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Where the Justice System Can Save Money

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Justice is expensive.  This is a fact we need to understand.  But to understand it is not to say that taxpayers should put up with every expense some sorehead litigant can think of to create.

And it's not death penalty litigation I'm talking about here.  It's the story of a Municipal judge in Cleveland who was suspended by the state Supreme Court for being an abusive, arrogant prig.  She's in a trial, of sorts, seeking to undo the suspension. Thus far, Cleveland taxpayers have paid out nearly a million dollars with no end in sight, and no prospect visible in the story that the suspension should or will be overturned.

This is not a criminal case, mind you.  Indeed, it's not a "case" at all in the conventional sense.  But it is Exhibit A for the proposition that procedure has run amok.  No sane system would put up with this.

Perhaps one reason Cleveland is putting up with it is that the Judge in question is the daughter of a once-powerful Cleveland politician. But even that falls short.

The story is here.  I wonder if we'll be hearing from anyone on the Ohio death penalty study commission who takes the view that the expenses of capital sentencing  -- which has at least the virtue of being morally significant  --  might be better handled if we put an end to nonsensical waste like this.  
After the Republican Debate Wednesday night, numerous media outlets published "fact-check" stories regarding claims made during the debates.  So far I have not found a single "mainstream media" fact-check story that has questioned Carly Fiorina's whopper, "Two-thirds of the people in our prisons are there for non-violent offenses, mostly drug related."

As this pie chart illustrates (click on the graph for a larger view), that is not remotely close to the truth.  Why the silence?

Cutting Back the Excesses of the Lacey Act

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I noted here the wild overgrowth of the Lacey Act.  It started out as a conservation law, then sprawled beyond all comprehension.  It is Exhibit A in the effort to curb overcriminalization.  My former Georgetown Law student Jarrett Dieterle wrote an excellent case study about how an originally decently sensible statute can balloon beyond recognition.

I have often criticized Sen. Rand Paul, but he, together with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, deserve praise for their bill to pare back some of the Act's excessive criminal penalties.
Peggy Noonan has this column in the WSJ.  She is writing about the debate in Europe over how to deal with the refugee crisis, but what she says applies just as much to debates in this country over crime and punishment.

But here is a problem with Europe's decision-makers, and it connects to decision-makers in America.

Damning "the elites" is often a mindless, phony and manipulative game. Malice and delusion combine to produce the refrains: "Those fancy people in their Georgetown cocktail parties," "Those left-wing poseurs in their apartments in Brussels." This is social resentment parading as insight, envy posing as authenticity.

But in this crisis talk of "the elites" is pertinent. The gap between those who run governments and those who are governed has now grown huge and portends nothing good.

Rules on immigration and refugees are made by safe people. These are the people who help run countries, who have nice homes in nice neighborhoods and are protected by their status. Those who live with the effects of immigration and asylum law are those who are less safe, who see a less beautiful face in it because they are daily confronted with a less beautiful reality--normal human roughness, human tensions. Decision-makers fear things like harsh words from the writers of editorials; normal human beings fear things like street crime. Decision-makers have the luxury of seeing life in the abstract. Normal people feel the implications of their decisions in the particular.
I'm pleased that my friend Will Haun, a brilliant lawyer and rising leader of the conservative legal movement, joined with me in pointing to what both traditional and libertarian-leaning conservatives could agree on by way of an overhaul of the federal criminal justice system.  Our piece is out today in Forbes.  It begins:

It's good to see President Obama and members of Congress take an interest in criminal justice reform, but their emphasis is wide of the mark. Rather than focus on building on our success in decreasing crime rates, advocates of "sentencing reform" seem to think that massively decreasing incarceration will rebuild trust in the justice system. But truly restoring trust will not come merely from empowering the federal courts to lower sentences through more "discretion"--which they used carelessly in the 1960s and '70s--but from returning most law enforcement to the local level and criminal law to punishing the truly guilty.

Local communities' willingness to incarcerate those who were destroying their neighborhoods helped create far greater safety in inner cities across our country. In fact, our criminal justice system is arguably the most successful domestic program in the last half century. Today, we have more than five million fewer serious crimes per year than we did a generation ago. We have ten thousand fewer murders. The crime rate is half what it was in the early '90s.


In a comment to Bill's post on marijuana, Oscar asks why CJLF does not take a position on marijuana legalization.  I've explained this before on the blog, but readers come and go, so it won't hurt to explain it again.
Here is some very sad news.  Michael S. Rosenwald and John Woodrow Cox report in the WaPo:

The Route 29 Batman, whose roadside encounter with Montgomery County police three years ago made him a viral sensation around the world, has died.

Lenny B. Robinson, the 51-year-old Maryland man who drove a custom-made Batmobile and dressed as the Caped Crusader to visit sick children in hospitals, was struck by a car on Interstate 70 on Sunday night near Hagerstown, Md., after the Batmobile broke down. He was coming home from a car show in West Virginia.
Prior posts on Mr. Robinson are here and here.
During my time as a science officer in the Air Force, I regularly dealt with classified information.  I and everyone else who worked at my lab had drilled into us the great importance of taking great care to safeguard this information and the dire consequences -- both to us personally and to national security -- if we did not.  We had a system of inspections and cross-checks to insure this was done.

In the years since leaving the Air Force, I have been appalled and horrified at the casual attitude of many high government officials in their handling of classified information, and also at the lack of serious consequences for major breaches of security.

Ann Rule

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Levi Pulkkinen reports for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Northwest true crime author Ann Rule has died.

Rule, 83, had been in declining health in recent years. She appears to have died Sunday night at a Seattle-area hospital.

Andrea Vitalich, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in King County, Washington noted her passing.

Ann Rule was an asset to true-crime writing: she did not sugar-coat the horrible things her subjects did to other human beings, she did not glamorize her subjects, she was a meticulous researcher, and she always paid respectful tribute to the victims.  She was well-liked and well-respected by everyone in law enforcement who knew her.  She was also a very nice person.

Trafficking in Human Organs

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In answer to a question received from a correspondent, which others may be asking as well, the federal law prohibiting trafficking in human organs is 42 U.S.C. ยง 274e.

The End of Crime Reduction

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Sentencing reformers have been celebrating their successes in the states, and to be honest, they've had more than a few.  The word "reform" of course, is just code for "shortening sentences for felons so they can get back in business more quickly."

The emotive engine of sentencing "reform" does not stop with shorter sentences.  It's the same engine that powers the call for more passive policing, curbing or ending the death penalty, and (perhaps most notably in recent times) perpetuating the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" hoax, in which a white policeman, Darren Wilson, was driven off the force and out of town by a fabulist yarn of racist murder.  In fact, Wilson acted in self-defense against the aggressive behavior of a man who outweighed him by 85 pounds.

More police, more focused policing (including but not limited to stop-and-frisk), and more incarceration are three of the most important factors in the massive crime reduction the country has enjoyed over the last generation.  Out of forgetfulness and complacency (by some) and contempt for the United States (by others), there has been a sustained attack on these things.

Sooner or later, the attack was going to take a toll.

As heroin use and murder surge from coast to coast, that time is now.

Stars and Bars Update

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Only marginally on topic, I know, but ...

The Left Goes Bonkers

I realize that I am sometimes prone to overstatement, but I think readers will find the title of this entry justified.  The subject is a post on Sentencing Law & Policy titled, "A Second Chance: Re-biography as Just Compensation."  I will quote verbatim the opening paragraph of the tract it references:

Once upon a time, reinvention was an integral part of the myth of the American Dream. As the story went, one could leave the old country or old neighborhood, without looking back -- fashioning one's own second chance by stepping into a newer, better identity, crafting a redesigned life story out of whole cloth if necessary.  As one legal historian noted, "American culture and law put enormous emphasis on second chances." For most of the 20th Century, this notion of the second chance was also alive and well in the American criminal justice system, as rehabilitation was considered its primary goal.  My earlier article, "A Good Name: Applying Regulatory Takings Analysis to Reputational Damage Caused by Criminal History," couched the need for rebiography upon reentry in terms of the ongoing reputational damage suffered by the previously convicted.  Then, regulatory takings analysis was applied to that reputational damage.  In doing so, it analyzed the critical property-like characteristics of reputation, concluding that reputation is a form of "status property" and that such continued stigma attachment and reputational damage constitutes a "taking" without just compensation. Finally, it was argued that rebiography can serve as "just compensation" for this type of taking.

For those of you who believed the old line about the criminal's owing a debt to society, wake up.  Society owes a debt  --  and thus "just compensation"  --  to the criminal (ummm, make that "previously convicted") for the indignity of having convicted him for his behavior.

Alexandra Petri at the WaPo weighs in on the controversy of who should be ejected to make room for a woman on US currency.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been indicted on charges of money structuring and lying to the FBI.  The indictment was returned in February and announced today.  The story is here.  Essentially, the allegation is that Hastert paid hush money, in cash, to an unnamed individual to keep that person from disclosing "past misconduct."  He withdrew the cash in amounts designed to avoid federal bank reporting requirements.

Hastert is entitled to the full presumption of innocence.  Whether he is actually innocent, I have no idea.  My experience is that federal grand juries do not return indictments on whim.

The reason I mention this case now is to rebut two arguments I frequently see. One is that the money structuring and false statements statutes are just sprawling overkill, a tool of power-mad prosecutors, and have nothing to do with behavior an ordinary person would understand to be wrong.  The second is that non-violent crime simply isn't all that serious, and that punishing it with imprisonment is just a waste of taxpayer money.

If the allegations of the indictment turn out to be true, it calls both arguments into question. If a man who wields the enormous power of the Speaker of the House built his career on years of concealment, deceit and payoff's, punishing that  -- and punishing it with at least some incarceration  --  may or may not be harsh. But it is not a waste of money.

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