Death penalty news. Two people were sentenced to death in Texas last week. That would hardly be news - Texas has executed 530 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, almost five times more than the next highest state (Oklahoma) - except for this: we're ten months into 2015, and those were the first death sentences handed down in the Lone Star State this year. In 2000, juries there imposed capital punishment on 48 defendants. That's as many death sentences as have been handed down in the past six years combined.
Ohio, which has executed 53 people during that time, the highest of any non-Southern or border state, won't be killing anyone any more this year. In fact, the last time a death sentence was carried out here, it resulted in Dennis McGuire's horribly botched execution. Governor Kasich recently postponed all executions until 2017. Arkansas and Oklahoma have also imposed a moratorium on executions.
The reason for the decline in death sentences is the alternative punishment of life without parole, and juries getting squeamish about people being exonerated after spending twenty and even thirty years on death row. The reason for the decline in executions is the drying up of execution drugs. Pharmaceutical companies won't sell them anymore because of public backlash, and so states have had to look to "other sources."
One of those sources, according to a story in Buzzfeed, is room 818 of a building in Kolkata, India, where Chris Harris operates a business known as HarrisPharma. Harris is a salesman, and a pretty good one at that; despite having no pharmaceutical background, he's sold thousands of vials of execution drugs to states hard-pressed to find another source. He sold enough to Nebraska for them to conduct 300 executions, which in itself is fascinating: Nebraska's executed three people in the 39 years, the legislature voted to abolish the death penalty, and after the governor's veto the issue is being submitted to statewide referendum this year. Even if the public votes to continue capital punishment, HarrisPharma won't be of any help; the FDA intends to impound Nebraska's shipment, because the drug is illegal in the United States.
Harris claims to have sold his drug to five other states as well. None of them have been used, after questions of their legality were raised.
Sentencing news. The longest journey begins with a single step, and federal sentencing reform began its journey with the passage by the Senate Judiciary Committee, by 15-5 vote, of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. You can find a summary of the bill's sections here, a section-by-section breakdown here, and, for those of you with nothing to do until the new Stars Wars movie comes out, the full text of the bill here.
Since you pay me to read this stuff and tell you about it - oh, wait... -- the very short version is that the reforms are directed toward drug offenders. Under current law, mandatory minimum sentences can be imposed if the defendant has any prior drug felonies; the new law would limit those to serious drug felonies. The "safety valve," which allows judges to go under the minimum mandatory sentence in drug offenses, has been substantially expanded: now, a defendant has to have no more than one criminal history point (a misdemeanor conviction), while the new law would increase the allowable points to four, although disqualifying offenders who have prior violent or drug trafficking convictions. One of the key provisions is to make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses, retroactive.
Signs of the times. Smith College was founded in 1870, courtesy of a donation of $400,000 by Sophia Smith, as the first women's college to be founded by a woman. And it's only for women. But how would Caitlynn, née Bruce, Jenner fare if she applied? Just fine, as indicated by Smith's Admissions Policy page:
Are trans women eligible for admission to Smith?
Applicants who were assigned male at birth but identify as women are eligible for admission.
Are trans men eligible for admission?
Smith does not accept applications from men. Those assigned female at birth but who now identify as male are not eligible for admission.
Under this newly clarified policy, what is required of applicants to be considered for admission?
Smith's policy is one of self-identification. To be considered for admission, applicants must select 'female' on the Common Application.
In short, the school will not admit women who are actually women if they identify as men.