Monday, January 24, 2005

Here Comes the Fat Lady

After giving it some thought, I’ve decided to put the Blakely Blog to bed for good. I feel that other blogs and similar resources on the internet are doing an excellent job of keeping up with all of news and developments in this area of law and my efforts are largely duplicative. Furthermore, my schedule (which includes assisting in a soon to commence criminal trial in the SDNY) has not permitted me to spend much time working on the blog since the Booker decision.

It’s been fun, though. When I started this little endeavor I never imagined that this blog would get the attention it received. I know that the Blakely Blog was a productive endeavor from the scores of emails I received from people whose friends and family members relied on this blog, as well as others, to help sort out a complicated issue that affected them very personally.

I’d like to thank all of the people that took the time to write to me and send me opinions and news from around the country. I’d also like to thank Laurie Cohen from the Wall Street Journal who interviewed me about the Blakely Blog this summer and even mentioned me by name in the Journal.

Although I won’t be blogging any longer, I plan on submitting at least one piece of writing on the Booker case sometime this year to a legal journal. You can keep an eye out for that in the near future.

Again, thanks for reading and I wish you all the best.


Jason Hernandez

Friday, January 21, 2005

CLS Sentencing Symposium - Considerations at Sentencing – What Factors are Relevant and Who Should Decide?

The second panel’s topic was: Considerations at Sentencing – What Factors are Relevant and Who Should Decide?

The moderator was Judge John Martin, Debevoise & Plimpton.

The panelists were:

Kyron Huigens, Professor, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
Kevin R. Reitz, Professor, University of Colorado School of Law
Paul H. Robinson, Professor, University of Pennsylvania Law School
Barbara Tombs, Executive Director, Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission

This is by no means a complete or official report on the symposium; the Columbia Law Review will have an official report soon. All errors are my own.

Paul Robinson

Prof. Robinson began his presentation by suggesting that the question posed to the panel is misleading because it makes the assumption that there is one decision maker. In fact, there are several and they make a number of decision on several topics, such as:

Policymaking – setting goals, purposes
Rule articulation – turning general policy into articulable rules
Fact finding
Judgment making – expressing normative judgments
Determining punishment amount
Determining punishment method

Prof. Robinson used a chart (which I will post here when I get my hand on it tomorrow) that illustrates the kinds of decisions made by different decision makers (legislatures, judges, sentencing commissions, parole boards, juries, etc.)

In his opinion, the SRA got it right, but the Commission got it wrong.

Kyron Huigens

Prof. Huigens began by professing a preference for discretionary sentencing. He spent a great deal of time exploring the tension between Williams v. NY and the Court’s most recent 6th Amendment jurisprudence. That tension – known as the Blakely paradox to some (or possibly just me) – is that a judges can do what Blakely proscribes only as long as the legislature has refrained from establishing a statutory structure to guide sentencing. It seems inconsistent that judicial fact-finding is acceptable in indeterminate systems where defendant’s have little to no recourse to appeal a sentence, but impermissible when the legislature creates guidelines. He promised to explore this topic in an article he is working on.

Kevin R. Reitz

Prof. Reitz said that the states that have done the best job are the ones that have put in presumptive guidelines. That list includes Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Kansas, North Carolina and Ohio. (There may have been others that I missed.) The best ones, he said, remove the prison release discretion from parole boards.

The states that have indeterminate systems are driving the prison population explosion.

Prof. Reitz discussed some of the problems he has with Booker and Blakely. The effect of Booker when lined up in the context of other Supreme Court decisions that have created loopholes to the Sixth Amendment is what he called “Constitutional Swiss cheese.” And there may be more holes than cheese.

The holes are all of the exceptions to the Booker rule, which are:

Williams; Booker II
Harris; McMillan

He summarized the lay of the land as follows. The following systems have no Blakley problems: voluntary guidelines, indeterminate sentencing, mandatory minimum guidelines and mandatory minimum statutes. The following systems have Blakely problems: presumptive guidelines, presumptive statutes, mandatory guidelines.

The jurisdictions with Blakely problems have two options – Blakelyization or avoidance (change the system entirely).

Barabara Tombs

Barabara Tombs began by explaining that Minnesota’s guidelines are driven by retribution as a penal philosophy. “That’s why we put people in prison.” (Or something close to that). She said that the Commission’s work is guided by their chosen penal philosophy. It helps the Commission to focus on what our guidelines can and cannot do.

She felt that Blakely and Booker will hurt the younger sentencing commissions more than the older ones.

She discussed some statistics from Minnesota which were of interest. In Minnesota they have a 2% upward departure rate for sex offenses and murder. There are a lot of downward departures in drug cases (60% in some cases). Curiously, Minnesota has mandatory minimum drug sentences but judges can depart downward from the mandatory minimum. (I’m not sure how that works).

Finally, she (sensibly, in my view) observed that Blakely was all about jury sentencing and after the first few pages of Booker, it seems to have disappeared. Where did it go?

Judge Martin

In wrapping up the panel, Judge Martin said that he was disturbed by how much deference is being paid to reducing sentencing disparities. He feels like we have elevated that goal to too high a position.

He said that he likes the new system over the old, because it leaves guidelines and appellate review. Hopefully Congress won’t jump in too quickly, he added.

CLS Sentencing Panel – Prosecutorial Discretion and Its Challenges

The first panel addressed the topic of prosecutorial discretion and its changes. The moderator was CLS Professor Paul Shechtman.

The panelists were:

Martha Coakley, District Attorney, Middlesex County, MA
Michele Hirshman, First Deputy A.G., New York State
Nancy King, Professor, Vanderbilt University School of Law
Ronald F. Wright, Professor, Wake Forest University School of Law

What follows are some highlights from the panel discussion. This is by no means a complete or official report on the symposium; the Columbia Law Review will have an official report soon. All errors are my own.

This panel will explore whether prosecutorial discretion holds the keys to state sentencing, as many say does in the federal system.

Ron Wright

Prof. Wright began his comments by discussing the regulatory imbalance in sentencing. Analogizing the imbalance to other more traditional areas of regulation, he suggests that we can learn from the regulatory imbalances in sentencing.

On the topic of prosecutorial guidelines, Prof. Wright noted that some states like Kansas (and Minnesota) considered establishing prosecutorial guidelines, but in the end abandoned the effort. At least one state – Washington – has experimented with the idea of prosecutorial guidelines. These are internal guidelines, however.

Prof. Wright spent a fair amount of time talking about New Jersey, a state he described as not the hot bed of sentencing reform.

Nancy King

Whereas Prof. Wright’s focus was on macro-sentencing issues, Prof. King focused on the micro picture.

She noted that a great deal of the sentencing disparity debate has focused on racial disparities and disparity among sentencing judges. Missing from the analysis is a study of the mode of conviction. For example, sentences will vary depending on whether the defendant chose a bench trial instead of a jury trial, or went to trial at all. This is what some have called the guideline’s dirty little secret.

Prof. King is in the midst of studying data from 5 states (Pennsylvania, Maryland, Minnesota, Kansas and Washington) to study the disparities that arise based on different modes of conviction. This is a work in progress but she shared some of her preliminary results.

In Maryland and Pennsylvania she found that when the defendant chooses a jury trial, they are much more likely to be incarcerated.

(Except for cocaine offenses in Pennsylvania where bench trials are more likely to result in incarceration, but incarceration rates are lower in bench trials for simple possession).

In Washington, whether the defendant pled guilty, chose a bench trial or a jury trial, the rate of incarceration did not vary in a statistically significant manner.

In Minnesota she examined 3 offenses and found that in 5th degree drug cases, a bench trial meant the defendant was less likely to go to jail.

Prof. King also observed that in mandatory guideline states the bargain is over the charge, not the sentence, because there is no room to bargain about the sentence. Some have suggested that there needs to be a year between the top and bottom of the guideline for there to be meaningful sentence bargaining.

Michele Hirshman

Michele Hirshman has been working for the NY Attorney General’s office for the last 6 years. She immediately observed that it is important to get prosecutors to see themselves as seeking justice, not convictions.

In NY, the discretion of prosecutors is very limited. Grand jury proceeding place major restrictions on what a prosecutor can do, making it difficult to build a case. The prosecutor has to present a very big part of their case to the grand jury. Elaborate evidentiary rules that constrain how they can prove a case.

She discussed the significance of electing judges and prosecutors, arguing that this democratic check is the best way to constrain prosecutors.

Martha Coakley

Martha Coakley began her presentation by asking whether we were asking the right questions? First, we thought the problem was sentencing. We addressed that. Then we thought the problem was prosecutors. But what about the role of the defense counsel?

She suggested that better funding and treating defense work as a highly respected profession is an important way to check prosecutors.

She observed that in Massachusetts they have Rule 25(b)(2) which allows judges to reduce a charge if it’s unfair. Judges have more discretion than prosecutors. This is an important check on the prosecutor.

Finally, she argued that all crimes are not created equal. In child abuse cases the ability to intervene early is of utmost importance. Someone who abuses kids needs a different sentence and rehabilitative program than a bank robber.

We spend too much money on putting people in jail and focusing on sentencing guidelines.

CLS Sentencing Symposium - Judge Lynch's Opening Remarks

This post is coming to you live from Columbia Law School’s state sentencing symposium. The symposium was kicked off with some opening remarks by Judge and CLS Professor Gerard Lynch. What follows are some highlights of his opening remarks.

Judge Lynch began his comments by noting the impeccable timing of the symposium. The timing, however, was fortuitous – the symposium was not planned as a response to Blakely or Booker. The original purpose of this symposium was to steer the sentencing conversation away from Congress and the Sentencing Commission, and towards the courts.

Sentencing is still a topic that is not given a lot of attention in criminal courses. Legal and academic writing tends to focus of Congress, although federal sentencing only composes 7% of the incarcerated public. This is especially significant given that the focus of federal law (white collar crime, immigration and drug crimes) is distinct from the traditional street crimes that most people are concerned about.

Although there is no clear pattern or trajectory in sentencing law, the states have been the true innovators in sentencing.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

State Sentencing Symposium at Columbia Law School

The symposium starts tomorrow at 1:30pm with Judge Lynch's opening remarks. The event is open to the public and free of charge.

For more details go here.

I'll be in attendance and blogging from the symposium.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Tuesday Morning News has an interesting backstory to Justice Breyer's ethical quandary regarding the Booker case. Can one of the guidelines' architects decide their fate? Apparently, it not only matters what you ask, but who you ask. As you may recall, the bloggers spotted this issue well before the press. In this post from August, I discussed Justice Breyer's possible recusal, with a little help from the blogging community.

The Monitor has a good article discussing Booker's impact on different types of crimes. The article argues that Booker will affect white collar crime and drug crimes more than any other class of crimes, whereas more "serious" crimes will not be disturbed.

Tulsa World has an interesting article that is a few days old entitled, "Judge sticking with sentencing guidelines." Unfortunately, you have to be a subscriber to access the article. But, I did manage to find this little blurb:

U.S. Chief District Judge Sven Erik Holmes is a believer in guideline sentencing, and he intends to keep using the existing federal guidelines even though the U.S. Supreme Court said Wednesday that they are no longer mandatory.

Chief Judge Holmes issued a Blakely Blockbuster opinion in August in US v. O'Daniel. In that decision, he laid out a 4 point plan for bringing the guidelines into compliance with Blakely.

Interesting, It's-A-Small-World News: Alexandra Shapiro, the primary author of the New York Council of Defense Lawyers amicus brief, and a partner at Latham & Watkins NY, is co-teaching a Seminar in Federal Criminal Practice at Columbia Law School this semester. The course, which I am enrolled in, is also taught by Jonathan Bach, a partner at Kronish Lieb Weiner & Hellman LLP.

Sentencing is, of course, a big part of the seminar due to Blakely and Booker.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Morning News Stories columnist Mark Allenbaugh writes, "The Supreme Court's New Blockbuster U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Decision: A Clear Sixth Amendment Ruling, with an Invitation to Congress to Create a Better Remedy." cleverly pokes, "Supreme Court to Congress: Here's what you really meant." Salon asked the current chair of the American Bar Association's committee on sentencing, Jim Felman, a practicing defense attorney in Tampa, Fla., to shed some light on the surprising Supreme Court news.

The Washington Post editorializes, "The Court on Sentencing."

Oregonians will find the following article interesting, "A better way to set prison time - Hit to federal sentencing laws is a reminder to Oregon that the state also must update its court practices."

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