Two Pharmacists are Accused of Second-degree murder in Meningitis Outbreak

(DEBRA CASSENS WEISS) A federal indictment unsealed Wednesday accuses two pharmacists of second-degree murder in a 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak that killed at least 64 people and injured about 750 others.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz announced the 131-count indictment Wednesday against the pharmacists and 12 other people associated with the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts, report Reuters, the Atlantic, USA Today and the Boston Globe. A press release is here.

Prosecutors say the outbreak was caused by contaminated steroids produced in unsafe conditions and shipped across the country by NECC. Compounding pharmacies like NECC are licensed to mix custom medications for hospitals and doctors.

The indictment alleges violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and claims 25 predicate acts of second-degree murder by the two pharmacists, NECC co-founder Barry Cadden, 48, and supervising pharmacist Glenn Chinn, 46. Those charges claim the pharmacists acted with extreme indifference to human life and relate to 25 patients who died in seven states.

“Production and profit were prioritized over safety,” Ortiz said at a Boston press conference. Senior pharmacists were aware of “filthy conditions” in labs that were “thoroughly contaminated,” she alleged.

The RICO charges alleged that NECC acted with a related company to form a criminal enterprise that obtained money through materially false premises.

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Same Crime, Different Sentence

One of the many interesting questions in the world of post-Booker federal sentencing is whether a judge, in sentencing one defendant, is required (or permitted) to take into account the sentences imposed on codefendants. Yesterday, the Third Circuit issued an interesting opinion on this question. (Doug Berman has an excerpt and link to the opinion here.) In United States v. Parker, the defendant received a sentence of 349 months, while his codefendants in the drug trafficking case received only 86 and 180 months. Parker argued this his sentence was “unreasonable” (the post-Booker standard for appellate review of sentences) “because it failed to take into account ‘the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities mong defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct’ as provided by [18 U.S.C.] 3553(a)(6).”

I have argued elsewhere that (a)(6) should not be read to encompass codefendant disparities, so I was not unhappy that the Third Circuit rejected Parker’s argument. Yet, while the court did not require codefendant sentences to be considered, the court did indicate that judges were permitted to take the factor into account. I am a big fan of increased sentencing discretion post-Booker, but I am troubled by the prospect of a sentencing judge saying something like this: “I see, Mr. Defendant, that your guidelines sentence is about 20 years, but your coconspirator, whom I sentenced a few months ago, got only 10 years. So, I’ll split the difference and give you 15.” (For an example of a real case in which the judge seemed to be doing just that (United States v. Strange), see my article linked above.) This approach seems to make the sentence depend on the vagaries of who gets prosecuted and sentenced first–precisely the sort of arbitrariness that the guidelines were intended to eliminate.

Get to know about criminal law defense and what to do to protect yourself if you are being charged with a crime here

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Should Parents Get Sentencing Discounts? Our Third Freaky Post

By STEPHEN J. DUBNER

(Dan Markel) Yesterday afternoon, Ethan, Jennifer Collins and I had our third post up on the NYT’s Freakonomics Blog, following our two earlier posts  about our book Privilege or Punish. I’ve reprinted the post after the jump. Feel free to weigh in with comments here or there.

We have recently featured two guest posts (here and here) by the authors of a new book called Privilege or Punish: Criminal Justice and the Challenge of Family Ties. The authors are Ethan Leib, who is is a scholar-in-residence at Columbia Law School, and an associate professor of law at the University of California-Hastings College of the Law; Dan Markel, the D’Alemberte Professor of Law at the Florida State University in Tallahassee; andJennifer Collins, a professor of law at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. Leib and Markel usually blog at Prawfs.com. Markel has offered to send interested parties a free PDF of their new book upon request. This is their penultimate post.

Should Parents Who Offend Receive Sentencing Discounts?

A Guest Post

By Jennifer Collins, Ethan J. Leib, and Dan Markel

Many states expressly tell judges to calibrate a sentence based, in part, on one’s family ties and responsibilities in sentencing offenders. Thus, offenders who are parents to minors or caregivers to spouses or elderly parents may, depending on the jurisdiction, be in a position to receive a sharp discount from the punishment they might otherwise receive. Not only does this pattern of sentencing discounts facilitate ad hoc disparities between offenders who are otherwise similarly situated across cases, but it also hastens to create inequalities between persons involved in the very same offense. Even in the generally more restrictive federal context, courts have found ways to extend discounts to offenders deemed to have extraordinary “family ties and responsibilities.”

Our view is that sentencing discounts for offenders with family ties require scrutiny and, in some cases, re-tailoring, and in other cases, rejection.

A person who commits a crime can reasonably foresee that, if prosecuted and punished, his punishment will affect not only himself but also his family. Extending a discount to an offender for a reason unrelated to his crime constitutes an undeserved windfall. In addition, giving benefits to defendants with family ties in the currency of sentencing discounts will also, on the margin, incentivize this class of defendants to seek out greater criminal opportunities, or they will be recruited or pressed into action by others.

Still, incarcerating a defendant with significant family responsibilities unquestionably imposes tremendous costs on innocent family members, and those costs are most severe when the defendant is an irreplaceable caregiver to vulnerable family members. Therefore, although we advance the unusual position — taken primarily and unpopularly by the federal government’s sentencing guidelines — that, ordinarily, a defendant’s family ties and responsibilities should not serve as a basis for a lighter sentence, we are sensitive to the serious arguments made by proponents of sentencing departures for those with significant and irreplaceable care-giving responsibilities. These arguments merit attention and amplification.

What About the Children?

Contacting a Detroit Criminal Lawyer – DetroitCriminalLawyer.org – is one of the first steps you must take if you or a loved one has been arrested, whether it is for a misdemeanor or felony.  A criminal record can wreak havoc in your life, whether you have been only arrested or convicted.

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Crime Decline Conundrum

(Jonathan Simon) With aviation terrorism and a still lackluster employment market dominating year end headlines, the one piece of good news appears to be a fairly widespread decline in homicides in major cities. New York, as trumpeted in yesterday’s NYtimes (read Al Baker’sreporting) had a year with fewer homicides than any year since 1963 (essentially before the modern crime wave was evident). San Francisco also reported a record drop (read Jaxon Van Derbenken’s article in the SFChron) to as low as the city has seen since 1961 (take that New York), and after a series of rather violent years in the middle of this decade. Chicago and LA have also reported declines this year. Providence, was one of the few cities reporting a homicide “spike,” with the addition of two dead this week in a drug raid that also left three police officers wounded (read W. Zachary Malinowski’s reporting in the Providence Journal). This is good news in a year with little of it. 

The journalistic lead is that this is happening despite a severe recession (the man bites dog angle). Whatever the intuitive appeal to the notion that bad times generate crime, few criminologists believe it is a clean relationship. In many respects, times are always bad in those communities that experience the highest levels of crimes like homicide, aggravated assault, and robbery. This, not surprisingly, does not stop police chiefs and mayors from claiming credit (at least if they’ve been on the job for more than six months) whatever the hazard that their policies might be blamed when crime begins its inexorable return (like most gambles, it probably makes sense in the short term context of political survival). But even criminologists, this one included, are not immune from believing that, combined with the substantial crime declines of the 1990s, and the relative stability of crime through most of this decade, this end of decade crime decline could mark a longer term shift away from the pattern of high levels of gun violence concentrated in cities that has defined urban life for the much of the past forty years. What would drive such change? Here is a New Year’s speculation list of the top three “positive” factors underlying declines in urban domestic violence

May they all continue in 2010!

1. Bottoming out of the de-industrialization of American cities that began in 1946 and continued through the 1980s. Even if new economic engines of prosperity have not exactly re-emerged in many cities, the process of losing existing assets has run its course. 

2. Demographic diversification of urban neighborhoods through immigration and in-migration of suburbanites fleeing unsustainable lifestyles.

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Libertarians and the Claims of Democratic Authority in the Context of Criminalization Debates

(Dan Markel) I have a section in this paper I’m working on –designed to be a love letter of sorts between retributive justice and liberal democracy :-) —  that I’m afraid I’m not sure is fully there yet, and I was wondering if those with a political philosophy bent might have some reactions. The relevant background here is that I’m trying to explain the reasonableness of democratic authority, largely by appeal to some arguments put forward these days (ie, in the last decade) by Shapiro, Hershovitz, and Christiano. My concern, however, is that in anticipating the first-wave libertarian objection, they have not responded to the “second wave” of critique that an aspect of Arneson’s paper represents. (The rough cites for this can be found below.). I could be completely wrong and maybe they or others address the concern, so please feel free to email me offline . 

So below the fold, please take a look at these tentative thoughts and feel free to share some reactions or references to additional citations that can help me manage Arneson’s critique. I’ve included a bit more of the discussion than is necessary in case it spurs other reactions too. All the usual caveats apply–it’s just a preliminary draft and not for citation or circulation w/o my approval but yes, please tell me if/how I’m wrong (gently). Many thanks!

  1. Why Fidelity to Liberal Democratic Law?

To sustain a claim that offenders in liberal democracies could reasonably and retributively be punished even in the absence of conduct that is morally wrongful probably requires overcoming an intuition that is widespread and reasonably fixed. Nonetheless, we currently have many laws that criminalize conduct that is not morally wrongful, and many of those laws are violated, and those violators are punished. So do we rationalize this outcome simply by appealing to the possibility that we are all, deep down, thoroughgoing welfarists and that these laws (and the punishments made in their name) are in fact welfare-promoting? 

Well, that is one tactic available to avoid cognitive dissonance. But another way to explain this outcome – and indeed to justify it – is to say that we have obligations to conform our conduct to the law’s dictates in liberal democracies, and the recognition of these obligations is not only reasonable, but praiseworthy.[i] What would such an argument look like?

Scott Shapiro and others have defended the idea that there is an authority of law in liberal democratic regimes such that the fact of legislation to do X provides a free-standing (though probably still defeasible) reason to X.[ii] (I leave aside for now whether that obligation is one that necessarily trumps all other reasons to do or not do X.[iii])

We live, work, and play with others—that much cannot be denied. The reason we must conform to democratically elected authority is because such a power-sharing arrangement is, according to Shapiro, “socially necessary, empowering and fair.  By disobeying, subjects are unilaterally, and hence unreasonably, setting the terms and direction of social cooperation.”[iv] To understand why this unilateralism is inappropriate, consider first that “social cooperation is not … possible without the availability of procedures for the resolution of conflict.”[v] Moreover, and “absent acceptable resolution, disputes would fester … [and] likely threaten the very survival of the community.”[vi] As Heidi Hurd notes, democratic rulemaking is morally demanding (even if defeasibly so)  because “when a moral matter is in dispute (even a matter that concerns competing claims of right, rather than competing claims of preference or utility) and it is more important (again, perhaps as a matter of right) to gain a peaceful resolution of the dispute than to gain a right resolution at a cost to peace, a democratic resolution will recommend itself, and the value of peace will thus dictate compliance with the democratically-crafted solution, even when one takes the resolution to be in error.”[vii]

To risk such dire effects is especially misplaced once “citizens are granted the power to exert control over their lives by allowing them, through the franchise, to affect the terms of social cooperation and the direction of collective pursuits.”[viii]

Choosing the right criminal defense attorney to represent you or your loved one is the most important decision you can make when charged with a crime.

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A Zombie in the Wild

(Eric Rasmusen) I have long thought fairly highly of the Atlantic, both as a magazine and as a blog. So the following article by Richard Gunderman1 is disheartening to read. It is a perfect example of the very zombie I am trying so hard to kill: the “Standard Story” that unquestioningly accepts the generally-incorrect conventional explanations without (for obvious reasons) providing data to back them up. So I thought I’d spend this post attacking it point by point, just so it is clear how deeply flawed the conventional story is, and to highlight the dubious arguments that are so often made in favor of it.

Gunderman starts with the standard it-isn’t-crime explanation:

Why have U.S. incarceration rates skyrocketed? The answer is not rising crime rates. In fact, crime rates have actually dropped by more than a quarter over the past 40 years.

His statement that crime has dropped by 25% over 40 years is wrong in several ways. As the graph below (taken from here) shows, crime has only been dropped since 1991, which is 24 years ago. Between 1974 (that’s 40 years ago) and 2011 (the last year for which the FBI has data), violent crime has risen by 23%, and property crime has falled by just over 2%. The net change: + 0.1% (since there is about 10 times as much property crime as violent crime). So he is just factually wrong.2

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But looking at the graph reveals another, deeper problem with his analysis. Given that crime soared from 1960 to 1991 (with a little pause for violent crime in the early 1980s), why present just a single percent-change number? If we want to understand why prison populations have risen sharply since the mid-1970s, we can’t just ignore the unprecedented rise in crime that accompanied the first 20 years of prison growth.

Furthermore, if we want to understand why crime remains such a politically powerful issue, just note that despite the crime drop since 1991, violent crime is still 100% higher than it was in 1960, which were the formative years of the politically-powerful Baby Boom cohort. And much of the drop since 1991 has come through self-protective measures that don’t necessarily make us actually feel safer (security systems, not going out at night, etc.). So we are still a relatively violent country by historical standards for a large bloc of voters.

For more crime related updates, call or visit Best Detroit Lawyers. 

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Can We Justify How Criminal Justice Authority is Allocated Across Jurisdictions?

(Cynthia Godsoe) Blogging, young kids, and flu season: apparently only two of the three can co-exist at one time, at least in my house. Anyway, in my last post, I asserted that the decentralized nature of our criminal justice system has played a major role in driving up prison populations. In this post, before looking at the problems with decentralization, I wanted to think about whether we can justify such a system, and ask whether the problematic decentralization seen in criminal law is prevalent elsewhere as well.

As an economist, the strongest justification I can see for federalism1 relates to externalities. At least as a starting point, issues should be dealt with by the smallest jurisdiction that completely contains the problem. Obviously, there are clear counterarguments—economies of scale, coordination problems, etc., etc.—against having too many levels of government. But since here I’m basically looking at city, county, and state governments, it seems like a reasonable place to start.

The division of labor we see is basically this: local communities such as cities are responsible for enforcement, counties are in charge of bringing cases and incarcerating misdemeanants, and the state is responsible for incarcerating felons and, via the state criminal code, defining the basic substantive and punitive rules.

Yet what is striking is how remarkably local and concentrated crime is.

Nearly half of all crime in the United States takes place in just 75 counties (see the codebook here)—or just over 2% of the 3,143counties in the country. Within these counties, crime is concentrated in the urban areas. And within these urban areas, crime is heavily concentrated at the block-by-block level. One study of Seattle, for example, revealed that over a fourteen year period, over 50% of all crime took place in just 4% to 5% of city blocks each year, and 100% of crime each year took place in just about half of all city blocks; over 22% of all city blocks never experienced a crime during the whole sample period. Similar results have been found in other cities as well.

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Yet even the idea of “good” and “bad” neighborhoods understates the concentration of crime. As David Weisburd explains elsewhere:

In what are generally seen as good parts of town there are often streets with strong crime concentrations, and in what are often defined as bad neighborhoods, many places are relatively free of crime.

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