August 30, 2008
Geoffrey S. Corn South Texas Criminal Law Professor
BA, Hartwick College
JD, George Washington University Law School
LLM, The Judge Advocate General's School, United States Army
Geoffrey S. Corn joined the faculty of South Texas College of Law in July 2005 as an Assistant Professor of Law, and teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, International Law of Armed Conflict, and National Security Law. Prior to joining the faculty, Professor Corn served as the Special Assistant for Law of War Matters to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General, the Army’s senior law of war adviser and representative to the Department of Defense Law of War Working Group. Prior to serving in the position, Professor Corn spent 21 years on active duty in the Army, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. His career included service as a tactical intelligence officer in Panama, Chief Prosecutor for the 101st Airborne Division, Chief of International Law for United States Army Europe, and Regional Defense Counsel for the Western United States. He also spent three years teaching international law at the Army JAG School in Charlottesville, Virginia. Professor Corn routinely provides expert assistance to military, government, and non-governmental agencies. He is a contributor to the legal affairs website Jurist, and to the foreign affairs and national security daily World Politics Watch, and also frequently participates in national and international conferences related to national security law issues. He is the faculty adviser to the National Security Law Society at South Texas. Professor Corn earned his B.A. magna cum laudefrom Hartwick College, his J.D. (with highest honors) from George Washington University, and his LL.M. (distinguished graduate) from the Army Judge Advocate General’s School. He is also a graduate of the Army Command and Staff College.
Areas of expertise: Areas of expertise: criminal law, military law, national security, public international law [Mark Godsey]
To reduce prostitution, cities try shaming clients
A two-year study for the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice, led by researcher Michael Shively and released in March, found more than 200 communities nationwide have tried targeting customers of prostitution in print, on TV, the Internet, billboards or by sending "Dear john" letters home.
Shively, of the social science research company Abt Associates in Cambridge, Mass., has continued to track efforts and said his list now includes about 280 examples. He said use of these techniques appears to be increasing.
Chicago, New York, Denver, St. Louis and Madison, Wis., are among the cities that publicize arrests or send letters home, a USA TODAY review of policies showed.
University of Wisconsin Law School professor Michael Scott said police turn to humiliation as a low-cost strategy, but it doesn't deter prostitutes. Scott said it's more effective at scaring away customers, but then new clients replace them. [Mark Godsey]
August 28, 2008
Newark and the Future of Crime Fighting
One recent spring day, two cops in the Newark Police Dept. watched a shoot-out erupt in broad daylight. Two suspected drug dealers started blasting away at each other in the middle of an apartment complex. The cops didn't witness the violence on the beat, though. They watched it from the city's new communications command center, which collects live video feeds from more than 100 surveillance cameras scattered across the crime-ridden city.
As the shooting broke out, the policemen zoomed in on the scene with a joystick controller. They saw one gunman flee, while the other dragged himself into a nearby apartment, one blood-soaked leg trailing behind. Because of the camera network, the Newark police were able to dispatch a team to the crime scene immediately—90 seconds before the first 911 calls. The gunman who crawled into his apartment was arrested on the spot. "Those complexes are like mazes, but we knew exactly where to send the unit," says Sergeant Marvin Carpenter, commanding officer of the communications post.
The surveillance system is the centerpiece of Mayor Cory Booker's ambitious plan to use cutting-edge technologies to slash Newark's violent crime rate. This August, Newark finished its initial deployment of 111 cameras, adding 76 to the 35 that were in place last summer. Newark is investing in a whole range of tools, everything from mundane PCs to more novel technologies such as a new citywide broadband wireless network that will let cops fill out police reports from their squad cars instead of schlepping back to the station house. By late fall, Newark expects to complete the deployment of an audio sensor system to pinpoint gunshot locations that cameras fail to catch. "We are trying to leave the Flintstones and get to the Jetsons," says Booker. [Mark Godsey]
Odor sensor could help find decomposing bodies
Cadaver dogs searched for more than two days but could not find the body of a young woman who disappeared in 2000 while jogging in a Nashville park.
A day later, a searcher spotted the body in a place the highly trained dogs had been. With the August heat wearing on the 24-year-old's body for three days, it was already too badly decomposed to determine a cause of death.
It's a problem that occasionally punctuates the search for a missing person: search dogs refuse to work or miss the scent they came for, leading to thousands of wasted dollars and manpower. And with the clock ticking to find the woman, Metro officers may have lost their chance to prove whether it was a medical problem or murder.
"Really what should've happened based on their training, is the dogs should have been able to seek the body out due to the decompositional odor,'' said Metro Police Sgt. Pat Postiglione. "In this case, they were not able to do it.'' [Mark Godsey]
DNA taint found on gun in officer shooting case
A city crime lab employee left his own DNA on the pistol police say was used to kill an off-duty Baltimore detective, indicating that a recently discovered problem with contamination at the lab may be more widespread than officials originally believed.
Evidence from the murder trial of Brandon Grimes was not among the 12 instances city officials identified last week in which lab employees introduced their own DNA into crime evidence. But lab officials testified yesterday that there are thousands of partial strands of unknown DNA in evidence samples - like the one recovered from the pistol in the Grimes case - that must be checked by hand.
The Grimes case is the first in what city defense attorneys expect will be widespread challenges to DNA evidence processed in the Baltimore lab, whose director was fired last week amid concerns about contamination. In a scene that could play out in other trials, Grimes' attorney attempted to use the problems at the lab to broadly impeach physical evidence usually thought to be unassailable.
Rana Santos, technical chief of the lab's DNA section, said she checked the sample in the Grimes case Monday evening after reports of the contamination appeared in the media and she met with Grimes' defense attorney, Roland Walker. [Mark Godsey]
DOJ Responds to Privilege Ruling in Congress' U.S. Attorney Investigation
Congress and the Bush administration headed for a pre-election showdown Wednesday over executive privilege, with House Democrats scheduling a hearing that would put a key administration figure under oath and the Justice Department mapping a last-ditch court appeal.
Justice lawyers said they would go to court as soon as today to block a ruling by U.S. District Judge John Bates that aims to force the Bush administration to cooperate with a congressional investigation into the politically charged firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006, including Seattle's John McKay.
The move came as Democrats pushed ahead with that investigation, and Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he was calling former White House counsel Harriet Miers to appear before the committee Sept. 11 to answer questions about her role in the firings.
Conyers also set a deadline of next Thursday for the administration to hand over White House documents concerning the firings and a log detailing what documents it was withholding because of security concerns and why.
Some legal experts said they doubted the Justice Department would succeed in persuading the federal appeals court in Washington to intervene in the matter.
But it was also unclear what questions Miers would choose to answer if she takes the witness chair, and that raised the possibility of further legal wrangling.
Some experts said the tug of war also seemed unlikely to be resolved before January, when the subpoenas legally expire. That would confront the new Congress with the decision whether to renew the battle.
"It is an unpredictable game at this point," said Charles Tiefer, a former House counsel who is a professor at the University of Baltimore Law School. "The Congress could win or the White House could drag it out."
Bates ruled that the administration's position that it had "absolute immunity" from being forced to honor subpoenas issued by Congress was unprecedented. He said Miers was obliged to at least show up, but did not rule on which questions she would be required to answer.
Justice Department lawyers told Bates, who was appointed by Bush, at a hearing Wednesday that they intended to ask the appeals court to overrule the judge. Justice Department lawyer Carl Nichols indicated the government would file court papers to that effect no later than today.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
August 27, 2008
Cincinnati ron right track
U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott praised the Cincinnati Police Department for improved relations with the community on Tuesday while presiding over the last hearing of the Collaborative Agreement.
Dlott said outside monitoring of the department will end with one final report in October. The monitoring started in 2001 to improve relations between police and the community, spurred by the fatal shooting of an unarmed black suspect fleeing police that sparked rioting .
"It's said life is a journey, not a destination," Dlott said. "Never were truer words spoken than about what was accomplished here. I want to congratulate each and every one of you for the most successful plan like this in the United States."
City Manager Milton Dohoney will create an advisory committee to address bias-free policing and Cincinnati police will establish a team to continue problem-solving crime fighting and build on reforms already in place.
Monitor Saul Green said a tremendous amount of progress has been made.
Use-of-force reform. The department started out with huge problems in regards to use of deadly force and is now far more judicious about using it.
Cincinnati now has a professionally led civilian review panel. It's a process respected by the community and officers for its impartial work by professional investigators.
The department embraced the philosophy of community problem-oriented policing. "I really feel good - and say so whether I'm in Cincinnati or out - the collaborative agreement was unique; it was brave, and it has the best chance of resulting in a permanent state of good police-community relations," Green said. [Mark Godsey]
Lawyers in Supreme Court Gun Case Ask for $3.5 Million in Fees
The lawyers who defeated Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban in the Supreme Court, successfully arguing that Americans have an individual right to arm themselves, want about $3.5 million for their trouble, according to a motion for attorney fees and costs filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The team -- financed by The Cato Institute's Robert Levy and led by civil rights and intellectual property lawyer Alan Gura -- says it clocked at least 3,273 hours in the course of District of Columbia v. Heller, which was filed in February 2003 and concluded in spectacular fashion on June 26, the last day of the high court's cycle. The lawyers anticipate the District will oppose the motion, but they've not received a response, the motion says.
Gura, of Gura & Possessky, Clark Neily III, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, and Levy, the wealthy businessman-turned-lawyer, handled the bulk of the work, tallying 1,661 hours, 808.3 hours, and 595.6 hours, respectively, the motion says. In addition to about $3.5 million in fees, the lawyers asked Judge Emmet Sullivan to reimburse about $13,200 in court costs and travel expenses.
The lawyers called their case "one of the most profound and important victories available under our system of justice" and sought to emphasize the long odds they faced.
"Defendants were represented at the Supreme Court by nine attorneys from three of the nation's largest law firms, and had access to all the legal resources provided by their own vast governmental budgets," the motion says, noting that the D.C. Office of Attorney General has about 340 lawyers and 250 support staff.
The team asked Sullivan to multiply its fees under a provision of Section 1988 that allows for fee enhancement in exceptional cases "where the result is especially important and there is significant professional risk to counsel in pursuing the litigation." That means Gura's 1,661 hours, at a rate of $557 per hour, would be doubled, netting him about $1.9 million.
"If this is not an 'exceptional case' ... we are at a loss to describe what case would qualify," the motion says. [Mark Godsey]
IMPD tries out DNA swabs on guns
During the next six months, officers will be using the Trigger ID device to swab guns before they are moved, enhancing the chances for recovering DNA evidence, according to a statement released by IMPD Lt. Jeff Duhamell.
"This device has the potential to increase arrests and the prosecution of individuals who commit gun crimes in our area," the statement said. "It will provide law enforcement officers with the latest technology so they can be as productive as possible when they're out on the streets fighting gun crime."
The Trigger ID kit contains three swabs and is small enough to fit in an officer's pocket. The swabs are designed collect DNA specimens from handguns in rain, snow or other harsh conditions.
"We're here today to put those with illegal firearms on notice that we have a new tool which can lead to better identification of suspects and their subsequent removal from our streets," Chief Michael Spears said in the statement. "IMPD is proud to be a pioneer in the use of this new technology."
The device was made by Indianapolis-based Forensic ID.
The device and testing services will cost $140,000 to $160,000 for 400 kits. The money is coming from a federal grant, officials said. [Mark Godsey]
August 26, 2008
Cards could help uncover cold case clues
The idea is simple: Each of the 52 playing cards contains information about a murder, a missing person or another unsolved crime.
Inmates know information law enforcement agents don't, and as corrections officers can attest, inmates love to talk as long as it's not about their own crimes.
The program was started by Doug and Mary Lyall, whose daughter Suzanne went missing 10 years ago after she got off a bus at the State University of New York-Albany.
The Lyalls heard about a similar initiative in Florida where the cards, sent to state prisons and some county jails, resulted in eight arrests and one conviction.
Florida officials say they are close to releasing a third edition deck of cards.
Using money donated to their foundation, the Center for Hope, the Lyalls sent 7,200 decks of cards to New York's local jails.
"It just started to snowball, and we got momentum, and it took a lot of hard work, lot of phone calls, lot of foot work, but it's been worth it so far because we got it off the ground," Doug Lyall recalled. [Mark Godsey]
Ethics Of Criminal Investigations
Talk of the Nation, August 14, 2008 · The recent anthrax investigation has brought to light the aggressive tactics of the FBI. It brought on questions about how far investigations should go and whether hardball tactics should remain legal.
Clint Van Zandt, former FBI agent and behavioral scientist for the FBI Academy. Van Zandt also wrote Facing Down Evil: Life on the Edge as an FBI Hostage Negotiator.
Lee Lofland, author of Police Procedure and Investigation, A Guide For Writers [Mark Godsey]
Panel reviews law for teen criminals
At a time when two studies question the validity of a state law that placed all 17-year-old criminal offenders in adult court, a committee of state legislators and other stakeholders has begun reviewing whether the law should be changed.
The Wisconsin Legislative Council’s Special Committee on High-Risk Juvenile Offenders, headed by Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) and vice chairman Rep. Rich Zipperer (R-City of Pewaukee), is studying what the best practices would be for decreasing recidivism among juvenile offenders, including a review of current law.
Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, who is a committee member, said everything is on the table for discussion, including changing the law for 17-year-olds who commit minor offenses and an automatic waiver into adult court for any juvenile who commits a felony offense.
“We are looking at our juvenile justice system and assessing whether it’s useful,” Schimel said.
Two recent studies have called the state’s 1995 decision to send all 17-year-olds through adult court a failed experiment that only increases the likelihood the teens will commit more crimes. Results of a study by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families are consistent with a report issued this month by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Schimel was a prosecutor in juvenile court when the law changed and admitted he has reservations about sending all 17-year-olds through adult court. Convicted teens were not changing their behavior if just a fine was issued, and yet there are some teens younger than 17 who are in juvenile detention for serious offenses such as armed robbery. [Mark Godsey]
Afghan Opium Harvest Down?
Afghanistan’s opium harvest has dropped from last year’s record high, the United Nations announced Tuesday, contending that the tide of opium that engulfed Afghanistan in ever rising harvests since 2001 was finally showing signs of ebbing.
“The opium floodwaters in Afghanistan have started to recede,” Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, wrote in the foreword of the 2008 annual opium poppy survey, published Tuesday. “Afghan society has started to make progress in its fight against opium.”
Poppy cultivation has dropped by 19 percent since 2007, and had fallen beneath 2006 levels as well, the report said. The harvest was also down, although by a lesser margin because of greater yields, dropping by 6 percent to 7,700 tons.
More than half of Afghanistan’s provinces have now been declared poppy free — that is, 18 of 34 provinces grow no, or very little, poppy, up from 13 poppy-free provinces last year.
The results, gathered by the United Nations through satellite imagery and checks on the ground, are a success for the Afghan government’s strategy of weaning farmers off the illicit crop through persuasion, incentives and local leadership. A drought in northern Afghanistan also helped bring numbers down, although that has also increased the hardship farmers are suffering.
The report underscores a trend, first seen last year, that the more stable, better-administered provinces are succeeding in curbing illicit drug production, according to diplomats and government officials. A swathe of blue on a United Nations map of Afghanistan, stretching across from the north-east to the north-west of the country, now denotes decreasing or no poppy cultivation.
Two provinces that have been large-scale poppy producing regions in the past, Badakhshan in the north-east and Nangarhar in the east, have been declared poppy free this year, a consequence of effective local leadership and the support of religious leaders, elders and local council members, Mr. Costa said at a news briefing in Kabul Tuesday evening.
Nevertheless, Afghanistan’s poppy crop still remains the world’s largest, and now 98 percent of the crop is grown in the lawless southern and south-western regions that are in the grip of a virulent insurgency. Two-thirds of all opium in Afghanistan in 2008 was grown in the province of Helmand, where the Taliban control whole districts. Eight thousand British troops working with government soldiers have failed to make much headway, either in curbing Taliban activities or the drug industry.
“If Helmand were a country, it would once again be the world’s biggest producer of illicit drugs,” Mr. Costa wrote.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
Lawyers Conned by Internet Scam
Atlanta securities lawyer Gregory Bartko said he is the victim of an Internet fraud scheme that is apparently targeting law firms throughout the country and the banks where lawyers have their escrow accounts.
As a result, Bartko is now a defendant in a federal suit by Wachovia Bank -- which is seeking reimbursement for nearly $200,000 that the bank wired, on Bartko's instructions, to a Korean bank on behalf of a company that had hired Bartko via the Internet.
Wachovia has also notified the State Bar of Georgia that Bartko's firm escrow account was overdrawn by more than $190,000, Bartko said.
The scheme that entangled Bartko matches one in a fraud alert issued in February by SunTrust Bank in Atlanta.
An overseas company contacts a U.S. lawyer by e-mail and retains that attorney as a settlement agent to collect a debt from a U.S. company. The U.S. company sends a settlement check to the lawyer, who deposits it into his trust account and then wires the settlement amount, minus his fee, to the "client." But the settlement check is counterfeit, and the lawyer loses the money he wired abroad.
"I'm pretty upset about it," Bartko said last week. "I got conned by someone who I thought was a client."
Bartko is not the first to have been taken in by the scam. The July issue of the California Bar Journal reported on two unnamed California attorneys, one in Long Beach and one in San Francisco, who fell for a similar Internet pitch, but their banks noticed the counterfeit checks before any money was sent abroad.
Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco and City National Bank in Los Angeles have reported at least six other lawyers who were drawn in, according to the California Bar Journal.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
Stick to your guns, Joe
DENVER — It was on July 23 last year in Charleston, S.C., that Joe Biden really showed what he is made of.
It was at a Democratic debate — one of approximately 700 or 800, as I recall — that was sponsored by CNN, Google and YouTube.
Via a video clip, a man identifying himself as Jered Townsend from Clio, Mich., said: “To all the candidates, tell me your position on gun control, as myself and other Americans really want to know if our babies are safe.”
Then Townsend picked up what appeared to be a semiautomatic assault rifle.
“This is my baby, purchased under the 1994 gun ban,” he said. “Please tell me your views. Thank you.”
It was an invitation for the Democrats to fall all over themselves telling gun owners how much they really loved guns.
The Democrats have been quaking in their boots over the gun issue ever since Al Gore lost the presidency in 2000. Had Gore won Tennessee, Arkansas or West Virginia — all winnable states — he would not have had to win Florida and he would have become president.
But he lost all those states, and guns had a lot to do with it. Bill Clinton had succeeded in making gun control a mainstream, pro-police issue, by convincing voters, including hunters, that banning assault rifles and cop-killer bullets would in no way harm sport shooting. [Mark Godsey]
August 25, 2008
Unique investigative agency tackles NYC corruption
The city's Department of Investigation successfully investigated Bernard Kerik, former police commissioner and Homeland Security chief nominee. It exposed the largest tax fraud in municipal history, investigated corruption in the crane industry, and helped indict lawmakers, union bosses and numerous high-ranking city officials.
A relatively small outfit compared to its larger crime-fighting brethren like the FBI and the NYPD, the DOI's mission is daunting: keeping 300,000 city employees at scores of agencies honest as well as city-elected officials, boards, commissions, the school system and the housing authority.
It's the only municipal agency in the country designed to root out government graft.
The oft-overlooked agency was created more than a century ago in the wake of the Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall scandals that robbed taxpayers of millions of dollars and became synonymous with political corruption.
But the DOI, one of the nation's oldest law enforcement agencies, has been making a forceful case of late that it's not a relic of the past.
"We are now out there," said DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn, who took the department's top job in 2002.
Under the leadership of Hearn, 46, a blunt former federal prosecutor, the DOI has moved aggressively to counter any impressions that it wasn't willing to tackle serious cases -- ones that could potentially embarrass a mayoral administration. [Mark Godsey]
Authorities seek programs for youths to reduce violence
At 14, Javier Quiroz was starting to take pride in his appearance. He liked to wear nice clothes, and his hair was rarely out of place. He played soccer and swam with friends, and he worked part time at a cousin's restaurant. He lived with his family in a City Heights apartment complex his mother manages.
Javier was a block from the apartment, at a friend's house, the last time his mother spoke to him. It was about midnight when she called and told him to come home.
“I'm coming back,” he said. “Don't worry.”
Javier never made it home.
Police said he was one of 28 people killed in gang-related homicides last year in San Diego, an increase of 56 percent from 2006. This year, there were 11 gang-related homicides through yesterday, compared with 17 over the same period last year, a 35 percent decrease.
Extra personnel for the gang unit this year has helped, police said.
Some parents want to see even more officers along with more programs for children in southern and southeastern San Diego – communities dotted with more sidewalk vigils than playgrounds. The memorials honor homicide victims, but they also remind residents that they live, work and play among gang members. [Mark Godsey]
August 24, 2008
Our View: A question of judgment
Normally we don't give much credence to allegations hurled by candidates at their opponents during a political campaign. That said, the accusations from Peoria County State's Attorney Kevin Lyons that challenger Darin LaHood acted improperly and perhaps unethically by injecting himself into an ongoing rape investigation and pending trial do give us pause.
Let us first lay out the dueling versions of what transpired.
Lyons charges that LaHood showed up "unannounced and uninvited" last week at the South Side home of a teen sexual assault victim. There he talked with the girl's mother, indicated he had "read all the police reports in this case," made some disparaging remarks about how it had been handled, and left his business card, Lyons says. He claims LaHood initially misrepresented himself to the family as "the new prosecutor of the case."
Lyons called LaHood's involvement "an offensive invasion into the private life of a rape victim" and an example of a candidate who "will say and do anything to win an election."
LaHood acknowledges that he went to the home twice, but disputes Lyons' allegations beyond that as "fallacious" or "hyperbole." He insists his visit and behavior are not the issue here but an alleged rapist - Monterius Hinkle - becoming an alleged serial rapist because the incumbent state's attorney didn't prosecute him following previous arrests. Lyons' allegations are a politically motivated attempt to deflect attention from that "bottom line," said LaHood.
He believes he has an obligation, in preparation for this office, "to ascertain how families who have been victimized by unspeakable crimes feel about their treatment in our criminal justice system," and to get that information firsthand. He says he had no intention of talking to the victim, only to a father "outraged" by what happened to his daughter. He maintains that he had no intention of using what he learned for political purposes. "I make no apologies," LaHood said. "I would do it again ... absolutely." [Mark Godsey]
Execution delayed to test inmate's competency
Jeffery Wood was set to be executed Thursday for taking part in a 1996 robbery of a Hill Country store in which a clerk was fatally shot.
But U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio granted a request by Wood's attorneys to delay his execution so they could hire a mental health expert to pursue their arguments that he is incompetent to be executed. Texas courts had previously refused similar appeals.
Wood's "motion presents non-frivolous arguments suggesting (he) currently lacks a rational understanding of the connection between his role in his offense and the punishment imposed upon him," Garcia wrote in his 20-page order.
Although the evidence was far from compelling, Garcia said, there were enough facts to conclude Wood had made a "substantial threshold showing of insanity."
Garcia wrote that his decision was based on the state trial court's refusal to afford Wood fundamental due process protections mandated by a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year. That ruling blocked the execution of a mentally ill Texas murderer because lower courts failed to consider whether he had a rational understanding of why he was to be killed.
"We applaud the (court) for upholding Jeff Wood's rudimentary due process right to have his competency evaluated," said Andrea Keilen, executive director of Texas Defender Service, a legal group also representing Wood.
The attorney general's office, which argued that Wood had failed to show he was incompetent to be executed, said in an e-mail statement that "our attorneys are reviewing the order and will make a decision whether to appeal." [Mark Godsey]
Crack Resentencing Controversy Comes Before 11th Circuit
Today, two of the most controversial issues in sentencing law -- the length of sentences for crack cocaine offenders and judges' ability to go outside the federal sentencing guidelines -- will intersect in arguments at a federal appeals court panel sitting in Atlanta.
The five cases from the Southern District of Florida, consolidated for oral argument at the 11th Circuit, have the potential to affect many other cases throughout Florida, Georgia and Alabama. The appellate chief at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta, Amy L. Weil, said she'd seen about a dozen motions by defendants in the Northern District of Georgia alone that raise the same issue.
In each case before the court today the defendant was convicted of a federal crack cocaine offense and sentenced before more lenient crack cocaine sentencing guidelines went into effect in November. Each is trying to get a new sentence based on the change in the guidelines but has been stymied because prosecutors argue they were sentenced as career offenders. (see below for related case briefs.)
Crack cocaine sentencing guidelines have been criticized because the sale, manufacture or possession of crack carries a much harsher sentence than that for a similar amount of powder cocaine. The disparity has been described as a 1-100 ratio, meaning a small amount of crack is equivalent under the sentencing guidelines to a large amount of cocaine. Defenders of the disparity in sentencing have said that crack is more likely to be linked with crimes of violence, while critics note that the harsher crack guideline disproportionately affects African- Americans.
In December, the U.S. Sentencing Commission made retroactive the changes to the quantity guidelines that govern federal drug sentences. Those changes had reduced by two levels the base offense that applies to crack cocaine, which can amount to a difference of a few months or several years. In a press release, the commission called the change "only a partial step in mitigating the unwarranted sentencing disparity that exists." [Mark Godsey]