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January 8, 2015

Very excited (and a bit overwhelmed) for another blog reboot for another semester of Sentencing Law

Welcome to the FIFTH(!) re-launch of this blogging adventure. This blog started eight 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, when I geared up for teaching Sentencing in Spring 2009 at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and again when visiting in Spring 2010 at Fordham School of Law and again back at the Moritz College of Law in Fall 2011 and yet again in Spring 2014, I decided to reboot this blog to allow the new course to build (indirectly) in this space on materials covered before. In all of these classes, I was generally pleased with how this blog helped promote a new type of student engagement with on-line media and materials. (For the record, OSU students engaged with the blog much more and better with Fordham students. Go bucks!)

Now, circa January 2015, we all now get to work together again on Sentencing Law at the Moritz College of Law. T his time around, I am especially excited (and more than a bit overwhelmed) by all the interesting, high-profile and on-going sentencing cases, developments and projects that we will discuss and perhaps get directly involved with in  the months ahead. To highlight why I am so excited (and overwhelmed), I am going to list here just an abridged set of on-going stories we will be following on this blog and in the classroom:

Concerning the modern death penalty:

1. The federal capital trial of the Boston Marathon Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has just begun. This case will provide a great focal point for theoretical and practical discussions of death penalty decision-making (and plea bargaining).

2. A federal court-ordered moratorium on executions in Ohio is due to expire next week and the Ohio General Assembly recently enacted a controversial new law to allow the state to acquire execution drugs in secret for future executions. These matters will provide a basis for discussing state laws and policies (and federal litigation) over administration of the death penalty.

3. I have been asked by federal and UK lawyers to help with efforts to review cases of Pakistan defendants scheduled to be executed. This project will provide an opportunity for students interesting in international/comparative death penalty work.

Concerning Eighth Amendment jurisprudence:

4. The US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) recently took up the issue of whether its 2012 Miller v. Alabama Eighth Amendment ruling declaring unconstitutional mandatory life without parole (LWOP) for juvenile murderers should be applied retroactively. I am working on an amicus brief to be filed with the Court and welcome students to help with this effort.

5. The Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral argument next month concern whether the SCOTUS 2010 Graham v. Florida Eighth Amendment ruling declaring unconstitutional LWOP for juvenile non-homicide offenses should applied to a lengthy term-of-year sentence. I worked on an amicus brief filed in this case and hope to attend the oral argument (with students, if interested).

6. The Sixth Circuit recently rejected the claim that a 15-year mandatory federal sentence for an ex-felon's possession of shotgun shells was unconstitutional. I am working on an amicus brief to support a SCOTUS cert petition and welcome students to help with this effort.

Concerning the federal sentencing law and developments:

7. Many bipartisan bills for federal statutory sentencing reform stalled in the last Congress, and there is reason to suspect that some of these bills may get renewed attention in the new Congress. These matters will provide a basis for discussing the legislative role in sentencing law and policy.

8. Hearings for new Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch are likely to take place in the next few weeks, and she is sure to be asked about various criminal justice policies and practices of the Obama Administration. These matters will provide a basis for discussing the executive role sentencing law and policy (as well as some federalism issues).

9. The US Sentencing Commission is proposing new revisions to the federal sentencing guideline and continues to monitor federal sentencing patterns a decade after the US Supreme Court made these guidelines only advisory rather than mandatory. These matters will provide a basis for discussing the judiciary's role in sentencing policy and practice.

Concerning Ohio sentencing law and developments:

10. Despite statutory reforms a few years ago, Ohio's prison chief is warning about severe overcrowding in our prisons and is suggesting emergency release of prisoners might soon be required. These matters will provide a basis for discussing the costs and consequences of heavy reliance on incarceration in states.

11. The Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission (OCSC) has a new director who is eager to give this body a refreshed agenda. I will be asking you, quite soon, to write a short memo to the OCSC director giving advice about what this Commission should be doing.

12. There are already three distinct groups talking seriously about bringing major marijuana reform proposals to the ballot in the coming years. These realities will provide a basis for discussing the drug prohibitions and its sentencing impact as well as the virtues and vices of direct democracy as a means of criminal justice reform.

Believe it or not, I could readily list a few dozen more topics that we likely will be discussing in the days ahead on substantive topics ranging from white-collar fraud sentencing to sex offender registration laws to  victim's rights to receive restitution at sentencing and on procedural topics ranging from mandatory minimum sentencing provisions to plea bargaining to jury sentencing procedures.  But I trust the dozen issues noted above provides you a sense of why I am so execited (and more than a bit overwhelmed) by all the stuff we can be working on in this class.

At this stage, I am most interested in getting your input ASAP about which of these various topics (or other topics) interest you the most going forward.  Consequently, I would be eager to hear in the comments to this post which of the issues mentioned above are of greater interest (or of least interest) to you as students in this class.  If there is some rough consensus among students about the topics of greatest interest, we will be sure to spend more time on these topics.










January 8, 2015 in About this blog, Class activities | Permalink


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I am primarily interested in the topics listed under Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. I also think topics 2 and 10 would be interesting to further learn about and discuss.

Posted by: Josh Eckert | Jan 8, 2015 8:35:58 PM

Thanks so much, Josh, for getting the feedback started. You can be sure we will do lots and lots (and lots) of Eighth Amendment work through the semester in both our discussion of the death penalty and lengthy prison sentences.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 8, 2015 10:06:27 PM

There are so many interesting things going on. I was betting on Preet Bharara getting the AG nomination with the trial work he has done recently in New York on the terrorism cases.
Anyway, I am more interested in topics 1, 3 (even if briefly), 4, and 6. Like Josh, I am very interested in 8th Amendment jurisprudence. I'm looking forward to this class.

Posted by: Chris Santoro | Jan 9, 2015 9:59:50 AM

The topics under "Concerning the Modern Death Penalty" are the most interesting to me. I think numbers 8 and 9 would also make for great discussion topics, as well. I would also be curious to discuss white collar fraud sentencing.

Posted by: Kelly Flanigan | Jan 9, 2015 1:37:58 PM

I think that the modern death penalty will provide an interesting basis for discussion. This is especially true given Ohio's relatively recent problems with the administration of capital punishment and how we can serve as an example of what not to do.

Posted by: Sierra Cooper | Jan 12, 2015 11:56:55 AM

I am really looking forward to the practical approach of this course. I am most interested in topics 2, 4, 5, and 7-10. I think that all of these topics are very interesting, but these appear to me to provide a great background of current developments. In addition, they also provide a knowledge of how sentencing law and policy is developed from all areas of the government.

Posted by: Stacia Rapp | Jan 13, 2015 9:28:12 AM

I'm most interested in topics 1, 6, 9, and 10. Looking forward to an interesting and informative class!

Posted by: Collin Flake | Jan 13, 2015 10:23:43 AM

Really interested in topics 1, 2 and 4. Also, think 3 could be a really interesting project. Would love to hear more about it.

Posted by: Ryan Semerad | Jan 13, 2015 10:30:43 AM

Really excited for topic 2 after taking the death penalty seminar last semester!

Posted by: Jenna Daniels | Jan 13, 2015 1:32:38 PM

I am most interested in topics 4-6, especially the opportunity to help with an amicus brief and attend oral arguments for the case regarding Graham v. Florida.

Posted by: Christina Otero | Jan 13, 2015 1:44:36 PM

I'm most interested in topics 1, 4, and 6. Looking forward to class!

Posted by: Matt McIntyre | Jan 13, 2015 2:02:50 PM

Glad you pointed out the comment feature! I'm very interested in all of these topics, but especially 1, 3, 4, 5, and 10.

Posted by: Kate Selander | Jan 13, 2015 3:41:03 PM

I'm most interested in topics 1, 3, 4-6. I am also interested in learning (and debating) more death penalty cases and exploring the tensions you discussed today between equal justice and individual justice.

Posted by: Kat Ungar | Jan 13, 2015 4:16:53 PM

I am particularly interested in discussing topics 1, 2, 4, 5 & 7. Judge Frost gave a lecture on topic number 2 in our seminar on the Death Penalty and Habeas law, which was taught by Chief Judge Cole last semester. The lecture was very interesting and the topic seems incredibly important.

Posted by: Tamas Tabor | Jan 13, 2015 4:47:51 PM

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