing.

Here is a choice paragraph from the start of the dissent by Judge Luck:

I respectfully dissent for two reasons.  First, despite what the majority opinion says it is doing, it is not really applying Kisor’s clarification to Stinson.  Under the majority opinion’s approach, the Kisor clarification applies to Stinson the same way a magnifying glass applies to an ant on a sunny day — total annihilation.  The majority opinion is actually applying Kisor to overrule Stinson.  But the Supreme Court didn’t overrule Stinson and we can’t overrule a Supreme Court opinion on our own.  Only the Supreme Court can do that.  Second, even if the majority opinion isn’t overruling Stinson, the Kisor clarification doesn’t apply to Stinson.

January 18, 2023 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

The look of a federal capital moratorium(?): prosecutors not seeking death penalty for El Paso Walmart shooter

As detailed in this Wall Street Journal piece, the "Justice Department won’t seek the death penalty for the man accused of killing 23 people in 2019 at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, federal prosecutors said in a Tuesday court filing."  Here is more:

Patrick Crusius faces 90 federal charges for his alleged role in one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.  Of those charges, 45 have been deemed hate crimes, or crimes motivated by racial, religious, national-origin, sexual, gender or disability bias. Mr. Crusius, 21 years old at the time, is accused of traveling to the Texas border city to target Latinos in the attack. Nearly two dozen people were injured in the shooting.

Jury selection is expected to begin in his federal case in January 2024.  Mr. Crusius, now 24, was also indicted on state charges of capital murder and could face the death penalty if convicted. The state case would proceed after the federal case is done....

Months after taking office in 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered a nationwide halt to federal executions while he reviewed policies and protocols put in place by the Trump administration that led to the highest rate of federal executions in more than a century.  President Biden has said he would work to end federal executions.

The Justice Department last year chose to continue the pursuit of the death penalty against an alleged terrorist charged with killing eight people in New York City in 2017.  The Trump administration initially sought the death penalty against Sayfullo Saipov, who prosecutors said was inspired by Islamic State to carry out the Manhattan attack. Mr. Saipov’s attorneys asked Mr. Garland to withdraw the death penalty from the case but were turned down.

Justin Underwood, an attorney representing the family of Walmart shooting victim Alexander Hoffman, said they were disappointed by the Justice Department’s decision. “They’re disappointed the U.S. government won’t seek the death penalty on a mass murderer who drove 10 hours to seek out and kill Hispanic and Mexican people,” Mr. Underwood said. “If this guy doesn’t qualify for the death penalty, why on earth do we even have a federal death penalty statute?”

Mr. Underwood questioned why the federal government continued to pursue the death penalty in Mr. Saipov’s case in New York, but not in the Walmart shooting.  Mr. Hoffman’s widow and his two sons are now looking to the state’s case for justice, Mr. Underwood said.  “This might not be the Christian thing for me to say, but some people need to be killed and he certainly qualifies,” Mr. Underwood said. “I just put my faith in the state of Texas to seek justice in this case.”

Intriguingly, this Reuters article about this prosecutorial charging decision makes mention of a fact not noted by the WSJ that might be part of the story: "When he was taken into police custody minutes after the shooting, Crusius was in a psychotic state and treated with anti-psychotic medication, according to mental health professionals employed by the jail, a court filing said."  Mental health issues might well have influenced federal prosecutors here; Crusius's defense attorneys hoped it would accourding to this 2020 AP piece:

Lawyers for a man charged with shooting scores of people in a racist attack at a Texas Walmart say their client has diagnosed mental disabilities that should be a “red flag” for federal prosecutors considering whether to seek the death penalty.

Patrick Crusius “has been diagnosed with severe, lifelong neurological and mental disabilities” and was treated with antipsychotic medication following his arrest moments after the massacre in El Paso, his attorneys wrote in a court filing.

January 18, 2023 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (34)

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

California working to clear condemned inmates from death row

This recent NPR piece, headlined "California says it will dismantle death row. The move brings cheers and anger," provides an interesting overview of the state of California's death penalty as it seeks  to clear the nation's largest (and largely dormant) death row.  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

California this week pushed ahead with controversial efforts to dismantle the largest death row system in America.

Under Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state is moving to make the transfer of condemned inmates permanent and mandatory after what the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) calls a successful pilot program that voluntarily moved 101 inmates off death row into general population prisons across the state....

After a 45-day public comment period and a public hearing in March, the state hopes to start moving all 671 death row inmates – 650 men and 21 women — into several other prisons across the state with high-security units. Some prisoners will be able to get jobs or cellmates if they are mainstreamed into the general prison population.

The CDCR says the move allows the state "to phase out the practice of segregating people on death row based solely on their sentence." No inmates will be re-sentenced and no death row commutations offered, officials say.

Technically, the death penalty still exists in California. Prosecutors can still seek it. But no one has been put to death in the state in 17 years. And in 2019, Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions and he closed the death chamber at San Quentin, the decrepit and still heavily used 19th century prison overlooking San Francisco Bay.

Those who get prison jobs — as clerks, laundry or kitchen helpers – will see 70 percent of their pay go to victims' families, as required under Proposition 66. That 2016 voter-passed initiative amended California's Penal Code to require death-sentenced inmates to work and pay restitution....

But death penalty proponents and victims' rights advocates are frustrated and angry. "To hear this news is devastating," says Sandra Friend. She described feeling victimized all over again. Her 8-year-old son Michael Lyons was making his way home from school in Yuba City, Calif., in 1996 when he was abducted and sodomized by serial killer Robert Boyd Rhoades, who dumped the child's body in a riverbed....

In part, California's death penalty reforms grew out of 2016's Prop. 66, which promised to speed up the time between a death sentence and an execution. The successful ballot measure also required condemned prisoners to work and pay restitution. Now death penalty proponents accuse Newsom of exploiting a lesser-known section of Prop. 66 for his own ideological and political purposes.

"The governor has taken loopholes and nuances in the law and used them to give criminals — the worst criminals — a break," says Michael Rushford, president of the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. "To start mainstreaming people like Tiequon Cox, who killed an entire family in Los Angeles after going to the wrong address to do a gang hit, is an abandonment of justice. Injecting politics into criminal justice and public safety is insane. It's unjust, unfair and it's stupid."...

In California, Sandra Friend says it's outrageous that killers like Rhoades may "get rewarded," as she puts it, with expanded work options, even a cellmate. "For him to be able to leave death row and go into a cushier prison, having maybe possibly a cellie, having a job, is terrifying because he is the worst of the worst. He is a monster," she says.

State officials underscore that inmate transfers and their housing will depend on the specific facts of each inmate. "Their housing would depend on their individual case factors, and it's what the multidisciplinary teams will be evaluating," says CDCR spokeswoman Vicky Waters.... The state hopes to permanently empty California's death row by this fall, a CDCR official says.

Friend vows to fight the effort. A public hearing on the issue is scheduled in Sacramento for March 8. "I'm definitely going to make Michael's voice heard," she says, "because he's the one that is getting lost in all of this."

January 17, 2023 in Death Penalty Reforms, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (9)

DC Council overrides DC mayor's veto of significant criminal justice reform bill

As reported in this new Washington Post piece, the "D.C. Council on Tuesday voted to override Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s (D) veto of a major overhaul of the city’s criminal code, which city lawmakers had unanimously approved in November despite concerns from court and law enforcement leaders." Here is more from the press report:

Lawmakers voted 12-1 to override Bowser’s veto of the bill, with Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) breaking from the rest of the council.  Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who chaired the public safety committee when the legislation passed, said lawmakers “stand at the finish line of a 16-year process that would make significant improvements and modernize an outdated criminal code from another era.”...

The bill would, among other things, eliminate most mandatory minimum sentences, allow for jury trials in almost all misdemeanor cases, and reduce the maximum penalties for offenses such as burglaries, carjackings and robberies.  Law enforcement leaders had expressed concern that it could burden an already stretched court system and would send the wrong message to residents at a time when the city is struggling with gun violence.

“This bill does not make us safer,” Bowser wrote in a letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), announcing her veto. Lawmakers shot back Tuesday that the bill was a necessary reform of the city’s outdated criminal code, and they took direct aim at the mayor’s criticism, which they said could be used as fodder for members of Congress who can block city legislation.  Republicans in the House have already threatened to target the measure. But resolutions disapproving D.C. legislation must pass both chambers and be signed by the president.  Democrats have a narrow majority in the Senate....

Allen, who chaired the public safety committee when the bill was passed, and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), the new public safety chair, said in a joint statement beforehand that the criminal code was “more equitable and just” but that they were open to consideration of further amendments before it was fully implemented.  Officials who support the code revisions have stressed the law would not take effect for three years to give police, courts and other groups time to prepare.  “There is simply too much good in this bill to abandon all of that work, and without any backup plan from the mayor,” Pinto said Tuesday.

Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D- Ward 1) called the mayor’s veto a “distraction,” given that the council would override it.  “This is political theater to create a perpetual scapegoat whenever there are issues in the future,” Nadeau said. “Do not believe the hype.  The council is not tying the hands of our law enforcement officials or making crime worse.”...

Bowser wrote in her letter to Mendelson that while there was “consensus agreement” on 95 percent of the bill, she opposed particular provisions lowering maximum sentences and allowing for more jury trials.  She said the bill would weaken “already lenient sentencing for gun possession” by reducing the maximum penalties for carrying a pistol without a license and being a felon in possession of a gun.

Gregg Pemberton, chairman of the D.C. Police Union, said in a statement that the law, once enacted, would lead to “violent crime rates exploding more than they already have.” “Every resident should be outraged that the Council has weakened the criminal justice system in a way that makes every neighborhood less safe,” Pemberton said.  “Their actions today are shameful.”

Supporters of the bill have countered the reduction in maximum penalties are in line with what judges are actually imposing.  “This isn’t some huge, mass decarceration measure,” said Patrice Sulton, founder and executive director of the D.C. Justice Lab. “It’s making the code clear, consistent, and constitutionally sound.”

January 17, 2023 in State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

US Supreme Court relists latest cases seeking review of acquitted conduct sentencing

Regular readers surely recall some prior posts about the McClinton case before the US Supreme Court raising issues about the use of acquitted conduct at sentencing.  As detailed before (and linked below), I had the pleasure last year of working with great lawyers at Squire Patton Boggs to file an amicus brief on the acquitted conduct issue in support of petitioner Dayonta McClinton.  (I blogged here about McClinton's case after the Seventh Circuit affirmed his 19-year sentence that was based heavily on the judge's determination that McClinton was to be held responsible for a murder even after a jury had acquitted him of that killing.  As detailed in this SCOTUS docket sheet, a number of notable interest groups have also filed amicus briefs in support of cert in this case.)

After various delays and more delays, the McClinton case (as well as a number of others raising acquitted conduct issues) was finally considered at last Friday's SCOTUS conference.  I was a bit worried when last week's SCOTUS cert grant list did not include the case, but I was hopeful that we would learn today that the McClinton case was relisted and the docket sheet now reflects that reality.  I am pretty sure that all the other acquitted conduct cases considered in the last SCOTUS conference were also relisted.

More often than not, relisting is a precursor to a later denial of cert, perhaps with a dissent or separate statement being authored by one or more Justices giving their take on the Court's decision not to grant review.  But relisting is also sometimes a precursor to a later granting of cert.  So, as I have said before, I am hopeful, thought still more than a bit pessimistic, about the possibility of 2023 being the year for SCOTUS to take up acquitted conduct sentencing. 

A few recent of many, many prior related posts:

UPDATE:  John Elwood at SCOTUSblog has this new post noting the acquitted conduct relists, "Acquitted-conduct sentencing and 'offended observer' standing."

January 17, 2023 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (86)

Monday, January 16, 2023

Another look at some of the post-Bruen Second Amendment uncertainty

Folks who follow Second Amendment jurisprudence know that the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Bruen last summer has created  lots of notable new questions and constitutional uncertainty concerning an array of gun control measures.  And folks who follow this blog know that I find especially interesting the legal debates over the constitutionality of various laws criminalizing gun posession by persons with certain prior convictions or other criminal-justice involvement.  So I wanted to flag some notable recent press coverage of these issues:

From ABC News, "Supreme Court decision creates confusion over which firearm restrictions are constitutional"

From the Brunswick News, "Should nonviolent crimes cost a man his 2nd Amendment rights?"

From Reuters, "Federal public defenders seek end to several gun restrictions"

I think it might only be a matter or when, not if, the Supreme Court has to take up the issue of th constitutionality of at least some felon-in-possession bans.  But when might be many years from now. 

Some (of many) prior recent related posts:

January 16, 2023 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, January 15, 2023

"A World Without Prosecutors"

The title of this post is the title of this new essay now on SSRN authored by Jeffrey Bellin.  Here is its abstract:

This Essay is part of a Symposium of responses to Bennett Capers’ provocative article, Against Prosecutors.  Capers proposes to (largely) abolish public prosecutors, a reform he suggests would slash the number of people incarcerated, particularly for drug crimes, and return the power of prosecution to the people.

Using data from my new book, Mass Incarceration Nation, this Essay suggests that Capers' proposal is unlikely to have the promised benefits because it targets only one of the many drivers of American criminal law.  Prosecutors matter. But they are one piece of a large and complex puzzle.  And most importantly, prosecutors are primarily reactive, responding to the laws enacted by legislators and the arrests made by police.  Capers’ proposal makes perfect sense if prosecutors are truly the one thing responsible for mass incarceration and the primary driver of drug enforcement.  If, however, politicians and police are also (or even primarily) pushing the “tough on crime” agenda, jettisoning public prosecutors becomes a murky policy prescription and may prove counterproductive.

January 15, 2023 in Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (21)

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Fourth Circuit panel finds district court abused its discretion when denying compassionate release to elderly drug offender

I just came across a notable ruling from last week by a Fourth Circuit panel in US v. Malone, No. 21-6242 (4th Cir. Jan. 5, 2023) (available here). In this case, the circuit court panel concludes that "the district court abused its discretion by failing to properly assess the following factors which would warrant Malone’s compassionate release: his ailing health, advanced age, and relevant 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors." Here is one key paragraph from the opinion (emphasis in the original):

[W]e conclude that the district court abused its discretion by failing to recognize that the relevant § 3553(a) factors clearly favor release.  Having a Category I criminal history, Malone acknowledged the seriousness of his offense in prior motions to the court and has now served over fourteen years of his sentence.  While in prison, he participated in multiple classes and was also placed in a low-level prison camp.  His new extraordinary and compelling health-related circumstances have condemned him to a life filled with limitations.  Due to these circumstances, his potential for recidivism is low to none and he does not pose a threat to others or the community at large.  To affirm the district court’s denial would not only be a great disservice to Malone, but to any defendant with failing health seeking autonomy in their twilight.  There is a reason this is called compassionate release, after all.

January 14, 2023 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (12)

Friday, January 13, 2023

Just a couple of criminal matters in big new set of SCOTUS cert grants

The Supreme Court this afternoon granted cert on a number of cases via this order list.  Sadly, there is not much of interest in all the cases for sentencing fans, and really only one criminal case and immigration cases with criminal law elements.  This SCOTUSblog post has all the details, and here are snippets from that post:

The Supreme Court will review how employers must accommodate their employees’ religious practices, how courts should decide whether threatening statements are protected by the First Amendment, and whether a local government violated the Constitution when it confiscated and sold a $40,000 home based on the owner’s failure to pay $15,000 in property taxes.

Those issues are among a slew of new disputes that the justices added to their docket on Friday afternoon in an order list from their private conference earlier in the day. The justices granted review in 11 new cases for a total of eight hours of oral argument. The cases will likely be argued in late April, with decisions to follow by summer....

Counterman v. Colorado

The court also agreed to weigh in on an important free speech question: What test should courts use to determine whether statements are “true threats” that are not protected by the First Amendment? The question comes to the court in the case of Billy Raymond Counterman, who was convicted and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for stalking a local musician....

Pugin v. Garland and Garland v. Cordero-Garcia

In a pair of immigration cases that have been consolidated for oral argument, the justices agreed to decide whether a criminal offense that does not interfere with an existing investigation or judicial proceeding qualifies as an “offense relating to obstruction of justice,” a serious crime that can result in deportation and additional criminal punishment for noncitizens.

January 13, 2023 in Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Outgoing Pennsylvania Gov included high-profile artist in final batch of record-setting clemency grants

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has only a few more days in office, and he is closing out a tenure that has been record setting in the use of clemency authority.  This local article discusses that record as well as the high-profile clemency recipent in the last batch of grants:

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has pardoned Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill of his possession of drugs and weapons charges from 2008....

Wolf has issued more than twice the amount of pardons granted by any of his predecessors, with at least a quarter of them targeting non-violent marijuana offenses, his administration announced Thursday.

Wolf, a Democrat, signed his final 369 pardons this week, for a total of 2,540 since he took office in 2015. He surpassed Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's record of 1,122 granted pardons. Of the pardons, 395 were part of the expedited review process for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. Another 232 were part of the PA Marijuana Pardon Project, which accepted applications through the month of September.

"I have taken this process very seriously - reviewing and giving careful thought to each and every one of these 2,540 pardons and the lives they will impact," Wolf said in a statement. "Every single one of the Pennsylvanians who made it through the process truly deserves their second chance, and it's been my honor to grant it."

A pardon grants total forgiveness of the related criminal conviction and allows for expungement.

January 13, 2023 in Clemency and Pardons, Drug Offense Sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, January 12, 2023

US Sentencing Commissions publishes proposed guideline amendments and issues for comment

This afternoon, the (finally) fully loaded US Sentencing Commission held a public meeting in which it discussed and published proposed guideline amendment on a number of topics. This official press release provide this summary (with links from the original):

The United States Sentencing Commission voted today to publish for comment proposed guideline amendments on several topics, including revisions that would implement two significant changes made by the First Step Act of 2018.

The First Step Act authorized defendants for the first time to file a motion for compassionate release, without having the Director of the Bureau of Prisons make a motion. Today’s proposed amendment would add this new procedural option.   The amendment would also revise the circumstances identified by the Commission as “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for purposes of a motion for compassionate release.

“Commission data have indicated that in recent years — over the COVID-19 pandemic and without a Commission quorum — the district courts have granted compassionate release at varying rates.  It is my sincere hope that our work today and in the coming months brings greater clarity to the federal courts and more uniform application of Compassionate Release across the country,” said Judge Carlton W. Reeves, Chair of the Commission.

The First Step Act also expanded “safety valve” eligibility for relief from mandatory minimum penalties to certain offenders with more than one criminal history point.  The Commission proposed changes today that would update §5C1.2 and amend the 2-level reduction in the drug trafficking guideline currently tied to the statutory safety valve.

Consistent with its responsibility to respond to major legislation affecting federal crimes, the Commission also voted to publish a proposed amendment implementing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — firearms legislation that passed after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.  The Act directed the Commission to increase penalties for certain firearms offenders, particularly straw purchasers. 

The Commission also published a package of amendments relating to the criminal history rules, including reconsideration of “status” points for defendants who commit the instant offense while under another criminal justice sentence, the treatment of defendants with zero criminal history points, and the impact of simple possession of marihuana offenses.

The amendment also presents an alternative to the “categorical approach,” a complex legal test courts use to determine whether a conviction qualifies an offender for enhanced penalties under the guidelines. “I have heard consistently from judges throughout the nation that the categorical approach should be reconsidered. Judges are far too often flummoxed by how to apply the categorical approach.  This is certainly a matter that the Commission will continue to discuss and one that warrants a public hearing,” Judge Reeves said.

The Commission also asked for comment on whether the guidelines adequately address certain sexual abuse offenses, how it should address important circuit court conflicts, and whether the guidelines appropriately account for acquitted conduct, among other matters.

“The Commission received more than 8,000 letters of public comment on our tentative priorities in October,” said Reeves, “and we again look forward to robust comment in response to these proposed amendments.” 

The proposals are subject to a 60-day public comment period running through mid-March.  The Commission will hold public hearings in February and March to receive expert testimony on the amendments proposed at today’s meeting.  The events will stream live on the Commission's website.  A data briefing on today’s proposed criminal history amendments will also be made available in the coming weeks.

Notably, this overview of proposed amendments only provides a partial account of all that sentencing fans should find interesting in the new proposed amendment. For example, the proposals also include a provision to "amend §1B1.3 to add a new subsection (c) providing that acquitted conduct shall not be considered relevant conduct for purposes of determining the guideline range unless the conduct was admitted by the defendant during a guilty plea colloquy or was found by the trier of fact beyond a reasonable doubt to establish, in whole or in part, the instant offense of conviction."

I hope to find timein the coming days and weeks to comment in various ways on these amendments. And I am hopeful that we will see lots of commentary and analysis from lots of sources and perspectives as the new USSC gears up finalize the first set of guideline amendments in nearly 5 years.

January 12, 2023 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Brennan Center assesses "Criminal Legal Reform Halfway Through the Biden Administration"

The Brennan Center has this notable new analysis of some of the criminal justice work of the Biden Administration and it reaches the mid-point of Prez Biden's current term.   The piece is filled with lots of context and links and is worth a full read.  Here is how it starts and closes, with its headings along the way as a kind og summary:

A year ago, we reviewed progress made by the Biden administration toward building a fairer and more effective criminal legal system, as well as missed opportunities. Here we outline major developments since then, including setbacks and steps in the right direction.

Retrenchment on the Federal Death Penalty...

Limited Progress on Prison Reform...

Notable Nominations and Confirmations...

Updates to DOJ Charging Policy...

Limited Progress on Clemency...

Mixed Record on Immigration Detention...

New Investments in Community Violence Interventions...

Critically, the administration can continue to make progress in many of the areas named above without the need to navigate complex congressional dynamics. The power to restructure the federal clemency power, for example, lies wholly within the president’s discretion. The DOJ has already begun to significantly revamp its approach to implementing the First Step Act, and it should continue to do so. And the president could effectively suspend the death penalty on his own initiative by commuting existing federal death sentences to life in prison.

While the president must continue to work with Congress on major legislative priorities, all of these steps and more would represent significant progress on their own.

January 10, 2023 in Criminal justice in the Biden Administration, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 09, 2023

En banc Third Circuit to reconsider constitutionality of § 922(g)(1)'s felon-in-possession gun prohibition after Bruen

In this post two months ago, I noted the lengthy per curiam Third Circuit panel opinion in Range v. Garland, No. 21-2835 (3d Cir. Nov. 16, 2022) (available here), which concluded that a person convicted of state welfare fraud was "outside the class of people traditionally entitled to Second Amendment rights" and upheld felon disarmament under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) against a Second Amendment challenge.  This Range opinion was the first big circuit opinion addressing felon gun dispossession under federal law after the landmark Supreme Court Bruen ruling changes Second Amendment jurisprudence. 

But Second Amendment law is Range free: via this order entered this past Friday, the full Third Circuit decided that this panel opinion in Range is to be vacated as the case will be reheard en banc (with oral argument scheduled for February 15, 2023).  I do not know enough about the particulars of all the Third Circuit judges to make confident predictions about how Range will be resolved after en banc reconsideration.  But, generally speaking, full circuits do not take up issues en banc when most of the judges are generally content with the panel outcome.  Consequently, I can confidently predict this case is one worth watching closely and one that might make for some notable new Second Amendment law.

Some (of many) prior recent related posts:

January 9, 2023 in Collateral consequences, Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wondering about the impact of AG Garland's new charging and sentencing memos

Remarkably, it has already been almost a month since Attorney General Merrick Garland issued new charging and sentencing policy guidance for Justice Department prosecutors through two memoranda (basics here).  These memos received some press attention (and some blog commentary) when first issued in mid December.  But, somewhat surprisingly, I have not since seen all that much continued commentary or further echoes concerning AG Garland's instructions to federal prosecutors to "promote the equivalent treatment of crack and powder cocaine offenses" and other notable aspects of these notable memos. 

Of course, with the holidays and all, it is surely too early to be expecting to see the full impact or fall out from these DOJ memos.  Still, given that the instructions in these memos impact every federal criminal case in some way, I am continuing to expect these memos to generate notable cases and controversies before too long.  And, while waiting, I have now had the honor and pleasure of working with former ENDY US Attorney Alan Vinegrad to write up a short overview of the memos for coming publication in the February 2023 issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter.  The draft of that overview is available for download below, and it starts this way:

On December 16, 2022, United States Attorney General Merrick Garland issued long-awaited guidance setting forth the Department of Justice's latest charging, plea and sentencing policies. He did so in the form of two memos: one providing general policies for all criminal cases (the "General Memo"), and a second providing additional policies for drug cases (the "Drug Memo").

These latest DOJ policies are generally consistent in many respects with past policies issued by Attorney General Garland's predecessors, but they break new ground (or revive previously-rescinded policies) in several areas: mandatory minimum statutes, statutory sentencing enhancements, the crack/cocaine sentencing disparity, and pre-trial diversion.  All of these new policies tack in the same direction: ameliorating the harshness of the modern-era federal sentencing regime.

Download Vinegrad and Berman for FSR on new DOJ policies

January 9, 2023 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Noticing the shape of the federal death penalty circa 2023

Just under 20 years ago, in the inaugural issue of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Carol Steiker and Jordan Steiker authored this fascinating little article imagining the death pemalty circa 2022.  The article's title, "Abolition in Our Time," reveals that the piece did not perfectly predict the future.  But the piece did have this somewhat prescient take on how "the politics of the death penalty have shifted":

Prominent politicians in both parties are willing to oppose the death penalty publicly, though very few make it a political priority. Many such leaders also distinguish between the importance of retaining the death penalty for cases in which "vital national interests" are at stake — the war on terrorism — and cases involving ordinary state law enforcement.

The Steikers' article came to mind for me today as I read this new New York Times piece discussing the current state of the federal death penalty. The piece is headlined "Suspect in Bike Path Killing Faces First Death Penalty Trial Under Biden," and here are excerpts:

On Halloween 2017, Sayfullo Saipov plowed a rented pickup truck down Manhattan’s crowded West Side bicycle path, smashing into pedestrians and cyclists, killing eight people and injuring more than a dozen, the authorities said.

Soon after Mr. Saipov was charged, President Donald J. Trump tweeted, “SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!” And his attorney general later directed prosecutors to seek execution if Mr. Saipov was convicted.

Last year, Mr. Saipov’s lawyers asked President Biden’s Justice Department to withdraw that order. Mr. Biden, after all, had campaigned against capital punishment. But his attorney general, Merrick B. Garland, denied the request, and on Monday, Mr. Saipov’s trial is scheduled to begin in Federal District Court in Manhattan — the first federal death penalty trial under the Biden administration.

Mr. Garland’s decision to continue pursuing the death penalty for Mr. Saipov, an Uzbek immigrant, suggests a nuanced approach, one in which he has been reluctant to withdraw the threat of capital punishment in one type of case in particular: terrorism-related offenses....

Since taking office nearly two years ago, Mr. Garland has not sought capital punishment in any new case and indeed has declared a nationwide moratorium on federal executions. The Justice Department has also withdrawn directives issued by previous administrations seeking the death penalty against 25 federal defendants, according to court records and the department’s data.

At the same time, the department has defended appeals of the death sentences imposed during President Barack Obama’s administration on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber, and Dylann S. Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine members of a Black church in South Carolina....

A spokesman for the Justice Department said that as a matter of policy it does not offer public reasons for decisions to withdraw death penalty directives. Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, and David E. Patton, a lawyer for Mr. Saipov, declined to comment on the case.

But some lawyers said a pattern had emerged: None of the 25 defendants for whom the Justice Department has withdrawn death penalty requests were charged in a terrorism-related offense.  “Early on, it became clear that notwithstanding the statements made by both the president and the attorney general, that there was going to be this sort of carve-out around terrorism,” said Anthony L. Ricco, a veteran death penalty defense lawyer in New York.

January 7, 2023 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, January 06, 2023

Reviewing prosecutions and sentencings two years after January 6 Capitol riots

A number of major papers today provide some major reviews of the prosecution and sentencing of January 6 rioters on the two-year anniversary of the storming of the Capitol.  Here are headlines and links, as well as an except from the story most focused on sentencing outcomes:

From the New York Times, "Two Years Later, Prosecutions of Jan. 6 Rioters Continue to Grow: The Justice Department’s investigation of the Capitol attack, already the largest it has ever conducted, has resulted in 900 arrests, with the potential for scores or hundreds more to come."

From USA Today, "More than 950 people have been charged in Jan. 6 Capitol riot, but investigation 'far from over'"

From the Washington Post, "Review of Jan. 6 cases finds judges give harsh lectures, lighter sentences: Judges have gone below prosecutors’ recommendations three-quarters of time, and below federal sentencing guidelines a little less than 40 percent":

Of more than 460 people charged with felonies, only 69 have been convicted and sentenced so far, mostly for assaulting police or obstructing Congress; all but four have received jail or prison time. The average prison sentence for a felony conviction so far is 33 months, according to a Washington Post database....

About half of the arrests so far have been for misdemeanors, and for those given actual jail time, the average sentence has been 48 days. But most of the misdemeanants have not received any jail time: most have received probation, home detention or halfway house time, or a fine. These defendants are typically rioters who entered the Capitol and didn’t engage with the police, but left a trail of social media posts and photos before, during and after Jan. 6.

If we include those who didn’t receive jail time among the misdemeanor sentences, the average jail time drops to 22 days. The number of defendants being held in jail before trial, or awaiting sentencing, is about 50, according to a list provided by the Justice Department....

For the 25 defendants sentenced so far for assaulting law enforcement, the average sentence has been more than 48 months — in line with the nationwide average for that offense in recent years, according to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Former New York City police officer Thomas Webster received a 10-year term for fighting with an officer and helping breach the outer perimeter. There are still nearly 180 defendants whose assault cases are pending.

The most serious charge for those not accused of assaulting the police has been obstruction of an official proceeding. Only 28 people have been sentenced for obstruction or conspiracy to obstruct the certification of the electoral vote, receiving an average sentence of about 42 months....

The judges appointed by Democratic presidents have imposed jail or prison sentences in 61 percent of their cases, and probation in 18 percent of the cases, while judges appointed by Republican presidents have given jail or prison sentences in 48 percent of their cases, and probation in 34 percent of cases. In the remaining cases, judges have sentenced defendants to home detention or a halfway house, or imposed a fine. Judge Tanya Chutkan, an Obama appointee, has handled 22 sentencings and imposed incarceration in every one, but another Obama appointee, Judge Rudolph Contreras, has handled 16 sentencings and jailed only one defendant.

Judges Dabney Friedrich and Trevor N. McFadden, both Trump appointees, have given probation sentences to about half of their Jan. 6 defendants. McFadden is also the only judge to have acquitted a defendant at trial and the only judge to have imposed only a fine on a defendant.

January 6, 2023 in Celebrity sentencings, Data on sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Some highlights from Ohio's sweeping new criminal justice reform bill

From sentencing to prison reform to marijuana policy to record relief, Ohio has long been a state with all sort of dynamics developments across a range of criminal law and policy issues of great interest to me.  And, as this local article details, these dynamic realities continued in the Buckeye State at the end of 2022 and into 2023 as the Ohio General Assebly finally completed a long-in-development major criminal reform bill known as Senate Bill 288.  There is so much in the massive SB 288, I am still looking for an effective and complete summary.  But the press piece reviews some of the parts I wish to highlight here:

Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday signed into law an enormous criminal justice reform bill making it easier for Ohioans to adjust to life after their release, giving state officials wider latitude to release inmates early, reducing the consequences of minor marijuana offenses, and reducing underage drinking penalties, among dozens of other provisions.

The most high-profile part of the new law, added shortly before it passed the legislature, toughens Ohio’s distracted-driving laws. But the 1,000-page bill, which passed the legislature with overwhelming support, also makes the greatest changes to Ohio’s criminal code in years.

The new law, which takes effect in early April, was the product of nearly two years of work by state lawmakers and various agencies and groups. DeWine, before signing Senate Bill 288 during a Statehouse signing ceremony, said that while Ohioans might not agree with every part of the legislation, “everybody was heard” about their opinions. “I think legislators should be complimented on the fact that they reached out to prosecutors, that they reached out to defenders, that they reached out to law-enforcement agencies,” the governor said....

Two of the most important parts of SB288 will expand when people convicted of crimes can seek to have their criminal records sealed – in other words, kept private with limited exceptions – or expunged, meaning their record is destroyed altogether. Proponents argue that sealing and expunging helps to address widespread problems with former inmates getting housing, being offered a job, or securing a loan because of their criminal record.

Other parts of the new law will:

Allow prosecutors or city law directors to expunge thousands of low-level marijuana possession offenses, as well as ensure that arrests or convictions for possessing marijuana paraphernalia won’t appear on Ohioans’ criminal records.

Give the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the state’s prison agency, more power to decide when inmates should be granted an early release.

Set up a process for inmates to ask a judge for early release when the Ohio governor declares a state of emergency due to a pandemic or other public health crisis.

Allow inmates to shave more time off their sentences for participating in educational, job training, or drug treatment programs.

Expand Ohio’s “Good Samaritan” law that provides immunity from arrest or prosecution for people who seek medical assistance for an overdose – either on their own behalf or for someone else – as long as the person receiving that legal protection is referred to addiction treatment within 30 days....

Create the new offense of “strangulation,” which would range from a fifth-degree felony to a second-degree felony. Domestic-abuse advocates have worked for years to pass such a law, pointing to research indicating that victims who are strangled by their partner are more than seven times as likely to end up being murdered by their abuser....

Require a minimum five-year prison sentence for anyone convicted of “aggravated vehicular homicide” in cases where the victim is a firefighter or an emergency medical worker. The change was brought in response to the death of Cleveland firefighter Johnny Tetrick, who was killed during a hit-and-run along Interstate 90 last month.

Decriminalize fentanyl test strips, used to test substances for the opioid. Test strips are currently classified by Ohio law as “drug paraphernalia,” and people found to possess them can face up to 30 days in jail. Supporters of the move argue it will help reduce fatal overdoses in the state; critics say the strips can help drug users look for fentanyl, which was involved in 81% of Ohio overdose deaths in 2020, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

January 6, 2023 in Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

"The Truth About Truth in Sentencing: Tennessee’s Experience"

The title of this post is the title of this terrific new article in the Tennessee Bar Journal authored by David Raybin.  I recommend the very readable piece in full, and here are excerpts from the introduction and conclusion:

The truth is that the crime rate does not drive a state’s prison population — policy choices do. Last year the Tennessee legislature enacted a “Truth in Sentencing” scheme where most penitentiary-bound prisoners will now serve between 85% to 100% of their time with no parole. The increases are staggering: a burglary conviction can now net nine years in prison where under prior law parole could occur in about three years.

Gov. Bill Lee reluctantly allowed this legislation to become law without his signature, saying, “Widespread evidence suggests that this policy will result in more victims, higher recidivism, increased crime and prison overcrowding, all with an increased cost to taxpayers.” At an eventual cost of $25 million a year, the proponent of the legislation, Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton replied, “If we need to build more prisons, we can.”

Recent, horrid homicides in Memphis prompted the legislature to propose even more amendments to our criminal statutes. These would abolish probation for many crimes and remove parole for other offenses. Soon virtually all offenses will be punished by mandatory incarceration with little or no alternative sentencing.5 Over the last 200 years, Tennessee has experimented with several sentencing systems which have met with varying degrees of success and failure. This state’s problems are not unique to this decade or even this century....

When viewed from the perspective of 200 years, the most obvious conclusion is that our sentencing structure has been dramatically altered with increasing frequency in recent years.  The original penitentiary law of 1829 remained substantially unchanged for 84 years until the enactment of the indeterminate sentence law in 1913.

It was another 60 years before there were any major modifications.  These changes, which occurred in 1973, were themselves altered less than six years later by the enactment of the Class X Felony Law.  Three years later the legislature passed the 1982 Sentencing Reform Act.  In another three years the legislature created the “safety valve.”  Four years later, in 1989, a new sentencing law was enacted.  In less than five years the legislature was considering yet another revision under the label of “truth in sentencing.” And then began 25 years of ever-increasing sentences for dozens of criminal offenses.  The 2022 Truth in Sentencing law was the final — and perhaps fatal — conclusion to this process.

Since 1970, the total jail population has increased 681%. The cost of the penitentiary and jail system is staggering: a billion dollars a year. Counting those in our county jails, Tennessee now incarcerates approximately the same number of people as does the entire continent of Australia, which has four times the population.  In Tennessee, African American people constitute 18% of state residents, but 36% of people in jail and 42% of people in prison....

Although our sentencing structures have been often altered, the statutory length of sentences, as set forth by current law, is not that different from those statutes first enacted in 1829.  In 1829, involuntary manslaughter was punished from one to five years. Today it is a very similar at one to six years. In 1829, the punishment for burglary of a dwelling was three to 10 years; today, for one with no record, it is three to six years.  The 1829 law was enacted to replace the previous practice of corporal punishment consisting of branding and whipping people. What may have been a valid term of imprisonment in 1829 may no longer be appropriate in 2022.  Perhaps we should revisit the length of our sentences.

We have commissioners of education and commissioners of roads, but the commissioner of correction only houses prisoners and has no impact on who goes into his or her penitentiary system.  I suggest that we do what other states and the federal government have done.  I suggest that we do what we did in Tennessee between 1986 and 1995.  We should have a full-time sentencing commission made up of professionals in the criminal justice system with judges, defense lawyers, prosecutors and citizens such as we had before.  Perhaps we should add an ex-offender or two to give us some perspective. We need that.

A sentencing commission is also a tool for discovering problems before they get out of hand.  A full-time sentencing commission is the only solution to making meaningful progress.  We cannot have committees or commissions who come together every 20 years to fix the system.  We advocate routine maintenance on our cars, so why not our criminal justice system?

January 3, 2023 in State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (8)

Timely new CRS review of US Sentencing Commission's guideline amendment process and plans

A helpful colleague alerted me to a new Congressional Research Service “Legal Sidebar” which efficiently covers the US Sentencing Commission's history, its amendments process, and some of its stated priorities for 2022-23 guideline amendments.  This five-page report is titled "Back in Action, the U.S. Sentencing Commission to Resolve Circuit Splits on Controlled Substances and Sentencing Reductions," and it starts this way:

In 1984, Congress revolutionized federal sentencing.  That year, Congress established the U.S. Sentencing Commission (the Commission) as an independent agency within the judicial branch and directed it to promulgate the first-ever federal sentencing guidelines.  In 1987, the Commission published the inaugural U.S. Sentencing Guidelines manual (the Guidelines), which serves as the starting point and anchor for every federal sentence imposed across the country. Over 1.9 million defendants have been sentenced under the Guidelines since their inception.

Congress also required the Commission to “review and revise” the Guidelines, which it has done periodically.  Between 2019 and July 2022, however, the Commission lacked a quorum and therefore the ability to propose amendments to the Guidelines. In August 2022, the Senate confirmed a full slate of seven new commissioners, restoring the Commission’s quorum and thus enabling the Commission to initiate its amendments process.  As a part of that process, in November 2022, the Commission published a list of final priorities for analysis and possible action.  According to a timetable fixed in statute, should the Commission study a priority and approve prospective changes to the Guidelines, the Commission will submit the proposed amendments to Congress by May 1, 2023.  Congress then has until November 1, 2023, to affirmatively reject any such amendments, or the amendments will take effect.

This Sidebar addresses one of the Commission’s listed priorities: the resolution of two conflicts among the federal appeals courts involving the Guidelines.  The first conflict relates to whether, for a “controlled substance offense” to trigger the Guidelines’ “career offender” recidivist enhancement, the underlying controlled substance must be prohibited by the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) or whether a controlled substance prohibited only under state law can also lead to the career offender enhancement.  The second conflict pertains to whether federal prosecutors may withhold a sentencing reduction from a federal defendant because the defendant raised a pre-trial Fourth Amendment challenge to the government’s evidence.

January 3, 2023 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Gearing up for a new federal sentencing year that might finally bring some new guideline amendments

Branch by branch, there are a lot of federal sentencing stories to watch as we start a new year.  The last Congress made (halting) progress on some statutory sentencing reforms, but nothing major made it all the way to the President's desk.  With the House of Representatives in GOP control in the new Congress, legislative dynamics have changed in ways that might diminish the prospects for any big reforms in 2023.  But with murder rates ticking down a bit in 2022 and crime narratives seemingly not having a huge midterm poitical impact, perhaps some modest consgressional reform could still happen in the coming year.

On the executive front, I will be watching closely for early impacts of Attorney General Garland's new charging and sentencing memos (basics here).  It will be particular interesting to see the effect of AG Garland's instructions to federal prosecutors to "promote the equivalent treatment of crack and powder cocaine offenses."  And, with Prez Biden having used his clemency powers a few times in 2022 (with grants in April, October and December), maybe executive grace as well as prosecutorial discretion will continue to impact federal sentencing realities in the coming year.

The judicial branch is the arena in which I am expecting the most action in this new year.  Focusing the courts, we may see in the coming weeks if the Supreme Court is finally ready to address acquitted conduct sentencing enhancments (details here).  Other notable sentencing issues may also make their way to the SCOTUS docket because circuits are split on important topics like deference to the guidelines and application of a key part of the FIRST STEP Act.  Other notable sentencing issues are sure to keep gurgling in district and circuit courts in the year ahead.

But I can most confidently predict judicial branch sentencing action in 2023 because the US Sentencing Commission, which is located in that branch, is finally now fully loaded and is hard at work on potential guidelines reforms.  The Commission has now officially announced that it will have a public meeting on January 12, 2023 with an agenda to include "Possible Vote to Publish Proposed Guideline Amendments and Issues for Comment."  Though we should not expect the USSC to advance amendments on all the topics mentioned in its ambitious list of priorities, we are sure to get some notable and impactful proposals to start the year from the Commission.

Notably, though the USSC's work is primarily focused on the sentencing guidelines, the agency can have real impact on other aspects of the justice system.  This new Forbes article by Walter Palvo, headlined "A Federal Public Defender Challenges U.S. Sentencing Commission To Help Fix The Bureau Of Prisons," highlights Steve Sady's new article in the Federal Sentencing Reporter urging the USSC to "make recommendations regarding the Bureau of Prisons’ execution of Guidelines sentences."  Here is an excerpt from the Forbes piece:

I recently spoke to Stephen Sady, Chief Deputy Federal Public Defender for the District of Oregon about a paper he wrote that was critical of the BOP but stated that the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) could encourage the BOP to balance long guideline sentences by implementing ameliorative statutes that reduce actual prison time. As Sady told me, “The BOP has failed to adequately implement critical legislation to improve the conditions of people in prison.”

As Sady points out, even as Congress has repeatedly provided options and directives that would reduce the time defendants spend in prison, the BOP has failed to implement the full scope of the available authority, resulting in expensive and pointless over-incarceration. The most important of these can be put into six categories, 1) Increase the availability of community corrections commensurate with repeated statutory directives for greater use of residential reentry centers and home confinement (18 U.S.C. § 3624(c)), 2) Expand eligibility and availability of sentence reductions under Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), 3) Eliminate computation rules that create longer sentences, 4) Implement broader statutory and guideline standards to file compassionate release motions any time extraordinary and compelling reasons exist, 5) Revive the boot camp program to provide nonviolent offenders sentence reductions and expanded community corrections and 6) Fully implement the First Step Act’s earned time credit program (18 U.S.C. §§ 3632(d) and 3624(g)). No new legislation would be required for any of these reforms. “It’s a pragmatic approach,” Sady said, “that uses the laws already in place to do what the BOP should already be doing. This is not a stretch.”

Interesting times as we start a new year.

January 1, 2023 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Another year-end report from the Chief Justice with a few federal criminal caseload highlights

The Chief Justice of the United States always closes out a calendar year by releasing a year-end report on the federal judiciary, and that report typically includes some notable federal criminal justice caseload data.  Chief Justice John G. Roberts' 2022 version of the year end report can be found at this link, and here are some data excerpts that might interesting federal criminal justice fans:

In the regional courts of appeals, filings fell six percent from 44,546 to 41,839 in FY 2022.  This represents a 14 percent drop from FY 2019, the last full year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Total civil appeals were down five percent from the prior year to 22,181.  Criminal appeals were down six percent from the prior year to 9,973.... Prisoner petitions accounted for 22 percent of appeals filings (a total of 9,401), and 86 percent of prisoner petitions were filed pro se, compared with 34 percent of other civil filings....

The federal district courts docketed 68,315 criminal defendant filings in FY 2022, eight percent fewer than the prior year. This represents a 26 percent drop from FY 2019.  The largest categories of criminal defendant filings involved drug offenses, which decreased 15 percent to 19,589, and immigration offenses, which decreased one percent to 19,148....

A total of 122,872 persons were under post-conviction supervision on September 30, 2022, an increase of less than one percent from the prior year and a five percent decrease compared to FY 2019.  Of that number, 109,781 were serving terms of supervised release after leaving correctional institutions, an increase of one percent.  Cases activated in the pretrial services system, including pretrial diversions, fell four percent to 73,690. Pretrial case activations were 32 percent lower than in FY 2019.

January 1, 2023 in Data on sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, December 30, 2022

President Joe Biden closes out 2022 by granting full pardons to six people

I was pleased to learn this afternoon that President Joe Biden took out his clemency pen on the last working day of 2022 and granted full pardons to six individuals.  The list of recipients is set forth in this official "Clemency Recipient List," and here are the basics from that list:

Gary Parks Davis – Yuma, Arizona
Gary Parks Davis is a 66-year-old man who pleaded guilty to use of a communication facility (a telephone) to facilitate an unlawful cocaine transaction at age 22....

Edward Lincoln De Coito III – Dublin, California
Edward Lincoln De Coito III is a 50-year-old man who pleaded guilty to involvement in a marijuana trafficking conspiracy at age 23; his involvement was limited to serving as a courier on five or six occasions....

Vincente Ray Flores – Winters, California
Vincente Ray Flores is a 37-year-old man who, at approximately age 19, consumed ecstasy and alcohol while serving in the military; he later pleaded guilty at a special court-martial....

Beverly Ann Ibn-Tamas – Columbus, Ohio
Beverly Ann Ibn-Tamas is an 80-year-old woman who was convicted of murder in the second-degree while armed for killing her husband. Ms. Ibn-Tamas, 33 at the time of the incident, was pregnant and testified that before and during her pregnancy, her husband beat her, verbally abused her, and threatened her....

Charlie Byrnes Jackson – Swansea, South Carolina
Charlie Byrnes Jackson is a 77-year-old man who pleaded guilty to one count of possession and sale of distilled spirits without tax stamps. The offense, which occurred when Mr. Jackson was 18, involved a single illegal whiskey transaction, and resulted in nominal loss to the government....

John Dix Nock III – St. Augustine, Florida
John Dix Nock III is a 72-year-old man who pleaded guilty to one count of renting and making for use, as an owner, a place for the purpose of manufacturing marijuana plants. 

December 30, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Oregon Supreme Court gives retroactive effect to Ramos Sixth Amendment jury unanimity rule (two months after Louisiana Supreme Court refused to do so)

An opinion from the Oregon Supreme Court on this last working day of 2022 provides a notable bookend to the echoes of the Supreme Court's 2020 Ramos holding that the Sixth Amendment requires that a jury reach a unanimous guilty verdict to convict a defendant of a crime.  This local article reports on the basics and its import: 

Hundreds of felony convictions became invalid Friday after the Oregon Supreme Court struck down all non-unanimous jury verdicts reached before the practice was banned two years ago.

The retroactive ruling applies to all split-jury convictions reached during the 86-year stretch when Oregon was one of only two states, alongside Louisiana, to allow such verdicts.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Pro Tempore Richard Baldwin described the authorization of 10-2 and 11-1 jury verdicts in 1934 as a “self-inflicted injury” that was intended to minimize the voice of nonwhite jurors.

“We must understand that the passage of our non-unanimous jury-verdict law has not only caused great harm to people of color,” Baldwin wrote. “That unchecked bigotry also undermined the fundamental Sixth Amendment rights of all Oregonians for nearly a century.”

Voters approved Oregon’s non-unanimous jury system after a jury handed down a light sentence in a 1933 gangland murder trial, spurring racist and xenophobic newspaper coverage that blamed the compromise verdict on immigrant jurors, The Oregonian/OregonLive previously reported.

The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed divided verdicts in its landmark Ramos v. Louisiana decision in April 2020, but the order only applied to open cases and convictions that were actively being appealed when the ruling came down.

The ruling left the door open for states to make their own laws applying it retroactively. The Oregon legislature did not take that action, but people convicted by split juries began pursuing a retroactive ruling at the Oregon Appeals Court last year.

The Oregon Department of Justice says the Ramos ruling vacated more than 470 convictions with active appeals, meaning that prosecutors were required to essentially reboot each case from the beginning and either pursue a new trial, cut a plea deal or dismiss the charges.

The new state Supreme Court ruling means county district attorneys will have to make a similar decision for cases where the defendant had already exhausted a final appeal.

There are approximately 300 people, mostly in state prison, with exhausted appeals who have filed new litigation because they were convicted by a non-unanimous jury before the Ramos decision, according to Aliza Kaplan, a Lewis & Clark law professor and leader of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic.

The full opinions from the Oregon Supreme Court in Watkins v. Ackley are available here.

Notably, Louisiana was the only other state with a history of non-unanimous criminal jury verdicts, and a couple of months ago its state Supreme Court decided against giving retroactive effect to Ramos (as this local press piece details).  The full opinion from the Louisiana Supreme Court in Louisiana v. Reddick are available here.

December 30, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, December 29, 2022

"Remorse, Relational Legal Consciousness, and the Reproduction of Carceral Logic"

The title of this post is the title of this paper authored by Kathryne M. Young and Hannah Chimowitz now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

One in seven people in prison in the US is serving a life sentence, and most of these “lifers” will someday be eligible for discretionary parole.  But little is known about a key aspect of parole decision-making: remorse assessments. Because remorse is a complex emotion that arises from past wrongdoing and unfolds over time, assessing the sincerity of another person’s remorse is neither a simple task of lie detection, nor of determining emotional authenticity. Instead, remorse involves numerous elements, including the relationship between a person’s past and present motivations, beliefs, and affective states.

To understand how parole board members make sense of remorse, we draw on in-depth interviews with parole commissioners in California, the state with the largest proportion of parole-eligible lifers.  We find that commissioners’ remorse assessments hinge on their perceptions of lifers’ relationships to law and carceral logic.  In this way, relational legal consciousness — specifically, second-order legal consciousness — functions as a stand-in for the impossible task of knowing another person’s heart or mind.  We distinguish relational from second-order legal consciousness and argue that understanding how they operate at parole hearings reveals the larger import of relational legal consciousness as a mechanism via which existing power relations are produced and reproduced, bridging the legal consciousness and law and emotion literatures.

December 29, 2022 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (12)

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Fingers crossed that SCOTUS might review acquitted conduct sentencing enhancements

Regular reader may vaguely recall some of my prior posts about the McClinton case before the US Supreme Court raising issues about the use of acquitted conduct at sentencing.  As I have detailed in posts months ago (and linked below), over the summer I had the pleasure of working with great lawyers at Squire Patton Boggs to file an amicus brief on the acquitted conduct issue in support of petitioner Dayonta McClinton.  (I blogged here about McClinton's case after the Seventh Circuit affirmed his 19-year sentence that was based heavily on the judge's determination that McClinton was to be held responsible for a murder even after a jury had acquitted him of that killing.  As detailed in this SCOTUS docket sheet, a number of notable interest groups have also filed amicus briefs in support of cert in this case.)

After various delays, it appears that this case will finally be considered at next week's SCOTUS conference.  And that reality likely account for this new AP article headlined "Supreme Court asked to bar punishment for acquitted conduct."  Here are excerpts:

A jury convicted Dayonta McClinton of robbing a CVS pharmacy but acquitted him of murder. A judge gave McClinton an extra 13 years in prison for the killing anyway. In courtrooms across America, defendants get additional prison time for crimes that juries found they didn’t commit.

The Supreme Court is being asked, again, to put an end to the practice. It’s possible that the newest member of the court and a former federal public defender, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, could hold a pivotal vote. McClinton’s case and three others just like it are scheduled to be discussed when the justices next meet in private on Jan. 6.

Sentencing a defendant for what’s called “acquitted conduct” has gone on for years, based on a Supreme Court decision from the late 1990s. And the justices have turned down numerous appeals asking them to declare that the Constitution forbids it.

The closest the court came to taking up the issue was in 2014, when Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg provided three of the four votes necessary to hear an appeal.... Scalia and Ginsburg have since died, and Thomas remains on the court. But two other justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, have voiced concerns while serving as appeals court judges.

I am hopeful, but still more than a bit pessimistic, about the possibility of 2023 being the year for SCOTUS to take up acquitted conduct sentencing.  If enough Justices are sincerely committed to orignalist principles, perhaps this issue will get to the Court's docket this coming year.  But I am certainly not holding my breath. 

A few recent of many, many prior related posts:

December 28, 2022 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (31)

Notable ruling on meth sentencing guidelines by a notable federal sentencing judge

A helpful colleague made sure I did not miss a notable little new ruling from federal judge in Mississippi in US v. Robinson, No. 3:21-CR-14-CWR-FKB-2 (S.D. Miss. Dec. 23, 2022) (available here).  The ruling addresses the calculation of the federal sentencing guideline range in meth cases, and here are some excerpts (with lots of cites omitted):

The issue is fairly straightforward. The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines use drug purity as a proxy for a defendant’s culpability....  As a result, the Guidelines make a distinction between “methamphetamine” and “actual methamphetamine.”   All else equal, defendants caught with actual methamphetamine get longer sentences than defendants caught with methamphetamine mixture....

The distinction is significant to Mr. Robinson.  Because he possessed 214.4 grams of especially pure methamphetamine, the Guidelines indicate that he should have a “base offense level” of 32.  In contrast, if Mr. Robinson was deemed to have possessed 214.4 grams of methamphetamine mixture, the Guidelines indicate that his base offense level would be 26....

At the outset, the Court appreciates the parties for pointing to Judge Bennett’s decision in United States v. Nawanna, 321 F. Supp. 3d 943 (N.D. Iowa 2018).  In that case, the United States conceded that there is no empirical basis for the Sentencing Commission’s 10-to-1 weight disparity between actual methamphetamine and methamphetamine mixture. Other courts have found the same....

On review, the undersigned agrees with these colleagues.  The Guidelines use drug purity as a proxy for culpability.  But national experience suggests that is no longer true for methamphetamine.  The DEA data show that most methamphetamine confiscated today is “pure” regardless of whether the defendant is a kingpin or a low-level addict....

Given the on-the-ground reality in methamphetamine cases, the better way to determine culpability is to examine all of the circumstances of the defendant’s case and life -- seeing the defendant as a “whole person,” as the Supreme Court just instructed in Concepcion. 142 S. Ct. at 2395.  There are sentencing enhancements available for leaders, organizers, or managers of criminal enterprises.  If the defendant’s case warrants, those enhancements should be applied.  In the context of methamphetamine, though, purity is no longer probative of the defendant’s culpability.

This ruling is notable on its own terms, but it seemed especially blogworthy because of the opinion's author: US District Judge Carlton W. Reeves. Judge Reeves, as some readers likely know, is the new Chair of the US Sentencing Commission.

December 28, 2022 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Some early commentary on notable end-of-year federal criminal justice reform developments

I hope and expect that the new charging and sentencing memos issued by AG Garland (basics here), as well as the failure of the out-going Congress to pass any significant criminal justice reforms, will garner extended attention and analysis in the weeks and months ahead.  Usefully, I have already seen some first-cut accountings from a variety of sources:

From Filter, "The Limits of AG’s Guidelines Against Crack-Powder Sentencing Disparity"

From LISA-Legalinfo, "Blue Christmas for Criminal Justice Reforms"

From MSNBC, "Racist war on drugs is the real winner of Congress’s massive spending bill"

From Reason, "The Failure To Enact Marijuana Banking and Crack Sentencing Reforms Is a Window on Congressional Dysfunction"

From San Diego Union-Tribune, "Creating different punishments for crack and powder cocaine never made sense, unscientific"

Looking forward, the practical impact of AG Garland's charging and sentencing memos, the continued implementation of the FIRST STEP Act, and especially the coming work of the newly, fully-staffed U.S. Sentencing Commission will be topics to watch closely in the weeks and months ahead.  So, I am tentatively hopeful that the lack of much lasting federal criminal justice reform in 2022 is just a precursor to a big 2023 ahead.

December 27, 2022 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Another round of holiday season clemency news

In this post a few days ago, I noted a few press stories about clemency grants from a few states.  At that time, I stated that it was somewhat surprising and quite disappointing that there were not more executive officials making more use of their clemency pens in this holiday season.  But it now seems I was a bit premature in my accounting, as now I see a few more state clemency stories in the news:

From California, "Newsom grants 10 pardons, including for drug crimes"

From Colorado, "Colorado governor commutes 4 inmates’ sentences, pardons 20 people, including state trooper who guarded Capitol"

From Massachusetts, "Whitmer grants 22 clemency requests, including 4 pardons"

From New York, "Hochul Grants Clemency to 13, Including a Domestic Violence Victim"

From Tennessee, "Gov. Lee Grants Executive Clemency to 16 Individuals"

From Texas, "Governor Abbott Grants Clemency To Two Texans Recommended By Texas Board Of Pardons And Paroles"

As I mentioned before, because I know of some clemency work that has not been covered in press pieces, I am sure there are more stories of seasonal grace than just what is covered in these press accounts.  Still, I view it as a real shame that we do not see many more clemency accounts from many more state during this time of year. 

December 24, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, December 23, 2022

En banc Sixth Circuit clings to anti-textual limits on what factors can be consider in § 3582(c)(1)(a) motions

The Supreme Court's ruling in Concepcion v. US, No. 20-1650 (S. Ct. June 27, 2022) (available here), seemed to be a fairly clear direction to circuit court that it was not their job to make up non-textual limits to how district courts exercised sentencing discretion.  Here are just some of the key quotes, first discussed in this post, from the Supreme Court's opinion in Concepcion

It is only when Congress or the Constitution limits the scope of information that a district court may consider in deciding whether, and to what extent, to modify a sentence, that a district court’s discretion to consider information is restrained....

Federal courts historically have exercised this broad discretion to consider all relevant information at an initial sentencing hearing, consistent with their responsibility to sentence the whole person before them.  That discretion also carries forward to later proceedings that may modify an original sentence.  Such discretion is bounded only when Congress or the Constitution expressly limits the type of information a district court may consider in modifying a sentence....

The only limitations on a court’s discretion to consider any relevant materials at an initial sentencing or in modifying that sentence are those set forth by Congress in a statute or by the Constitution....

Because Concepcion seemingly makes plain that the "only limitation" on "the type of information a district court may consider in modifying a sentence" are those limits in the Constitution or that Congress has expressly set forth, motions for sentence reductions pursuant to § 3582(c)(1)(a) -- so-called compassionate release motions -- could certainly include consideration as a general matter all sorts of information about changes in laws and well as changes in fact that might justify a sentence reduction.  After all, Congress has only expressly provided in statutory text that one factor could not alone serve as the basis for sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(1)(a):  "Rehabilitation of the defendant alone shall not be considered an extraordinary and compelling reason." 28 USC § 994(t).

But, today the en banc Sixth Circuit has decided to double-down on its anti-textual approach to § 3582(c)(1)(a) by stating another categorical limit on what can be considered an extraordinary and compelling reason under 3582 in US v. McCall, No. 21-3400 (6th Cir. Dec 22, 2022) (available here).  The majority opinion in the split en banc ruling start and ends this way: 

David McCall, a federal prisoner with a long drug-dealing career, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge involving heroin possession and distribution in 2015.  Five years into his 235-month sentence, McCall moved for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1).  Although he cited several “extraordinary and compelling reasons” justifying a sentence reduction under that statute, the heart of his motion rested on our opinion in Havis.  Invoking that opinion, McCall argued that if he were sentenced today, he would receive a shorter sentence than he received in 2015.  The district court denied his motion, reasoning that a nonretroactive change in sentencing law could not amount to an “extraordinary and compelling” reason for a sentence reduction. We agree and affirm....

Nonretroactive legal developments do not factor into the extraordinary and compelling analysis. Full stop.

As I noted when discussing a prior Sixth Circuit panel ruling to this effect, there is absolutely nothing in the text of § 3582(c)(1)(a) that supports the contention that nonretroactive legal developments cannot ever factor into or generally constitute "extraordinary and compelling reasons" to allow a sentence reduction, either alone or in combination with other factors.  The majority here, presumably based on its own sense of policy, is seemingly eager to invent an extra-textual categorical limitation on the authority Congress gave to district courts to reduce sentences.  In other words, this is judicial lawmaking that is flagrantly disregarding both the statutory text enacted by Congress and the instructions of the Supreme Court in Concepcion.  Full Stop.

December 23, 2022 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

A notable call for next steps on federal sentencing reform (with a too modest accounting of FIRST STEP's impact)

Doug Collins has this notable new commentary at Fox News under the headline "First Step Act showed Republicans and Democrats can work together to make justice system more just."  I would recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

Four years ago this week, just before Christmas, both parties came together for a holiday miracle: passing the First Step Act, the most significant change to our justice system in decades.  It was a win for Republicans and Democrats in Congress; a win for then-President Donald Trump; and, more importantly, a win for thousands of American families whose lives were changed for the better through a series of prison and sentencing reforms that were fair, safe, and spoke to American values.

To date, over 7,500 folks have been able to regain their lives after the passage of the First Step Act.  These are Americans who made mistakes years ago, received unduly harsh penalties that sent them to prison for decades, and have now regained their freedom.  This year, they get to spend Christmas at home with their families thanks to this legislation.

It goes to show that when it comes to criminal justice reform, major progress is more than possible; I’ve witnessed it firsthand.  One of my proudest moments in Congress was seeing that bipartisan bill, which I worked across the aisle to put together with now-Minority Leader-elect Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, get signed into law at Trump’s desk.  It was a reminder of how much we can get done, regardless of party, on the biggest issues of the day....

As a Christian, I firmly believe that we must support redemption for those who have atoned.  The incredible, redemptive effect that passing bills like the First Step Act have across our country cannot be ignored.  And as a conservative, I believe in cutting unnecessary government waste and trimming out-of-control spending, including within our justice system.  It all comes down to what I call "M&M" — money and morals — and smart criminal justice legislation speaks to both....

As its name suggested, the First Step Act was just the first step, and there are many more steps that be taken to make our federal justice system fairer and more effective.  Even while there is so much we are divided on as a country, when it comes to reforming our broken criminal justice system, there are plenty of promising paths forward.  One of those next steps is ending one of the most unjust laws we have on the books: the cocaine and crack sentencing disparity....

Unfortunately, Congress missed its chance to build on the First Step Act.  This week, the EQUAL Act — the bipartisan bill to eliminate the sentencing disparity — was left out of end-of-year Senate negotiations.  And while the Department of Justice did recently issue sentencing guidance to fix the disparity for future cases, it is still not a permanent solution and will not retroactively help the thousands of folks still in prison serving long sentences that don’t fit the crime....

Yet despite not making it over the finish line this year, I am extremely hopeful for the future: both for this legislation, and for more paradigm-shifting criminal justice reform.  Before its untimely demise in the Senate, the EQUAL Act was approved with massive support from both the most conservative and liberal wings of the House, proving that bipartisan agreement on effective criminal justice policy is ripe for consideration in the coming Congress....  Let’s hope and pray that this time next year, our country will have taken the next step forward on criminal justice reform, and continue the great work we started with the First Step Act.  

I am quite pleased to see former Rep Collins continue to advocate for the EQUAL Act both "as a Christian" and "as a conservative."  But I think he undersells the achievements of the FIRST STEP Act when he speaks only of "over 7,500 folks have been able to regain their lives after the passage of the First Step Act."  This (somewhat unclear) BOP page, indicates as of this writing that there have been 11,421 "First Step Act releases," and I suspect that number reflects only those who have gotten out a bit earlier thanks to the "earned time" credits of the FSA. 

In addition, the BOP page reports nearly 4000 persons have benefitted from retroactive crack sentence reductions and andother nearly 4400 have benefitted from compassionate release thanks to new FSA processes.   And these BOP numbers would seem to be undercounts, as the US Sentencing Commission has reported here over 4200 retroactive sentence reductions and has reported here over 4500 grants of compassionte release.  (Of course, not everyone getting sentence reductions is getting immediately released from prison, but likely most are.)  The BOP page also reports that over 1200 persons have benefitted from expanded elderly home confinement provided by the FSA.

Though a precise accounting the the exact number of federal prisonsers who have been released somewhat earlier thanks to the First Step Act is hard to pin down, I do think it is probably twice and maybe three times as large as the 7,500 number stated by Collins.  And, assuming the newly filled US Sentencing Commission makes a variety of guideline amendments consistent with the FSA, the impacts of the First Step Act will continue to echo through the federal prison population.

December 23, 2022 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Isn't a 4% post-offense "faced legal scrutiny" rate worthy of praise ... even for Prez Trump's clemency grants?

This press report about an Oregon study of pandemic-related commutations notes that, among recipients who were released early, "18% were arrested within one year of their commutation, 8% were convicted of a new crime and 2% were reincarcerated."  The press report rightly indicated that these are relatively low rates based on a comparable cohort of individuals in Oregon.  

These Oregon commutations are not really a proper point of comparison, but I am not sure how best to make the point that it is to be expected that, among any significant cohort of clemency recipients, some number are likely to face some future legal difficulties.  But this new ABC News piece about Prez Trump's clemency recipients seeks to make a huge deal about a couple of handfuls of clemency recipients having since "faced legal scrutiny."  The piece is headlined "Trump-era pardon recipients are increasingly back in legal jeopardy," and here are excepts:

An ABC News analysis of the 238 people who were pardoned or had their sentences commuted during the Trump administration found at least ten who have since faced legal scrutiny -- either because they are under investigation, are charged with a crime, or are already convicted.  Legal experts call this recurring theme unprecedented -- but not entirely unexpected, given the former president's unorthodox approach to the pardon process....

Those pardoned by Trump during his term in office included dozens of friends and political allies.  The list included celebrities, lawmakers and former aides who had been convicted of crimes ranging from fraud to murder -- including four private military contractors who were in prison for murdering 17 Iraqi citizens, including two children, in a 2007 attack in Baghdad....

Recidivism rates from previous administrations' clemencies is opaque, as federal agencies don't keep tabs on clemency grantees after their release.  But in one study reviewing former President Barack Obama's 2014 clemency initiative, which led to sentence commutations for nearly 1,700 federal drug offenders, the independent and bipartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission found only three who had been rearrested by the end of 2017.  A Texas woman was rearrested on theft charges less than a year after earning an Obama commutation on her life sentence in 2016, and another Texan pleaded guilty to drug charges less than two years after earning a life sentence commutation under Obama's 2014 clemency initiative.

Based on news accounts and other available evidence, the number of clemency grantees who have gone on to commit additional crimes remains "incredibly low," Kupers said. For Trump-era pardons, however, experts said the numbers seem disproportionately high.

I am depressingly confident that more than three persons who received clemency from Prez Obama have "faced legal scrutiny" in recent years.  But I am even more confident that I do not want the media or others spending time developing questionable clemency "recidivism" statistics or otherwise engaging in partisan spit-fights about the rare clemency recipients who do not make good use of a second chance.  Rather, I wish ABC News and othe press outlets would spend a lot more time telling the encouraging stories of the hundred and throusands of clemency recipients who have made great use of their second chances. Focusing just on grants by Prez Trump, I am thinking about the great work being done in the arena of criminal justice reform by people like Alice Marie Johnson and Weldon Angelos and Amy Povah and David Safavian and Topeka Sam.  I am sure there so many more uplifting stories to tell about clemency recipients, but I am also sure the ghosts of Willie Hortonism still have not faded away.  

December 22, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Some holiday season news and notes about clemency (and the absence thereof)

The holiday season, especially because it is also lame-duck season, often brings some notable executive clemency stories.  Last week's decision by outgoing Oregon Gov to commute the state's whole death row is a notable example (details here).   But a quick news search reveals only a few other stories from from a few other states about some lower-profile seasonable clemency efforts:

From Arkansas, "Governor Asa Hutchinson Announces Intent to Grant Executive Clemency"

From Massachusetts, "Baker recommends another round of pardons"

From North Carolina, "NC Gov. Roy Cooper commutes six people’s sentences and pardons four others"

Because I know of some clemency work that has not been covered in press pieces, I am sure there are more stories of seasonal grace that just in these three states.  Still, I find it somewhat surprising and quite disappointing that there are not more executive officials making more use of their clemency pens.  And, as some recent commentary pieces highlight, I am not the only one hoping to see more clemency action:

Rachel E. Barkow & Mark Osler at the NY Daily News, "Biden’s cowardice on clemency"

From Reuven Blau at The City, "For ‘Clemency Season,’ Prisoner Advocates Want Hochul to Keep Promise All Year: Last December, the governor said she would change the way pardons and clemency applications were handled. But little has changed since."

From Chris Geidner at Bolts, "Landmark Push for Clemency in Oregon and Nevada Show Split Paths on Death Penalty"

From Eva Santiago at amNY, "Clemency is one way to improve safety which no one wants to talk about"

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Council on Criminal Justice releases "Long Sentences: An International Perspective"

In this post earlier this year, I noted the formation of the Council of Criminal Justice's impressive Task Force on Long Sentences.  Today, this CCJ press release, titled "New Analysis Shows U.S. Imposes Long Prison Sentences More Frequently than Other Nations," reports on a new issue brief from the CCJ Task Force.  Here are the details from the press release:

New research released today by a Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) task force shows that while the use of prison sentences of 10 years or more has increased globally in recent decades, the United States is an outlier among nations in the extent to which it imposes them.

Long sentences are imposed more frequently and are longer on average in the U.S. compared with most other countries, according to the analysis produced for CCJ’s Task Force on Long Sentences by Prof. Lila Kazemian of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  The average long sentence in the U.S. is more closely aligned with criminal justice practices in Mexico, El Salvador, and other Latin American countries than with those of peer nations in Europe.

Differences in the actual amount of time people serve behind bars are smaller, the study found, owing to requirements in some countries that people serve greater portions of their court-imposed sentences before release.

The higher rate of homicide in the U.S. compared with European countries partially explains its more frequent use of long sentences, according to original calculations.  For instance, the report says that “while Georgia and Alabama were ranked first and second for the percent of the prison population sentenced to 10 or more years, these states dropped down to the 36th and 55th ranks, respectively, with the adjustment for their higher homicide rates.  Luxembourg, Italy, Spain, Croatia, and Utah are the top five users of long sentences adjusted for homicide rates.  Norway, which is ranked among the lowest nations for incarceration rate (73rd out of 75 jurisdictions included in the comparison) and percentage of people serving long prison terms (70th out of 75), jumps up to the 16th spot when considering its low homicide rate.”

“This is the most authoritative and comprehensive report to date on how long sentences in the U.S. compare with those in other nations,” said John Maki, director of the Task Force on Long Sentences. “Its findings underscore the uniquely severe features of U.S. sentencing, which has more in common with developing nations than other affluent countries.”

Because criminal justice policies and incarceration rates vary dramatically across U.S. states, Kazemian compared sentencing trends in individual states with other nations.  A higher proportion of long sentences in a jurisdiction could either be the result of greater use of such sentences or of less use of prison for more minor offenses.  As such, a high proportion of long sentences is not synonymous with more punitive sentencing policies and practices.

Additional findings in the report show that:

  • Many European countries have increased their use of long sentences in recent decades.  In Germany, for instance, the proportion of the long-term prisoner population sentenced to life imprisonment increased from 21.4% in 1995 to 30.2% in 2012.

  • For homicide and rape — the crimes most likely to result in a long sentence — Australia and the U.S. were leaders in the amount of time people actually serve behind bars, according to the most recent available data, with England, Wales, and Scotland not far behind.

  • Comparisons of average sentence length for homicide show that the U.S. has the longest sentences among nations at 40.6 years, compared to 34.2 years for Mexico (ranked second) and 6.1 for France.  The higher average sentence length in the U.S. may partly reflect the fact that American policies allow for sentences exceeding 100 years.

  • The U.S. holds a substantial portion (40%) of the world’s population of people serving life sentences, as well as the vast majority (83%) of those sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.  While most jurisdictions with life sentencing laws have a provision for release, the amount of time people must serve before becoming eligible varies widely. In Belgium, Denmark, and Finland, it’s 12 years or less. In Georgia, it’s 30 years and in Texas it’s 40 years.

December 20, 2022 in Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (25)

State judge blocks plans of Nevada Pardon Board to discuss possible commutation of all state death sentences

As reported in this local article, a "Carson City District Court judge Monday ruled the state Board of Parsons may not consider commuting every death sentence in Nevada at its Tuesday meeting." The six page ruling is available at this link, and the first sentence of the last paragraph of the opinion states: "The Board's planned action, should it be permitted to occur, will violate the Nevada Revised Statutes, the Nevada Administrative Code, and the Nevada Constituion." Here is more about the ruling and the context from the press report:

Judge James Wilson issued a writ of prohibition against the board and Gov. Steve Sisolak — who asked the board to consider the commutations — after the Washoe County district attorney’s office filed an emergency petition on Friday seeking to block the move.

Wilson ruled that the board had not properly notify the families of murder victims of its intent to commute the death sentences of the 57 people currently on death row, that those inmates had not exhausted all of their appeals and that they had not applied to the board to lessen their sentences. In addition, the board is required to consider each case individually, and cannot grant “categorical” clemencies, Wilson ruled.

“The Board’s proposed action would violate the Nevada Constitution by failing to provide (victim’s families) with reasonable notice of these public proceedings, so that they may exercise their constitutional right to be reasonably heard regarding the proposed commutation of 57 death sentences,” Wilson wrote. “Each victim is entitled to be treated with fairness, respect, dignity and the right to be reasonably heard at any hearings involving the commutation of sentence.”

In addition, the law requires a consideration of each individual case on its merits, which would be impossible at Tuesday’s meeting, Wilson wrote. “Equally evident in the plain meaning of the statutory and administrative code is the Board’s obligation to make an individualized determination in each clemency matter,” Wilson wrote. “Even if individual applications had been submitted for each of the 57 persons on death row, the type of individualized determination that is mandated by (state law) and (administrative regulations) cannot be reasonably accomplished at a single meeting of the Board.”

Finally, Wilson wrote, the board can’t do a mass commutation. State law “does not permit the Board to grant ‘categorial’ exemptions, as this would amount to the Board creating statutory exceptions to a form of punishment specifically provided for by the legislature. It is not the Board’s prerogative to amend statutes.”...

The controversy began last week, when Sisolak urged the board to consider commuting every death sentence in the state. The board, which decides clemency cases in Nevada, is made up of the governor, the attorney general and all seven members of the Nevada Supreme Court. That prompted the Washoe County district attorney’s office to file a motion to block the move on Friday....

Meanwhile, Gov.-elect Joe Lombardo, a career police officer who currently serves as the sheriff of Clark County, hailed the ruling: “I’m thankful to Judge James Wilson for upholding the law, and I’m grateful that he protected the voter-approved constitutional rights of crime victims and their families.  I’m relieved that justice has prevailed through Marsy’s Law,” Lombardo said in a statement.  Marsy’s Law was a 2018 voter-approved constitutional amendment that provided rights to crime victims, including to have a notice of all hearings, to attend those hearings and to speak about the proceedings.

In addition to Washoe County, the Clark County district attorney’s office asked the Nevada Supreme Court to block Tuesday’s hearings, making similar arguments to its counterpart in Washoe County. Not only that, but Jennifer Otremba, the mother of 15-year-old murder victim Alyssa Otremba, filed a similar petition with the Supreme Court on Monday, arguing that changing the board’s agenda without giving notice to victims’ families violated Marsy’s Law.  “The Pardons Board’s rushed effort to commute all capital sentences without the mandated notice and application has not only robbed Jennifer of her right to participate, it has also deprived the Pardons Board of jurisdiction to proceed,” Otremba’s petition said.

Otremba has addressed the Legislature multiple times in recent years as an opponent of abolishing the death penalty.  Her daughter’s killer, Javier Righetti, was sentenced to die for raping and stabbing the teenager more than 80 times in 2011, during the girl’s first week at Arbor View High School.

Bills to repeal the death penalty have been repeatedly introduced in the Legislature, but none have ever passed.  In 2021, a repeal bill passed the Assembly but died in the state Senate. Sisolak at the time said he was generally opposed to capital punishment, but wanted exceptions for especially heinous crimes such as the mass shooting that took place on 1 October in Las Vegas.

December 20, 2022 in Clemency and Pardons, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)