Monthly Archive: June 2022

SCOTUS’ Last Death Penalty Abolitionist Says Goodbye

Over the history of the Supreme Court, only a very few justices opposed the death penalty in all circumstances:  Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens, Ginsburg and Breyer.  Today, the last remaining member of that group, Justice Breyer, retired, leaving the Court without a single categorical opponent of the death penalty for the first time in decades.  I believe we now have the most pro-DP Court of my lifetime.

Justice Breyer was pretty much a down-the-line liberal on criminal justice issues, but is a modest and friendly man with a wicked sense of humor, and never had the driven and angry edge to him that many abolitionists do.  It remains to be seen whether his replacement, Justice Brown Jackson, will match his intellect and fair-minded outlook.  We can hope, and we wish her the best as she begins her tenure on the Court.


Murder Victim’s Family Fights Gascon’s Sentence Reduction Policy

Another Los Angeles County murderer is seeking to benefit from progressive District Attorney George Gascón’s policy of reducing all death sentences to life without parole.  My News LA reports that Scott Forest Collins was sentenced to death for the 1996 robbery and murder of Fred Rose in North Hollywood.  Now, twenty-six years later, Gascón’s hand picked deputy, former defense attorney  Shelan Joseph, is partnering with the murderer’s attorney to request that Collin’s death sentence be vacated.  On behalf of Rose’s widow and two daughters, former LADA Steve Cooley and former Deputy DA Kathleen Cady have petitioned the court to deny the murderer’s request.

Continue reading . . .

Damage Control in SCOTUS on “Indian Country”

The U.S. Supreme Court today decided a major case on prosecution jurisdiction in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, No. 21-429. This is an example of the Court in damage-control mode. An earlier, disruptive, and legally dubious decision has had severe impacts on criminal justice. Rather than overrule it, the Court acts to limit the damage.

Two years ago, the Court decided 5-4 in McGirt v. Oklahoma that large portions of that state were still “Indian country”* because Congress had not formally diminished or disestablished the original reservations, even though the land in question had not been part of a reservation in practice for a very long time. Continue reading . . .

Sentence length and recidivism: An updated review of the research

Back in May 2021, we released a comprehensive research review examining the literature on the relationship between length of incarceration and recidivism. To date, this paper is the most comprehensive literature review on the topic. Over the last several months though, we have made some important updates and revisions. The updated version is now available via the Social Science Research Network.

Continue reading . . .

Firearms offenders recidivate at higher rates, and progressive prosecutors don’t care

A new article by Thomas Hogan of the Manhattan Institute discusses some of the recent data on crime trends presented by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC). One important point brought up in that piece concerns the recidivism of federal firearms offenders. Federal firearms offenders are usually convicted of being felons-in-possession of firearms, or they are convicted of carrying a firearm related to another crime such as drug trafficking or robbery. Per the USSC’s 2021 annual report, firearms offenders recidivate at a higher rate than all other offenders, with almost 70 percent being re-arrested within eight years of release. A complementary USSC report discusses these findings in more detail, noting that recidivism rates for firearms offender were consistently higher than non-firearms offenders regardless of age and criminal history.

Continue reading . . .

California DOJ releases 2022 firearms dashboard portal

The California DOJ recently released new and updated firearms data, available through the OpenJustice Data Platform. The Firearms Dashboard includes data from the past decade on things like dealer records of sales, gun violence restraining orders, concealed weapons permits, assault weapons ownership, and more. There are also a variety of links to supplemental resources, such as the California Firearms Law Summary. The portal shows how many guns were purchased each month and year, and this is also broken down by county, manufacturer, type of transaction (e.g., dealer sale, private party sale, pawn shop), race and age of the purchaser, and more. Similarly, the same breakdowns are available for gun violence restraining orders, assault weapons registrations, concealed weapon licenses, and more.

Continue reading . . .

Alabama Set to Execute Murderer

An Alabama man who murdered his ex girlfriend in 1994, is scheduled for execution by lethal injection on July 28.  Ivana Hrynkiw of the Birmingham News reports that Joe Nathan James, Jr.  was convicted and sentenced to death in 1999 for capital murder during the commission of burglary.   James had dated Faith Hall in the early 1990s but the relationship was volatile and Hall broke up with him.  For the next several years James would stalk Hall, showing up at her home and threatening to kill her.  On the day of the murder, James forced his way in to an apartment Hall was visiting, demanded information about a man she was seeing, and shot her three times when she attempted to escape.  After shooting Hall in the stomach and chest, he shot her in the head as she lay on the floor.  On appeal James’ claim of ineffective assistance of counsel was denied by several courts.  In 2020 the Eleventh Circuit upheld his conviction and sentence, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined review.

Lengthier sentences lead to recidivism reductions: New Sentencing Commission report

Yesterday the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) published their seventh study in their recidivism series. This study examined the relationship between length of incarceration and recidivism and serves as an update to a prior USSC report published in 2020. Both studies were conducted by Ryan Cotter and are part of a larger multi-year recidivism series of more than 32,000 federal offenders. The older study examined federal offenders released in 2005, and the newer study replicated the analysis but with a cohort released in 2010. Recidivism was measured by re-arrest within eight years post-release. Results of both studies were almost identical, revealing that lengthier sentences were associated with decreased recidivism rates.  UPDATE:   CJLF researcher was interviewed on this subject on LA’s John & Ken Show at this link. Continue reading . . .

Deference, Discovery, and Making AEDPA Actually Reduce Delay

When Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, the first title was habeas corpus reform. It was intended to achieve the “effective death penalty” part by drastically cutting the delays in carrying out capital sentencing, at least the part attributable to the federal courts.

It did not work because it was not properly implemented. But 26 years later we may finally see that change. Today’s decision of the Supreme Court in Shoop v. Twyford, No. 21-511 is a large step in that direction. Continue reading . . .

Gascón’s Soft-on-Criminals Policy Blows Up in His Face

On June 14, two El Monte police officers responding to a domestic violence call were shot and killed by a habitual felon free on probation due to the reduced-sentencing policy of Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón.  According to the Los Angeles Times the shooter, Justin Flores, a gang member with multiple priors, served 10 days of a 20-day sentence in county jail for a 2021 gun and drug conviction that made him eligible for a three-year prison sentence.  Under Gascón’s ban on sentence enhancements for criminals guilty of multiple offenses Flores was free to kill the two officers.  The County Coroner has concluded that Flores shot himself as other officers closed in on him.   Eric Siddall, Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, has this post on the fallout from these two murders.

Under California law, Flores should have been in a state prison cell on the day he murdered the two officers. Instead, because of George Gascón’s policies, he was in a hotel room in El Monte beating his girlfriend until two officers responded for the call for help. Now two officers are dead.

Continue reading . . .