The final version of my article “Imprisonment Inertia and Public Attitudes Toward ‘Truth in Sentencing'” is now available at the BYU Law Review website. Coauthored with Darren Wheelock, this article is based on research conducted through the Marquette Law School Poll. Here is the abstract:
In the space of a few short years in the 1990s, forty-two states adopted truth in sentencing (“TIS”) laws, which eliminated or greatly curtailed opportunities for criminal defendants to obtain parole release from prison. In the following decade, the pendulum seemingly swung in the opposite direction, with thirty-six states adopting new early release opportunities for prisoners. However, few of these initiatives had much impact, and prison populations continued to rise. The TIS ideal remained strong. In the hope of developing a better understanding of these trends and of the prospects for more robust early release reforms in the future, the authors conducted public opinion surveys of hundreds of Wisconsin voters in 2012 and 2013 and report the results here. Notable findings include the following: (1) public support for TIS is strong and stable; (2) support for TIS results less from fear of crime than from a dislike of the parole decisionmaking process (which helps to explain why support for TIS has remained strong even as crime rates have fallen sharply); (3) support for TIS is not absolute and inflexible, but is balanced against such competing objectives as cost-reduction and offender rehabilitation, (4) a majority of the public would favor release as early as the halfway point in a prison sentence if public safety would not be threatened, and (5) a majority would prefer to have release decisions made by a commission of experts instead of a judge.
For the past four years, Darren Wheelock and I have collaborated with Charles Franklin and the Marquette Law School Poll on a series of surveys of public attitudes toward sentencing and corrections policy in Wisconsin. Our 2015 results, released last week, seem to show remarkably high levels of support for prisoner rehabilitation. Of those who were asked, more than 80% expressed support for each of the following:
- Expanding counseling programs for prisoners
- Expanding job training programs for prisoners
- Expanding educational programs for prisoners
- Helping released offenders find jobs
At the same time, there are also indications of substantial, if somewhat lower, levels of support for various punitive policies:
Continue reading “Marquette Poll Reveals Support for Rehabilitation of Prisoners”
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court decided City of Los Angeles v. Patel, the fourth and final of its search-and-seizure cases this term. In Patel, the Court overturned a city ordinance requiring hotel operators to share information about their guests with the police.
Patel confirmed this as a good term for Fourth Amendment rights, joining Grady v. North Carolina (GPS tracking of sex offender counted as search for Fourth-Amendment purposes) and Rodriguez v. United States (police improperly extended traffic stop to conduct dog sniff of car). Less favorable, though, was Heien v. North Carolina (no suppression of evidence obtained after traffic stop that was based on officer’s reasonable mistake of law).
The remainder of this post will focus on Rodriguez, which strikes me as the most interesting of the Fourth-Amendment series. Broadly speaking, at issue was the extent to which the police can go on a fishing expedition when they pull over a driver for a traffic violation. Continue reading “Rodriguez v. United States: Supreme Court Says No to Prolonged Traffic Stops”
By guaranteeing criminal defendants the right to confront their accusers, the Sixth Amendment limits the ability of the government to use hearsay evidence against defendants at trial. Importantly, though, the Confrontation Clause only limits the use of statements that are “testimonial” in nature. A pair of Supreme Court cases from 2006 clarified what makes a statement testimonial, but left an important question unanswered. Last week, the Court finally provided an answer (sort of) in Ohio v. Clark.
Clark featured an unusually unsympathetic defendant who was convicted of physically abusing his girlfriend’s two very young children. Continue reading “Ohio v. Clark: The Supreme Court’s Latest Pronouncement on the Confrontation Clause”
As I noted in my post last week, the Supreme Court has a variety of interpretive tools at its disposal to rein in the ever-expanding reach of federal criminal law. Right on cue, the Court demonstrated the use of one of these tools this week in Elonis v. United States.
Elonis, a self-styled rapper, posted a variety of lyrics with violent themes on his Facebook page. Some of these lyrics related to his wife, some to coworkers, and some to law-enforcement personnel, among others. Elonis was eventually convicted under 18 U.S.C. §875(c), which prohibits individuals from transmitting in interstate commerce “any communication containing any threat . . . to injure the person of another.”
The Supreme Court reversed, ruling that Elonis’s jury had been improperly instructed.
Continue reading “Elonis v. United States: SCOTUS Again Adopts Narrowing Construction of Criminal Statute”
As we enter the home stretch of the Supreme Court term, I have been reviewing the criminal cases already decided by the Court this year. For my money, the most interesting is Yates v. United States, which presents a classic statutory interpretation problem. This was the fish case that got a fair amount of whimsical press coverage when it came out. Even the Justices proved incapable of avoiding fish puns in their opinions, but I’ll do my best not to get caught in that net. (Oops.)
Yates captained a commercial fishing vessel that was catching undersized grouper in violation of federal law. Following an inspection, some of the illegal catch was thrown back into the sea on Yates’s orders, presumably to avoid penalties. Yates was eventually convicted under 18 U.S.C. §1519, which authorizes a prison term of up to twenty years for anyone who “knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States . . . or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter.”
Continue reading “Yates v. United States: Overcoming Plain Meaning”
Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a voluminous report on uses of deadly force by the Philadelphia Police Department. In recent years, there has been a drop in both violent crime and assaults on police officers in the City of Brotherly Love, but officer-involved shootings (OISs) have remained stubbornly high. Amidst media coverage of rising OIS numbers in 2013, the Police Department requested assistance from the DOJ in order to assess the problem.
The new report, authored by George Fachner and Steven Carter, finds there were 394 OISs in Philadelphia between 2007 and 2014, for an average of 49 per year. The suspects were unarmed in 15% of the cases. Fachner and Carter provide a wealth of data regarding the 394 OISs and dozens of recommendations for the Department.
One recommendation is, “The PPD should publish a detailed report on use of force, including deadly force, on an annual basis. The report should be released to the public.”
I’m pleased to say that we are already doing such annual reports here in Milwaukee. How do the numbers compare?
Continue reading “Deadly Force in Philly (and Milwaukee)”
As I discussed in this post, Wisconsin has achieved one of the nation’s higher rates of reduction in imprisonment over the past decade. To be sure, New York, California, and a few other states have far outpaced Wisconsin in this regard, and Wisconsin’s prison population remains nearly ten times larger than it was in the early 1970s. Still, we may appreciate some overall net progress in the Badger State’s numbers since the mid-2000s. As indicated in the following chart, reduced imprisonment of drug offenders has played a central role in driving this trend:
Continue reading “Decline in Wisconsin Prison Population Results From Fewer Drug Offenders Behind Bars”
Over the past few months, on this blog and elsewhere, I’ve been arguing that Wisconsin should consider reinstituting good conduct time for prisoners, which provides for accelerated release based on good behavior behind bars. My writing on this topic is collected here. Earlier this week, Wisconsin Lawyer published my latest piece on GCT. I also did two short videos for Wisconsin Lawyer on GCT: here and here.