A curious string of recusals in a New Mexico corruption case

One by one, eight state trial judges have recused themselves from presiding over a criminal case against a former New Mexico state senator.  Phil Griego was indicted in June on 22 counts, including perjury and embezzlement.  Among other things, Griego is alleged to have spent funds from his re-election account after resigning from the state senate in March 2015.

None of the eight judges identified a specific reason for recusing themselves from the case, with each indicating only “good cause” for the recusal.   The Santa Fe New Mexican reports:

Former state Supreme Court Justice Patricio Serna said one factor in the decision by so many Santa Fe judges to recuse themselves from Griego’s case might have been their role lobbying legislators for court funding.

If the need to obtain court funds from the legislature compromises judges to this extent,  interdependence can become a danger to the administration of justice.

 

 

New York appellate court affirms restrictions on juror anonymity

Under New York law, trial judges may withhold jurors’ addresses from the public and the parties if there is a concern for juror safety. The judge, however, may not withhold the names of jurors. A purely anonymous jury is thought to compromise due process for criminal defendants.

The New York Times reports that a state appellate court recently upheld these restrictions.  In a criminal trial involving four members of an alleged street gang, the trial court declined to provide juror names to counsel, identifying jurors only by number.  Defense lawyers objected, but the trial judge cited to jurors in previous cases who had expressed concerns about their safety. The defendants appealed.

This week, the appeals court sided with the defendants and granted them a new trial, holding that the trial court had violated the statute’s prohibition on purely anonymous juries.

Pennsylvania state court will not schedule criminal trials in July and August

The Luzerne County, Pennsylvania courts will not be scheduling criminal jury trials during the summer months, prompting concern from local officials about a potentially burgeoning prison population.

Scheduling criminal trials during the summer has become increasingly difficult because parties involved often have planned vacations, including attorneys, witnesses, experts who must provide testimony, and prospective jurors, Shucosky said.

Instead of being forced to continue proceedings due to scheduling conflicts, court officials opted to shift the focus and concentrate primarily on non-jury trials, guilty pleas and negotiated plea bargains during the two months, he said.

Court officials expect a large number of cases will be resolved through this effort, allowing some inmates to get out of prison or start serving sentences instead of awaiting adjudication. Many minor cases result in guilty pleas with a sentence of time already served, Shucosky noted.

Hmm.

 

Federal criminal prosecutions fall to lowest level since 1997

The Pew Research Center breaks down the latest statistics.  The drop was fueled by significant declines in prosecutions for drug, immigration, and property offenses.

The 3% drop in criminal filings last year was offset by a 5% increase in federal civil filings, so the federal district courts overall experienced a 3% increase in filings for Fiscal Year 2016.

New release of federal criminal justice data — only 3% of cases go to trial

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has released its newest data on the federal criminal justice system, from 2013-14.  Among the highlights:

  • During 2014, federal law enforcement made 165,265 arrests, a 12% decrease from 188,164 arrests in 2013.
  • In 2014, the five federal judicial districts along the U.S.-Mexico border accounted for 61% of federal arrests, 55% of suspects investigated, and 39% of offenders sentenced to federal prison.
  • There were 81,881 federal immigration arrests made in 2014—one-half of all federal arrests.
  • Ninety-one percent of felons in cases terminated in U.S. district court in 2014 were convicted as the result of a guilty plea, 6% were dismissed, and 3% received a jury or bench trial.

While the data themselves are about two years behind, they obviously inform current policy debates.  The entire statistical package also gives a better sense of the coordination between the federal courts and the DEA, U.S. Marshals, federal prison system, and federal prosecutors.