Learn from the Small Cases

In a new article from The Crime Report, taken from a NY Times article, small cases involving first-time offenders give big lessons to learn. The article is long, but has some great tidbits that all American’s can learn from. It get started this way:

Anthony, a 28 year-old African-American school bus driver with no criminal record, is in the passenger seat of a friend’s car when the police pull it over for a burned-out brake light. The cops search the car, and they find a pipe with marijuana residue in the console. In New York, simple possession of marijuana leads only to a civil violation, but the police describe this pipe as being “open to public view”— so they arrest both men and bump the charges up to misdemeanors.

Because of that charge, Anthony is automatically and immediately suspended from the job he has held for seven years, pending the disposition of the case.

And later it goes on to discuss why the prosecutor maintained the criminal charge, versus deflating it to a civil penalty. One year free and clear of crime was the first offer the prosecutor put forward in order to drop the misdemeanor charge. Anthony balked, and that was taken down to 90 days. That’s still three months without a paycheck. Anthony balked again and the case was rescheduled for hearing in another month. Anthony is unemployed until then.

The article continues:

We tend to think that the job of a conscientious justice professional is to protect a presumptively safe system from dishonest, lazy, or incompetent fellow humans. But in Anthony’s case none of the humans violated the rules. No one likes the outcome, but everyone did his or her individual job as they’d been taught to do it.

Does that mean no one is responsible? Safety experts in aviation, medicine, and other fields would say everyone is responsible.

The cops made the stop and wrote the “public view” application; the prosecutors “papered” the case and refused to throw out the misdemeanor; the defense failed to find a way to make the questionable basis for the charge count for something; the judge took the path of least resistance and gave the thing a new date.

All the while Anthony is out of a job, on the unemployment lines, and absorbing resources from the system rather than adding to them. First-time offenders often don’t do what is required to make situations like this better for them because the system just rolls over them in a cacophony of lethargy and apathy. Learn how to avoid mistakes first timers make to avoid looking at the unemployment line or worse.

Visit the First-Time-Offender website and read up on protecting yourself from becoming just another story.

Prosecutors and Bullying

The title of this post comes from the new essay, “Threats and Bullying by Prosecutors” by Bennett L. Gershman, a law professor at Pace University. The essay, available for free right here, is definitely worth a full read at only 19 pages, but below I will take a moment to highlight some of the sections and ways Professor Gershman deconstructs the ways prosecutors bully and threaten defendants. It starts out this way:

[Prosecutors] have been described as “virtuous,” “prudent,” “ethical,” “good,” “unique,” and “gamesmen.” But there is one persona that seems to have eluded characterization and commentary: the prosecutor as a bully. In fact, one of the most prominent features of U.S. prosecutors is their ability to threaten, intimidate, and embarrass anyone – defendants, witnesses, lawyers – without any accountability or apology. This is the conduct of a bully.

On Intimidating Grand Jury Witnesses

A state senator’s chief of staff is called in to testify against his boss. He doesn’t want to testify, but is granted immunity and told his refusal to testify can be punished with contempt, and lying is perjury. The witness says he can’t remember a meeting between his boss and a wealthy real estate developer…

The prosecutor, in an extremely agitated tone of voice exclaims: “You know you are lying. Don’t insult this grand jury. You’ll be in jail in a heartbeat unless you tell the truth. You’ll be finished. You will never work again.”
Are the prosecutor’s threats a legitimate exercise of prosecutorial power? Do these threats enhance or degrade the prosecutor’s ethical duty to serve justice?

More Highlights

Gershman goes on to highlight prosecutorial conduct in coercing guilty pleas, attacking defense experts, bullying defense witnesses (and even their own prosecution witnesses), compelling waiver of civil rights claims, retaliation, demagoguery, shaming, and coercing corporate cooperation.

Look for future posts highlighting more sections of this important essay. Any first-time offender will learn quickly how true this information is. He or she will feel bullied and coerced by the prosecuting attorney and wonder how this is part of the legal system they’ve been taught to trust. A fantastic guide for all first time offenders can be found at the first-time-offender website, which hosts the ultimate resource for anybody facing their first charge.

Opportunity After Federal Prison

The United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey had some interesting comments about community release after incarceration. Normally, the American standard of criminal justice involves putting away the bad guys. After that, the narrative seems to stop.

Unfortunately for that narrative, and fortunately for defendants and inmates, nearly everybody that goes to prison gets release. What happens then? Most don’t know.

In early July, 2014 the United States Sentencing Commission released and confirmed their new drug guidelines that will not only make drug sentences shorter, but apply them retroactively (eventually)1.

Below is an excerpt from an opinion article written by the above-mentioned US Attorney regarding opportunities for inmates after they get released, but the entire piece entitled “Ex offenders get time, now they need opportunity” is worth a full read.

Every year, my office prosecutes several hundred defendants who have violated criminal laws passed by Congress. For most of those defendants, a term in federal prison is warranted. Whether they are public officials who betray their oaths, predators who threaten the safety of our neighborhoods and our children, or thieves who cheat the health care system, investors or the government — incarceration is the appropriate punishment.

But prison is usually not meant to last forever. More than 95 percent of federal prisoners will be released after serving their sentences. Altogether, 700,000 federal and state prisoners are released every year, along with millions more who stream through local jails.

Most return to their communities, trying to put their lives back together and avoid the pitfalls that got them in trouble. Bearing the stain of their convictions, they compete for jobs, look for housing and seek educational opportunities.

A staggering number don’t succeed. Nationally, two-thirds of people released from state prisons are arrested again; half of those will end up back inside. Forty percent of federal prisoners return to jail in the first three years.

This level of recidivism is unacceptable. Offenders, their families and their communities are devastated by it. Public safety suffers for it. And with more than $74 billion spent annually on federal, state and local corrections, we can’t afford it.

Prison alone isn’t enough. Any smart law enforcement model prevents crime by supporting ex-offenders. That is why my U.S. Attorney’s Office — along with federal judges, the federal public defender, and the U.S. Probation Office — began the “ReNew” program, a federal re-entry court in Newark. Those leaving federal prison at serious risk of reoffending are invited to participate.

They are closely supervised, meeting biweekly with federal Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo, our office, and the federal defenders, and more regularly with probation officers. And they are supported in obtaining housing, jobs, education, counseling and legal assistance. My office provides services to the team and participants and supervises research into the program’s efficacy.

This week, the judge will preside over the first graduation ceremony for those who have successfully completed 52 weeks in the program. It is a hugely inspiring milestone for everyone involved, but especially for the graduates reimagining their lives despite great adversity….

Recently, my office launched the New Jersey Re-entry Council, a partnership with acting New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman, other federal and state agencies, and NGO community members to share resources and ideas.

But there is one more partner we need: you. Finding a job after release is the most important key to success. In a recovering economy, securing a job after prison can be especially difficult. If you have a company that can train or hire our participants, or if you have access to housing, we need to hear from you….

One of every 100 adults in the United States is behind bars. Most will come home. They will have paid their debt and need a chance to support themselves, their families and their communities. We can look at ex-offenders returning to our communities as a risk, or we can help give them that chance. The potential rewards for their lives, for the economy and for our safety are incalculable.

  1. The Sentencing Commission is using a phased and delayed approach to actually releasing inmates early from federal prison []

Support for Early Termination of Supervised Release

When asking a sentencing court to terminate a defendant’s supervision early, scoring points with objective facts is important. Many judges don’t see early termination as routine, and only grant these requests in exceptional cases.

What can change their mind? In part, convince judges that keeping you on supervision is expensive and dangerous. Sound impossible? Read on…

Protect the Public

Early Termination of Supervised Release

The US Courts puts out the Federal Probation Journal 3 times a year. This past fall, the Journal posted findings of a study comparing those on probation versus those on supervised release. It also compared those who were terminated early from supervised release to those who went full term. The results were pretty startling.

The article gets started this way:

UNDER 18 U.S.C. §§ 3564(c) and 3583(e)(1), the court may terminate terms of probation in misdemeanor cases at any time and terms of supervised release or probation in felony cases after the expiration of one year of supervision, if satisfied that such action is warranted by the conduct of an offender and is in the interest of justice. As such, early termination is a practice that holds promise as a positive incentive for persons under supervision and as a measure to contain costs in the judiciary without compromising the mission of public safety.

Those released early from supervision (regardless if that supervision was probation or supervised release) had half the re-arrest rate in the years after their early termination than those with natural expiration.

…almost 15 percent (14.7) of all cases in the study cohort had a new arrest and offenders who served their entire supervision term had a rate nearly twice that of the offenders who received early termination (19.2 percent to 10.2 percent, respectively). Similarly, the rearrest rates for both study groups for major offenses only were tabulated (see Table 6). When minor offenses are excluded, the recidivism rates for both early-term and full-term offenders are considerably lower, but the proportion of rearrests between the two groups is consistent. Only 5.9 percent of early-term offenders were rearrested for a major offense following their release from supervision compared to 12.2 percent of full-term offenders.

This isn’t a magic bullet, but it certainly furthers any argument toward gaining release from federal oversight.

Appeal Waivers and Supervised Release

Federal Plea Agreements

The Devil is in the Details

Over 95% of federal defendants plead guilty, according the the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Because of Bill Otis, Law Professor and contributor to Crime and Consequences, most plea agreements now come with appeal waivers: a waiver of the defendant’s right to appeal.

On the surface, at least to this blogger, the waiver of appeal would bar any appeal of conviction and sentence (except for maybe the habeas writ from 18 U.S.C. §2255). What about the imposed terms or conditions of Supervised Release? Are you barred from appealing or moving to change these?

This is one of those times that it really matters where you are convicted.

The Fifth Circuit – Out of Luck

From US. v. Scallon and Findlaw’s 5th Circuit Blog:

Unlike Cooley v. United States, in which the Fifth Circuit ruled that a waiver of appeal didn’t bar a defendant from appealing if he was “sentenced to a term of imprisonment based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission,” there were no altered guidelines for supervised release in Scallon’s case.

Signing a plea agreement and waiver of appeal may get your client out of jail faster — or help him avoid jail altogether — but it also means he waives his right to appeal. Make sure your plea-bargaining clients understand that “waiver of appeal” is more than just terminology; in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, it’s binding on both the sentence and the supervised release terms.

The Third Circuit – Have at It

From U.S. v. Wilson and Findlaw’s 3rd Circuit Blog we get the opposite answer:

When a criminal defendant waives his right to appeal, the courts take him at his word that he is, in fact, waiving appeals.

A lot of the defendants don’t think that “waiving appeal” means what the courts think it means (Inconceivable!) and they appeal anyway. It usually doesn’t work. But a Third Circuit concluded this week that a waiver of appeal did not bar an appeal of an order modifying the terms and conditions of supervised release.

So there it is, a circuit split that helps some but not others. If you’re surprised at the 5th Circuit’s conservative reading of appeal waivers, then you must be new to the game. Anybody willing to take bets on the 9th?

Hilarity in a Federal Probation Revocation Hearing

“After violating the terms of his supervised release, Appellant was sentenced to prison and an additional period of supervised release, including special conditions. The Fifth Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion by imposing the special condition without demonstrating that the condition was reasonably related to statutory factors.”

The above quote comes from a federal probation revocation hearing, published online over at the Federal Criminal Appeals Blog, and is part of a larger (sometimes humorous) story of a man named Sammy Salazar (US v. Salazar, 5th Cir 2014). Mr. Salazar was serving a 10-year suspended sentence for third degree sexual abuse when he failed to register as a sex offender and earned himself a new felony.

Time served, plus fifteen (15) years of supervised release with a bunch of special conditions on his supervision. He appealed those special conditions and got a bunch removed.1

Later, Mr. Salazar assaulted somebody in his family2 and got his supervision revoked: prison for 12 months and 14 years of supervision.  Again along with a bunch of special conditions of supervision.

Defense attorney objected, and led to the funniest written exchange between judge and lawyer I’ve seen in a long time:

Judge : Counsel, I’m aware that this is what went up on appeal because they weren’t written at the time of the sentence. This is not the original sentence. This is a new sentence on revocation. I am adding these conditions. I may do so under the terms of the supervised release and a revocation. So these are additional conditions that I am imposing on the revocation.

Saad: Then Your Honor, we would object and make a new objection that they’re overly burdensome and …

Jude: Overruled, counselor.

Saad: …and…

Judge: Overruled.

Saad: Thank you, Your Honor.

Judge: Overruled.

The defense attorney pissed the judge off to the point where defense’s GRATITUDE was overruled. Well done counselor.

  1. Removal of these special conditions wasn’t because Salazar didn’t need them, or deserve them, it was simply because the judge ordered only a few of these special conditions out loud in court. The rest of the conditions were snuck in outside of oral orders and were thrown out by the Appeals Court. []
  2. without a doubt, Mr. Salazar isn’t a man I want to get to know. Most times, important decisions are made and important precedents are set because of very unlikeable characters such as Salazar []

Shadow Sentencing: The Imposition of Supervised Release

A paper posted to SSRN back a few weeks ago takes a close look at the imposition and issues surrounding federal supervised release. Nearly all visitors to PCR Consultants are supervised by the United States Probation Office (USPO) and want to know more. Want to find relief. We offer services that help former offenders get early release from supervision, but our goal is also to create some community.

After completing post incarceration supervision, there isn’t much a former offender hasn’t experienced with the criminal justice system. The entire paper is worth a read, but below is how it gets started:

More than 95 percent of people sentenced to a term of imprisonment in the federal system are also sentenced to a term of supervised release. Since it was first established in the late 1980s, nearly one million people have been sentenced to federal supervised release. The human and fiscal costs of this widespread imposition are significant. Supervised release substantially restricts an individual’s liberty and people on supervised release receive diminished legal and constitutional protections. The fiscal costs of supervised release are also high, particularly when almost one third of people on supervised release will have their supervision revoked and will return to prison.

Despite the importance of supervised release, little is known about how and why sentencing judges impose supervised release and what purpose it is supposed to serve in the federal criminal justice system. In most cases, supervised release is not mandatory and yet judges consistently fail to exercise their discretion in this area and impose supervised release in virtually all cases. Based on an empirical study of sentencing decisions in the Eastern District of New York, this article uncovers previously unidentified features of supervised release. It finds that judges widely impose supervised release without any apparent consideration of the purpose served by the sentence. This article argues that supervised release is over-used and proposes a new framework for its imposition to ensure that courts only impose supervised release on people who need it.

You can download and read the entire 51 page piece by clicking this link.

Read more about supervision on this site by visiting our page dedicated to federal supervision.

Obama Clemency Plans for Hundreds of Drug Offenders

The title of this post comes from this Yahoo News article today. A new plan for Obama clemency policy is going to be official. Below is how the article gets started:

 

Barbara Scrivner’s long quest for mercy tests a president’s will — and her own faith

DUBLIN, Calif—Scrawled on the inside of Barbara Scrivner’s left arm is a primitive prison tattoo that says “Time Flies.”

If only that were the case.

For Scrivner, time has crawled, it’s dawdled, and on bad days, it’s felt like it’s stood completely still. She was 27 years old when she started serving a 30-year sentence in federal prison for selling a few ounces of methamphetamine. Now, 20 years later, she feels like she’s still living in the early ’90s—she’s never seen or touched a cellphone, she still listens to her favorite band, the Scorpions, and she carefully coats her eyelids in electric blue eye shadow in the morning.

It’s out there, outside of prison, where time flies.

On a sunny afternoon at a federal prison outside San Francisco last month, Scrivner nervously clutched a manila envelope full of photos of herself and her daughter that she keeps in her cell. As she displays the pictures, Scrivner’s daughter Alannah, who was just 2 years old when her mom was put away, changes from a redheaded, freckled young kid to a sullen teen to a struggling young mom. Scrivner changes in the photos, too. At first she’s a plump-cheeked beauty with chestnut-brown hair, then she’s a bleached-blonde woman in her early 30s, before becoming increasingly gaunt as the years grind on.

Today, she most resembles a 40-something high school volleyball coach, in her grey sweatshirt and neatly brushed-out dark bangs. But instead of a whistle around her neck, Barbara wears a large silver crucifix — though she describes her relationship with God as “complicated.”

“I believe in God,” Scrivner says. “I’m really mad with him.”

Her faith has helped her to try to make sense of what feels like an arbitrarily, even cruelly long sentence for her minor role helping her drug dealer husband. But 20 years behind bars has also tested that faith, and even caused her to question whether her life has any meaning or is worth living.

Read the rest of this great article.

A Good Week For Federal Probation Termination

The Feeling of Freedom after federal probation termination

Here at PCR Consultants we periodically like to share our success stories with readers and future clients. Since the launch of our Federal Supervision Release services, we have seen a large increase in the number of visitors seeking federal probation termination (that’s the official term for early release from federal probation) and a lot of their successes are coming in.

In the week of March 11-17th, 2013 two such success stories came to us back-to-back. Their release dates are over three weeks apart, but we heard the news last week. With the permission of the clients, we’ve published one testimonial and both of their release orders below. (Names and case numbers are redacted per client request).

Successes

These are just the first few:

Our first client was one of the first to sign up and use our online document services to prepare his Motion to Terminate Supervised Release. His motion was filed on 12/3/12, termination order was issued on 1/18/13. That is 46 days from filing to early termination of federal supervised release.

For those that keep track, he served just over 23 out of 48 months on supervision. Its great news when we see clients release before even serving half their term! Take a look at his release order.

Our second client success story of the week petitioned outside of her supervisory district because court oversight was never transferred to where she lived and was supervised. She served 41 months out of 48, and was released on 2/13/13 (docketed filing date not specified on record). Take a look at her release order.

She even supplied a testimonial, which she has allowed us to publish as well:

“My name is [withheld] & I am writing to say thanks for your assistance on my Motion for Early Termination of Supervised Release. I talked to & worked a lot with Eric prior to obtaining PCR’s assistance as well as after hiring the company. I am pleased to inform you that the motion for Early Termination of Supervised Release was granted and I am no longer under supervision or in care of the federal government or a probation officer. Originally, I had wanted to file in Colorado Springs rather than the state I was convicted in (NE) & for good reasons but unbelievably NE granted the termination & I have the papers to prove it, lol. Thank You (everyone involved) for all your help! I will be letting others know and referring your business to those who, like myself, are just a waste of time and taxpayers money. Sincerely,
[withheld]”

Thank you for those kind words!