Monday, March 30, 2015

Another area where our criminal justice system is failing

This time it's prisons.  The N.Y. Times Magazine took a close look at our prison system and it isn't pretty. The first article is about our SuperMax.  It's really really bad:
Inmates at the ADX spend approximately 23 hours of each day in solitary confinement. Jones had never been so isolated before. Other prisoners on his cellblock screamed and banged on their doors for hours. Jones said the staff psychiatrist stopped his prescription for Seroquel, a drug taken for bipolar disorder, telling him, “We don’t give out feel-good drugs here.” Jones experienced severe mood swings. To cope, he would work out in his cell until he was too tired to move. Sometimes he cut himself. In response, guards fastened his arms and legs to his bed with a medieval quartet of restraints, a process known as four-pointing.
 The second is about Norway's prison system and its attempt to rehabilitate:
To anyone familiar with the American correctional system, Halden seems alien. Its modern, cheerful and well-­appointed facilities, the relative freedom of movement it offers, its quiet and peaceful atmosphere — these qualities are so out of sync with the forms of imprisonment found in the United States that you could be forgiven for doubting whether Halden is a prison at all. It is, of course, but it is also something more: the physical expression of an entire national philosophy about the relative merits of punishment and forgiveness.
The treatment of inmates at Halden is wholly focused on helping to prepare them for a life after they get out. Not only is there no death penalty in Norway, there are no life sentences. The maximum term for any crime is 21 years — even for Anders Behring Breivik, who is responsible for probably the deadliest recorded rampage in the world, in which he killed 77 people and injured hundreds more in 2011 by detonating a bomb at a government building in Oslo and then opening fire at a nearby summer camp. “Better out than in” is an unofficial motto of the Norwegian Correctional Service, which makes a reintegration guarantee to all released inmates. It works with other government agencies to secure a home, a job and access to a supportive social network for each inmate before release; Norway’s social safety net also provides health care, education and a pension to all citizens. With one of the highest per capita gross domestic products of any country in the world, thanks to the profits from oil production in the North Sea, Norway is in a good position to provide all of this, and spending on the Halden prison runs to more than $93,000 per inmate per year, compared with just $31,000 for prisoners in the United States, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization.
 That might sound expensive. But if the United States incarcerated its citizens at the same low rate as the Norwegians do (75 per 100,000 residents, versus roughly 700), it could spend that much per inmate and still save more than $45 billion a year. At a time when the American correctional system is under scrutiny — over the harshness of its sentences, its overreliance on solitary confinement, its racial disparities — citizens might ask themselves what all that money is getting them, besides 2.2 million incarcerated people and the hardships that fall on the families they leave behind. The extravagant brutality of the American approach to prisons is not working, and so it might just be worth looking for lessons at the opposite extreme, here in a sea of blabaerskog, or blueberry forest.
 Our system clearly isn't working.  Both Republicans and Democrats agree on this.  Think about that for a second -- both sides, who can't agree on anything, agree our criminal justice system is not working: from overcriminalization, to our prisons, to our sentencing guidelines, to Brady issues, and on and on.  People want change.

But our judges are awfully quiet on these topics.  Sure, the Supreme Court talks the talk about overcriminalization (Yeager), and the occasional judge (see, e.g., Judge Gleeson and Judge Kozinski) actually does something about the executive going too far.  But by and large, the judiciary hasn't stepped up as a check against the executive branch on criminal justice issues, and unfortunately, that's why we find ourselves where we do. 

Come on, Southern District of Florida Judges! Giving a 3 or 6 month variance here and there isn't going to change the system.  It's time to act and make a difference.  Where the government overcharges, dismiss an indictment.  Where the sentencing guidelines are absurd for first time non-violent offenders, give a reasonable sentence that doesn't include jail.  Where our executive branch -- including BOP -- goes too far, step up!  Avengers Assemble!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

SDFLA ranks second in courtroom hours per judge

Here's an interesting piece on judicial productivity by Judge William Young and Jordan Singer.  It discusses how courtroom hours are way down across the board.  But our District still has quite a bit of in court hours, and we rank second in that category at 661 hours per judge in 2013.

Thanks to my one of my favorite tipsters for the info.

Here's another interesting piece by Josh Blackmon on the "disrespectful dissent."  As you can imagine, Justice Scalia leads the way with dissents without respect:

At the end of Justice Scalia’s dissent in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, he dropped the jurisprudential mic.Accordingly, I dissent.Much like Rodney Dangerfield, Justice Breyer’s majority opinion gets no respect. Justice Scalia is no stranger to the disrespectful dissent. ***In first place (surprising no one) is Justice Scalia with 8 disrespectful dissents (counting the Alabama case). Second place was Justice Breyer with 4. RBG had had 3. Thomas and the Chief each had one. The Chief’s dissent was in his first year on the Court! Interestingly, Justices Stevens, Souter, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan had zero. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

11th Circuit argument centers on "dildos and cock rings"

No joke.  While David Ovalle was waiting to see the Lolita arguments, he got to see Paul Petruzzi argue that his client -- a drama teacher convicted of attempting to have sex with a 16-year old former student -- was prejudiced by the passing around of this "highly inflammatory evidence" which was found in his client's car.  Petruzzi didn't hold back, openly discussing the evidence during his argument.  Ovalle had some fun with this on his twitter feed.  And Petruzzi got the last word.

Meantime, that wasn't the only argument with some excitement, as the Lolita supporters showed up this morning:
The government “rubber stamps” the license for the Miami Seaquarium despite the park keeping Lolita the killer whale in inhumane conditions, an animal rights group told a federal appeals court Tuesday.The “highly intelligent” whale is kept in a tank that is too small and “without shelter from the hot Miami sun and without the company of another orca,” a lawyer for the Animal Defense Fund told a three-judge panel Tuesday.Tuesday’s court battle was the latest push in a long-running campaign to free Lolita, a 20-foot, 7,000-pound killer whale that has performed at the Virginia Key marine park for over four decades. The whale, captured in the cool ocean waters of the Pacific Northwest, was recently added to a federal endangered species list, a protection given to her wild family nearly a decade ago.The court hearing was packed with Lolita supporters, some wearing T-shirts emblazoned with her name.Over the decades, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has routinely renewed the Seaquarium exhibitor’s license — a practice that became the focal point of a 2012 lawsuit filed by the ADF and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.At issue: Lolita’s supporters believe the annual license renewal flies in the face of the 1967 Animal Welfare Act, which calls for the “humane” care and treatment of marine mammals. Seaquarium managers have repeatedly rebuffed the accusations, saying the killer whale, long a top attraction, is well care for and healthy.A South Florida federal judge threw out the initial lawsuit but Lolita supporters appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals of the 11th Circuit, which granted Tuesday’s oral arguments held in downtown Miami.
Gotta love Miami!

Read more here:

Lolita the whale to face 11th Circuit today

David Ovalle has the story:
A federal appeals court will entertain arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit challenging the captivity of Lolita, the killer whale who has performed at the Miami Seaquarium for decades.Animal-rights activists have long argued that Lolita, captured in the Pacific Northwest decades ago, lives in a tank far smaller than those holding other captive killer whales. The Animal Legal Defense Fund and others sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture but lost.Their appeal will be heard Tuesday morning in Miami by judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals of the 11th [Circuit]. Last month, federal authorities added the aging whale – who has been in captivity for more than 40 years – to the endangered species list, a protection given her wild family nearly a decade ago.

Monday, March 23, 2015

“Cattywampus, onomatopoeia and antidisestablishmentarianism. Now, backto your question”

That was Wisconsin Badger Nigel Hayes having some fun with a stenographer at a press conference after the game:

When asked about his unexpected words, Hayes explained his fascination with the stenographer’s job. “She does an amazing job of typing words, sometimes if words are not in her dictionary, maybe if I say soliloquy right now, she may have to work a little bit harder to type that word,” Hayes said, “or quandary, zephyr, Xylophone, things like that, that make her job really interesting.”

I thought our court reporters would get a kick out of that.

Meantime, it's spring break, so the traffic is supposed to be good this week.  But not so much (via the Herald):
A major shift in traffic on the Dolphin Expressway will disrupt driving routines as construction enters a new phase at one of South Florida’s busiest highway interchanges.Starting early Sunday, traffic going west on State Road 836, which now stays to the right, will be shifted to the left lanes. And traffic headed to State Road 826, the Palmetto Expressway, West Flagler Street or Northwest 87th Avenue/NW 12th Street will be shifted to the right lanes.The shift is only the latest major milestone in the $560 million project to overhaul the massive interchange linking 836 with 826, partly funded by federal stimulus money. The construction project, which began in 2009, is expected to be finished in the first three months of 2016.The change on Sunday, when traffic is lighter, could cause confusion, congestion and delays among the commuting crowd during Monday’s rush hour and beyond.

Read more here:
And for those stuck in traffic, here's the question of the day -- should you be able to have a specialty license plate with a confederate flag.  The Supreme Court is hearing argument this morning.  From the AP:

The Supreme Court is weighing a free-speech challenge to Texas' refusal to issue a license plate bearing the Confederate battle flag.Specialty plates are big business in Texas, where drivers spent $17.6 million last year to choose from among more than 350 messages the state allows. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles says nearly 877,000 vehicles among more than 19 million cars, pickup trucks and motorcycles registered in Texas carry a specialty plate.But a state motor vehicle board turned down a request by the Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans for a license plate with its logo bearing the battle flag, similar to plates issued by eight other states that were members of the Confederacy, as well as Maryland.The justices are hearing arguments Monday over whether the state violated the group's First Amendment rights.