Sentencing Law

Jodi Arias

Jodi Arias

* When asked what his favorite SCOTUS decision was during his POTUS tenure, Obama said it was the high court’s cert denials on the gay marriage cases. Well played, sir. [Wall Street Journal]

* “Leverage has started to shift away from law firms.” Despite the fact that their headcounts are rising, Biglaw firms are downsizing office space as rents keep climbing higher. [Am Law Daily]

* Schools are trying to slap lipstick on the pig that legal education has become amid an “anemic job market.” We bet your law school has some shiny new innovations too. [News Observer]

* Citing the fact that “the courts do not exist to win popularity contests,” a judge sentenced Oscar Pistorius to five years in prison. Serious question: Will he be allowed to bring his prosthetic legs? [New York Times]

* Nancy Grace and her friends have pitchforks at the ready because Jodi Arias’s penalty phase retrial begins today, and another jury will decide if she deserves to die for murdering her boyfriend. [Reuters]

In a criminal case in federal court, if you are acquitted at trial of almost all of the charges against you, you can still be sentenced as though you were convicted of all of the charges against you, when the judge disagrees with the jury’s decision. That is off-the-rails crazy.

The point of a trial, of course, is to figure out if someone is going to go to prison for doing something. The jury’s decision about what a person did should be what controls what crime the person is sentenced for committing. Yet that’s not what judges do.

To be sure, there are some cases where judges use sentencing decisions to express concerns, perhaps, about the jury’s verdict. Such as when Barry Bonds was given a light sentence for committing something that was probably not a crime. Or when a woman in Indiana was convicted in a highly questionable prosecution after being inappropriately skewered with unfair questions on cross.

But that’s a judge using her power to set a sentence while respecting the decision of a jury. She accepts what the jury decided, then takes that into account — in addition to other things — when imposing sentence.

When a judge gives someone more time in prison based on something that a jury already decided the person wasn’t guilty of, it’s very different. That’s an insult to the jury and is really hard to square with how the law of federal sentencing has been developing lately.

This week, the Supreme Court had a chance to fix that. It didn’t.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Supreme Court Lets You Go To Prison (Longer) For What You Weren’t Convicted Of”

Amanda Bynes

* Law schools are in trouble, but Cooley Law is “going strong” — after all, only “28 percent of last year’s graduates at its Michigan campuses failed to land jobs as lawyers within nine months.” You’re really doing it wrong. [Tampa Bay Times]

* This guy broke into the University of Oregon School of Law three times, and all he got were these computers for hipsters and a crappy 11-year sentence. (He should’ve broken into the football facility for better loot.) [Register-Guard]

* Should you go to law school if you know for a fact that you don’t want to be a lawyer? This is the type of question that would render your ATL editors unable to even. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

* Amanda Bynes has been placed on a 5150 psychiatric hold, and people suddenly care about mental health law. It’s sad that it takes a celebrity to make people care about these issues. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Marijuana is making its way to the ballot in some states this November, but before you vote, here’s a primer on where it’s legal to smoke weed, where it might be, and where it’s not. [Washington Post]


Justice Joan Orie Melvin

* How are Nevada and Idaho officials reacting to yesterday’s Ninth Circuit ruling striking down gay marriage bans in those states, and how soon might marriages get underway? [BuzzFeed]

* In other LGBT legal news, New York City is likely to make it easier for transgender individuals to amend their birth certificates. [New York Times]

* Good news for Joan Orie Melvin, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice turned convicted felon: her unorthodox sentence has been stayed (again). [How Appealing]

* Eduardo Leite, who has led Baker & McKenzie since 2010, gets another two years at the helm of Biglaw’s biggest firm. [American Lawyer]

* Cravath associate Micaela McMurrough scores a victory in tax court for artists. [New York Times]

* The ABA has issued a new opinion addressing ethical issues raised during the sale of a law practice. [American Bar Association]

* Why do lawyers blog? Tim Baran of Rocket Matter talks to 23 of us. [Legal Productivity]

She’s coming down with a bad case of ‘going to get a pony.’

Remember the “affluenza” kid? His name is Ethan Couch and the teenager went on an alcohol-fueled joyride after a party in the mansion his parents had bought for him. The joyride resulted in the death of 4 people and the injury of multiple others as alcohol-fueled joyrides are wont to do. Except Couch avoided the fate of pretty much any other person who might kill 4 people on the back of a clinical psychologist’s expert opinion that Couch suffered from a mental condition that he coined as “affluenza” — basically as a rich, privileged tool, the kid couldn’t be held responsible for his actions.

Most people found this ridiculous. Elie went so far as to call for the parents to be jailed. Which has a certain Nancy Grace-style emotional appeal, but also kind of feeds the argument that this kid himself should continue to remain shielded from the consequences of his actions. It also fans the flames of the same parent-policing logic that ends with people getting arrested for letting their kids play outside. But in any event, the fact that a juvenile system judge with a reputation for harsh punishments for poor, black kids — she sent a 14-year-old black kid to jail for 10 years for punching a kid who fell and hit his head resulting in his death — sent a 16-year-old, rich, white kid willfully driving drunk to a country club rehab facility — conveniently paid for mostly by taxpayers — exposed everything wrong with privilege in America.

Now the case raises another debate about privilege. One of the victims who survived the accident is suing and wants to see exactly how this clinical psychologist came to his groundbreaking diagnosis that rich kids don’t have to go to jail, and Couch’s lawyers are fighting that disclosure tooth and nail….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Affluenza Kid And Privilege (This Time The Evidentiary Kind)”

Jodi Arias

I do not believe it is in your best interest … I strongly urge you to reconsider.

– Judge Sherry Stephens, shortly before she granted Jodi Arias’s request to represent herself during the second penalty phase of her murder trial. In April 2013, Arias was convicted of murdering her ex-boyfriend.

Convicted murderer Joseph Wood’s execution began at 1:52 p.m. yesterday. He was pronounced dead at 3:49 p.m., according to a statement from Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. Some witnesses insist that Wood continued to gasp for air at least 600 times after he was supposedly fully sedated. Others argue that he was merely snoring. Everyone agrees that the lethal injection process took a lot longer than the expected. Death by lethal injection typically occurs within ten minutes or so.

America has grown accustomed to long delays in carrying out the death penalty. Inmates sit on death row for years, even decades. As Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote, “Old age, not execution, is the most serious risk factor for inmates at the San Quentin death row.” We may be used to delays before denizens of death row get to the death chamber, but we have only recently started to see delays once an execution has actually begun….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Is The Death Penalty Worth It?”

My experience with federal court is limited to three months externing for a district judge after first year of law school (that and testifying in a homicide case, but that’s another column).  The time was occasionally depressing (can you say “pro se”?), always sobering (you mean the judge is actually going to rely on my legal research??), and ultimately a decent dose of reality after enduring nine months of the alter-world that is being a 1L.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Qui Tam: District Court”

Lindsay Lohan

* Noah “Kai” Newkirk, the protestor who disrupted Supreme Court arguments in February, was sentenced to time served and barred from the court. Don’t worry, we’ll get you all the SCOTUS clerk news you need, cutie. [Associated Press]

* “There are still a lot of firms out there hoping the good old days are going to return, and are finally coming to the realization that that isn’t going to happen.” More on Biglaw layoffs. [Am Law Daily]

* Yet another law school gets its rating downgraded by Moody’s. As a standalone school with “substantial declines in JD enrollment,” Vermont Law’s outlook is now negative. Sad trombone. [Moody's]

* Jason Bohn, the heavily indebted law school grad once profiled by the New York Times, was convicted of murdering his girlfriend last month, and now he’s been sentenced to serve life in prison. [New York Post]

* “Is the Tax Code really 70,000 pages long?” No, not really. We wonder who started the rumor that it was so long, because in reality, it’s only about 2,600 pages long — which is still way, way too long. [Slate]

* It appears that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree with this celebrity family. Lindsay Lohan’s mother, Dina Lohan, pleaded guilty yesterday to drunken driving and speeding charges in New York. [CNN]

Robert Richards IV

Sex offenders are the lowest of the low in prison. He’s a rich, white boy who is a wuss and a child perv. The prison can’t protect them, and Jan Jurden knows that reality. She is right on.

– Defense attorney Joseph A. Hurley, commenting on Judge Jan Jurden’s sentence of probation for DuPont heir Robert H. Richards IV as punishment for the fourth-degree rape of his 3-year-old daughter. Jurden noted in her sentencing order that Richards would not “fare well” in prison.

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