News Roundup

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Tomorrow’s a UNC holiday, so I’m rounding up the week’s news a day early.

1. Professor Matthew Robinson of Appalachian State University released a new death penalty study this week, and held a press conference in Raleigh to announce it. According to this Winston-Salem Journal article, Professor Robinson “analyzed data from more than 20 studies on the death penalty” and found that they “were remarkably consistent in their conclusions — that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime, is racially biased and has led to people being wrongfully convicted.” It doesn’t appear that Professor Robinson gathered any new data, but perhaps the report will be of interest to some because it collects and summarizes several sources of information in one place.

2. I noted two weeks ago that Crystal Mangum, who falsely accused several Duke lacrosse players of rape, and later was convicted of child abuse and other charges arising out of a spat with a boyfriend, was facing assault charges after allegedly stabbing another boyfriend. Unfortunately, the most recent victim has died, and Ms. Mangum has now been charged with murder.

3. A couple of School of Government-related news items. First, an overactive spam filter has caused us intermittent trouble over the past few weeks receiving email from nccourts.org email addresses. We think the problem has been fixed, but if any of us have failed to respond to an email recently, we may never have received it. Feel free to try again, with our apologies for any inconvenience. Second, the indigent defense education group here has just posted the video of a recent webinar entitled Race and the Criminal Justice System. It features Defender Educator Alyson Grine, Orange/Chatham Public Defender James Williams, and Center for Death Penalty Litigation attorney Gretchen Engel, and it’s available here for free, though there is a fee if you want CLE credit for it.

4. Farther afield, my former home, California, has had a couple of interesting stories this week. Sentencing Law and Policy has this post about a California inmate’s lawsuit asking the state to pay for sex reassignment surgery. The inmate “was born male but lives as a female,” is serving a lengthy sentence for homicide, and argues that the surgery and “transfer to a women’s prison are the best way to protect her from rape and abuse by male inmates.” The story states that “according to a UC Irvine study [transgender inmates] are 13 times more likely to suffer sexual assault than other inmates.” Given that inmates who are sexually assaulted have sometimes been successful in suing prison authorities for failing to protect them, I wonder whether the cost of the operation — estimated at $15,000 to $50,000 — may be less than the cost of not paying for the operation.

5. In other news from the Golden State, former governor Arnold Schwarzenneger was recently interviewed about his decision to commute a 16-year homicide sentence to 7 years. The commutation has been controversial for several reasons, most notably that the defendant is the son of one of Mr. Schwarzenneger’s political allies. Although he previously expressed the view that the sentence was excessive, this news story reports that he acted in part because of his “working relationship” with the defendant’s father. He added: “Well, hello! I mean, of course you help a friend.”

6. Finally, a couple of tidbits for federal courts practitioners. Adam Liptak at the New York Times has this story about the “open rebellion” among federal judges regarding the implementation of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. The Act reduces the disparity between crack and powder sentences, but does so only for crimes committed after August 2010, meaning that judges are now sentencing crack defendants who committed their crimes before August to much longer sentences than required under current law. Some are refusing not to apply the new law to these defendants, which one commentator called “a revolt . . . of an oppressed people.” Ah, the hardship of being a federal judge! In other federal courts news, post-conviction lawyers may be interested in the new book reviewed here on Sentencing Law and Policy, which argues that federal habeas should be dramatically limited, to “capital cases and cases in which the prisoner can produce persuasive new evidence of his innocence.”

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4 comments on “News Roundup

  1. If the death penalty didn’t wait 20 years before action and completed its task within a year, the professor’s report wouldn’t exist. It would be a deterrent to a crime committed if swift action was imposed.

    Looking at what occurred in Chicago, we can see how criminals actually seek out how states react to the death penalty.
    http://www.suntimes.com/news/huntley/4896325-417/repeal-of-death-penalty-backfires.html

  2. Is this a misstatement or is the research suggesting a causal relationship between the death penalty being on the table and convictions? The quote from the article states, “… the death penalty doesn’t deter crime, is racially biased and has led to people being wrongfully convicted.” Should they have said, “wrongfully executed”?

  3. This revolt of the judges is a little strange. In numerous types of crimes, sentencing guidelines have been viewed as “advisory” but not necessarily binding. Judges are required to take them into account, but they’re supposed to be enforced in ways that give similarly situated defendants a similar sentence. This “revolt” sounds like the judges are trying to be heroic for doing what they were supposed to be doing in the first place.

  4. That he acted in part because of his “working relationship” with the defendant’s father. He added: “Well, hello! I mean, of course you help a friend.”

    This is outrageous and is a great example of the corruption in politics .

    Is it not possible for Arnold or any corrupt public official to be prosecuted after they leave office for corruption while in public office ?

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