Our cover story in the January 2012 Arizona Attorney examines the prospects for criminal sentencing reform in the state. It quotes numerous people locally and nationally on the topic.

Here are links to a large number of the studies and reports cited in the article:

Just more than a month after U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke re-asserted his position that prosecution on Indian land is a priority, we can see significant movement on the topic.

It may have been the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington that made wide-ranging legislative proposals, but they have the fingerprints of western states’ prosecutors all over it. And that’s a great thing.

As an article describes it, the changes would “stiffen federal sentences for certain domestic violence crimes in Indian Country and expand tribes’ authority to enforce protection orders against non-Indians living on reservations.”

I’ve written more than once about the crisis confronting law-abiding people on Indian land. And this article reiterates that crimes have reached “epidemic rates”:

“One-third of all American Indian women will be raped in their lifetime, and nearly three of five have been assaulted by their partner, the Justice Department says. In addition, murder rates are 10 times higher than the national average for Native women.”

The proposed changes would be considered in congressional reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Among them would be an expansion of federal jurisdiction over crimes committed on the reservation. The change would mean “sentences more in line with those faced by defendants in state courts who commit the same crimes, and give prosecutors better tools for deterring the offenses.”

Proposals also would allow tribal courts to enforce protection orders against non-Indians, no matter where the order originates.

If enacted, the VAWA amendments would take effect in two years.

We’ll follow the story as it develops. But this is a noteworthy step in stemming the epidemic.

Just as sports fans eagerly await baseball’s opening day—the crack of the bat, the crunch of the popcorn—lawyers gaze spellbound toward this Wednesday. For that is when an annual migration culminates, when our rafters and shelves are filled with the newborn, the fledgling.

On Wednesday, hundreds of new laws take effect. 357, to be exact.

A profession beams with pride as it leans over the bassinet, also known as the Arizona Revised Statutes. The nascent laws, recently no more than a few bills among many, squirm and squeeze their little fists, yearning to be fully formed.

Their creators apparently decided that the new laws’ older siblings were insufficient to the many tasks at hand. And so the nursery is full.

The laws about to become effective include a wide variety of topics. As the story says:

“The laws cover a broad spectrum of topics, from ensuring homeowners-association meetings are open to residents and giving married couples preference in adoptions to restricting charitable donations to groups that support abortion and requiring schools to develop bullying policies.

“Dozens of the bills target public-safety issues, toughening penalties for sex crimes against children, raising fees for writing a bad check, paying inmates more for hard labor and creating new crimes surrounding human smuggling.”

Just blow: Ignition-interlock device

Among the many new laws is one in regard to DUI charges and the right to a jury trial. I wrote about that before. (This one, though, has a delayed effective date until Jan. 1, 2012.)

As this news story says, there was an effort to head this law off at the pass, but it failed to garner enough signatures. We will watch this topic over the coming year as the inevitable court challenge is filed.

In the meantime, welcome to the newest toddling laws. Cigars, anyone?

This morning I posted some photos from a recent phenomenal criminal justice conference. It was held in New York City (and I mentioned it here and here).

The conference was aimed at members of the media who cover law and policy. The idea of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Guggenheim Foundation was to bring great sources to us, all in one place. Great idea.

Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker writer and CNN analyst, Jan. 31, 2011

Some of the highlights from the two-day event:

  • A keynote by Judge Jonathan Lippman, New York State’s Chief Judge
  • A panel moderated by Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker writer and CNN Analyst, which included ACLU President Susan Herman and Hon. Sue Bell Cobb, the Alabama Chief Justice
  • Panelists on challenges faced by the courts, which included Judge Robert Russell, whose visit to the State Bar of Arizona we covered before (here and here)
  • Speakers on criminal justice trends
  • Reports from the nation’s prisons
  • Special presentations on gun violence and cybercrime

Susan N. Herman, ACLU President

As part of my invitation to attend and be named a John Jay/Guggenheim Fellow, I committed to write a story on some element covered by the conference. A brief story on an Arizona criminal sentencing debate appears in our April issue (available in hard copy now and online April 1). A longer story on sentencing will appear in an upcoming issue.

More photos are available on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

On this Change of Venue Friday, let’s take a look at our corrections system, through the eyes of an artist.

“It’s not just black and white” is open now through May at the ASU Art Museum in Tempe. It features the work of Gregory Sale.

As the site says:

It’s not just black and white begins with the current state of corrections in the U.S. and Arizona, most specifically Maricopa County, and continues to develop over the course of the artist’s three-month residency.

Gregory Sale. It's not just black and white. Photo by Chris Santa Maria.

The site provides some photos of the opening-night event, as well as more detail on pre-reception activities:

The Arizona State University Art Museum is on Mill Avenue at 10th Street in Tempe. Here is a map:

Have a great weekend.

Professor Carissa Hessick and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery debate criminal sentences, Feb. 14, 2011, Arizona State University

Last week, I attended a debate on criminal sentencing reform, hosted by the ASU Law School. I already posted one photo from the event.

The April issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine will contain a roundup of the debate. If you’re curious, here is the lede:

Those seeking a preview of future Arizona-centric battles over criminal sentencing reform gained some insight at a February 14 event. At the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, a debate—of sorts—was waged between law professor Carissa Hessick and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

The two advocates—Hessick resisted calling them “adversaries,” at least during the debate’s first half—came to the topic following an ample and growing history of sentencing reform struggles, both national and local.

As one state after another finds itself pinching even the slimmest of pennies, the cost of long prison incarceration has come under fire.

 

What was most struck me at the event—and likely struck many people who packed the classroom that day—was the veto power held by one person over the topic. Or, rather, by one position.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Feb. 14, 2011, at ASU

As Professor Carissa Hessick herself said, County Attorney Bill Montgomery, an ASU Law graduate, is now one of the most powerful attorneys in the state. And there he was, in a debate on proposals to alter our sentencing structure in ways that may save the state millions of dollars, and, according to some, be more effective than our current regime.

Of course, intelligent minds may differ on matters of policy. But some minds are more crucial to a debate than others.

Even in a state where there are lead prosecutors in every county, the Maricopa County Attorney is the lion at the party. His office handles far more criminal matters than does any other county. Therefore, the beliefs held by that elected official are always at the center of any dialogue about criminal law in Arizona.

Given that, I know many were curious about the approach and the tone he would take at the debate, a debate he had proposed. Out of the gate, he found no value to the report that came out of the law school’s Public Policy Incubator Program. In fact, he gave short shrift to any lessons offered up by other jurisdictions, saying that Arizona’s border-state status makes it difficult to compare and apply other states’ methods.

That may be an entirely defensible position. But it means that the coming year or so in the sentencing dialogue will be a hard slog, rather than a collaborative effort.

But why should any topic in Arizona be otherwise?

More photos from the event are on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

I just flew in from New York, and boy, are my arms … cold.

As I reported last week, I was attending a conference on criminal justice. It was terrific, but more on that later.

The unfortunate part of my trip was that it caused me to miss a potentially significant criminal justice event right here in Arizona.

On Tuesday, February 1, the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice held a press conference to roll out its new report on criminal sentencing reform.

The New York conference I attended earlier this week touched on that topic quite a bit, and we will have an article on sentencing in Arizona Attorney Magazine in the coming months. There, we’ll also look at the AACJ’s proposals in more detail, as well as responses from many in the system.

Calls for change are perennial (even in Arizona). But what may make 2011 different is a budget crisis that is dire. Nationwide, statehouses are confronted by an array of awful choices. Decisions that reduce the corrections line item may begin to look attractive.

Arizona may be different. I’ve spoken to more than one state leader who says that the economic situation will have to be far, far worse before state legislators would consider reducing prison sentence lengths or aggravating circumstances that lead to (more expensive) prison time.

But a new movement of conservatives who seek sentencing reform may be the elephant’s nose under the tent. The Right on Crime project urges changes that will save states many resources. Will it have an effect here? We’ll examine that in our story.

You can read more about the AACJ report (and read the report itself) here

Want to read more about the Right on Crime movement? Click here.

And here is an Arizona Republic story on Tuesday’s presser on the Legislature’s lawn.

Last week, I mentioned in passing that this spring I would be working on a story about criminal sentencing and sentencing reform. I also alluded to what had spurred me to the topic at this time.

Well, that kick in the pants came in the form of an upcoming conference to be held in New York City this coming week. And I am honored to have been invited.

The invite came to me from John Jay College of Criminal Justice (and its Center on Media, Crime and Justice) and the Guggenheim Foundation. They were offering some fellowships (read “all-expenses paid”) to attend the conference. But they asked applicants to write a story pitch that had some connection to the conference topics.

The conference is titled “Law & Disorder: Facing the Legal and Economic Challenges to American Criminal Justice.” The complete program is here.

Given the depth of the conference topic, developing a story idea that complemented it was not the challenge. The hard part was narrowing to a story pitch that would tie to interests of Arizona Attorney Magazine’s readers. The topic had to be timely and relevant.

Thank you to my great Editorial Board, who offered a slew of story ideas, any one of which would be newsworthy. Ultimately, I submitted a pitch on the topic “Courts at the Crossroads of Sentencing Debates.” It relates to the conversation and controversy over “evidence-based sentencing.”

The reviewers must have liked what they read, because I was invited. I now am officially a Guggenheim Fellow – or a “Guggfella,” as a colleague has already dubbed me.

The City University of New York (where the John Jay College is housed) kindly sent out a press release about the event and the fellowships. As it begins:

New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman will lead a prestigious group of speakers, including three senior judges and three district attorneys from around the country,  for discussions on the evolving role of the courts in the U.S. justice system at the Sixth Annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City on Monday, Jan. 31st and Tuesday Feb 1st, 2011.

Judge Lippman will deliver the keynote speech on Jan 31st on the conference theme: “Law & Disorder: Facing the Legal and Economic Challenges to American Criminal Justice”

The Harry F. Guggenheim Symposium is the only national gathering which brings together journalists, legislators, policymakers, scholars and practitioners for candid on-the-record discussions on emerging issues of U.S. criminal justice.  Panel topics this year include: the courts and civil liberties, court overcrowding, gun violence, the impact of the midterm elections on criminal justice, the crisis in family courts, and the use of new technology in crime-fighting and its implication for privacy rights.

Twenty-Six U.S. journalists from print, online and broadcast outlets have been awarded fellowships to attend the conference. The unique fellowships, organized by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice (CMCJ), are aimed at encouraging and promoting top-quality journalism on criminal justice.

The Fellows were selected from a wide pool of applicants based on editors’ recommendations and on investigative reporting projects currently underway or in the planning stage related to the topics explored at the 2011 conference.

Here is a link to the complete release, including the names of all the 26 new Fellows.

I’ll report back after the conference. And I’ll try to keep warm.

Arizona Rep. Cecil Ash

Among the variety of news stories I came across today, there was an aggregation of “Lawmaker Priorities” in the Arizona Republic.

Here is one of the more interesting in the listings:

Cecil Ash, R-Mesa

House Health and Human Services Committee chairman

• Establish a Sentencing Commission, which will be advisory to the Legislature, to acquaint legislators with the best practices of other jurisdictions and help reduce Arizona incarcerations and rehabilitate inmates.
• Make consecutive sentences for some crimes optional, rather than mandatory.

Representative Ash has mentioned this before, but it still has the power to surprise (perhaps it’s the “R” after his name, or the fact that sentencing reform is often DOA in Arizona). So congratulations to him for trying.

In the coming three months, I will be working on a story for Arizona Attorney Magazine on sentencing reform (or the lack of it), and I’ll be contacting Representative Ash for his insights.

In an upcoming post, I’ll let you know what spurred me to write on the topic. The short answer is that it’s related to a trip I’m taking to New York soon. But the longer and more detailed explanation is … later.

Rep. Cecil Ash at Law School for Legislators, Jan. 6, 2011, Phoenix

Read all the lawmaker priorities here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,169 other followers