As discussed in Part I, I have gathered data on the Wisconsin prison inmates who are 70 or older. Out of an initial set of 299 inmates, I selected a representative subset of 100 in order to take a closer look at the inmates’ most recent convictions. Thirty-eight of the 100 were convicted of more than one offense in their most recent felony cases. In these cases, I focused only on the conviction that resulted in the longest sentence.
Nationally, the number of senior citizens in prison has grown dramatically in recent years. In Wisconsin, for instance, the number of prisoners aged 60 or older grew from just 202 (or 1.2 percent of the total) in 2000 to 1,231 (5.4 percent) by the end of 2016. Such increases should be of public concern for a number of reasons, including the exceptionally high costs of incarcerating the elderly. To a great extent, these costs are related to the prevalence of chronic illnesses and physical and mental disabilities among older inmates. One national study estimated that the average cost of imprisoning a senior is about twice the overall average. In general, it is less costly to manage chronic health problems in the community than in prisons, which are not designed to function as assisted living facilities, and which tend to be located in rural areas at some distance from specialized treatment providers.
Fiscal and humanitarian concerns alike have sparked considerable interest in recent years in “compassionate release” and other mechanisms that might hasten the return of elderly prisoners to the community. On the other hand, there are also countervailing concerns that early release might endanger the public or depreciate the seriousness of the underlying criminal offenses. On both sides of the debate, there seems a tendency to rely on unexamined stereotypes about who the old folks in prison are—the frail, harmless grandparent serving an excessively harsh sentence for a long-ago offense, versus the confirmed predator whose dangerousness can never be fully erased by age.
“It requires little knowledge of human nature to anticipate that those who had long been regarded as an inferior and subject race would, when suddenly raised to the rank of citizenship, be looked upon with jealousy and positive dislike, and that state laws might be enacted or enforced to perpetuate the distinctions that had before existed.” – Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 306 (1879)
As ominously foreshadowed by the Supreme Court in 1879, current state and federal laws and practices continuously present disadvantages to people of color. Removed from enslavement and the oppressive nature of the Jim Crow Era, today many of the participants in our justice system and in politics are blind to discrepancies within this nation’s criminal justice system and erroneously believe that the black defendant enjoys the same rights as the white defendant. The black defendant is seldom given a jury that racially represents him or her, and this lack of representation is a product of case precedent, judicial reasoning, and discriminatory practices. In Wisconsin, these discriminatory practices take the form of both state and federal jury pooling procedures. As such, the purpose of this blog post is to draw attention to the disproportionate jury pooling practices in Wisconsin circuit courts as well as federal district courts in our state, and to provide a forum for debate on this important issue.
Federal Jury Pooling in Wisconsin and the Depleted African American Voting Population
The right to a jury is so critical to the makeup of our system of justice that the Constitution mentions juries in four different sections. However, while individuals have a constitutional right to a jury, the pooling and selection of such juries is not always constitutionally executed. Both the Eastern and Western District Courts of Wisconsin have jury pooling practices that raise constitutional concerns due to the disproportional impact that those practices have on black criminal defendants. Continue reading “Racial Discrimination in Wisconsin Jury Pool Practices”
“When does the sentence end?“ Albert Holmes says he often faces that question as he works to help people who have been released from incarceration and who are re-entering the general community.
Holmes, president and CEO of My Father’s House, was one of the speakers Thursday, Oct. 4, at a conference at Marquette Law School that focused on what can be done to provide paths for more people in those situations to establish stable lives.
The conference, “Racial Inequality, Poverty, and Criminal Justice,” drew an audience that included two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices, several circuit judges, prosecutors (including Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm), defense attorneys, and many who work in agencies that try to help those getting out of prison or jail or who are advocates on issues involved with the subject. Continue reading “More Help Urged for Those Making “Re-entry” from Incarceration”
Public opinion polls typically find a preference for tougher treatment of defendants in the criminal-justice system. However, few polls attempt to disaggregate types of crime. When laypeople are asked what they think should be done with “criminals,” their responses are likely based on the relatively unusual violent and sexual offenses that dominate media coverage of crime. However, punitive attitudes toward such offenses may not necessarily indicate that similar attitudes prevail more generally.
In order to develop a better understanding of the extent to which public attitudes differ based on crime type, I collaborated with Professor Darren Wheelock of the Marquette Social and Cultural Sciences Department on a set of questions in the most recent Marquette Law School Poll. Rather than asking respondents about crime in general, we posed questions regarding violent crime and property crime. Our results were consistent with the expectation that members of the public see these two types of crime in a rather different light.
An ignition interlock device (IID) is a breathalyzer installed in a vehicle that prevents a driver from operating the vehicle until first providing an adequate breath sample. In Wisconsin, an IID is required in one of three circumstances after being convicted of either Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) or Operating with a Prohibited Alcohol Concentration (PAC): the defendant is a repeat drunk driver, the defendant refused a chemical blood or breath test under Wisconsin’s implied consent law, or the defendant is a first time drunk driver and had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15 “at the time of the offense.” Because OWI 1st’s are not crimes in Wisconsin, defense attorneys specializing in OWI cases try to negotiate with prosecutors to stipulate that the defendant’s BAC was 0.149 to avoid the costly and cumbersome IID requirement. This arbitrary threshold creates an obvious loophole.
The state legislature should revise this language in the IID statute because its vague language is leading to ridiculous results in court and does not promote consistency in OWI cases. As a matter of syntax, the statute as its currently written is arguably ambiguous. The legislature specifically used the phrase “at the time of the offense” as opposed to “at the time of driving.” The most common interpretation (and one favored by defense attorneys) is that the word “offense” only encompasses the physical act of driving and nothing after it. However, if that is what the legislature intended, then it would have been clearly to use the word “driving” instead. Further, the current language is in clear conflict with the OWI statute that penalizes drunk driving. A second reasonable interpretation is that “offense” includes everything from the driving to when the police officer issues the citations. However, this reading appears to cast too wide a net. Continue reading “Loophole in Drunken Driving Law Should be Closed”
Two pairs may not be the most powerful hand in poker, but they are definitely a winning combination for the Summer 2017 edition of Marquette Lawyer, the Marquette Law School magazine.
One pair in the magazine focuses on how long U.S. Supreme Court Justices should serve and, more broadly, how to assure confidence in the judiciary. Judge Albert Diaz of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit focused on this in the E. Harold Hallows Lecture he delivered at Marquette Law School in 2016. The magazine offers a lightly edited text of the lecture by Diaz, including his advocacy of ideas he presumes that few of his fellow judges would support. Paired with the text is a comment from Diaz’s colleague on the Fourth Circuit, Judge James Wynn, L’79. An interview and profile of Wynn accompany his comment. The Diaz text may be read by clicking here and the Wynn comment (and interview) here.
The other pair in the magazine offers provocative insights from two people who play leading roles in the tech world. Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer of Microsoft, made two appearances at Marquette Law School on November 15, 2016, delivering the Helen Wilson Nies Lecture on Intellectual Property and participating in an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program. A selection of his thoughts may be found by clicking here.
Roughly six years ago the Wisconsin Legislature amended the expunction statute to permit certain felonies to be expunged. At the same time, the Legislature also permitted expunction for older offenders. Previously, defendants had to be under 21 to secure the benefits of expunction. Under the newly revised statute, defendants under 25 could now have certain crimes removed from their record.
Since the expunction statute was altered, Wisconsin law has been in disarray when it comes to analyzing the framework of expunction. For decades, judges had always “reserved” a defendant’s right to seek expunction. This was logical – judges naturally wanted to see how a defendant would do on probation before making the final decision. But the Court of Appeals, in an unfortunate ruling, found that the expunction statute barred such an approach. Now, judges have to do their best to analyze the proverbial “crystal ball,” making the decision to confer expunction at the time of sentencing, as opposed to making the decision after two or three years of probation. Continue reading “The Curious Nature of Expunged Offenses”
I’ve been asked to be the alumni blogger for the month of May. It’s about time!
For those who don’t know me, I am a criminal defense attorney in Wisconsin. I am currently the President of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (WACDL). Because of this position, and the fact that I’ve practiced exclusively in the criminal defense field for 12 years, my posts will generally focus on defense-related issues.
In that vein, perhaps the most pressing criminal defense-related issue in Wisconsin remains the unconscionably low rate of compensation paid to lawyers who take appointments from the State Public Defender’s Office (SPD).
Here’s the nutshell version of what currently happens. Indigent defendants are constitutionally guaranteed representation by lawyers who work for the SPD. But the SPD obviously can’t handle all of the cases assigned to the agency. For one, there are cases with co-defendants, where ethical rules preventing conflicts of interest would preclude one “firm” from representing both defendants. In other situations, a flood of criminal prosecutions renders the SPD staff unable to handle all of the cases. Consequently, private attorneys will sometimes step up to the plate, and agree to take these cases.
To judge by some of the political rhetoric last fall, violent crime must be surging in our nation’s cities. Is that true? The answer may depend on which city you are talking about, and which neighborhood within that city.
To some extent, the contrasting figures from 2016 reflect longstanding trends. Although murders did spike in Chicago last year, New York has been doing better than Chicago on this score for a long time. The two cities had essentially identical per capita homicide rates in the late 1980s, but New York’s fell much faster and further than Chicago’s in the 1990s. New York has maintained a wide advantage ever since.
Still, the dramatic widening of that advantage in 2016 should be of great concern to Chicagoans. The chart below indicates the trends in recent years, based on FBI data. Note that the two cities moved in sync from 2013 through 2015: homicides down the first year, basically unchanged the next, and then up a little in 2015. However, in 2016, even as Chicago’s homicides shot up, New York’s dropped back down to where they had been in 2013 and 2014.
Ringing in the new year, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released its data on prisoners in the United States in 2015. After rising consistently for about four decades, the U.S. prison population (state and federal combined) peaked at a little over 1.6 million in 2009. Since then, the population has declined steadily, but very slowly. For 2015, the total was a little over 1.5 million, or about 35,000 less than 2014. The continued reductions are encouraging, but must be kept in perspective: the population remains many times above its historic norms. The current rate of 458 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents is over four times greater than the long-term rate of about 100 per 100,000 from before the imprisonment boom. We are still very much in the era of mass incarceration.
The Wisconsin numbers continue to be lower than the national norms, but are moving in the opposite direction. At yearend 2015, Wisconsin’s prison population numbered 22,975, up 1.7 percent from 2014. This amounts to 377 prisoners per 100,000. By comparison, Minnesota’s rate was just 196 per 100,000.
Nine months ago, Dean Strang’s life changed. A well-known criminal defense attorney from Madison, he had been involved in cases that attracted public attention, especially the murder trial a decade ago of Steven Avery, who was accused of murdering a freelance photographer, Teresa Halbach, in 2005 in Manitowoc County. The case attracted attention especially because it came two years after Avery was exonerated and freed after serving 18 years for a previous, unrelated murder. Strang and Jerry Buting, a Waukesha attorney, defended Avery in a trial that ended with Avery being convicted in 2007.
But nothing that happened at that time or in connection with any other case he had worked on prepared Strang for the impact on his life when a Netflix series, “Making a Murderer,” began running in December 2015 and became an international sensation. The case went into great detail in documenting the Avery case. It was widely regarded as supporting the argument that Avery was unfairly convicted.