An Interview with U.S. Congressman Ted Poe

To close National Victims’ Rights Week, I interviewed United States Congressman Ted Poe about his work chairing the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus. Poe observed that victims’ restitution can come in several different forms. Money is obviously one of those forms, but it’s not the only one. Click here to listen to the podcast.

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An Important Victims’ Restitution Case in the Fifth Circuit

A woman identified by the pseudonym “Amy” was the victim of child sexual abuse. The abuse was photographed, and the pornographic images are widely circulated on the internet. An East Texas man named Doyle Paroline is one of the individuals who has viewed the images. Authorities found two images of Amy among 280 images of child pornography on Paroline’s computer. He pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography in 2009, and he was sentenced to federal prison.

At Paroline’s sentencing, Amy sought over $3.3 million in restitution from Paroline, pursuant to the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. 18 U.S.C. § 3771(a)(6). She arrived at the $3.3 million figure by combining her lost income, attorney’s fees, and the cost of her psychological counseling. The trial court, however, denied her restitution request, holding that in order to recover the restitution, Amy was required to demonstrate that Paroline – rather than the thousands of other individuals who have viewed the images – “proximately caused” her injury.

In March of 2011, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the trial court in a case styled In re Amy Unknown. The appellate court, in an opinion by Judge Edith Jones, held that there is no proximate cause requirement in the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, and thus the district court had erred in insisting that proximate cause be demonstrated.

This, however, was not the end of the story because in early 2011, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reached precisely the opposite conclusion. In U.S. v. McDaniel, Judge Charles Wilson’s opinion concluded that the Crime Victims’ Rights Act did include a “proximate cause” requirement. Shortly, thereafter, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Eleventh Circuit in U.S. v. Monzel.

Next Thursday, the Fifth Circuit will rehear In re Amy, along with their decision in U.S. v. Wright, yet another case involving a restitution claim by Amy. In Wright, Judge W. Eugene Davis directly urged the appeals court to grant a rehearing en banc to consider the vexing “proximate cause” question.

It is an important question and one with obviously significant consequences for victims’ restitution. If the Fifth Circuit once again interprets the statute as lacking a proximate cause requirement, then the circuit split will remain, and it is likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will feel the need to decide the matter.

For more on this case, see Professor Doug Berman’s comments or these comments from former federal Judge Paul Cassell, who represents Amy before the Fifth Circuit.

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National Crime Victims Rights Week 2012

In 1981, Ronald Reagan signed an executive order establishing National Crime Victims Rights Week (NCVRW). This week marks the 32nd annual celebration of the week, which promotes victims’ interests and recognizes those who work on behalf of victims. NCVRW is managed by the federal Office for Victims of Crime, but people throughout the U.S. – for example in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, and New York – are holding their own commemorations. Even Canada has begun to recognize the week.

Right On Crime will have coverage of NCVRW throughout the week, focusing on several core principles, among them:

  • Victims must be given the choice to participate, receive restitution, and even be reconciled with first time, non-violent offenders;
  • In appropriate cases, enable crime victims to choose pretrial victim-offender conferencing;
  • Victims must be notified about developments in the case against the offender; and
  • The amount and share of the restitution a victim collects should be used as a performance measure for probation and parole systems.

For a better sense of how sensible criminal justice reform would approach the interests of crime victims, read Right On Crime’s page on victims’ issues or read this Daily Beast piece which RoC signatory Pat Nolan penned about NCVRW just one year ago.

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School Discipline: When Should Law Enforcement Step In?

This week, several schools and districts are grappling with the issue of when—if ever—it is appropriate for police officers to get involved with school discipline issues.

The Albuquerque school district, for example, is currently the defendant in a class action lawsuit over referring students to law enforcement for allegedly minor offenses. When a student was talking to her friend and refused to return to her seat, her teacher called the police.

In contrast, a Georgia six-year-old throwing a violent tantrum—which included destruction of property and assault, according to published reports—was arrested and taken away in a police cruiser. She was also put in handcuffs while in the cruiser, according to standard department policy, but to the outrage of many.

The Georgia example highlights that law enforcement may sometimes be required, but it is nevertheless essential that schools are not unduly relying on law enforcement and other serious disciplinary measures. A recent report out of California estimated that 40 percent of suspensions are for “willful defiance” or disrupting class.

This is a significant issue because suspensions translate to time out of school and lost education hours. Arrests for minor offenses often result in increased risks of further justice system involvement. While discipline is an important component of administering effective education, it is essential that it “fits the crime,” so to speak. Teachers and school district officials must create careful discipline policies that do not overly rely on the justice system or out-of-school suspensions for minor misbehavior that is more appropriately corrected with traditional school discipline methods.

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Juvenile Mental Health Court in D.C. Shows Early Success

In Washington D.C., juveniles charged with certain offenses (including some misdemeanors and non-violent, low-level felonies) and diagnosed with a mental illness, can apply to be diverted to a specialized mental health court.

There, under the guidance of Judge Joan Goldfrank, youths are held accountable for their specific problem behavior—such as school attendance, substance abuse, or avoiding mental health treatment.

Early results are encouraging: out of the 56 enrolled in 2011, only eight were subsequently re-arrested. This rate, 14 percent, is far lower than the average re-arrest rates out of D.C.’s general juvenile courts, which hovers around forty percent.

While the Washington Post story highlights some of the problems a mental health court faces—namely, acceptance of a mental health diagnosis by a juvenile and his or her family—the early indicators of success (as measured through reduced recidivism and reduced costs), should make Washington, D.C. residents optimistic.

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