Governor Races

The previous post noted the Oregon governor's race.  Here are a few notes from elsewhere around the country.

In New Mexico, incumbent Governor Susana Martinez has opened up a commanding 18% lead over Attorney General Gary King in an Albuquerque Journal poll.  Real Clear Politics has moved this race into the "Likely GOP" column.  A commanding win in a "blue" state would make Martinez, a former district attorney, a credible possibility for the 2016 national ticket.

In Colorado, the Denver Post has the race too close to call.  RCP calls it a toss-up.  Unlike Kitzhaber, Hickenlooper may pay a political price for his death penalty weaseling.  The Post says "only" 18% consider that a "major factor" in their decision, but 18% is a lot in a tight race.  Of course, it depends on how many of those 18% are swing voters as opposed to people who would vote for the proverbial yellow dog before Hickenlooper, but given the across-the-political board support for the death penalty we often see in "crosstabs," with even self-designated "liberals" split about even, I have to think at least a couple percent of those 18 are people who might have otherwise voted for Hickenlooper.

Reprieves and Volunteers

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Harrison Latto, attorney for Oregon death row "volunteer" Gary Haugen, has this op-ed in the Oregonian.

The most puzzling aspect of the reprieve Gov. Kitzhaber granted to my client Gary Haugen is why he chose the utterly unprecedented device of a reprieve of indefinite duration, which will expire as soon as he leaves office, rather than using the more conventional method of commuting Haugen's death sentence to life in prison.

News Scan

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Convicted Murderer to be Released: An Arizona man sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder will soon be released after serving only 44 years.  Kelsey Hess of The Republic reports that 62-year-old Ray Chatman was convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery when he was 17-years-old.  He was originally sentenced to death for the crime, but three years later   a court reduced his sentence to life without the possibility of parole.  Recently a judge agreed to vacate his original conviction in exchange for him pleading guilty to second-degree murder, making him eligible for release.  

Murderer Pleads Guilty to Avoid Death Penalty: A Florida man has agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and spend the rest of his life behind bars in order to avoid a possible death sentence.  Daphne Duret of The Palm Beach Post reports that 58-year-old Serge Motti had arranged to meet with the victim for a drug deal, but at the meeting Motti murdered the man and then ran his girlfriend over multiple times before shooting her as well.  Motti was convicted of murder in New York in 1979, but was  paroled and relocated to Florida.   

CA Bill Aimed at First Time Offenders: A California bill awaiting approval from Governor Brown would allow first time offenders convicted of misdemeanors to have their criminal record wiped clean if they agree to plead guilty or no contest to certain crimes. K. Puenta of the Los Angeles Register reports that Assembly Bill 2124 would allow judges to defer sentencing for individuals found guilty of certain 'non-serious' offenses, and if certain conditions are met, the offense would be wiped from the record within a year.  The governor has until the end of the month to either veto the bill or sign it into law.  Governor Brown vetoed a similar bill last year.

One More Reason to Disdain "International Law"

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When we trust justice to a tribunal whose success depends on the voluntary cooperation of thugs, justice is the one thing we won't get.

Trouble Brewing

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I think our readers will be able to figure this one out for themselves.  Some of the President's judicial picks have been first-rate minds and very good people.  Still, a priori, a prosecutor probably would not want an Obama-selected judge sitting on a close criminal case.

See also this article about the largely unnoticed stakes in the upcoming elections.

The Defence of Fort McHenry

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D.C. lawyer Francis Scott Key's name appears in many of the reports of early decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.  He is not best known for his legal briefs, though.  Two hundred years ago today, he witnessed his countrymen's valiant defense of Fort McHenry, near Baltimore, from a British naval bombardment.  Morale had sunk after the burning of Washington and the White House, and the successful defense was a badly needed inspiration.  Key wrote a poem called The Defence of Fort McHenry.  Later set to music, it is now known as The Star Spangled Banner.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Why You Take the Press with a Grain of Salt

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I've often noted that journalism, and in particular the reporting (and non-reporting) of crime, is not to be taken at face value.  The most deceptive part is not the slanting of stories, although that's a major problem. The most deceptive part is what gets covered and what gets deep-sixed.

Last weekend, the Palin family was apparently involved in a booze-filled free-for-all at a family party in Anchorage.  This was covered by the New York TimesCNN, USA Today, the Washington Post, ABCMSNBC, and a whole bunch more.

Fair enough.  Sarah Palin was a candidate for Vice President six years ago and remains, kind of, a voice within the Republican Party.  So I get the coverage.

What I don't get is the press's simultaneous and virtually uniform blackout of a grisly murder rampage by an avowed Jihadist.  As the conservative blog Powerline reports:

If a Jihadist were going around the United States committing random murders, you might think it would be a significant news story. But apparently not: until this morning, I had never heard of Ali Muhammad Brown, a "devout Muslim" who murdered at least four random American men as an act of Islamic jihad.

It seems that the only major paper to have picked up this story, though it broke last month, was the New York Post.

Moral of story:  As I tell my students, listen critically to what you're hearing  -- and even more critically to what you're not hearing.

The Life of Cosby

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Edward Kosner has this book review in the WSJ, reviewing Cosby by Mark Whittaker.

From the start Mr. Cosby never played the race card--in fact, he kept it so far up his sleeve that it was invisible. He did perform at benefits for civil-rights causes and walk in the cortège after the assassination of Martin Luther King. But he made few public pronouncements, and his TV shows and movies strenuously avoided racial issues. NBC executives anticipated white protests when "I Spy" went on the network, but there was hardly any blowback.

Criticism, instead, came later from some blacks who felt the Huxtable ménage was a fairy-tale about black family life that diverted attention from the obdurate problems of African-Americans. Mr. Cosby further inflamed them when he began to lecture black mothers, and especially fathers. "I'm talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange [prison] suit," he exclaimed at a celebration of the 50th anniversary of school desegregation. "How come you don't know he had a pistol? And where is his father and why don't you know where he is?"

Without fanfare, Mr. Cosby had worked for years to increase the number of blacks recruited behind the scenes in TV and the movies. And he was a top benefactor of historically black colleges, including a $20 million donation to Spelman College. None of it mollified his black critics.
Such is the price for speaking Politically Incorrect and inconvenient truths.

For more on Cosby's views on crime -- and on the failure of leadership -- see Juan Williams, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It.

Private Prisons and Recidivism

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Lots of interesting stuff in the weekend Wall Street Journal today.  The nonsubscriber links provided should be good for seven days.  The article most clearly on-topic is by Devlin Barrett on private prison companies and rehabilitation.

Damon Hininger, chief executive of Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America, said in an interview that government clients are increasingly concerned about the long-term costs of housing inmates and are pushing CCA and other private operators to save them money by reducing recidivism, the number of inmates who are released only to do a repeat turn in prison.

He plans to expand the company's prison rehabilitation programs, drug counseling and its prisoner re-entry work in cities around the country. It's a significant shift for CCA, which has built a profitable business from incarcerating people--nearly 70,000 inmates are currently housed in more than 60 facilities. The company is the fifth-largest correction system in the country, after only the federal government and the states of California, Florida and Texas.

"This is a watershed moment for our company and we hope it will be for our entire industry,'' Mr. Hininger said. "We are determined to prove that we can play a leadership role in reducing recidivism and that we have every incentive to do so. The interests of government, taxpayers, shareholders, and communities are aligned. We all just need to recognize that and commit to that.''
My reaction to stories like this is "yes, but..."

Some Candor From The Other Side

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I have often been critical on this blog of the anti-death-penalty movement not because they disagree with me on the underlying issue, which I have no problem with, but because they are so very often deceptive, usually with cleverly phrased half-truths and word games that create false impressions without quite lying in the narrowest sense of that word.

So we should note here when we see a refreshing breath of candor from our opponents.  I recently stumbled on this article in Slate from last May by Boer Deng and Dahlia Lithwick.

But as American physicians sideline themselves and European pharmaceutical firms (and American ones with global ties) decline to supply the most known and efficacious lethal injection drugs, corrections officials have been pushed to use inferior methods and substandard providers.  In other words--and painful though it is to admit--the real culprit in the death of Clayton Lockett is opposition to the death penalty. In pushing for outright abolition of capital punishment, we have undermined the counterveiling effort to make it as clean and painless as possible. The perfect has become the enemy of the good-enough execution.

News Scan

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Illegal Immigrant Arrested After Brutal Attack: Authorities in Pennsylvania have arrested an illegal immigrant after he allegedly stabbed a woman multiple times in a violent attack.  Jeffrey A. Johnson of The Patriot-News reports that 37-year-old Baldomero Velasco-Lopez stabbed the woman three times in the back with a large kitchen knife and left her on the sidewalk in front of her home while her children were asleep inside.  Velasco-Lopez has been charged with attempted criminal homicide and aggravated assault, he has been denied bond and remains behind bars.  

Florida High Court Upholds Death Sentence: The Florida Supreme Court has ruled in favor of upholding the death sentence for a man convicted of kidnapping and murdering an 11-year-old girl a decade ago.  Lloyd Dunkelberger of the Herald-Tribune reports that attorneys for Joseph Smith appealed his sentence based on the claim that their client should have been allowed to interview jurors about any misconduct that may have happened during his trial.  This is the second time Smith's death sentence has been upheld by the state's high court.

Convicted Killer Charged with Murder: An Indiana man on parole for killing his girlfriend and shooting her mother has been arrested and charged with murder.  Erica Coghill of WLKY News reports that Joseph Oberhansley was arrested after authorities discovered a woman's body in the home he had been living in during a welfare check.  Oberhansley was on parole in Utah for the murder of his girlfriend in 1998 and has a lengthy criminal past, he is being held in county jail without bond.  

Field Poll on California Death Penalty

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Opponents of the death penalty in California are happy about a new Field Poll that shows their position is behind by "only" 22%, less than previously.

"Mr. Death Penalty"

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Atlantic magazine has an article titled, "Mr. Death Penalty," which describes the work of CJLF's own Kent Scheidegger.  Kent will be too modest to post about it himself, so I thought I would let you know.

As you would expect from the rigidly abolitionist Atlantic, the article is not a puff piece  --  there's nothing like the giddy, gushing tone you'd see if it were about "Mr. Abolitionist."  But it's reasonably fair-minded as these things go, and does not portray Kent as Satan.  Unfortunately, it doesn't go nearly far enough in describing the extent of either his fair-mindedness or his astonishing analytical abilities, which are as good as any I've seen in the legal profession.

Congratulations to Kent and CJLF for getting some overdue recognition as the country's leading advocate for what is, in some cases, the only punishment that even resembles justice.

News Scan

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Convicted Killer Sentenced to Life: An Iowa man has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after being found guilty of murdering his pregnant wife in May 2012.  The Associated Press reports that in addition to the life sentence, 23-year-old Seth Techel was sentenced to an additional 25 years for the 'nonconsensual termination of a human pregnancy.'  Life without parole is the strongest sentence available in Iowa.  The state abolished the death penalty in 1965.

Police Make Arrest in Cold Case Killing: Police in Idaho have arrested a man believed to be responsible for the murder of a 25-year-old woman more than a decade ago.  Michael H. O'Donnell of the Idaho State Journal reports that 39-year-old Brad Compher has been charged with first-degree murder after fingerprint evidence collected from the crime scene linked him to the murder.  If found guilty, Compher faces life in prison or a possible death sentence.

Why the Snail's Pace Justice for 9/11?

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After 9/11, 13 years ago today, military commissions were supposed to be a way to achieve swift justice for those perpetrators whom we were able to capture and bring back alive.  They were in World War II, after all.  See this post from two years ago.

Immediately upon their capture, the perpetrators had intelligence value that overrode the retribution interest in giving them their deserved punishment quickly.  That day is long since past.  That day had already passed before Barack Obama became President.  Is he actually going to leave office after two full terms without executing KSM or any of the other top leaders of this atrocity?

Attorney General Holder once said on this matter that "failure is not an option."  At this point it looks like failure is a near certainty.

Seeing It Up Close Has an Effect

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I noted yesterday that one reason there is such a hue-and-cry about the slap-on-the-wrist deal Ray Rice got from the prosecutor  --  after knocking his girlfriend cold  -- was that the assault had been taped, and has now been seen on TV by tens of millions of people. Nothing works like the evidence of your own eyes.  

In the past, with no tape to view, we would have been left with the defense lawyer's breezy, courthouse-steps interview to the effect that, "My client had a moment of misjudgment.  He has taken responsibility, and he and his wife would now like their privacy to move on with a life full of hope."

(I regret to find that I can now write this BS in my sleep).

When a crime can be seen, with all its violence and bullying on unfiltered display, things change.  And now there is evidence, although mostly sketchy and suggestive at this point, that, indeed, they are changing.  This is the news:

As matters of public concern, crime and security are back.

Complexity, the Enemy of Justice

Kent yesterday had an entry in which he noted that a man who shot and killed his wife and her brother twenty one years ago was due to be executed, but was fighting it off with a (typical) blizzard of last-minute procedural motions.  As Kent put it:

So when you are stone cold guilty of a crime for which the death penalty is clearly appropriate, what do your lawyers argue about at the last minute?  Drug expiration dates.  Really.

This got me to thinking:  Why has criminal justice system  --  not just capital punishment, although certainly that too  --  tied itself up with manufactured procedural issues that wander at increasingly huge distances from the central question:  Are we being careful enough to be sure we've got the right guy?

I think it's because we've become entranced with the idea that moral confidence in the system requires perfection or something very close to it, and that perfection requires the kind of microscopic complexity that now stretches on year after year after year.

But this is all wrong.  The quest for perfection is a fool's errand no matter what our punishment scheme is.  For starters, it's unattainable.  And it has reached the point that the complexity it spawns produces more injustice than it averts. Prof. Richard Epstein explains the point brilliantly in the excerpt after the break.  (Simple Rules for a Complex World,  Harvard University Press, 1995; emphasis mine).

The Most Transparent DOJ in History

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Ummm....well.....errrr....maybe not.

Would someone remind me how long Eric Holder has been Attorney General?  I mean, I know he wouldn't be hiding the ball from his own Inspector General.

Drug Expiration Dates

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Willie Trottie is scheduled for execution in Texas today for killing his wife and her brother. David Ingram reports for KTRK:

"I shot my brother-in-law in self-defense and I shot my wife by accident," he told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "There's no doubt I committed this crime. The dispute is the sequence of how it happened."
Actually, not too much of a dispute.  That "accidental" shooting involved 11 bullets.  The gun was a semiautomatic, not a full automatic, so that requires pulling the trigger "accidentally" 11 times.  And there were multiple witnesses.  Trottie told his wife as he was killing her, "Bitch, I told you I was going to kill you."

So when you are stone cold guilty of a crime for which the death penalty is clearly appropriate, what do your lawyers argue about at the last minute?  Drug expiration dates.  Really.

News Scan

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Cop Killer Eligible for Parole: A North Carolina man sentenced to life in 1982 for murdering a police officer may be released from prison in as little as two months if the state's parole board decides that he is no longer a threat to public safety.  WRAL News reports that 64-year-old Bobby Smith shot the officer twice in the head as he was responding to a disturbance call.  Smith plead guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.  The officer's family along with the state Attorney General have asked the parole board not to release Smith. A decision is expected to be made in the coming weeks.

FL to Seek Death Penalty for Triple-Murder Suspect: Prosecutors in Panama City, Florida have announced plans to seek the death penalty against triple-homicide suspect Derrick Thompson.  Zack McDonald of the News Herald reports that Thompson is believed to have killed three people in July, including a former Sheriff's Officer.  Thompson allegedly confessed to all three murders upon his arrest, but recently plead not guilty to all charges.  A trial date has not been set. 

Charges Filed in Cold Case Murder: A Texas man has been identified as the main suspect in a murder that took place more than two decades ago.  KCBD News reports that authorities believe 44-year-old Joseph Jeffrey is responsible for the beating death of a man in February 1991.  Jeffrey has a lengthy criminal background and has faced several serious charges in the past including assault and driving under the influence.

Evil Should Not Win

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The title of this post is from the statement of Jama Brown, the widow of Dennis Poyser, one of the victims murdered at a Ruby Tuesday in Columbia, Missouri on July 4, 1998.  She was speaking after the execution of the perpetrator of that crime.  Bob Priddy has this post at Missourinet, with the audio of Ms. Brown's statement. 

Reams of philosophical discussion have been written about retribution, but no philosopher ever put it better.  Evil wins when we let murderers off too easy.  Evil should not win.

Seeing It Up Close

There is an ongoing outcry against the sweet deal (no jail time and "counseling") given former NFL running back Ray Rice for knocking his girlfriend cold.

This caused me to reflect a moment:  Why the outrage against leniency for a simple (though thoroughly thuggish) assault and battery now, when what we usually hear is that leniency is overwhelmingly what the system needs  --  that it's far too harsh on first-time offenders, that African-Americans are picked out for prosecution, and that we're massively over-incarcerated?

Partly the answer is that Rice committed a politically incorrect crime, i.e., violence against women.  But I think an even bigger part is that the actual knockout blow is on every TV in America.  When people can see the thug in action for themselves, they react differently.  Differently, that is, from how they react when the crime is filtered through the defendant's PR department, typically consisting of his lawyer giving some sanitized (if not mostly just false) version.

This same lesson is brought home by the two recent filmed and televised beheadings of two Americans.  The shear sadism and cruelty of it cannot be blinkered away when you see the tape; PR isn't even attempted, because its fraudulent character would be too clear.

There is a lesson for us here:  Next time any of you debates the death penalty, insist that a tape of the beheadings be available to be shown to those who feel they can stomach looking.  When abolitionists have to deal with the reality of murder by seeing it up close  --  rather than through the intentionally distorted lens of their latest "America Is A Racist Cesspool" study  --  their minds might not be changed, but I venture to say their arrogance and holier-than-thou attitude will.

UPDATE:  Rice's plea deal was even worse than I thought.  There isn't even a probationary term, and the charges are likely to be dismissed in the future.  Tell me once more that the criminal justice system is too harsh....

News Scan

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Missouri and Texas Prepare to Execute Convicted Killers: Two men, one from Missouri and the other from Texas, are scheduled to be executed Wednesday at 12:01 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., respectively, after many years on death row.  Jim Salter and Michael Graczyk of the Associated Press report that Earl Ringo Jr. from Missouri was sentenced to death in 1998 for murdering two people during a robbery attempt.  Texas inmate Willie Trottie, also a convicted double-murderer, was sentenced to die more than 20 years ago.  The executions will be the eighth in each state so far in 2014. 

Realignment Costing Counties Millions: California counties have been left to deal with millions of dollars worth of  health care costs for inmates under Governor Brown's Realignment plan, which shifted thousands of inmates from state prisons to county jails in 2011.  Tim Lantz of KFBF reports that the state's 10 largest counties reportedly spent $560 million for medical and psychological care for inmates in the last fiscal year, resulting in a 16% increase since Realignment went into effect three years ago.  State officials are working on a plan to allow counties to enroll inmates in the Affordable Care Act in order to reduce the overwhelming health care costs.    

Convicted Killer Sentenced to Life Behind Bars: A Texas man has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the beating death and robbery of a man more than eight years ago.  KTRK News reports that after being found guilty, 36-year-old Luis Rodriguez was given an automatic life sentence because the state elected not to pursue the death penalty in his case.  One of Rodriguez's co-defendants is already serving a 15-year sentence for the crime while another suspect is still at large.

News Scan

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Ohio Schedules Execution Dates: The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has set execution dates for several convicted killers.  To date six murderers will be executed in 2015 with five more carried out 2016.  Alan Johnson of the Columbus Dispatch reports that the state was forced to revise its execution schedule after a federal judge postponed executions in September, October, and November in order to address a dispute over lethal-injection procedures.  The last murderer executed in Ohio was Dennis McGuire on January 16, 2014.

Victim's Family Outraged Over Trial Delays: A California family is frustrated by trial delays for the man accused of killing their son more than four years ago.  Jeremiah Dobruck of the Los Angeles Times reports that the accused killer, Daniel Wozniak, allegedly confessed to killing Sam Herr and his college tutor in 2010, but the trail has been delayed several times for several reasons including the defense attorney's heavy workload and requests to postpone court proceedings.  It is believed that Wozniak killed Herr in order steal a large amount of money from his savings account.  

Bill to Increase Punishment for Overdose Deaths: Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has announced plans to support a bill to increase penalties for drug dealers found guilty of contributing to overdose deaths.  The Associated Press reports that the legislation calls for sentencing dealers to life with parole after serving 25 years for adult overdose victims and life with parole after 30 years for juvenile victims.  The Governor believes the bill will deter drug dealers and help combat the state's opiate addiction crisis. 

News Scan

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Convicted Child Killer Sentenced to Life Behind Bars: A Texas man convicted of raping and murdering a six-year-old girl last year has been sentenced to life in prison plus forty years after pleading guilty to the killing. Arezow Doost of CBS Dallas Fort Worth reports that in addition to the murder charge, 18-year-old Tyler Holder also pled guilty to arson and attempted capital murder for shooting a police officer the day of his arrest.  Holder will serve at least 50 years of his sentence before he will be eligible for parole. 

Florida High Court Upholds Death Sentence: The Florida Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence for a man convicted of murdering two people within hours of each other.  Andrew Pantazi of The Florida Times-Union reports that Billy Sheppard Jr. shot and killed two people in separate car jacking attempts in the summer of 2008.  Sheppard challenged his death sentence based on the claim that the prosecution used hearsay during trial and that the jury was biased

Convicted Felon Charged in Triple-Homicide: A Missouri man with a lengthy criminal record is behind bars once again after authorities say he shot and killed three people and assaulted two others leaving them critically wounded.  CBS News reports that police believe 34-year-old Brandon Howell, a convicted felon, drove down a quiet neighborhood street Tuesday afternoon and began shooting at anyone standing outside.  Howell was paroled in 2011 after serving time for a home invasion conviction, he is currently being held in county jail without bond. 

Evading Congress's Landmark Habeas Reform

Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit granted rehearing en banc in a case it decided last year and the Supreme Court turned down last June.  Judge Tallman, joined by Judges O'Scannlain, Callahan, Bea, and Ikuta, takes the unusual step of dissenting from a grant of rehearing en banc. 

If one is remembered for the rules one breaks, then our court must be unforgettable. By taking this capital habeas case en banc now--after certiorari has been denied by the Supreme Court and well after the deadline for en banc review by our court has passed--we violate the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and our own General Orders. We also ignore recent Supreme Court authority that has reversed us for doing the same thing in the past. No circuit is as routinely reversed for just this type of behavior. We ought to know better.
Aside from the specific procedural question in this case is a deeper question.  Congress passed a landmark law in 1996 for the specific purpose of a making capital punishment effective.  One of the reforms was to crack down on successive petitions -- the filing of a new federal habeas petition after the first one has been denied.  This was, initially, one of most effective reforms in the package.  It was upheld by the Supreme Court with remarkable swiftness, two months after enactment of the law.  See Felker v. Turpin, 518 U.S. 651 (1996).  (CJLF filed an amicus brief.  See footnote on p. 654.)

However, the effectiveness of the reform has been diluted in recent years by the use of various procedural devices to reopen the old petition instead of filing a new one.  The Supreme Court has not been tough enough in restricting this practice.  Habeas corpus is not just another civil case.  Congress spoke clearly when it said that once a case is finished it should be reopened only for certain very compelling circumstances (like, for instance, we got the wrong guy).  An arguably insufficient consideration of "mitigating" evidence that has nothing whatever to do with the crime, which is what Henry is about, is not a good enough reason to further delay already badly delayed justice.  Congress has decided that, and the courts need to respect that.

News Scan

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Inmate Population Rising Under Realignment: The number of inmates being sent to California prisons is on the rise despite three years under Governor Brown's Realignment law was enacted to reduce prison overcrowding.  Don Thompson of the Associated Press reports that there has been a record-setting increase in the number of second convictions for serious and violent crimes resulting in more criminals being sentenced  state prison. The state's current prison population is at 133,000, and is expected to increase to 143,000 by 2019.

Federal Judge Denies Stay of Execution: A federal judge has denied a motion to stay the execution of a Missouri man convicted of murdering two people more than a decade ago.  Alan Burdziak of the Columbia Daily Tribune reports that attorneys for Earl Ringo challenged his sentence and asked the judge to reopen his case.  The attorneys claim that they were not given enough time to plan a proper defense after his original lawyer was removed from the case.  Ringo is scheduled to be executed on September 10.   

Suspected Cop Killer Recently Released on Parole: The New York man believed to be responsible for Wednesday's fatal shooting of a police officer was released from prison and placed on parole only a few weeks ago.  The Associated Press reports that Thomas Johnson III shot the officer after a brief pursuit in Rochester Wednesday evening.  It was the first time since 1959 that an officer from that department was killed in the line of duty.  Johnson was released from prison in August after serving a year behind bars for a parole violation.

Prospective-Only Death Penalty Repeals

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Barry Massey reports for AP:

New Mexico's remaining death row inmates are asking the state's highest court to spare them from potential execution because lawmakers repealed capital punishment after they were sentenced to die by lethal injection.

Timothy Allen and Robert Fry contend their death sentences violate state and federal constitutional protections because New Mexico abolished capital punishment in 2009 for future murders but left it in place for them. Both men were convicted and sentenced to death for murders committed years before the repeal.

The state Supreme Court will hear arguments from lawyers on Oct. 1, but a decision by the five justices likely wouldn't be made until months later.
Months later would be good in comparison to Connecticut.  That state's high court heard oral argument April 23, 2013 and has been sitting on it for over a year.  CJLF filed an amicus brief in that case.  (It's only 10 pages because that is all Connecticut rules allow for amici.)

The issue isn't that hard.  If you simply decide according to established constitutional law, of course a legislature has the power to reduce the maximum punishment for future offenses without overturning existing sentences.  That is established beyond serious question.  If you simply want to reach a Politically Correct result and have to back in some plausible legal reasoning to support the predetermined result, that's a little more work, but it doesn't take a year.

Paradoxically, a win for these two murderers would be a loss for repeal advocates in other states.  Where the vote is close, prospective-only operation may be key to passage, and a court decision striking that down would make repeal more difficult.

News Scan

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Serial Killer Convicted in Cold Case Murders: An elderly California man is facing a possible life sentence after being found guilty of murdering three Los Angeles women in the 1980's.  Jason Kandel of NBC Southern California reports that 74-year-old Samuel Little strangled the three women to death between 1987-1989, and was linked to the murders just two years ago through a positive DNA match.  Little is scheduled to be sentenced later this month.

Convicted Killer Granted Parole: An Oregon family is outraged after the man who murdered their teenage daughter more than two decades ago was granted parole.  KOIN 6 News reports that Conrad Engweiler was just 15-years-old at the time of the murder, but was tried as an adult and sentenced to life behind bars with a minimum of 30 years, a sentence which Oregon law didn't allow at the time.  Engweiler is scheduled to be released from prison next month, and will be required to register as a sex offender.

Recently Released Criminal Arrested for Murder: An Arizona man arrested this weekend on suspicion of second-degree murder had been released from prison just hours before the killing.  Agnel Philip of The Republic reports that 22-year-old Ignacio Lomeli had been released from prison Sunday morning after spending two years behind bars on multiple domestic violence charges. Hours later, Lomeli was in police custody telling officers he shot and killed a man out of self defense.  Lomeli is currently being held in county jail on $1 million bond.

The Coming Election

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The latest bipartisan Battleground/GWU poll is out.  It shows significant gains for the Republicans since the previous poll five months ago.  Jennifer Rubin has this column in the WaPo.

As noted previously on this blog, a Republican majority in the Senate would produce significant changes in criminal justice.  Judicial nominees who are sufficiently anti-law-enforcement to produce unanimous Republican opposition could once again be kept off the bench.  Legislative changes that are opposed by the pro-criminal crowd but not so strongly as to filibuster or veto otherwise important legislation could be placed into larger bills.  (The Prison Litigation Reform Act, for example, was placed into a budget bill back in 1996.)  There won't be sweeping changes either way in the next Congress, but the scope of what is possible would expand with a Senate majority.

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