Sentencing guidelines

  • August 4, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Reuben A. Guttman, Director, Grant & Eisenhofer; Member, ACS Board of Directors

    *This post originally appeared on The Global Legal Post.

    The ‘Hide No Harm Act’ is to be welcomed but why should corporate offenders be treated any differently from street criminals.

    'The Hide No Harm Act' puts a duty on a corporate officials not to knowingly conceal a corporate action that would pose a danger of death or injury to consumers and workers. United States Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Bob Casey (D- Pennsylvania) have introduced legislation that, according to their press statement, 'would  make it a crime for a corporate officer to knowingly conceal the fact that a corporate action or product poses a danger of death or serious injury to consumers and workers.' The Senators call the Bill the 'Hide No Harm Act.' According to Senator Blumenthal 'this measure would criminally punish corporate officials who conceal that a product is dangerous.'  The proposed legislation would impose penalties of up to five years in prison because – as the Senators noted in their press statement – concealment by corporations has 'resulted in deaths and injuries.'

    Kudos to the three Senators for introducing this legislation. But wait just a second – I thought it was already a crime to intentionally injure or even negligently kill someone. Do not most, if not all, of the State penal codes make negligent homicide a crime? Surely the three Senators do not mean to say that absent this legislation, there is no vehicle – at least for some state prosecutors – to initiate a criminal prosecution of corporate officials who place revenue over safety and cause injury or death?  

    Do not misunderstand what I mean; the Hide No Harm Act is needed. In an age where we depend on corporations to provide the basic necessities of life, including food, health care, transportation and energy, the proposed legislation is an attempt to punish those who – perhaps for direct, or even indirect, economic gain – have compromised the delivery of life’s essentials and placed workers and consumers at peril. This legislation will be a powerful tool for federal prosecutors. And like any new tool, someone may pick it up and try it.  

    Corporations are fictions

    Yet, while the legislation is a positive step, it is thought provoking. Corporations, of course, are what lawyers call fictions; it is those individuals who control them that steer these global enterprises toward wrongdoing. Often these titans of capital do so because it is in their own economic interest. In an era where multinationals from drug companies to auto makers have knowingly concealed the risks of their products or the deficiencies of their services, why have state prosecutors been reluctant to pursue individual culprits with zeal? It is almost as if there is an unwritten rule that those who commit crimes in the course of their employment should be treated differently from the street criminal whose crime is so transparent that there actually may be a 'smoking gun'.  

  • February 26, 2014

    by ACS Staff

    On Mar. 3, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case that will decide whether Freddie Hall should be on death row.  In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Prof. Marc Tasse argues that Florida’s standard for evaluating intellectual disability in death penalty cases is “unscientific and a breach of Hall’s constitutional protection as mandated in Atkins v. Virginia.” For more on Hall v. Florida, please see analysis by Prof. John H. Blume at ACSblog.
    Consumers were victorious Monday when the high court rejected an appeal from washing machine manufacturers in a class-action lawsuit. Writing for Slate, Emily Bazelon explains why the decision is “surprising and good news.” 
    Republicans are calling for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto a bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers. ReutersDavid Schwartz reports on growing frustration in the Grand Canyon State.
    The Supreme Court heard oral argument this week on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Adam Liptak at The New York Times reviews Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA.
    On the second anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, Charles D. Ellison of The Root reflects on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. 
  • February 11, 2014
    The American Bar Association Standards Review Committee is considering a recommendation that the ABA no longer prohibit law students from receiving money for internships and externships. Karen Sloan of The National Law Journal has the story.
    In their debut article for The Intercept, Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald examine the National Security Agency’s controversial role in targeting terror suspects for lethal drone strikes and the effectiveness of geolocating technology.
    Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins created the nation's first Conviction Integrity Unit. In an interview with NPR’s Melissa Block, Watkins discusses the 87 overturned convictions in the U.S. in 2013 and what is being done in Dallas County to prevent miscarriages of justice.
    With the U.S. Supreme Court returning to session on February 24, the justices could soon rule on whether legislative prayer violates the Establishment Clause. Michael Kirkland at UPI breaks down Town of Greece v. Galloway.
  • January 16, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Margaret Colgate Love, former U.S. Pardon Attorney (1990-1997)
    * Ms. Love now represents applicants for executive clemency. Her client Clarence Aaron was one of those commuted by President Obama on December 19.
    On December 19, President Obama commuted the prison sentences of eight people convicted of trafficking in crack cocaine and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.  Each person had spent at least 15 years behind bars, and all but two were serving a mandatory life term.  The President was generally commended for his acts of mercy, the only reservation being that he had not done more to provide relief to thousands of similarly situated individuals still imprisoned under laws he himself characterized as “unjust.”
    One of those whose sentence the President commuted was Clarence Aaron, a college student with no prior record who was sentenced in 1993 to three life terms based on his limited role in two drug transactions for which he was paid $1500.  Another was Stephanie George, described by the sentencing judge as the “bag holder and money holder” for her crack-dealing boyfriend, whose life sentence was based on two prior convictions for selling a total of $160 worth of crack.
    Clarence Aaron is now on his way home, as are Stephanie George and the other members of the December 19 Eight, most of whom thought they would never see home again.  So it is time to consider what happens now for the hundreds of similarly situated individuals still behind bars.
    The President himself acknowledged, in a statement accompanying the grants, that while he had taken “an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness,” that step “must not be the last.”  He urged Congress to act on “reform measures already working their way through Congress” to provide relief from “a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust.” The specific “reform measure” the President was referring to is the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would make the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) fully retroactive.  The impression left by his statement was that passage of this bill, along with policy changes announced by the Attorney General in August 2013, would be sufficient to restore fairness to the legal system, and that the job of doing justice had now passed to Congress.
  • January 8, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Nkechi Taifa, Senior Policy Analyst, Open Society Foundations
    This post originally appeared on Open Society Voices.
    In December, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight people serving harsh prison terms on crack-cocaine convictions. Why?
    Until recently, those who possessed just five grams of crack cocaine received the same five-year sentence as those who distributed 500 grams of powder cocaine; those who used 50 grams of crack received the same sentence as traffickers of 5000 grams of powder cocaine. This 100-to-1 quantity ratio between two chemically identical substances disproportionately hurt African Americans and Latinos because of federal law enforcement’s top-heavy focus on inner-city communities.
    The president’s commutations are a major step forward in the ongoing saga to end injustice in cocaine sentencing. This newest chapter comes in the wake of other adjustments that have successfully chipped away at these biased disparities. Three years ago, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced the discredited 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine to the more reasonable, but still insufficient, 18-to-1 ratio. The U.S. Sentencing Commission amended its guideline ranges to assure consistency with the provisions of the new act and applied its guidelines retroactively.
    The Supreme Court, consistent with revised Department of Justice policy, agreed that cases pending in the pipeline between passage of the new law and sentencing would receive the benefit of the new law. However, only Congress or the president can remedy the plight of the remaining people whose harsh sentences occurred prior to the Fair Sentencing Act.
    While momentous, the eight commutations represent only the tip of the iceberg of cases left behind when the Fair Sentencing Act became law. Several thousand cases of men and women in similar situations still await relief. Obama acknowledged that his commutations were an important first step and that “it must not be the last.”