Thursday, September 03, 2015

Minimum Mandatory Sentencing in Florida

A comprehensive overview of the history of minimum mandatory sentences by the State of Florida and Federal governments has been prepared. Any rational legislator should see that this type of sentencing scheme is a bad idea.

You have to spend a little time, but this power-point is truly worth the effort.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

If the Death Penalty does not Deter, it must be Abolished

Does the Death Penalty Deter Killers?
BY JOHN DONOHUE 8/19/15 AT 12:43 PM

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

Capital punishment is such a costly, controversial and divisive issue that, unless it succeeds in saving lives, it clearly should be abolished–as it already has been in the European Union and 101 countries around the world.

But does the death penalty save lives? Let’s consider the relevant factors and the evidence.

Some feel the question of whether the death penalty deters can be argued as a matter of theory: Capital punishment is worse than other penalties, therefore it must lead to fewer killings. This contention misses much of the complexity of the modern death penalty.

First, theory can’t tell us whether the spectacle of state-sanctioned killings operates to unhinge marginal minds into thinking that their own grievances merit similar forms of retribution that they then try to inflict on their own. Even if some other criminals were deterred by the death penalty, one must ask whether these avoided crimes would be more than offset by the possible brutalization effect.

Second, operating a death penalty regime—at least in the United States—has been incredibly costly, as each case resulting in a death sentence will spend years in various types of legal appeals, eating up the valuable time of judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers, overwhelmingly at government expense.

The best research on the issue suggests that life imprisonment is a less costly penalty, since locking someone up is far less expensive than both locking them up and paying a team of lawyers for many years—often decades—to debate whether a sentence of death should be imposed. In California, for example,execution is only the third leading cause of death for those on death row (behind old age and suicide).

Some might contend that the lengthy appeals are a needless burden that should be jettisoned so that the penalty is administered more cheaply and quickly, but the large number of exonerations of those on death row (155, including 21 by DNA evidence, at last count) underscores the danger of any effort to short circuit the judicial process.

Killing a few innocent defendants is an unavoidable consequence of having a capital regime—so unless there is some clear evidence of deterrence, it is hard to argue positively for the death penalty.

Lack of Evidence

So what is the evidence on deterrence? Here the answer is clear: There is not the slightest credible statistical evidence that capital punishment reduces the rate of homicide.

Whether one compares the similar movements of homicide in Canada and the U.S., when only the latter restored the death penalty, or in American states that have abolished it versus those that retain it, or in Hong Kong and Singapore (the first abolishing the death penalty in the mid-1990s, and the second greatly increasing its usage at the same), there is no detectable effect of capital punishment on crime. The best econometric studies reach the same conclusion.

A number of studies—all of which, unfortunately, are only available via subscription—purported to find deterrent effects, but all of these studies collapse after errors in coding, measuring statistical significance, or in establishing causal relationships are corrected. A panel of the National Academy of Sciences addressed the deterrence question directly in 2012 and unanimously concluded that there was no credible evidence that the death penalty deters homicides.

The report went on to say that the issue of deterrence should be removed from any discussion of the death penalty given this lack of credible evidence. But if the deterrence argument disappears, so does the case for the death penalty.

Those familiar with criminal justice issues are not surprised by the lack of deterrence. To get the death penalty in the United States one has to commit an extraordinarily heinous crime, as evidenced by the fact that last year roughly 14,000 murders were committed but only 35 executions took place.

Since murderers typically expose themselves to far greater immediate risks, the likelihood is incredibly remote that some small chance of execution many years after committing a crime will influence the behavior of a sociopathic deviant who would otherwise be willing to kill if his only penalty were life imprisonment.

Any criminal who actually thought he would be caught would find the prospect of life without parole to be a monumental penalty. A criminal who didn’t think he would be caught would be untroubled by any sanction.

Wasted Resources

A better way to address the problem of homicide is to take the resources that would otherwise be wasted in operating a death penalty regime and use them on strategies that are known to reduce crime, such as hiring and properly training police officers and solving crimes.

Over the past three decades, there has been a downward trend in the number of murders that lead to arrest and conviction to the point that only about half of all murders are now punished. The graphic below shows the steady decline in the number of homicides cleared by arrest in Connecticut, which mimics the national trend. Of course, even if there is an arrest, there may not be a conviction, so the percentage of killers who are punished is smaller than this figure suggests.

Murder cases cleared by arrest or other means: 1970 - 2009 JOHN DONOHOE

Far better for both justice and deterrence is if the resources saved by scrapping the death penalty could be used to increase the chance that killers would be caught and punished—and taken off the streets.

To give a sense of the burden of capital punishment, note that over the past 35 years the state of California spent roughly $4 billion to execute 13 individuals. The $4 billion would have been enough to hire roughly 80,000 police officers who, if appropriately assigned, would be expected to prevent 466 murders (and much other crime) in California—far more than any of the most optimistic (albeit discredited) views of the possible benefits of capital punishment.

In other words, since the death penalty is a costly and inefficient system, its use will waste resources that could be expended on crime-fighting measures that are known to be effective. It is not surprising that last summer a federal judge ruled that California’s capital regime is unconstitutional on the grounds that it serves no legitimate penological interest.

The sharp decline in executions in the U.S. from the peak of 98 in 1999 down to 35 last year (with death sentences falling from a 1996 peak of 315 to 73), coupled with the steady pace of states abolishing the death penalty over the past eight years (including conservative Nebraska in May), shows that “smart on crime” entails shunning capital punishment.

With zero evidence that the death penalty provides any tangible benefits and very clear indications of its monetary, human and social costs, this is one program about which there can be little debate that its costs undeniably outweigh any possible benefits.

John Donohue is C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith professor of law atStanford University.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Broken Windows Theory

[Policing]  Broken Windows Theory

In 1982, the late scholar James Q. Wilson published "The Broken Windows Theory," that he conceived as a new way to controlling crime. Wilson believed  that order in a neighborhood could be maintained by the prosecution of minor violations which would curtail more severe crime later. This broken windows policing, critics say, leads to police violence against black and brown men. Because of the deaths of an unarmed 18-year-old black male gunned down in Ferguson, Mo., an unarmed black man that died in a police chokehold in Staten Island, N.Y. when he resisted arrest, and a 12-year-old black boy armed with a toy gun who was arbitrarily shot to death by the police  in Cleveland, Ohio, many Americans have finally become aware that they live in a violent culture, at least in the treatment of black and brown men by the police.
What is the cause of this rampant police brutality against men of color? Incidents so uncivilized that the criticism seems justified when one considers that trivial violations led to the violence. Michael Brown was shot to death in Ferguson, Mo. for ignoring a police officer’s command to stop walking in the middle of the street. Eric Gardner died on a Staten Island, N.Y. street protesting his arrest by the police for selling cigarettes without a permit - a misdemeanor.  However, the problem of police violence against black men will not be resolved simply by ignoring the enforcement of petty offenses. There is no acceptable justification for this violent police conduct, although many would like to believe just the opposite, finding mitigating flaws in police rules and procedures. A common target of criticism is the so-called “broken windows” policing policies.
The  futility of that approach, not too long ago, was demonstrated by New York police after a mentally ill man shot and killed two of their fellow officers. During the funeral services for the slain officers, some policemen disrespected the Mayor by turning their backs during his remarks. The officers felt the mayor had shown too much sympathy to protesters of police violence. Mayor Bill de Blasio, the father of a bi-racial son and daughter, once said he, like many other parents of black and brown children, was concerned for the safety of his son should he be confronted by the police.
According to the New York Times, there has been a precipitous decline in the issuance of summonses by the police for public drinking, public urination and parking violations, as well as drug arrests. Nonetheless, there has been no demonstration of a reduction in the conflict between the police and black men.
Residents of urban neighborhoods will not likely feel closer to the police when their quality of life deteriorates because of police recalcitrance. The broken windows strategy works better when there already is a good relationship between the police and the community.
The police are public servants. Citizens with wealth and status in society will not tolerate abusive police behavior. The police understand that, so their conduct is respectful and professional. A major deviation from that standard will result in their dismissal.
The real objective of police reform is to establish that same standard of police conduct in low-income neighborhoods. Community policing is designed to establish an almost collegial relationship between the citizens and the police. The addition of body cameras has been shown to reduce excessive police force.
Americans must now be willing to adopt imaginative programs to end the police victimization of black and brown men.  
Ed James II is the host of Black Almanac