- Professor John Stinneford, Florida Law
- Professor Douglas Berman, Ohio State Law
On April 23, 2014, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Paroline v. United States. The question in this child pornography case was what, if any, causal relationship or nexus between the defendant's conduct and the victim's harm or damages must the government or the victim establish in order to recover restitution under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2259.
In an opinion delivered by Justice Kennedy, the Court held that restitution is proper under §2259 only to the extent the defendant’s offense proximately caused a victim’s losses. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan joined the opinion of the Court. Chief Justice Roberts authored a dissenting opinion, which Justices Scalia and Thomas joined. Justice Sotomayor wrote a separate dissenting opinion. By a vote of 5-4, the decision of the Fifth Circuit was vacated and remanded.
To discuss the case, we have John G. Malcolm, Director, Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation and Paul Cassell, Ronald N. Boyce Presidential Professor of Criminal Law, University of Utah College Of Law.
In 2005, Washington, D.C. resident Antwuan Ball was indicted for a massive drug conspiracy and associated murders. Following a lengthy jury trial he was acquitted on all the counts, except for one crack distribution count. At sentencing, District Judge Richard Roberts found “clear evidence of [Ball's leadership in] a drug conspiracy” and sentenced Ball to a 225-month prison sentence for the drug distribution — far in excess of the recommended guideline sentence for the single drug distribution charge. The D.C. Circuit upheld this sentence in a decision on March 14. Was the D.C. Circuit Court correct? Our experts discussed the opinion and answered questions from our call-in audience.
Numerous proposals in Congress, the Justice Department, and the Sentencing Commission would bring down the sentences now given to those convicted of federal drug offenses. Probably the most prominent of these is the proposed Smarter Sentencing Act, which was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with the support of all its Democratic members and several Republicans. The act would, among other things, reduce the mandatory minimum sentences judges must now give certain classes of drug offenders and would expand the existing Safety Valve that has enabled some defendants to avoid the mandatory minimum.
Proponents of the Smarter Sentencing Act say that our prisons are overcrowded and that the pendulum has swung too far in terms of mandatory minimum penalties for non-violent drug offenders. Opponents say that stern mandatory sentencing has helped bring down crime, reined in irrational disparities from one courtroom to the next, insured at least a rock-bottom sentence for socially destructive behavior, and has been more than worth the expense through the savings reduced crime has brought about.