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September 29, 2019

As we wrap up death penalty unit, some recent reminders of all the "who" stories

On Friday, as discussed in this post over at my main blog, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided to decline to exercise a form of extraordinary jurisdiction in order to avoid considering on the merits a challenge to the state's death penalty system. Among the many notable aspects of this story is who was arguing for and against the state's death penalty system: among those arguing that the state's capital system is unconstitutional were (a) lawyers in the capital habeas unit at the Federal Community Defender Office in Philadelphia and (b) lawyers in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, while among those arguing in support of the state's capital system were (y) lawyers for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and (z) lawyers for the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.  The article from my blog also recounts how PA legislators and the PA Governor have been engaging with capital punishment in recent time.

In addition to being a fascinating story about the administration of capital punishment in a neighboring state and challenges thereto, this Keystone state tale serves as a useful reminder of all the overlapping "whos" that the death penalty brings into focus.  Continuing that theme, consider taking a few moments to notice all the "whos" in play in these additional recent death penalty posts from my main blog on recent death penalty developments and commentary:

September 29, 2019 in Death penalty history, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 26, 2019

Background on race and death sentencing for our discussion of McClesky and Racial Justice Act

Next week, we will start the final part of our death penalty discussions by exploring the issue of race in the application of the death penalty.  I (too briefly) mentioned in class some data on race and the death penalty, and I thought I would link to some resources related to this issue to get a running start to our discussion of why this kind of data has not prompted much of a constitutional or policy response:

From the ACLU: "Race and the Death Penalty" (somewhat dated)

From the Death Penalty Information Center: "Executions by Race and Race of Victim" (up-to-date)

From the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty: "Racial Bias" and "Jury Selection" and "Race of the Victim" (last link summarizes a lot of academic studies)

Recent news article following announcement of federal execution dates: "Death Penalty Makes a Comeback in US as Racial Disparities Persist."  An excerpt:

The most telling statistic when talking about discrimination in capital punishment is the race of the victim and how the courts’ attitudes change when the victim is white versus when the victim is a person of color, said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Race of the victim plays a significant role in whether the death penalty is pursued by jurors. In Alabama, fewer than five percent of murders involve a black defendant and a white victim, yet over half of black death row prisoners have been sentenced for killing someone who is white. In Louisiana, the odds that a defendant will receive a death sentence are 97 percent higher if the victim was white

Also, for anyone really engaged by these issues, consider checking out the Fall 2012 issue of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law which had a symposium focused on "McClesky at 25."

September 26, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Death penalty history, Race and gender issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

September 21, 2019

Materials (and fun) for considering the representation of Ted Kaczynski

As I have mentioned in class, we will be exploring in coming classes how Florida, Texas and Ohio capital sentencing laws help guide jury death sentencing discretion for the Unibomber, Ted Kaczynski.  You should imagine yourself preparing for getting a jury to recommend a life sentence rather than a death sentence for Teddy K.  The essentials for preparation appear in our handout, although you also need to check out two Ohio statutory provisions via the web:

For a lot more information about "your client," here is a massive Wikipedia entry on Ted Kaczynski.  That entry has (too) many great links, though I would especially encourage checking out at least some of the Unibomber's (in)famous Manifesto, "INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY AND ITS FUTURE" as well as  this lengthy Time article by Stephen J. Dubner from 1999 about Teddy K. headlined "I Don't Want To Live Long.  I Would Rather Get The Death Penalty Than Spend The Rest Of My Life In Prison."

And if you want to have some old-school SNL fun while preparing for this discussion, these are fun to check out:

September 21, 2019 in Aggravators and mitigators, Class activities, Death eligible offenses | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 12, 2019

Notable statements by Gov DeWine spokesman and defense lawyer in wake of lethal injection ruling

As mentioned in this prior post, the Sixth Circuit panel ruling in In re Ohio Execution Protocol Litigation, No. 19-3064 (6th Cir. Sept 11, 2019) (available here), sets up the "next big question" of whether Ohio Gov DeWine will now be eager to move forward with the scheduled executions that he previously stayed.  This local article about the ruling ends with an interesting discussion of this matter:

Following Merz’s ruling [not overturned by the Sixth Circuit], DeWine ordered a review of the state’s execution protocol and to search for new drugs to use.  The state so far has been unable to find alternative drugs, though, and the governor has asked state lawmakers to consider finding an altogether different way to put condemned inmates to death besides lethal injection.

DeWine’s apprehension stemmed from the concerns Merz laid out in his opinion. With the 6th Circuit saying that Merz was mistaken and that attorneys for the condemned inmate didn’t prove the method is unconstitutional, it was unclear whether DeWine’s thinking will change on the issue.

Gubernatorial spokesman Dan Tierney, when asked whether Wednesday’s ruling affected DeWine’s apprehension about Ohio’s lethal-injection protocol, said that the governor, who’s currently in Japan as part of a trade delegation, and other administration officials are still reviewing the ruling.

However, Tierney noted that the governor has previously expressed concern about other aspects of Ohio’s execution method besides constitutional issues -- including the ongoing difficulty Ohio has had buying lethal-injection drugs from pharmaceutical manufacturers that have become increasingly reluctant to sell the drugs (most of which have other, medicinal uses) for use in executions.

Since taking office in January, DeWine has deflected questions about whether he continues to personally support the death penalty.  Rather, he has answered such questions by saying capital punishment is the law in Ohio....

David Stebbins, a federal public defender representing Henness, said Wednesday’s opinion “does not reflect the known facts about how the three-drug protocol acts upon the human body.”

“We are hopeful Governor DeWine continues to thoughtfully consider how to implement capital punishment in Ohio and will not reinstate executions using the torturous midazolam method of execution," Stebbins said.

September 12, 2019 in Execution methods, Ohio news and commentary, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 11, 2019

The full McGautha and Furman...

are worth reading in full if you find constitutional history and/or death penalty procedure really interesting (and these are great topics for final papers).

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.

The full Furman can be found here; reading the whole thing could take you the rest of the semester, and our handout seeks to provide strategic highlights from each of the nine(!) opinions.  As mentioned, I will ask you in class  which of the nine opinions you would be most likely to join, so you might want to consider skimming the full version of the one opinion you find most appealing from our casebook.

September 11, 2019 in Class activities, Death penalty history, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Just in time for our turn to discuss the modern death penalty...

we have lots of notable Ohio death penalty news.  For starters, yesterday a Ohio judge officially imposed a sentence of death here in Columbus as reported in this local article.  Here are some details (with a few "whos" highlighted):

Clifton Duckson doesn’t know if the man who murdered his daughter and granddaughter in the backyard of his Far East Side house will ever be executed.  It was enough for him to be in a Franklin County courtroom Wednesday when the judge imposed the death penalty.  “I just needed to hear the words,” he said after Common Pleas Judge Chris Brown followed a jury’s recommendation and sentenced Kristofer Garrett to death. “Whether he ever gets put to death, that’s not my concern.”

Duckson encouraged the judge to follow the recommendation on behalf of his 4-year-old granddaughter, Kristina Duckson, and her 34-year-old mother, Nicole Duckson, who were fatally stabbed on Jan. 5, 2018.  “I ask for justice, not revenge,” he said. “I’m asking for what those 12 jurors agreed was justice — the maximum penalty that the law will allow for these horrific murders.”

The jury convicted Garrett, 26, of aggravated murder charges on Aug. 6. Testimony showed that Garrett ambushed Nicole Duckson, his ex-girlfriend, and their daughter, stabbing them repeatedly in the snowy backyard of the Fleet Road home they shared with Nicole’s father.

Eight days later, after weighing the aggravating circumstances of the crimes against mitigating factors presented by Garrett’s defense team, the jurors agreed that two of the aggravating circumstances in Kristina’s death — that she was under the age of 13 and that Garrett killed her to cover up Nicole’s murder — outweighed any mitigating factors and recommended the death sentence.

The judge, who had the option of imposing a sentence of life in prison, said he reached the same conclusion as the jury, and thus was required by state law to impose the death penalty.

It was the first time since 2003 that a Franklin County jury had recommended a death sentence.  The last death sentence in the county was imposed in 2012 by a three-judge panel for Caron Montgomery, who waived his right to a jury in the stabbing deaths of his girlfriend and her two children.

“I think when children are victims of a terrible crime, I think juries are going to look at (the death penalty) and the court’s going to look at it,” Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said after the hearing when asked about the rarity of death sentences in Franklin County.

And just today, a panel of local federal judges got in the "who" act when they upheld the constitutionality of the (somewhat unique) lethal injection protocol that has been adopted by Ohio corrections official.  The ruling in In re Ohio Execution Protocol Litigation, No. 19-3064 (6th Cir. Sept 11, 2019) (available here), unlike lots of other death penalty opinions, is pretty short and shows what appellate judges can do when so interested.  As I explain in a post on my main blog, the next big question in this setting is whether Ohio Gov DeWine will now be eager to move forward with executions that he stayed based on the (now rejected) findings by a lower federal court in this litigation:  After Sixth Circuit panel approves (resoundingly) Ohio's execution protocol, will state now seek to restart its machinery of death?

September 11, 2019 in Death penalty history, Execution methods | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 10, 2019

Interesting arguments from federal prosecutors concerning why Felicity Huffman should get some jail time

Though I have not been able to find online all of the sentencing submissions in the college scandal case, the fine folks at Deadline have posted here the nine-page "Government’s Supplemental Sentencing Memorandum Concerning Defendant Felicity Huffman." The whole document makes for a fine read, and these paragraph at the very end struck me as especially effective:

Finally, other considerations also support the government’s proposed sentence of one month of incarceration.  In the context of this case, neither probation nor home confinement (in a large home in the Hollywood Hills with an infinity pool) would constitute meaningful punishment or deter others from committing similar crimes.  Nor is a fine alone sufficient to reflect the seriousness of the offense or to promote respect for the law.  Even a fine at the high end of the applicable Guidelines range would amount to little more than a rounding error for a defendant with a net worth measured in the tens of millions of dollars.  See, e.g., United States v. Zukerman, 897 F.3d 423, 431 (2d Cir. 2018) (“A fine can only be an effective deterrent if it is painful to pay, and whether a given dollar amount hurts to cough up depends upon the wealth of the person paying it.”), cert. denied 139 S. Ct. 1262 (2019).  Likewise, community service, especially for the famous, is hardly a punishment — which is why many non-felons gladly perform it in the absence of court orders.

The government’s recommended sentence of incarceration for a term of one month is sufficient but not more than necessary to achieve the goals of sentencing.  It would provide just punishment for the offense, make clear that this was a real crime, causing real harm, and reinforce the vital principle that all are equally subject to the law regardless of wealth or position.

September 10, 2019 in Alternatives to imprisonment, Theories of punishment | Permalink | Comments (2)

September 5, 2019

Should Mike Davis, the 10TV weatherman, face only state charges for sending and receiving "significant" amount of child pornography?

I had no idea during our discussion on Wednesday of federal sentencing ranges for child pornography offenses that there would be a high-profile arrest in our own neighborhood on state charges involving this behavior just the next day.  This local article, headlined "Ohio TV station's chief meteorologist charged with child pornography," provides these details (with some highlighted in bold):

A meteorologist for an Ohio television station has been arrested and charged with pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor.  Mike Davis, chief meteorologist for WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio, was booked into the Franklin County Jail on Thursday for the second-degree felony.

The alleged offense occurred on Aug. 5, 2019, according to Franklin County Municipal Court Records.  The records allege that Davis knowingly advertised for sale or dissemination an image of a young girl participating or engaging in sexual activity, according to WCMH-TV.

Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin said in a news conference that two weeks ago, the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force received a tip that Davis had allegedly sent and received a “significant” amount of child pornography, the station reported. “This establishes a pattern of behavior.  One week ago that information was confirmed and more evidence was gathered,” Baldwin said.

ICAC executed search warrants Thursday morning at multiple locations that included Davis’ home and the WBNS-TV studios, WCMH-TV reported. ICAC detectives arrested Davis at his home Thursday morning.

“These are kids that are clearly being exploited for sexual appetite,” Chief Deputy Rick Minerd said.

“There’s no question that it was him versus someone else living in that home?” a WCMH-TV reported asked Minerd. “Yes,” Minerd said.

The Ohio Revised Code provision, § 2907.322 Pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor or impaired person, which serves as the basis for the charge against Davis, sets forth a second-degree felony which means the the sentencing range under Ohio law is "an indefinite prison term with a stated minimum term selected by the court of two, three, four, five, six, seven, or eight years and a maximum term [that is "plus fifty per cent of that term"].  In other words, if convicted under Ohio law for only this single charge, Davis could get as low as 2-3 years in state prison or as high as 8-12 years in state prison.  If he were subject to multiple charges, which certainly seems possible given the report of a “significant” amount of child pornography, the sentencing possibilities could expand.

And, as we discussed in class, there are complicated federal criminal statutes, particularly 18 U.S.C. § 2252 and 18 U.S.C. § 2252A, under which Davis might be charged in federal court for this conduct. (And the Supreme Court confirmed this past Term that a defendant can be charge in two distinct jurisdictions based on the same criminal conduct.)  This chapter of a lengthy US Sentencing Commission report on child porn offense provides (just some of) the statutory ranges for this conduct under federal law:

Upon conviction of any [child porn] production offenses, an offender faces a mandatory minimum term of 15 years of imprisonment and a maximum of 30 years...  Advertising child pornography carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 15 years of imprisonment....

The offenses of receipt (or solicitation), transportation (including mailing or shipping), distribution, and possession with the intent to distribute or sell child pornography each carry a mandatory minimum term of five years of imprisonment and a maximum term of 20 years...

The current statutory range of imprisonment for possession is zero to ten years of imprisonment if an offender possessed child pornography depicting a minor 12 years of age or older who was not then prepubescent and zero to 20 years of imprisonment if an offender possessed child pornography depicting a prepubescent minor or a minor under 12 years of age.

I am not concerned that you know all of these particulars, but I am eager for you to see (a) how complicated this can get, and (b) how consequential the decision to charge in state versus federal court can sometimes prove to be.  Last but not least, I am already eager to hear any early musings about an appropriate sentence for Mike Davis.

September 5, 2019 in Interesting new cases, Ohio news and commentary, Recent news and developments, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 4, 2019

Some recent data on mandatory minimum penalties in the federal sentencing system

Though I did not get us all the way through our discussion of important mandatory minimum cases like McMillan and Haymond (we will wrap these up next week), I think we covered a lot of useful ground in our extended discussions of mandatory minimum sentencing in class today.  And, as a useful follow-up, everyone is encouraged to take a few minutes to check out at the data assembled by the US Sentencing Commission in this short "Quick Facts" document about mandatory minimum penalties applied in the federal system.  Here are just some of many interesting tidbits from the document:

Of all cases carrying a mandatory minimum penalty:
-- 70.5% were drug trafficking;
-- 5.7% were child pornography;
-- 5.5% were fraud;
-- 5.4% were firearms;
-- 4.4% were sexual abuse.

40.6% of offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum were relieved of the penalty because:
-- 18.9% received relief through the safety valve provision;
-- 16.3% provided the government with substantial assistance;
-- 5.4% received relief through both.

The average sentence length was:
-- 139 months for those subject to the mandatory minimum;
-- 65 months for those receiving relief;
-- 26 months for offenders who were not convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum.

September 4, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (0)