News Roundup

Steve Bannon, former aide to President Trump, faces sentencing today on two misdemeanor counts of contempt of Congress. The charges arise from his failure to respond to a subpoena from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. There are two counts because Bannon neither (1) provided documents nor (2) appeared to testify. There are two major issues for the sentencing judge. The first is what sentence to select. As is routine in federal court, a probation officer has filed a report that includes a calculation of the applicable sentencing range under the advisory federal sentencing guidelines. The report concludes that the proper range is 1 to 6 months in prison. The government is asking for 6 months, while Bannon is asking for probation. The second issue is whether to delay the effective date of any sentence pending Bannon’s appeal. The planned appeal concerns whether Bannon should have been allowed to introduce evidence that he relied on the advice of his lawyers in declining to respond to the subpoena and therefore lacked the requisite mens rea for the offense. Pundits seem to believe that the judge may grant a stay pending appeal, but we’ll know for sure shortly. CNN has a primer here. Keep reading for more news.

University of Toronto finds that progressive prosecutors are not responsible for increasing homicide rates. The Global Justice Lab at the University of Toronto decided to study the hypothesis that “the increase in homicide [in U.S. cities in 2020 and 2021] is the result of the election of prosecutors whose pledges to reform the system of criminal justice have discouraged the police from stopping and arresting emboldened lawbreakers.” Using “three different approaches” to data analysis, the Lab found “no evidence to support the claim that progressive prosecutors were responsible for the increase in homicide.” The authors assert that this result is consistent with most, though not all, other studies of the same question. The executive summary of the report is here. If the full report is available online, I cannot find it.

The Marshall Project investigates sheriffs. The Marshall Project’s mission is to “create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.” It currently has a couple of stories up about sheriffs. I found this one, entitled Does Your Sheriff Think He’s More Powerful than the President?, to be the most interesting. The article focuses on the “constitutional sheriff” movement, which encourages sheriffs not to enforce laws that they see as unconstitutional. The piece highlights some results from a recent survey of sheriffs. Among the most notable findings was that over 48% of the sheriffs who responded agreed with the statement, “The sheriff’s authority supersedes the federal or state government in my county.”

Kevin Spacey found not liable for alleged sexual assault. Actor Kevin Spacey is facing multiple accusations of sexual assault. Some are criminal and others civil. This week, a federal jury found him not liable for battery in a civil suit brought by Anthony Rapp. According to CNN, Rapp alleged that “Spacey, then 26, invited Rapp, then 14, to his Manhattan home where he picked Rapp up, laid him down on his bed, grabbed his buttocks and pressed his groin into Rapp’s body without his consent.” Spacey’s attorneys argued in closing that “Mr. Rapp has falsely alleged abuse that never occurred at a party that was never held in a room that did not exist.”

Chess cheating controversy deepens as alleged cheater files civil suit against his accuser. Admittedly, the criminal law connection hasn’t quite materialized – yet – but I can’t seem to shake my interest in the cheating controversy that has totally engulfed the chess community. Recall that the world’s best player, Magnus Carlsen, basically accused fast-rising American Hans Niemann of being a cheater after Niemann beat Carlsen at a tournament. Then the leading chess website, which happens to be in the middle of an $83 million deal with Carlsen, produced an analysis of Niemann’s play in a number of online matches – finding Niemann’s play to be suspiciously computer-perfect. It’s easy to cheat in online chess by consulting a computer, but how might one cheat at an in-person game like the one in which Niemann beat Carlsen? That’s where theories went wild, including speculation about vibrating beads placed inside bodily orifices that a co-conspirator could trigger as a means of communication after getting computer input on a critical move. As all this was going on, Niemann was playing in the U.S. Chess Championships, where extraordinary security and cheating-detection measures were in place. After a slow start, he just finished seventh. Meanwhile, he was preparing a $100 million defamation lawsuit against Carlsen and others, which he just filed. The Guardian has more here.