Thursday, August 22, 2013

U.S. Sentencing Commission Releases Policy Priorities for Amendment Cycle Ending May 1, 2014

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has released its policy priorities for the amendment cycle ending May 1, 2014.  A few of the highlights including the following:
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 994(g), the Commission intends to consider the issue of reducing costs of incarceration and overcapacity of prisons, to the extent it is relevant to any identified priority...

Continuation of its work with Congress and other interested parties on statutory mandatory minimum penalties to implement the recommendations set forth in the Commission’s 2011 report to Congress, titled Mandatory Minimum Penalties in the Federal Criminal Justice System, including its recommendations regarding the severity and scope of mandatory minimum penalties, consideration of expanding the ‘‘safety valve’’ at 18 U.S.C. 3553(f), and elimination of the mandatory ‘‘stacking’’ of penalties under 18 U.S.C. 924(c), and to develop appropriate guideline amendments in response to any related legislation...

Possible consideration of amending the policy statement pertaining to ‘‘compassionate release,’’ § 1B1.13 (Reduction in Term of Imprisonment as a Result of Motion by Director of Bureau of Prisons)...
The full Federal Register notice is available here.

Modified Drug Charge Plea Deal in DC Area - Example of New Directive from AG Holder on Averting Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Low-Level Drug Offenders

The Washington Post is reporting that a man accused of drug running pleaded guilty in Alexandria, Virginia this week to a cocaine conspiracy charge that did not include a specific quantity of narcotics.  The Post believes this is the first case in the D.C. area to utilize Attorney General Eric Holder's new directive on mandatory minimum sentencing for minor drug offenders.

From the Post:
Marko Bukumirovic, 33, who lives in Severna Park, was charged in May with conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. But in an Alexandria court Tuesday, he pleaded guilty to essentially the same charge without the five-kilogram amount noted — an offense that has no mandatory minimum term.

On paper, the case seems to be one of the first public applications of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s directive on mandatory minimum sentencing — the centerpiece of a criminal-justice reform plan that aims to save tens of millions of dollars in prison costs by reserving the most severe penalties for high-level or violent offenders and allowing minor drug criminals to reenter society more rapidly. But practically, it is likely to have little impact on Bukumirovic’s sentence, said Stephen R. Pickard, his attorney.

Bukumirovic is no longer facing the 10-year mandatory minimum: The legal maximum he now faces is 20 years instead of life in prison, Pickard said. But as a low-level, first-time offender, Bukumirovic likely would have qualified for the “safety valve” — another mechanism that allows certain offenders to avoid mandatory minimum sentences, Pickard said. And the modified charge, he said, does not affect Bukumirovic’s sentencing guidelines at all.

“The basis of the charge has everything to do with Holder,” Pickard said. “Practical point? No difference. . . . Ultimately, the guidelines came out the same.”
The entire article is available here.

Video of Attorney General Holder announcing the new directive is available here.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bradley Manning Sentenced to 35 Years in Prison

According to CNN, Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison by a military judge.  Manning will also have his rank reduced to private, will forfeit his pay and benefits, and will be dishonorably discharged from the military. 

From CNN:
Lind convicted Manning in July of stealing 750,000 pages of classified documents and videos and disseminating them to WikiLeaks. He was found guilty of 20 of the 22 charges against him, including violations of the U.S. Espionage Act.

Prosecutors have said Manning acted as a "determined insider" in leaking classified information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and should be locked up for at least 60 years.

Manning's lawyer contends he can be rehabilitated and should not "rot in jail."

"There may not be a soldier in the history of the Army who displayed such an extreme disregard" for his mission, Capt. Joe Morrow, the prosecutor, said Monday during final sentencing arguments.
The entire CNN story is available here.  A New York Times article is available here.

Earlier this year, Manning was found not guilty of aiding the enemy, a charge that could have carried a sentence of life in prison.  He was found guilty of lesser charges, including violations of the Espionage Act, stealing government property, and a single violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  See earlier post regarding his not guilty verdict here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jesse Jackson Jr. Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison

Jesse Jackson Jr. has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for his misuse of campaign funds. According to CNN, Jackson's wife, Sandi Jackson, received 12 months in prison.
"I misled the American people," Jackson, 48, said before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson imposed the term, which she said should be served in Alabama.

The ex-Illinois lawmaker's wife, Sandi, received a 12-month sentence for her role in her husband's misuse of roughly $750,000 in campaign funds over several years. As the judge read her sentence, Sandi Jackson wept.

The pair pleaded guilty in February to various charges -- Jackson to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, and false statements; and his wife to filing false tax returns.

A smooth politician and the son of Jesse Jackson Sr., a civil rights leader and one-time political heavyweight, the younger Jackson admitted to years of using campaign money to pay for things such as vacations, furs and Michael Jackson memorabilia.

In a statement read in court, Jackson said he wanted to be held accountable for his actions and he knew what he did was wrong.

He also asked the judge to not punish his wife for what he said "was a subset of what I did."

"I ask that my kids not suffer from my actions," Jackson said of his two children, 9 and 13. "If probation is not available to my wife, give me her time."

Jackson's lawyers reiterated that sentiment and asked the court for an 18-month sentence for Jackson and probation for his wife.

"This is not Madoff," Reid Weingarten, Jackson's lawyer, said in court, referring to notorious Wall Street swindler Bernie Madoff. "There was no Ponzi scheme."

Sandi Jackson sobbed through part of her courtroom statement and said she "put her family unit in peril" for filing false tax returns.

"I stand before you today asking for mercy," she said. "My heart breaks every day with the pain it's caused my babies. I ask the court for mercy."

Prosecutors had sought a four-year sentence for Jackson and 18 months in jail and restitution of $168,550 for his wife.

"This is a sad day that involves a waste of talent," prosecutor Matthew Graves said. "They were in the top 10% of household earnings in the United States. There's just no need for this kind of conduct."

Graves said that Jackson did not "deserve credit" for his job as a congressman.

"That's what he was paid to do," he said.

Jackson's lawyers pointed to his record in Washington -- one they said was good -- in arguing for a lighter sentence.

The defense team also requested that Jackson be jailed at federal correctional facilities in either Montgomery, Alabama, or Butner, North Carolina.

Butner is where Madoff is serving his 150-year sentence for investment fraud. Both facilities are minimum security.

"I ask for Alabama so I can be as far away from everybody for a while as I can be," Jackson said in court. "I want to make it a little inconvenient for everybody to get to me."

Prosecutors have kept the couple's children in mind, suggesting the Jacksons serve their sentences consecutively so that one parent is able to be home at all times, but asked the judge not to grant Sandi Jackson probation on account of her children.

"There are numerous parents who are sentenced every day," Graves said. "That isn't a basis for a probationary sentence."

After sentencing the couple, the court gave the Jacksons a few minutes to discuss who wanted to serve their sentence first.
The entire CNN story is available here.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

US Prison Populations Decline

The New York Times has an interesting piece regarding the continued decrease in the U.S. prison population.
The prison population in the United States dropped in 2012 for the third consecutive year, according to federal statistics released on Thursday, in what criminal justice experts said was the biggest decline in the nation’s recent history, signaling a shift away from an almost four-decade policy of mass imprisonment.

The number of inmates in state and federal prisons decreased by 1.7 percent, to an estimated 1,571,013 in 2012 from 1,598,783 in 2011, according to figures released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an arm of the Justice Department. Although the percentage decline appeared small, the fact that it followed decreases in 2011 and 2010 offers persuasive evidence of what some experts say is a “sea change” in America’s approach to criminal punishment.

“This is the beginning of the end of mass incarceration,” said Natasha Frost, associate dean of Northeastern University’s school of criminology and criminal justice.

About half the 2012 decline — 15,035 prisoners — occurred in California, which has decreased its prison population in response to a Supreme Court order to relieve prison overcrowding. But eight other states, including New York, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, showed substantial decreases, of more than 1,000 inmates, and more than half the states reported some drop in the number of prisoners. (Figures for three states were estimated because they had not submitted data in time for the report.) The population of federal prisons increased slightly, but at a slower rate than in previous years, the report found.

Imprisonment rates in the United States have been on an upward march since the early 1970s. From 1978, when there were 307,276 inmates in state and federal prisons, the population increased annually, reaching a peak of 1,615,487 inmates in 2009.

But in recent years, tightened state budgets, plummeting crime rates, changes in sentencing laws and shifts in public opinion have combined to reverse the trend. Experts on prison policy said that the continuing decline appears to be more than a random fluctuation.
The entire article is available here.