For week ending November 13, 2009.
PREPARED BY: Michael Chernicoff
Looser Rules on Sentencing Stir Concerns About Equity
The Supreme Court cases of The United State v. Booker in 2005
(http://origin.www.supremecourtus.gov/qp/04‐00104qp.pdf ) and Cunningham v. California (http://origin.www.supremecourtus.gov/qp/05‐06551qp.pdf), which gave federal judges more flexibility to depart from sentencing guideline, have been the cause of controversy as defendants can receive wildly different sentences for similar crimes.
According to Indiana University law professor Ryan Scott, “There is preliminary evidence of greater inconsistencies between judges, who have the freedom to draw upon their own political, policy, and punishment values when they make sentencing decisions.”
Those in favor of greater judge’s discretion in sentencing claim that past rules were inflexible and that judges can now use their expertise to fittingly publish criminals.
However, others warn that there is now a potential problem of a defendants’ punishment to be left largely the discretion of individual judges.
Justices Weigh Lawsuits Against Prosecutors
Supreme Court Justices have been struggling to make a decision to hold prosecutors responsible for civil right lawsuits involving framing defendants with false testimony and fabricated evidence.
Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal believes the court should focus on the goals of the justice system, rather than simply focus on individual authorities who abuse their power. Katyal has backed local Iowa prosecutors and has urged the justices to rule that prosecutors’ immunity also covers any investigatory misconduct. According to Katyal, the court’s decisions, “reflects a larger interest in protecting judicial information coming into the judicial process. If prosecutors have to worry at trial that every act they undertake will somehow open up the door to liability, they will flinch in the performance of their duties.”
Pottawattamie County, Iowa, prosecutors allegedly obtained false testimony from man who became the key witness in the 1977 murder trial of Curtis McGhee and Terry Harrington. Their sentence was life in prison.
After it came out prosecutors Joseph Hrvol and David Richter failed to turn over evidence and coached the key witness to testify against McGhee and Harrington, the Iowa Supreme Court later voided their sentences. The two men then later sues Hrvol and Richter under federal civil right law, claiming their rights of due process were violated by the coerced false testimony against them.
The case could potentially affect prosecutors’ methods in cases nationwide, is being watched by defendants’ rights and civil liberties groups. Twenty‐seven states and the Obama Justice Department are involved trying to shield prosecutors from claims for damages from any testimony. There is no present consensus among the justices about the appeal saying the claims could proceed.
Supreme Court Justices have taken various stances. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she believed prosecutors nationwide were rarely disciplined for improper conduct in the investigatory stage. Justice John Paul Stevens said he was concerned about shielding prosecutors for improper actions that occur long before they began to prepare for trial. Justice Anthony Kennedy has argued that prosecutors cannot be held liable for any fabrication that ends up being used at trial. Justice Samuel Alito worries about frivolous lawsuits against government lawyers. Chief Justice John Roberts suggested that if McGee and Harrington could press their claim, prosecutors would eventually be vulnerable to lawsuits in the event a defendant was acquitted.
Ramsey Urges Criminologists To Give Chiefs Data Before It’s Dated
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey address the American Society of Criminology, saying that Criminologists can provide “invaluable” information, but should do their work promptly and make it understandable. Ramsay also went through some of his history including hiring Northwestern University criminologist Wesley Skogan, and major shifts in this profession since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. After, Temple University sponsored Ramsey at an “interview” by Police Executive Research Forum director Chuck Wexler.
Criminologist’s Suggestion To Media: Cover Crime Like Business
Criminologist Richard Rosenfeld suggests that reporting crime trends would improve if treated more like business news is handled. Rosenfeld, the incoming president of the American Society of Criminology spoke at the organization’s annual meeting saying that crime coverage is of individual crimes, and “devoid of meaningful context.”
Rosefeld suggests that newspapers or media Web sites create “crime and justice” pages, and suggested content for the pages include data, crime rates, and alternate sources of risk to victims. Also on the panel, Jeffry Butts of Public / Private Ventures in Philadelphia, criticized some media reports for reporting trends out of context, and pointed out journalists sloppy differentiation between “juveniles” and “youths.” Other panelist included Wesley Skogan of Northwestern University, Mark Fazlollah of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Ted Gest of Criminal Justice Journalists.