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Monday, February 2, 2009

"Defining `Cruel and Unusual' When Offender is 13"

From today's New York Times:

"In 1989, someone raped a 72-year-old woman in Pensacola, Fla. Joe Sullivan was 13 at the time, and he admitted that he and two older friends had burglarized the woman’s home earlier that day. But he denied that he had returned to commit the rape.

. . . .

"The trial lasted a day and ended in conviction. Then Judge Nicholas Geeker, of the circuit court in Escambia County, sentenced Mr. Sullivan to life without the possibility of parole.

. . . .

"Mr. Sullivan is 33 now, and his lawyers have asked the United States Supreme Court to consider the question of whether the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment extends to sentencing someone who was barely a teenager to die in prison for a crime that did not involve a killing."

Read the rest of the story here [Mike Mannheimer]

February 2, 2009 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Federal Judge Orders All Plea Agreements Posted Online

From the National Law Journal, NLJ.com: MIAMI — Chief Judge Federico Moreno of the Southern District of Florida, bucking the wishes of the U.S. Department of Justice, has ordered all plea agreements to be posted online.

In an order issued on Jan. 22, Moreno stated that as of Feb. 20, all plea agreements "will be public documents, with full remote access available to all members of the public and the bar, unless the Court has entered an order in advance directing the sealing or otherwise restricting a plea agreement." Moreno's order rescinds a previous order of April 2007 taking all plea agreements offline and making them accessible for physical viewing only at the courthouse.

The issue of whether plea agreements should be publicly available, able to be viewed electronically through the PACER system, is a controversial one, pitting prosecutors against defense lawyers and First Amendment advocates. In 2007, the Justice Department asked the Judicial Conference to restrict electronic access to plea and cooperation agreements in order to keep information about cooperating witnesses secret.

The Justice Department was concerned about a new Web site, Whosarat.com, which was posting information about all cooperators in federal cases. "We are witnessing the rise of a new cottage industry engaged in republishing court filings about cooperators on Web sites such as whosarat.com for the clear purpose of witness intimidation, retaliation and harassment," stated the Justice Department's memo to the courts. The Southern District of Florida, like most other courts around the nation, complied, taking pleas off PACER.

But defense attorneys, First Amendment advocates and the federal public defender's office protested, arguing that the public's right to know about the court system was being impaired.

In 2007, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers passed a resolution opposing the exclusion of plea agreements from PACER. Full story from Law.com... [Michele Berry]

January 30, 2009 in Criminal Justice Policy, Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Truce on hardline sentencing

THE NSW Opposition has pledged to end the "law and order auction" in a dramatic break with the tradition of promising to increase punishments and fill jails that has characterised every state election campaign since 1988.

The Coalition's justice spokesman, Greg Smith, who entered Parliament in 2007 with a reputation as a tough criminal prosecutor, said hardline sentencing and prisons policies - including those of his own party - have failed.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Smith told the Herald he would invest more money and resources in rehabilitation to break the cycle in which almost half of all NSW criminals re-offend after their release.

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January 8, 2009 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (3)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mike Wolff asks Obama for sentencing reform

Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael A. Wolff has joined the chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court in a letter to President-elect Barack Obama calling for "major change in state and federal sentencing practices" that have resulted in the United States imprisoning a larger percentage of its population than any other country.

The letter to Obama and his transition team from Judge Wolff and Chief Justice Paul De Muniz says it is ironic that the United States has become the leader in incarceration at a time when it is "hoping to regain respect as leader of the free world." 

The judges liken society's dependence on prisons to an addiction and called for more community-based options to replace incarceration.

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January 7, 2009 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Sentencing Guidelines For Crack, New Challenges

Michael D. Thompson, a former crack cocaine dealer, thought he deserved a break.

Sentenced in 2000 to 15 years and eight months in prison, Thompson asked a federal judge in the District to release him, arguing that he had received an unfair sentence and has turned his life around behind bars, earning a general equivalency diploma and completing a commercial driving course.

Federal prosecutors said that was a terrible idea. Citing Thompson's criminal past and prison disciplinary record, which includes threatening a prison official with a knife, prosecutors argued in court papers that the 37-year-old poses a danger to the community and should complete his sentence.

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January 1, 2009 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Prosecutors Seek to Rescind Cooperation Letter for Millennium Bomber

Federal prosecutors are seeking yet another sentencing for would-be millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam — this time without credit for helping to convict a fellow terrorist.

Ressam was sentenced for the second time last week to 22 years in prison for plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium. Prosecutors said at the time that the sentence wasn't long enough, and the guideline range is 65 years to life.

In a motion made public today, the U.S. Attorney's Office asked to withdraw a document prosecutors filed several years ago acknowledging that Ressam cooperated. They say that motion, which provided part of the basis for the lenient sentence, is no longer valid because Ressam told the judge last week he wanted to take back every statement he made to the government, including his testimony against a coconspirator.

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December 9, 2008 in Criminal Law, DOJ News, Homeland Security, Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Judge backs county inmates in jail case

A federal judge has sided with inmates' claims that conditions in Maricopa County jails continue to violate their constitutional rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Neil V. Wake on Wednesday modified a 1995 judgment that laid guidelines for a wide range of issues in Maricopa County jails, including medical and mental-health care, population control and record keeping.

Maricopa County sheriff's officials said they plan to comply with the judge's orders.

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October 24, 2008 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sentences on Trial

YOGI BERRA could have written a recently released report on the failure of mandatory minimum sentences.

The report, published by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), chronicles lawmakers' rush in the 1950s to enact tough mandatory minimum sentences for what they saw as the viral spread of illegal drugs throughout the country. The most frightening of these substances, marijuana, was blamed for a rise in "sadistic" murders and gruesome sex crimes.

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October 11, 2008 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Opponents of Tough Federal Sentencing Rules Take Up Heller for Help

The federal judge that sentenced Weldon Angelos to 55 years and one day in prison in 2004 said his hands were tied by mandatory-minimum gun laws, calling his own sentence "unjust, cruel, and even irrational."

Now a law professor and a group of Am Law 200 lawyers are challenging the sentence on unique grounds: that Heller v. District of Columbia, the case celebrated as a definitive victory for gun rights, protects Angelos and others like him convicted of gun crimes.

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September 28, 2008 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Change of the Guard in Corrections Department

28guardsspanIn her 19 years as a corrections officer on Rikers Island, Barbara Williams has been trapped in a mess hall with rioting inmates and thrown against an iron gate by a man twice her size who left her with a fractured shoulder. But nothing makes her wince like remembering the time an inmate commented on the way her hips swayed ever so slightly beneath her boxy blue uniform, back when she first came on the job.

“He said: ‘Damn! You remind me of a pantyhose commercial,’ ” recalled Ms. Williams, who is in her late 40s and has a compact build and a deep, raspy voice. “The feeling I had all that day was as if he had touched me or something.”

She spoke of the episode one recent afternoon at Horizon Academy, a high school for male inmates that is in the George Motchan Detention Center, one of eight jails on the island holding inmates awaiting trial. Ms. Williams cited the man’s comment as a crucial moment in her career.

“I saw right off that I have to change my demeanor: I have to be more forceful; I have to harden myself,” said Ms. Williams, a single mother of two grown daughters. That very night, she went back to her apartment in Jamaica, Queens, and practiced stiffening her walk in front of a mirror.

“It’s like I tell my daughters: In life, you have to know when to be a woman and when to be a lady,” she said. “I don’t feel that ladies belong in jail. So, that softer part of me, I try to leave outside. I walk in here, and I try to be 110 percent woman.”

Women have worked in the city’s Department of Correction for decades, but never in such large numbers as they do today. Women make up 45 percent of about 9,300 uniformed employees of the department, according to the agency. From guards to wardens to the four-star chief, Carolyn Thomas, they fill almost every rank. And in many respects, they are changing the culture of the city’s jails.

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September 27, 2008 in Criminal Law, Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Challenges of Sentencing Young Drug Offenders

19chance190Justice Thomas Farber’s dilemma in a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday played itself out like a dramatic monologue.

How much misery was appropriate to inflict on a promising 19-year-old, who himself had inflicted misery on society by dealing drugs, the judge asked himself out loud.

“It’s almost an impossible calculus,” said Justice Farber, who sits in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

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September 19, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, Drugs, Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"Preppy Killer" Sentenced to 19 Years on Drug Charges

Amd_robert_chambersPreppie killer Robert Chambers was sentenced today to 19 years in prison for drug-dealing - more time than he got for strangling Jennifer Levin in 1986.

The 42-year-old prep school grad agreed to the long stretch as part of a plea bargain that allowed him to avoid a life sentence.

The hearing in Manhattan Supreme Court was a brief, cut-and-dried affair.

His hands cuffed, a jean-clad Chambers showed little emotion except to smirk at girlfriend Shawn Kovell, who was sitting in the audience with his father.

Kovell's presence caused a stir in the courthouse and a threat by prosecutors to put her behind bars.

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September 2, 2008 in Criminal Law, Drugs, News, Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Texas man gets 4,060 years in prison

WEATHERFORD, Texas - A man was sentenced to more than 4,000 years in prison Wednesday for sexually assaulting three teenage girls over two years.

A day after finding James Kevin Pope guilty, jurors sentenced him to 40 life prison terms - one for each sex assault conviction - and 20 years for each of the three sexual performance of a child convictions.

At the request of prosecutors, state District Judge Graham Quisenberry ordered Pope to serve the sentences consecutively, adding up to 4,060 years. He will be eligible for parole in the year 3209, according to the Parker County District Attorney's Office.

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July 3, 2008 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 16, 2008

ACLU Challenges Texas Juvenile Inmate Conditions

From Jurist (with links): The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class action lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] Thursday against the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) [official website], alleging that five girls imprisoned at the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex [official website] were subjected to punitive solitary confinement, physical abuse and invasive strip searches. The ACLU alleged that the treatment violated the girls' rights under the US Constitution and international law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child [text]. TYC officials responded [press release] that the agency is working to address the issues raised in the lawsuit. AP has more.

Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]

June 16, 2008 in Civil Rights, Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Coming Home After a Reduced Sentence

Those Released Since Disparities in Cocaine Penalties Were Offset Find a Different World

Ph2008060701907 Days after her release from prison, Nerika Jenkins made a bold prediction: "I'll bounce right back into society." Although the world changed considerably over the 11 years of her imprisonment, she said, "I'm not afraid." She took vocational classes -- masonry, carpentry, painting, culinary arts, Microsoft Excel and horticulture -- while serving time in Philadelphia and Danbury, Conn. "I'm just ready to achieve my short-term goal, building a nursing home," she said. "They're always in need of places for the elderly."

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June 9, 2008 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Real government waste: Mandatory sentences

Stop government waste. That's what state taxpayers are clamoring for, right? Cut out the padded pensions, lavish trips, no-show jobs ...

But all the money spent in those time-worn examples of "waste" pales in comparison to the millions and millions of dollars state taxpayers are spending to lock up nonviolent drug offenders who unwittingly found themselves within 1,000 feet of a school, or who are first-time offenders better served by drug treatment or other alternatives to jail.

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June 1, 2008 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Multnomah County juvenile justice system is broken, crime-victims' group says

The Multnomah County juvenile justice system is broken, with youth offenders not being held accountable for serious crimes, according to a report released Tuesday by an influential crime victims' advocacy group.

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June 1, 2008 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Study: Sentencing guidelines ease discrimination

RICHMOND, Va. - State sentencing guidelines virtually erase discrimination in criminal punishments, regardless of how much judges are allowed to deviate from recommended prison terms, according to a study released Thursday.

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May 26, 2008 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Giving Crime Victims More of Their Say

From U.S News & World Report:  W. Patrick Kenna felt cheated. In 2000, he invested $20,000 with a currency trading company, hoping to earn enough to start a new business. Instead, he lost nearly the entire sum, defrauded along with dozens of other investors. A Los Angeles businessman, Kenna took some comfort in knowing that the two men responsible—father-and-son owners of the company—would spend significant time behind bars, but he wanted to make sure the judge knew just how much trouble they had caused.

Kenna made his anger clear during the father's 2005 sentencing, but when the son's day in court arrived three months later, the federal judge denied Kenna's request to speak. "I listened to the victims the last time," Judge John Walter said. "There just isn't anything else that could possibly be said." Kenna was furious. "We didn't feel that the judge was taking into consideration the victims in the case," he says. So he turned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ordered the judge to let Kenna speak at a new hearing.

The reversal in Kenna's case reflects the growing influence of crime victims since the passage in 2004 of landmark federal legislation granting them new and expanded rights. Three years later, the changes are beginning to have an impact, shifting the balance of a legal system that historically has been solely a two-party affair. One result is tension between legal parties and concern among defense attorneys who fear that a greater role for victims conflicts with the right of defendants to a fair trial.

Historically, the adversarial legal system has carved out roles in criminal cases only for the prosecutor and the accused. Victims have been relegated to the sidelines unless they were testifying. Although the interests of prosecutors usually align with those of victims, they are not always the same: for instance, when victims want tougher sentences than prosecutors do. Victims' rights advocates hope the changes are just the start and are pushing to put victims on an equal footing with defendants and prosecutors. "What our goal should be is to put the victim back into the position as if no crime had been committed," says Paul Cassell, a former federal judge who resigned this year to advocate for victims.

Crime victims began winning rights at the state level decades ago, but the 2004 legislation brought the protections to the federal level for the first time. Victims now must be notified about court developments. They must be allowed to speak during bail and sentencing hearings. And most important, the law gives them the ability to appeal rulings when they think their rights are being violated, as Kenna did. The Justice Department is even funding three legal clinics, in Maryland, Arizona, and South Carolina, to help victims assert these rights in court.

December 18, 2007 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Panel Considers the Retroactivity of More Lenient Crack Cocaine Sentences

From washingtonpost.com: An independent panel is considering reducing the sentences of inmates incarcerated in federal prisons for crack cocaine offenses, which would make thousands of people immediately eligible to be freed.

The US Sentencing Commission, which sets guidelines for federal prison sentences, established more lenient guidelines this spring for future crack cocaine offenders. The panel is scheduled to consider today a proposal to make the new guidelines retroactive.

Should the panel adopt the new policy, the sentences of 19,500 inmates would be reduced by an average of 27 months. About 3,800 inmates now imprisoned for possession and distribution of crack cocaine could be freed within the next year, according to the commission's analysis. The proposal would cover only inmates in federal prisons and not those in state correctional facilities, where the vast majority of people convicted of drug offenses are held. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

November 13, 2007 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)