Monthly Archive: May 2022

SF DA Putting Victims First?

Heather Knight reports for the SF Chronicle:

As [SF DA Chesa] Boudin faces a June 7 recall, it’s important for voters to understand what he promised and whether his office is delivering. And four former staffers and one current staffer in his Victim Services Division told me that victims are regularly not updated on progress in their cases, meaning their voices remain unheard as prosecutors work quickly to resolve them. Continue reading . . .

Memorial Day

Scout placing flags at cemetery




Today let us all remember that freedom is not free and honor those who gave their lives in its defense.

Biden’s historic executive order on policing

Today, on the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death, President Biden is expected to sign a historic executive order (EO) that would “overhaul” policing. The EO intends to promote accountability, support law enforcement with improved systems and training, and improve data transparency, among other goals. At first glance, some of the things mentioned in the EO sound promising and would perhaps garner support from the public. But many of them are so loosely defined to the point where they are not actionable. Further, because Biden does not have the authority to govern local police departments, the order only pertains to federal agencies, which are typically not the agencies that are eliciting concern. With that in mind, the EO seems very unlikely to actually improve policing. Rather, it seems like a political push for Biden to gather support from the masses.

On the positive side, the EO would seek to improve data transparency and promote officer wellness. On the negative side, most of the provisions are too vague to be actionable and use buzzword language that is up to subjective interpretation (e.g., “best practices”).

Continue reading . . .

Delay and Failure to Accept Responsibility For It

Along with the two Arizona capital cases decided yesterday (see this post), the Supreme Court turned down another, the case of one of the longest-term residents of death row.

Justice Breyer penned another of his opinions lamenting how awful it is for these murderers to have death sentences hanging over their heads so long. And once again he failed to acknowledge how much the Supreme Court itself is at fault for this situation. Continue reading . . .

Recidivism after drug treatment programs: New Sentencing Commission report

On May 17, 2022, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) published new findings on eight-year recidivism rates of 25,142 federal offenders after their participation in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) treatment programs. The report is part of a larger multi-year recidivism study of more than 32,000 federal offenders released in 2010. The programs reduced overall recidivism for people who completed programs relative to eligible non-participants. Despite this, drug-related recidivism was still higher among program completers. The latter finding is perplexing considering that one major goal of the treatment programs was to reduce substance use.

Continue reading . . .

Where Is Joe Biden on the Buffalo Massacre?

President Biden has had all manner of things to say about the mass murder in Buffalo by a white supremacist, but nothing to say about the only legal punishment we have that even remotely fits a crime of that nature  —  the death penalty.

Now maybe it’s that Biden ran on a platform of abolishing capital punishment  —  the first candidate of a major party to do so, and in the face of the contrary views held by his former boss, President Barack Obama, and (get this) of himself:  Biden had been an unambiguous supporter of the death penalty for years, but when the mainstream of the Democratic Party drifted into abolitionism, he had neither the energy nor the principle to put up a fight.

That now seems like a manifestly foolish decision, as I explain in my Substack entry this  morning, here, and my guess is he’ll have to backtrack.

Taking Statutes Seriously

Are Acts of Congress the law of the land, to be respected by the courts and implemented as intended, or are they merely inconvenient obstacles to the policies preferred by judges, to be danced around at will? That was the unstated question beneath the case of Shinn v. Ramirez, No. 20-1009, decided by the Supreme Court today.

The case involves the long-standing policy question of when a federal court hearing a habeas corpus petition by a state prisoner can second-guess the judgment of the state courts in a case already fully litigated there. The answer to that question has ebbed and flowed throughout American history, as relative confidence in federal v. state courts has varied. The answer has varied from “never” (1789) to “nearly always” (1963) and various points in between. Congress and the Supreme Court have both had their roles, but on this aspect of habeas corpus the Court has always acknowledged that Congress is boss, at least nominally.

From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, the Supreme Court was gradually tightening up on relitigation, pulling back reins that had been loosened in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1992, the Court decided in Keeney v. Tamayo-Reyes that a habeas petitioner who wanted an evidentiary hearing in federal court to present evidence that he could have presented in state court but failed to would not get one unless he showed good cause for his previous failure and resulting prejudice.

This is one of a number of rules that I call “speak now or forever hold your peace” rules. When the system provides a time and forum to make your claim, you have to make it then and there or lose it. Without such rules, Yogi Berra notwithstanding, a case isn’t over even when it’s over. More prosaically, these rules are called “procedural default rules.” Continue reading . . .

California AG Race

LA Times political columnist George Skelton has this column on the race for California Attorney General.

The state’s “jungle primary” is June 7. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will advance to the November general election.

Recidivism and measuring success after prison

In the United States, recidivism rates are the primary measure to evaluate the success of correctional and re-entry programs. Recidivism estimates can be controversial though, particularly given limitations of currently available data. A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) highlights some of these challenges. A more controversial part of the report argues that the effectiveness of correctional and re-entry programs can be better understood by looking at things like education and employment outcomes rather than focusing on recidivism specifically. Unfortunately, focusing solely on the latter does not tell the whole story, and does not accurately reflect whether a particular program is successful or not.

Continue reading . . .