October 12, 2016

How some Framers thought about "gradation of punishments" (and proposed sentencing guidelines) in a world before "modern" prisons

One of my all-time favorite documents in the history of US sentencing law and policy is this document authored by Thomas Jefferson in 1778 under the title "A Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments in Cases Heretofore Capital."  I recommend a read of the entire document (as well as this historical discussion of its backstory and its rejection by one vote).  Here I have reprinted the document's preamble and provisions proposing a range of different forms of punishment, all of which seem especially interesting as we move from a discussion of the modern death penalty to other forms of modern punishment [I HAVE THROWN IN A FEW EDITORIAL COMMENTS IN ALL CAPS AND BOLD FOR ENHANCED READING]:

[STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES AND PROPORTIONALITY:] Whereas it frequently happens that wicked and dissolute men resigning themselves to the dominion of inordinate passions, commit violations on the lives, liberties and property of others, and, the secure enjoyment of these having principally induced men to enter into society, government would be defective in it's principal purpose were it not to restrain such criminal acts, by inflicting due punishments on those who perpetrate them; but it appears at the same time equally deducible from the purposes of society that a member thereof, committing an inferior injury, does not wholy forfiet the protection of his fellow citizens, but, after suffering a punishment in proportion to his offence is entitled to their protection from all greater pain, so that it becomes a duty in the legislature to arrange in a proper scale the crimes which it may be necessary for them to repress, and to adjust thereto a corresponding gradation of punishments.

[STATEMENT ABOUT THEORY OF PUNISHMENT:] And whereas the reformation of offenders, tho' an object worthy the attention of the laws, is not effected at all by capital punishments, which exterminate instead of reforming, and should be the last melancholy resource against those whose existence is become inconsistent with the safety of their fellow citizens, which also weaken the state by cutting off so many who, if reformed, might be restored sound members to society, who, even under a course of correction, might be rendered useful in various labors for the public, and would be living and long continued spectacles to deter others from committing the like offences.

And forasmuch the experience of all ages and countries hath shewn that cruel and sanguinary laws defeat their own purpose by engaging the benevolence of mankind to withold prosecutions, to smother testimony, or to listen to it with bias, when, if the punishment were only proportioned to the injury, men would feel it their inclination as well as their duty to see the laws observed.

For rendering crimes and punishments therefore more proportionate to each other: Be it enacted by the General assembly that no crime shall be henceforth punished by deprivation of life or limb except those hereinafter ordained to be so punished....

[PUNISHMENT FOR MOST SERIOUS CRIMES:]  If any person commit Petty treason, or a husband murder his wife, a parent his child, or a child his parent, he shall suffer death by hanging, and his body be delivered to Anatomists to be dissected.

Whosoever shall commit murder in any other way shall suffer death by hanging.

And in all cases of Petty treason and murder one half of the lands and goods of the offender shall be forfieted to the next of kin to the person killed, and the other half descend and go to his own representatives. Save only where one shall slay the Challenger in at duel, in which case no part of his lands or goods shall be forfieted to the kindred of the party slain, but instead thereof a moiety shall go to the Commonwealth....

[PUNISHMENT FOR LESSER HOMICIDES:] Whosoever shall be guilty of Manslaughter, shall for the first offence, be condemned to hard labor for seven years, in the public works, shall forfiet one half of his lands and goods to the next of kin to the person slain; the other half to be sequestered during such term, in the hands and to the use of the Commonwealth, allowing a reasonable part of the profits for the support of his family. The second offence shall be deemed Murder....

[PUNISHMENT FOR SEX CRIMES:] Whosoever shall be guilty of Rape, Polygamy, or Sodomy with man or woman shall be punished, if a man, by castration, if a woman, by cutting thro' the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half inch diameter at the least....

[PUNISHMENT FOR SERIOUS ASSAULTS:] Whosoever on purpose and of malice forethought shall maim another, or shall disfigure him, by cutting out or disabling the tongue, slitting or cutting off a nose, lip or ear, branding, or otherwise, shall be maimed or disfigured in like sort: or if that cannot be for want of the same part, then as nearly as may be in some other part of at least equal value and estimation in the opinion of a jury and moreover shall forfiet one half of his lands and goods to the sufferer.

[PUNISHMENT FOR SERIOUS ECONOMIC CRIMES:] Whosoever shall counterfiet any coin current by law within this Commonwealth, or any paper bills issued in the nature of money, or of certificates of loan on the credit of this Commonwealth, or of all or any of the United States of America, or any Inspectors notes for tobacco, or shall pass any such counterfieted coin, paper bills, or notes, knowing them to be counterfiet; or, for the sake of lucre, shall diminish, case, or wash any such coin, shall be condemned to hard labor six years in the public works, and shall forfiet all his lands and goods to the Commonwealth.

Whosoever committeth Arson shall be condemned to hard labor five years in the public works, and shall make good the loss of the sufferers threefold.

If any person shall within this Commonwealth, or being a citizen thereof shall without the same, wilfully destroy, or run away with any sea-vessel or goods laden on board thereof, or plunder or pilfer any wreck, he shall be condemned to hard labor five years in the public works, and shall make good the loss of the sufferers three-fold.

Whosoever committeth Robbery shall be condemned to hard labor four years in the public works, and shall make double reparation to the persons injured.

Whatsoever act, if committed on any Mansion house, would be deemed Burglary, shall be Burglary if committed on any other house; and he who is guilty of Burglary, shall be condemned to hard labor four years in the public works, and shall make double reparation to the persons injured....

[PUNISHMENT FOR LESSER ECONOMIC CRIMES:] Grand Larceny shall be where the goods stolen are of the value of five dollars, and whosoever shall be guilty thereof shall be forthwith put in the pillory for one half hour, shall be condemned to hard labor two years in the public works, and shall make reparation to the person injured.

Petty Larceny shall be where the goods stolen are of less value than five dollars; whosoever shall be guilty thereof shall be forthwith put in the pillory for a quarter of an hour, shall be condemned to hard labor one year in the public works, and shall make reparation to the person injured....

[PUNISHMENT FOR PUBLIC DISORDER CRIMES:] All attempts to delude the people, or to abuse their understanding by exercise of the pretended arts of witchcraft, conjuration, inchantment, or sorcery or by pretended prophecies, shall be punished by ducking and whipping at the discretion of a jury, not exceeding 15. stripes....

[SPECIAL DEFENDANTS:] Slaves guilty of any offence punishable in others by labor in the public works, shall be transported to such parts in the West Indies, S. America or Africa, as the Governor shall direct, there to be continued in slavery.

October 12, 2016 in Alternatives to imprisonment, Class activities, Death penalty history, Theories of punishment, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 10, 2016

Follow-up after (too little) time with the Assistant Chief Counsel for Ohio Governor John Kasich

I am sorry we did not have more time to allow Kevin Stanek, the Assistant Chief Counsel for Ohio Governor John Kasich, to complete his tales about Ohio's fulsome history with lethal injection litigation.  But I trust you all got a flavor of some of the major themes I consider most important for our broader class's purposes: a whole bunch of distinctive (unexpected?) "whos" can and often will have a huge impact on whether, when and how death sentences actually get carried out in Ohio and elsewhere.

For more on that front with a continued focus on lethal injection drug acquisition and litigation, it is worth checking out the WNYC's Radiolab: More Perfect program on state efforts to acquire lethal injection drugs, which is titled "Cruel and Unusual."  The 40-minute radio program covers a lot of ground in ways both familiar and unfamiliar, including a notable discussion of the political impact of the Furman ruling and its aftermath starting around the 16-minute-mark (which in turn inspired the Oklahoma legislator who came up with the medicalized three-drug lethal injection protocol).

In addition, the constitutional litigation that has gummed up the works of death penalty in Ohio over the last decade has also gummed up the work in a lot of other states.  Here is an  a report from my main blog about a (very red) state to Ohio's south that has been dealing with similar issues: "Detailing how litigation over lethal injection methods has shut down Mississippi's machinery of death for now a half-decade."

October 10, 2016 in Death penalty history, Execution methods, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 14, 2016

The full McGautha...

can be found here.  Reading just the majority opinion authored by Justice Harlan (which is only 1/4 of the whole thing) is encouraged, but not required, for having extra fun throughout next week's discussion.  I also think everyone should at least get started reading Furman and Gregg and subsequent SCOTUS cases in chapter 3 of our text ASAP.

September 14, 2016 in Class activities, Death penalty history, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 12, 2016

Lots of interesting new buzz concerning the (sort of dormant) Ohio death penalty

Conveniently, my week away proved to be a period in which some interesting local death penalty news and commentary emerged, as evidence by these two recent posts from my main blog:

These topics and lots of others will be a part of our coming extensive discussion of death penalty theory, policy and practice over the next few weeks.

September 12, 2016 in Class activities, Death penalty history, Execution methods, Ohio news and commentary, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 09, 2015

More evidence that the death penalty will keep pulling us back in...

To paraphrase the most memorable line from the least memorable Godfather movie, just when I thought we could be done with our discussions of the death penalty and who sentences, the media and the US Supreme Court keep pulling us back in.  Specifically, check out these recent notable posts from my main blog:

March 9, 2015 in Death penalty history, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 21, 2015

Some notable gubenatorial capital developments

Though I am eager to start migrating our class discussions away from capital sentencing and punishment to non-capital sentencing and punishments, the notable death penalty news keeps coming.  Specifically, check out these two recent posts from my main blog:

As always, I am eager to hear student reactions to these developments and others in the comments or elsewhere.

February 21, 2015 in Clemency, Current Affairs, Death penalty history | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 05, 2015

Imaginging a (federal and mandatory?) death penalty only for mass shooters who kill more than five persons

A helpful student alerted me to this notable accounting of mass shooting in 2014 in the United States.  Though I will not vouch for all the data, I still think it is notable (and not all that surprising) that this internet accounting of mass shootings lists 283 mass shootings in the US (roughly 5 every week of the year), and yet only 11 of these mass shootings involve five or more deaths (less than one per month on average).

In addition to finding these data fascinating, I continue to encourage folks to cull through this list of the 53 men  who have been executed in Ohio in the modern era or this latest report from the Ohio Attorney General about the 140+ men on Ohio's death row to see how my proposed reform, if applied retroactively, would impact those past cases. 

February 5, 2015 in Death eligible offenses, Death penalty history, Ohio news and commentary | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 31, 2015

Ohio's current capital laws and the dynamic realities of Ohio and US death penalty history

As mentioned in class, one class activity for the coming week(s) will be to work through how modern post-Furman capital punishment laws might get applied to the (in)famous Unibomber, Ted Kaczynski.  (Ted is currently an LWOP resident at superman ADX Florence in Colorado and in the past was comically portrayed by Will Farrell).  I will not aggressively quiz anyone about doctrinal specifics, but the rest of our death penalty discussions will be enriched if you take time to analyze how Ted's case might be litigated in prominent death penalty states like Florida and Texas and Ohio. 

We could easily spend the rest of the semester discussing the history and modern specifics of the death penalty in specific jurisdictions like Florida and Texas and Ohio and US.  I will reference this history and modern practices in class over the next few weeks, and here are some links concerning the two jurisdictions in which we operate to provide a (low-stress, high-learning) chance to discover a lot more about these matters:

Links with background on Ohio's history and practices in the administration of the death penalty 

Links with background on US history and practices in the administration of the death penalty 

Based on my hope that your "who radar" is now fully operational, I would be eager to hear your views (in the comments or in class) as to which "whos" have had the most impact on the operation of Ohio's death penalty system throughout the state's history (based, perhaps, on the Ohio DRC's account of this history).

January 31, 2015 in Aggravators and mitigators, Class activities, Death penalty history, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 13, 2015

Our class's (unrepresentative) initial perspectives on the death penalty

I am grateful for the 23 students who completed and submitted the class questionnaire, and I am eager to get completed surveys placed in my faculty from anyone who has not yet submitted the form before 2pm on Thursday.  We will be sure to discuss some of the collective "results" in class, and I really appreciate all the thought that was evident in many answers.

I was moved to do this first post about the questionnaire because I was struck (and a bit surprised) by how titled the class seems to be against the death penalty this year.  In previous years, students have come into the class fairly evenly divided on the issue, with roughly half of students saying they were categorically against the death penalty and half saying they were not.  This year, however, 19 students (of 23 submitted questionnaires ) indicted they were against the death penalty (although a few back-tracked a little bit when asked about a sentence for the Boston Marathon Bomber).

In other words, it seems that more than 80% of our class generally oppose the death penalty, whereas Gallup polling reveals that more than 60% of people in the US generally favor the death penalty.  Especially as we engage in death penalty discussions, we should be ever minderful of this notable contrast in student viewpoints and broader US viewpoints.

In addition to simply noting these notable facts about views on the death penalty, I am eager to hear what folks imagine to be the general views of all Moritz students and/or all lawyers as a group.  Notably, some past Gallup poll data has highlighted that persons under 30 and "nonwhite" persons comprise the groups most opposed to the death penalty, and the Moritz student population as a whole is certainy younger and more diverse than the general population.  But all lawyers as a group tend generally to reflect, demographically, the general population.  (Consequently, I would guess that our class is not extremely unrepresentative of all Moritz students but likely is quite out of line with all lawyers generally on this issue.)

Also, on the topic of the death penalty, the first US execution in 2015 took place Tuesday night, see "Georgia executes Vietnam veteran who killed a sheriff's deputy", and Oklahoma is scheduled to carry out another execution on Thursday. 

January 13, 2015 in Death penalty aesthetics, Death penalty history | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 27, 2014

Some background and sentencing readings related to Ninth Circuit CJ Alex Kozinski

Kozinski-alexAs I have mentioned, on Wednesday April 2, we will have the honor and pleasure of having Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, visit our class. For basic background on this renown jurist, check out his Wikipedia entry and/or this (dated) Unofficial Judge Alex Kozinski Site and/or this 2005 Legal Affairs profile.  That profile has this headline and subheading: "THE BIG KOZINSKI; If the Ninth Circuit were a circus — and some say it is — Alex Kozinski would be its ringmaster."

Because he has written opinions and commentaries on every subject under the legal sun, it would be almost impossible to read even a small sample of all his views.  Fortunately, though, he has written a few especially high-profile (though now somewhat dated) pieces about death penalty jurisprudence and federal sentencing jurisprudence.  Here are links to a few highlights from this part of CJ Kozinski's corpus:

Concerning the death penalty, check out this lengthy co-authored 1995 op-ed in the New York Times given the headline "For an Honest Death Penalty." It starts this way:

It is a staple of American politics that there is very strong support for the death penalty; in opinion polls, roughly 70 percent consistently favor it. Yet the popular will on this issue has been thwarted.

To be sure, we have many capital trials, convictions and death sentences; we have endless and massively costly appeals; and a few people do get put to death every year. But compared to the number of death sentences, the number of executions is minuscule, and the gap is widening fast.

Note that, back in the early 1990s when this op-ed was authored, thoughtout the US there were often 300 death sentences imposed and only about 30 executions each year. Lately, in contrast, we have had in the US only about 75 death sentences and 40 executions each year.

On the topic of federal sentencing, I succeeded way back in 1999 to get CJ Kozinski to author this article for the Federal Sentencing Reporter a full five years before Booker made the Guidelines advisory.  It starts this way:

Once or twice a year I sit as a trial judge, usually in a criminal case. I've been doing it for many years and never cease to learn something new. I started before the Sentencing Guidelines, so I have sentenced defendants both with and without the Commission's guidance. I've had my doubts about the Guidelines; I even wrote an opinion saying they were unconstitutional. Doubts sometimes resurface when I sit as an appellate judge, but I have no doubts when I sit as a trial judge: I like the Guidelines and hope they're here to stay.

I found sentencing traumatic in the pre-Guidelines days. The sentencing range often spanned many years, sometimes all the way from probation to life in prison. Some judges may have the wisdom of Solomon in figuring out where in that range to select just the right sentence, but I certainly don't. Would too heavy a sentence destroy a young life and snuff out any chance of rehabilitation? Would too light a sentence embolden the defendant, endangering the lives of innocents? What deterrent effect will the sentence I impose have on others?

Deciding whether someone spent the next twenty years in prison or got straight probation was a burden almost too heavy to bear. Somehow I felt it was wrong for one human being to have that much power over another. Imposing sentence was, for me, almost an act of sacrilege.

Nor did it help that there was no appeal from the sentence. On the contrary, the very finality of the decision made it all the more difficult. If the sentence had been subject to appeal, someone else could have told me if I was way off the mark. But with no sentencing appeals, the burden lay entirely on my shoulders, and I didn't like it a bit.

Enter the Sentencing Guidelines and all this changed for the better. Gone are the wide open spaces for sentencing discretion. Sentencing ranges are narrow and presumably take into account all those factors I don't feel competent to weigh: punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, harm to society, contrition--they're all engineered into the machine; all I have to do is wind the key. The Probation Officers in the Central District of California, where I mostly sit, do an excellent job and there are seldom disputes over the accuracy of the PSR. When there are, I do what I am competent to do--make factual findings.

Once I have figured out the range, I always sentence at the very bottom; I never depart up or down, unless it's a guided departure like substantial assistance or acceptance of responsibility. This is true whether a defendant has pleaded guilty or proceeded to trial; generally, I have found that the bottom end of a given Guideline range sufficiently captures a defendant's criminal culpability, and I very seldom run across a case so unusual as to warrant departure. If the sentence seems too harsh or too light, I no longer feel responsible.

March 27, 2014 in Class activities, Death penalty history, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 23, 2014

Doesn't EVERY punishment theory support a death sentence for Ehrlich Anthony Coker?

After a final review of what we should take away from the McClesky ruling, we will turn for our last week of death penalty discussion to the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence which places categorical limits on what crimes cannot result in capital sentence and what criminals can not be executed for their crimes.  Here, in order, are the major rulings in this series:

Offense-based Eigth Amendment categorical prohibitions on the death penalty:

Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977) (precluding imposition of the death penalty for offense of adult rape)

Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137 (1987) (precluding imposition of the death penalty for homicide accomplice lacking reckless indifference to life)

Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008) (precluding imposition of the death penalty for offense of child rape)

Offender-based categorical prohibitions on the death penalty:

Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. 815 (1988) (precluding imposition of the death penalty on offenders under age 16 at time of crime)

Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002) (precluding imposition of the death penalty on offenders who suffer from mental retardation (reversing 1989 ruling holding otherwise))

Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) (precluding imposition of the death penalty on offenders under age 18 at time of crime (reversing 1989 ruling holding otherwise))

As I asked at the end of last week, given that the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence precludes legislatures from mandating the death penalty in any kind of case, and thereby requires and ensures that each crime and offender with have individual circumstances considered by the sentencing judge and/or jury, what justifies another set of Supreme Court rulings that preclude legislatures from ever being allowed to even consider the death penalty for certain crimes or offenders?

Contextualizing these matters, consider the qusry in the title of this post as it relates to theories of punishment and Georgia's interest in having the death penalty as a possible punishment for Ehrlich Anthony Coker. For a reminder, here is how the lead dissent in Coker v. Georgia describe the petitioner whose death sentence was reversed by the Supreme Court in that case and the consequences of the ruling for Georgia:

On December 5, 1971, the petitioner, Ehrlich Anthony Coker, raped and then stabbed to death a young woman. Less than eight months later, Coker kidnaped and raped a second young woman. After twice raping this 16-year-old victim, he stripped her, severely beat her with a club, and dragged her into a wooded area where he left her for dead. He was apprehended and pleaded guilty to offenses stemming from these incidents. He was sentenced by three separate courts to three life terms, two 20-year terms, and one 8-year term of imprisonment. Each judgment specified that the sentences it imposed were to run consecutively, rather than concurrently.  Approximately 1.5 years later, on September 2, 1974, petitioner escaped from the state prison where he was serving these sentences. He promptly raped another 16-year-old woman in the presence of her husband, abducted her from her home, and threatened her with death and serious bodily harm. It is this crime for which the sentence now under review was imposed.

The Court today holds that the State of Georgia may not impose the death penalty on Coker. In so doing, it prevents the State from imposing any effective punishment upon Coker for his latest rape. The Court's holding, moreover, bars Georgia from guaranteeing its citizens that they will suffer no further attacks by this habitual rapist. In fact, given the lengthy sentences Coker must serve for the crimes he has already committed, the Court's holding assures that petitioner -- as well as others in his position -- will henceforth feel no compunction whatsoever about committing further rapes as frequently as he may be able to escape from confinement and indeed even within the walls of the prison itself.

February 23, 2014 in Death eligible offenses, Death penalty history, Deterrence, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 17, 2014

Lots of interesting reflections on McClesky a quarter-century later

As I mentioned very briefly in class, the Fall 2012 issue of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law had a lead symposium focused on "McClesky at 25."  Here are links to all the articles in the symposium:

McClesky at 25 OSJCL Symposium Articles:

Anyone interested in the intersection of race and the death penalty should consider taking a quick peak at all of these article.  But, especially for future class discussion purposes, the final two pieces linked above (the long Mosteller piece and the short Scheidegger piece) may be most worth your extra reading time and attention.

February 17, 2014 in Data on sentencing, Death penalty history, Race and gender issues | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 04, 2014

Some background and basics on capital punishment history and practices in Ohio and US

We could easily spend months discussing the history and modern specifics of the death penalty in specific jurisdictions like Ohio or the US.  I will sometime reference this history and modern practices in class over the next few weeks, but here are some links of note concerning both jurisdictions to provide everyone with a (low-stress, high-learning) chance to discover a lot more on these topics:

Links with background on Ohio's history and practices in the administration of the death penalty 

Links with background on US history and practices in the administration of the death penalty 

February 4, 2014 in Aggravators and mitigators, Death penalty history, Ohio news and commentary | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 02, 2014

Yet another round of notable "who" developments concerning the death penalty and federal mandatory minimums

This coming week we are going to get much more focused on the particulars of capital punishment laws and doctrines and practices.  But, as you may already realize, my obsession with "who" issues will persist in class and elsewhere.  And these posts from my other blogs since our last meeting highlights this reality from various perspectives concerning both the death penalty and mandatory minimums:

Some death penalty stories:

Some federal mandatory minimum stories:

February 2, 2014 in Death penalty history, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 21, 2011

Terry Nichols and a few other modern mass murderers who escaped death sentences

Sorry to have played an (evil?) game of guess the murderer at the end of class yesterday, but I think the story of Terry Nichols encounters with both the federal and Oklahoma capital punishment system provides a useful reminder that some (many?) high-profile US mass murderers can escape a death sentence in various ways.  Via his Wikipedia entry, here are the basics of Terry Nichols' crime and how he managed avoid a death sentence:

In 1994 and 1995, [Terry Nichols] conspired with [Tim] McVeigh in the planning and preparation of the Oklahoma City bombing -- the truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on April 19, 1995 which claimed the lives of 168 people including 19 children.

After a federal trial in 1997, Nichols was convicted of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and eight counts of involuntary manslaughter for killing federal law enforcement personnel.  He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole because the jury deadlocked on the death penalty.  He was also tried in Oklahoma on state charges of murder in connection with the bombing, and was convicted in 2004 of 161 counts of first degree murder, which included one count of fetal homicide, first degree arson, and conspiracy.  As in the federal trial, the state jury deadlocked on imposing the death penalty.  He was sentenced to 161 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole, and is incarcerated in ADX Florence, a super maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado. He shares a cellblock that is commonly referred to as "Bombers Row" with Ramzi Yousef and Ted Kaczynski.

As I mentioned in class, Jeffrey Dahmer (who killed at least 17 people in Wisconsin) and Dennis Raeder(the BTK Killer, who killed at least 10 people in Kansas) and Joel Rifkin (who kiled at least 17 people in New York) and David Berkowitz (the Son of Sam, who killed at least 6 people in New York) are just some examples of some infamous modern serial killers who escaped a death sentence because they committed mass murder in states without the death penalty at the time of their crimes.

In addition, some other modern mass murderers like Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer who killed at least 49 people in Washington) and Charles Cullen (who killed at least 29 people in New Jersey and Pennsylvania) and Ronald Dominique (who killed at least 23 people in Louisiana) are just some examples of some infamous modern serial killers who escaped a death sentence because, after committig mass murder, they were able to cut plea deals with state prosecutors in order to take the death penalty off the table.

Does this kind of information make you more sympathetic (or less sympathetic) to claims of unconstitutional or just unfair sentencing disparity often made on behalf of folks who are sentenced to death in many states for only one murder (like Warren McClesky and Troy Davis)?

In light of this information, might you support a new federal death penalty law that defined the murder of,say, five or more people over an extended period of time to be a form of terrorism and thereby readily subjecting all of these sorts of serial killers to possible federal capital prosecution if/when state authorities are unable or unwilling to seek a death sentence for a mass murderer? 

September 21, 2011 in Death eligible offenses, Death penalty history, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

September 16, 2011

On the current state (and possible future) of Ohio's modern capital punishment experiences

16-bca1624b53 One (of many) interesting and valuable components of Ohio's modern death penalty system is the fact that the Ohio General Assembly has, by statute, required the Ohio Attorney General to produce an annual report on capital punishment regarding individuals who have been sentenced to death since Oct. 19, 1981.  The last four such annual reports are all available on-line via this webpage, and I highly encourage students to at least review quickly the most recent of these reports report (which is the 2010 Capital Crimes Report released in April 2011 available at this link).

The latest annual report will not only help you figure out how Ted Kaczynski might fare under Ohio's laws (see pp. 4-7 in the 2010 report), but also highlights the many fora for review of Ohio death sentences (see pp. 8-12 in the 2010 report, where the chart reprinted here appears at the end).  The 2010 report also has an extended discussion of DNA testing procedures and results for those sentenced to death at pp. 15-22.  The report also provides this (now slightly dated) statistics about the application of the modern Ohio death penalty:

Since 1981, Ohio has issued a total of 310 death sentences....

As of [the end of 2010], a total of 41 inmates have been executed under Ohio’s current law....

[And] a total of 14 inmates received a commutation of his death sentence to a sentence less than the death penalty....

[And] a total of 20 inmates died prior to imposition of the death penalty. This includes inmates who died of natural death and suicide....

[And] a total of 8 inmates were found ineligible for the death penalty dueto mental retardation (aka “Atkins” claims)....

[And] a total of 7 death sentences were vacated and remanded to trial courts for re-sentencing, which could result in imposition of the death penalty again ... [and] there was 1 case pending retrial....

[And] 64 death sentences were removed as a result of some form of judicial action beyond the cases already mentioned....

[And] a total of 155 death sentences remained active, including those currently pending in state and federal court [including] seven individuals [who] received a death sentence and were added to death row [in 2010].

As was true following my prior national data dump on executions in this post, I welcome and encourage comments on what lessons we might take away from this Ohio modern death penalty data and history.  Also, I encourage early thoughts about whether these data should suggest a particular agenda for the Ohio Chief Justice's newly form Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty (discussed in this press release and constuting a partnership between the Supreme Court of Ohio and the Ohio State Bar Association “to ensure that Ohio’s death penalty is administered in the most fair, efficient, and judicious manner possible.”)

September 16, 2011 in Death penalty history, Ohio news and commentary, Sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 10, 2011

Statistical highlights (and queries) concerning US death penalty history

Execyear Though I spent probably too much class time Thursday referencing parts of the history of the death penalty in the United States, I do not think it is possible for students of modern sentencing law and policy to spend too much time reflecting on this history.  I encourage all students to read up on the United States' history with the death penalty from various sources, such as the full opinions in Furman or the abolitionist-oriented account provided here by the Death Penalty Information Center or this reader-friendly review of DP history in the US .

One key historical point I sought to stress in class is that, though the US Supreme Court has been very involved in death penalty regulation through interpretations of constitutional law over the past forty years, during the prior 180 years the  Supreme Court had relatively little to say on the topic.  But this reality of Supreme Court relative lac of involvement in this historical story certainly was not a result of a relative lack of use of the punishment, because according to the ESPY File of all US executions, in the United States there were:

Notably, when the US Supreme Court during the Warren Court years started getting much more actively involved in regulating state police and prosecution practices, lower state and federal courts did start more actively reviewing state death sentences.  As a result, from 1967 to 1976, the period leading up to and around the McGautha and Furman and Gregg rulings, there were zero executions in the United States.

The Gregg ruling in 1976 is often used to mark and define the start of the "modern" death penalty era in the United States, and the chart from the DPIC reprinted above (and easier to read at this link) details that the US has been averaging more than 50 executions per year over the last two decades, with a recent one-year high of 98 executions in 1999 and a recent one-year low of 37 in 2008.  

Lots of legal and non-legal factors have had an impact on these historical data, and one would struggle to come up with any simple explanation for precisely why our nation has had a roller-coaster, up-and-down experience with executions.  Nevertheless, in addition to being factually interesting, I think there are various sentencing law and policy lessons to be taken away from this history.  I am interested to hear student insights as to these possible historical lessons: do folks think this history suggests it is inevitable that the US will always be a death penalty nation, or that this history shows that the US has and could get along without many or even any executions?

Comments on what lessons we should take away from this history, and on what else is worthy of historical note and discussion here, are highly encouraged.  Also, I encourage thoughts about whether the total number of death sentences or capital prosecutions (rather than just actual executions) would be important data in this historical story.

September 10, 2011 in Data on sentencing, Death penalty history | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 06, 2011

Is there a strong constitutional basis for saying "death is different"?

We ended class with a question/issue/talking-point that may well haunt us throughout the semester and that has arguably haunted all modern legal debates over modern issues of crime and punishment: is "death" really different as a matter of constitutional law?

Couple of preliminaries as we unpack this question/issue/talking-point going forward:

1.  As a basic normative and empirical and factual matter concerning state punishment generally, the (too) simple assertion that "death is different" cannot be readily gainsaid.  John Stuart Mill in his renown “Speech in Favor of Capital Punishment” (worth reading and available here), observed punishment of death makes a unique "impression on the imagination" and "is more shocking than any other to the imagination."  The undeniable reality that death as a punishment "feels" different in kind than any other form of punishment necessarily means humans will react and respond to this punishment differently even if we try to treat it like any other form of punishment.

2.  As a basic historical and descriptive matter concerning state punishment generally, the observation that "death is (and always has been) different in criminal law's doctrines and practices" also cannot be readily gainsaid.  Much of both the common law history of criminal law's development, as well as much of modern statutory and related criminal punishment doctrines, reflect the reality that the people who make the law and shape its application "feel" differently about the death penalty than about any other form of punishment.

3.  As a basic matter of constitutional text, the doctrinal basis for asserting that special substantive and/or procedural constitutional rules should control the death penalty is a pretty hard argument to make. The Fifth, Sixth and Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments contain nearly all the constitutional provisions and prohibitions that get the most attention in litigation over the death penalty (and other punishments), but the text of these provisions do not appear to call for many (or any) unique doctrines just for the death penalty.

With this background, I am eager to hear via comments or in class whether and how one can develop a strong argument for the claim that the Constitutionjustifies or demands or even allows special substantive and/or procedural constitutional rules for the operation and application of the death penalty.   Putting this point a little differently, I think the easiest way to understand (and justify?) the pro-prosecution outcomes in cases like Williams and McGautha and McClesky comes from understanding that the justices in those cases were (justifiably?) concerned that any pro-defendant constitutional rulings would subsequently have to get extended to all non-capital cases and defendants.

September 6, 2011 in Death penalty history, Supreme Court rulings, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

April 29, 2009

Some SCOTUS death penalty news and notes

This week has already brought some notable death penalty action in the Supreme Court, and these blog posts over at my main blog about all the action has generated some interesting debates in the comments:

April 29, 2009 in Death penalty history | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 20, 2009

A bit of death penalty history from DPIC

For those interested in a little more information about the history of the death penalty in the United States, the Death Penalty Information Center has an effective summary at this link

February 20, 2009 in Death penalty history | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 17, 2007

American DP history before McGutha

As I mentioned in class, one of my questions to begin our discussion of modern death penalty constitutional law is why it took nearly 200 years for the Supreme Court to seriously examine the constitutionality of the death penalty.  Of course, that question could (and perhaps should) lead to a broader examination of America's history with the death penalty since the nation's founding.

For general historical background on the death penalty, the Death Penalty Information Center has this reader-friendly overview of the history of the death penalty.  In addition, I wrote this introduction to an OSLJ symposium on capital punishment that highlights that "America's history with the death penalty has been a story primarily about, and directed by, legislative developments."

January 17, 2007 in Death penalty history | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack