January 27, 2010
Some "scientific" and "academic" discussions of death penalty deterrence
Though we did not have time for me to finish connecting my themes of scientific discovery and deterrence theory in the context of the death penalty, I do have space on this blog to link to lots of (totally optional) reading on the topic of whether the application of the death penalty in the United States may actually save innocent lives.
Specifically, a collection of some of the recent scientific-data-crunching research on on the deterrent effect of capital punishment is available here from the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. In addition, a few years ago Professors Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule created a stir with a provocative law review article suggesting that new deterrence evidence might make the death penalty morally required for states concerned with value of life. In this older post you can find links to this paper and to various responses it has generated.
If you do some Google searching, you can quickly find lots of other websites with lots of other death penalty deterrence discussions. But you will generally find that folks/organizations against the death penalty are often eager to stress studies and evidence undercutting deterrence claims, and that folks/organizations for the death penalty are often eager to stress studies and evidence bolstering deterrence claims.
In the comments to this post and in class next week, I would like to hear thoughts about whether folks believe this kind of bias is inevitable and unavoidable in all studies/debates about deterrence (whether in the death penalty context or in other criminal justice settings), or whether I should continue to hope that someday will we have good enough scientific tools and smart enough researchers to come to a definitive conclusion as to the "true reality" of deterrence in the application of particular types of punishment.
Sign-ups for afternoon field trip to Federal Defenders office on Feb.10As I mentioned in class, I have been invited to speak with the Federal Defenders of New York, Inc downtown on the afternoon of Wednesday, February 10, and I can bring up to five students along. Please indicate in the comments if you would like to come to what should be an informative and fun get together (assuming you are a sentencing geek like me).
Since this session will take place right next to the federal courthouse downtown, I may also try to find a time to connect with some NYC federal judges and I also probably will not be able to avoid migrating over to Chinatown for dinner. Seminar students are invited (but not at all required) to hang out downtown as long as they wish as part of this "field trip."
January 24, 2010
Important (pre-)class activities for last week of January
A quick weekend post to say sorry for hogging up all the air-space in last week's class as I provided a (too lengthy) "who sentences" overview of some of the ideas and themes in Chapter 2. This coming week, I promise that our class on Jan. 27 will be much more dialogue than lecture, especially as we turn more formally to the always controversial and dynamic topic of the death penalty. In preparation for this week and beyond, I wanted to make sure we were all on the same page administratively by going over a few matters:
FIRST: It is critically important for me to receive (ASAP via email or under my office door in Room 140) a completed version of at least the first page of the pre-class questionnaire (available here). I want to tabulate some "results" from student responses, which requires me to have as many responses as possible.
SECOND: I plan to spend the first part of this week's class discussing the short mid-term "think piece" and the final "white paper" assignments for this course. Please come to class armed with any and all questions (and ideas) about these assignments.
THIRD: I am eager to do another lunch with students after class on Wednesday, so keep your after-class schedule open if you want to take advantage of your latest (but not last) chance for a free lunch.
FOURTH: I have this new post at my main blog that can and should provide another basis for discussing and debating modern death penalty theory and practice in class this week. (Of course, there is lots in the death penalty parts of Chapter 3 of the textbook that should also serve this end.) As always, students eager to pad the class participation part of their grade should use the comments to this post as an opportunity to get our class discussion about the death penalty (or any other topic) off to a running start.
January 16, 2010
You be the judge: what sentence would you give to Gilbert Arenas following his plea?
As detailed this Washington Post article, which is headlined "Arenas awaits sentence on gun charge, fate in NBA," the gun fun had by NBA star Gilbert Arenas last month has now made him a great subject for discussion and debate in a sentencing seminar. I have asked this same sentencing question in this post at my main blog, and here are the key legal basics to keep in mind as reported by the Post:
Arenas won't know whether he must serve jail time until his March 26 sentencing and remains free until then. The government indicated it will not seek more than six months, although the judge can give Arenas anywhere from probation to the charge's maximum term of five years. Guidelines call for six to 12 months.
I am especially interesting in having students think about these Chapter 2 "who sentences" topics as we contemplate Arenas's possible sentencing fate:
1. How should the fact that Arenas is suffering a multi-million dollar "punishment" from the NBA and the Washington Wizards impact Arenas's sentencing outcome?
2. How should the fact that DC's advisory sentencing guidelines impact Arenas's sentencing outcome?
3. How should the fact that prosecutors have agreed not to seek a prisoner term of more than six months impact Arenas's sentencing outcome?
4. Are there any victims of Arenas's offense of one count of carrying a pistol without a license in the District of Columbia whose interests should be considered?
5. How should the fact that Arenas agreed to plead guilty impact Arenas's sentencing outcome?
6. If Arenas were to start doing prominent and significant anti-gun-violence community service, how should that fact impact Arenas's sentencing outcome?
7. Should any sentencing outcome be subject to appeal (by either prosecutors or Arenas)?
January 13, 2010
Ideas and suggestions for guest speakers and/or field trips
I mentioned in class that I know folks in and around NYC with lots of different kinds of experiences with state and federal sentencing systems. I am happy and eager to invite these folks to our class to be guest speakers, and I also would like to arrange some field trips to watch, for example, a sentencing in federal district court or a sentencing appeal in an appellate court. But I am eager to arrange speakers and/or field trips (which would require taking up some of your non-class time) only involving people and places and topics that really interest students.
Consequently, I hope all students in the class will try out the comment feature of this blog by indicating what types of guest speakers and/or field trips they would find exciting. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys are all obvious (and valuable) possibilities, but perhaps some students have some novel or provocative ideas and suggestions. (Of course, stay realistic: I would love to get Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress and Donte Stallworth all to come to talk about their experiences with different sentencing systems, but my contacts and powers are pretty limited.)
More background on Johnson v. United States
I mentioned in class that the supplemental problem involving Tommy Johnson is based on a real case now pending before the US Supreme Court. The case is Johnson v. US, and this webpage at SCOTUSwiki provides lots of background on the technical legal issue in Johnson that is currently before the Supreme Court. That page also provides links to all the briefs filed in the Supreme Court.
Because many students are interested in mandatory minimum sentencing provisions, and especially because the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) is among the most important (and most severe) federal mandatory minimum sentencing provisions, I encourage everyone to take a little time to check out some of the briefs in Johnson. For law geeks like me, the Brief for National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Support of Petitioner is especially interesting because it argues that "the rule of lenity has special force in interpreting criminal statutes that impose a mandatory minimum sentence."
January 7, 2010
Welcome to version 3.0 of this blog (supporting now a Sentencing Seminar at Fordham)Welcome to the SECOND re-launch of a this blogging adventure. This blog started two years ago, with the uninspired title of Death Penalty Course @ Moritz College of Law, to facilitate student engagement in the Spring 2007 course on the death penalty that I taught at OSU's Moritz College of Law.
Though I closed this blog down not long after that course ended, I was pleased to see all the students' hard work as reflected in the archives still generating significant traffic and much of the posts remain timely. Consequently, as when I geared up for teaching Criminal Punishment & Sentencing in Spring 2009 at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, I decided to reboot this blog to allow the new course to build indirectly in this space on some of the materials covered before. In both classes, I was generally pleased with how this blog helped promote a new type of student engagement and with on-line media with students in the 2007 class. (Even after nearly six years of focused blogging at my main blog, I continue to be amazed by what can be discovered through the process of blogging.)
Now, circa January 2010, I am gearing up for teaching a Sentencing Seminar as a visiting professor at Fordham Law School in New York City. Because we have a traditional text for our 2010 Sentencing Seminar, I am not yet sure how much of a role this blog will play in course activities. But, especially because a lot of new exciting sentencing developments seem likely in 2010 (as noted in posts here and here), I suspect this space will stay active just by trying to keep up with current events.WELCOME!