Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What's an acceptable error rate in death penalty distributions? And some other thoughts on the Jones decision

The indispensable Doug "not that subway fugitive" Berman alerted me earlier today to the Jones v. Chappell opinion by the federal judge in California who struck down the Cal death penalty on the grounds that the insane amounts of delay between sentence and execution are violative of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments. (I have registered my retributivist and constitutional doubts about the death penalty before, but I haven't been too enamored of the argument that wins the day in this case. Whether I revise my views, well, anything's possible. I am after all getting older.)

Having worked my way through the opinion by Judge Cormac Carney (a GWB appointee), I imagine the outcome won't stand on appeal to SCOTUS should it get there. That said, with Justice Kennedy as the swing vote deciding on California issues, you never know for sure. Moreover, Justice Breyer has in the past voiced concern about foot-dragging death penalty delays.

Regardless of when/if it gets struck down, the Carney opinion notes the following about error rates, which I found to be of profound interest. Specifically:

"Of the 748 inmates currently on California’s Death Row, more than 40 percent, including Mr. Jones, have been there longer than 19 years."

"Of the 511 individuals sentenced to death between 1978 and 1997, 79 died of natural causes, suicide,
or causes other than execution by the State of California."

"For those that survive the extraordinary wait for their challenge to be both heard and decided by the federal courts, there is a substantial chance that their death sentence will be vacated. As of June 2014, only 81 of the 511 individuals sentenced to death between 1978 and 1997 had completed the post-conviction review process. Of them, 32 were denied relief by both the state and federal courts—13 were executed, 17 are currently awaiting execution, and two died of natural causes before the State acted to execute them. The other 49—or 60 percent of all inmates whose habeas claims have been finally evaluated by the federal courts—were each granted relief from the death sentence by the federal courts."  But of those 49, the "State resentenced 10 of these individuals to death, thus starting anew the post-sentencing appeal process on the renewed sentences, though two have since died while on post-conviction review for the second time." 

A few points here.

First, what's left unsaid by Judge Carney, so far as I can tell, is whether the state has abandoned efforts to resentence to death the remaining 39, or accepts that 39 out of the 81 people originally sentenced to death should in fact not be sentenced to death.  If the state is committed to resentencing the 39 to the death penalty, then it's not clear that the facts adduced here have much traction; all they show is that the system is hyper vigilant at the post-conviction review stage.  On the flip side, if the state basically concedes that 39 out of the 81 people should not or cannot be resentenced to death, then we have an almost 50% error rate in the initial distribution of the death penalty. As a purely prudential/consequentialist matter, that error rate strikes me as quite worrisome (independent of my constitutional or retributivist concerns). Indeed, unless such error rates were valuable in creating a higher deterrence through random terror effect, which I doubt, I suspect if I were the DP czar, I would be seriously concerned that the death penalty cases are a complete regulatory failure. Perhaps it's time to re-read Robert Morgenthau's famous oped about why prosecutors with resource constraints and a crime-fighting streak should oppose the death penalty

Second, if 81 people have had a decision on the merits and exhausted all judicial review, it does seem a puzzle as to why there's an ostensible delay of YEARS between those decisions and the executions. Maybe the explanation is in the appendix that I didn't see; but in its opinion, the court notes that California hasn't executed anyone since 2006. Are there delays resulting from California's executioners waiting for the clemency process to be exhausted in addition to the post-conviction judicial review? Wouldn't that be worth knowing about?

Third, the defendant, Mr. Jones, and the Court here seem to think that only a random few people are selected for execution. If that were true, I could see why the constitution should step in and eliminate that randomness in distribution.  But I'm not convinced yet that the source of delay is inherently random or arbitrary (terms the court conflates here).  I guess I take issue with the claim that the Court offers: "a sentence of death in California is a sentence of life imprisonment with the remote possibility of death—a sentence no rational legislature or jury could ever impose." I could well imagine that a rational legislature or jury would in fact understand their votes to constitute a view to execute subject to stringent review out of a desire to cause death to the defendant but only as long as and once the process has run out. Flipping it around as the fed Cal court does may seem rhetorically nifty, but it's not exactly a model of intellectual generosity to citizens and officials who disagree in good faith.

Fourth, while I understand and accept the claim advanced that deterrence is undermined by delay, it's not the case that harm prevention generally is necessarily undermined by procedural delay. Confidence in the system's accuracy or fairness in a death penalty tribunal might be thought to bolster compliance--this is the mantra that Bentham(!), Tom Tyler and Paul Robinson have all adopted. Inasmuch as the delays bolster confidence and compliance generally, which I take to be a fragile but possible relationship, then the part of the court's opinion addressing deterrence moves too quickly, in part b/c it makes the same mistake Eighth Amendment caselaw makes too frequently: by quickly conflating deterrence with harm prevention generally.

Fourth, the retribution analysis by the court (p21-22) also moves too quickly. I don't accept as persuasive the invocation of authority (citations to Rehnquist and Powell and Fletcher) as opposed to argument the claim that retribution is undermined by delay attributable to post-conviction review. The court takes that proposition for granted but it again conflates retributive justice with satisfaction of communal preferences for condemnation.  Moreover, it assumes that the wrong against retributive justice ideals associated with executing a few of all those sentenced to death is the same regardless of whether the reason is because of the drag of post-conviction review or because someone is selected for execution based on his race (or, hypothetically, the race of his victim).  But I don't think that's right at all. 

In short, if we accept arguendo the controversial premise that capital punishment is consistent with retributive justice (a premise I reject), it doesn't follow that delay attributable to judicial review of the underlying accuracy or respect for the defendant's constitutional rights is antithetical to retributive justice. Indeed, the respect for accuracy manifested by an exhausting (albeit exasperating) forensic process could reasonably be thought to bolster the retributive value of the execution. 

 I don't want to signal an overly skeptical posture; I'm still unsure about what my views are here. I support striking down the d/p on Eighth Amendment grounds generally but for the reasons I've suggested, I'm less certain this court's arguments are the right arguments to bolster that constitutional claim. Regardless, I hope the dispute has the effect of spurring  proper funding for capital appeals and post-conviction review so the delays are less likely to materialize. [Of course, I agree with Doug Berman's general view that the d/p is a sideshow to the more mundane and pernicious and pervasive problems with noncapital punishment.] That said, the claim that "justice" delayed is no justice at all, and indeed, unconstititional, needs more work -- so it seems to me.  I'm not defending the claim that the delays are worthwhile, but I don't see how this opinion explains adequately how the delays harm the defendant once a) the defendant wants to benefit from the procedural wrangle, and b) the public has an interest in ensuring that justice appears to be done properly, ie, with appropriate judicial or executive clemency review for severe sentences.

 

Posted by Dan Markel on July 16, 2014 at 07:16 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Dan Markel | Permalink | Comments (8)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Harmon on the fragility of knowledge in the Riley (cellphone and 4A) case

Prof. Rachel Harmon from UVA had an interesting post to the crimprof listserv that I thought warranted broader exposure, so with her permission I'm sharing it. (Rachel asked to also thank UVA law librarian Kent Olson for his help with the underlying research).

--

In light of the likely significance of the Court's opinion in Riley v. California, I may seem obsessed with the trivial, but I can’t help but note the Court’s odd support for one of its statements about policing, and the pathetic state of information about policing it reveals. On page 6, the Court states that “warrantless searches incident to arrest occur with far greater frequency than searches conducted pursuant to a warrant.”  Though the proposition seems intuitively obvious, data on searches and seizures isn’t easy to find, so I was curious about the Court’s support. 

Chief Justice Roberts cited LaFave’s Search and Seizure treatise, which struck me as an odd source for an empirical claim, so I looked it up.  LaFave does indeed say, “While the myth persists that warrantless searches are the exception, the fact is that searches incident to arrest occur with the greatest frequency.”  But that sentence has appeared unchanged since the first edition of the treatise in 1978.  And LaFave’s support for the proposition is itself pathetic.  It comes in a footnote which reads:  “See T. Taylor, Two Studies in Constitutional Interpretation 48 (1969). ‘Comparison of the total number of search warrants issued with the arrests made is equally illuminating. In 1966 the New York police obtained 3,897 warrants and made 171,288 arrests. It is reliably reported that in San Francisco in 1966 there were 29,084 serious crimes reported to the police, who during the same year obtained only 19 search warrants.’ Model Code of Pre-Arraignment Procedure 493–94 (1975).” 

Because I’m crazy, I pulled Taylor and the Model Code too.

 

Both sources suggest that they can’t really prove the original point.   Taylor says, “[M]ost law enforcement agencies have been exceedingly lax with their record-keeping in this field.  But there a few offices where the records are full enough to be meaningful, and from these it is abundantly apparent that searches of persons and premises incident to an arrest outnumber manifold searches covered by warrants.”   He provides no further support for the claim.

The Model Code Commentary provides the numbers from 1966, but also makes it clear they are not to be taken too seriously.  The New York data was apparently furnished directly to the Code’s Reporters from the NYPD, and the San Francisco numbers came from a New York Times’ reporter.  (It was Fred Graham, the Supreme Court correspondent at the time and a lawyer.)   According to a footnote to the Commentary, “Research efforts elsewhere foundered on the rocks of record-keeping failures.  Law enforcement agencies do not commonly maintain statistical records pertaining to search warrants or searches and seizures generally.”

So the Supreme Court cited a source, unchanged since 1978, which cites two sources from the late 1960s, both of which suggest that there is very little evidence for the proposition because police record keeping is weak.  I’m hardly one to criticize imperfect footnotes (since I’ve surely written many myself), but this one interests me.   The Court is all too willing to make unsupported claims about policing, a problem I’ve noted before.  See The Problem of Policing, 110 Mich. L. Rev. 761, 772-773 (2012).  Moreover, for the Court, as well as scholars and policymakers there is a serious problem in finding credible information about what police do.   See Why Do We (Still) Lack Data on Policing?, 96 Marq. L. Rev. 1119 (2013).  The Riley/Wurie citation nicely illustrates both problems, and it won’t be the last to do so.  

 

Posted by Dan Markel on June 27, 2014 at 11:13 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A victory for the rule of law - apparently not

I had to edit this blog because literally as I posted it, the news changed.  Monday, Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese mother of two young children who was facing a death sentence for adultery for marrying a Christian man and apostasy after refusing to denounce her faith was released by court order.  As I previously wrote, her imprisonment violated Sudanese law.  Her release was a victory for the rule of law.  International pressure influenced this outcome.   But the victory was very short (less than 24 hours).  The breaking news is that she was rearrested at the airport and was taken into custody along with her two children and husband.

Unfortunately, Ibrahim is only one of many who have suffered (and are suffering) in this way.  There are many who endure tremendous human rights violations because of the lack of rule but who do not receive media attention.  Ibrahim's story illustrates my previous point - international pressure is one way to help bolster rule of law in developing countries, however, that may not be enough as evidenced by the re-arrest of Ibrahim.  Perhaps governmental officials who are threatened with a charge of a crime against humanity for failure to enforce their countries own laws will feel the weight of international shame and act to uphold the rule of law.

Posted by Naomi Goodno on June 24, 2014 at 11:13 AM in Criminal Law, Current Affairs, Gender, International Law, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

How to Prosecute Crimes Committed Abroad?

Earlier this year, in U.S. v. Pepe, a former U.S. Marine captain was sentenced to over 200 years in prison for brutally molesting young girls while teaching in Cambodia under the pretense of being a college professor looking out for the Cambodian youth.  He was found guilty of a violation of the PROTECT Act, a laudable federal statute with extraterritorial application which prohibits U.S. citizens from molesting children abroad.  The Pepe case had been lingering for eight years.  The investigation began in 2006, the jury convicted in 2008, and since then the case has been stuck in litigation limbo (a lingering motion for new trial based on an inappropriate relationship between a U.S. law enforcement agent and translator).

I have previously written about the PROTECT Act, and how it, along with numerous other federal statutes that criminalize U.S. citizens behavior abroad, raises an interesting Foreign Commerce Clause (FCC) issue - a matter in which circuit courts are in complete disarray over.  Assuming that Congress, under the FCC, has the power to enact laws like the PROTECT Act with extraterritorial application, the next issues to address (the issues which are framing my fall research project) are the criminal procedure implications of investigations of U.S. citizens in other countries and the related evidentiary matters.

If the U.S. criminally prosecutes a citizen for behavior abroad, when and to what extent should constitutional guarantees (like search and seizure) apply?  It has been suggested that so long as U.S. government agencies train foreign officers, constitutional rights would be secure and the evidence would be admissible.  That seems simplistic, and, indeed, case law is unclear.  For example, under the "joint venture doctrine," a U.S. agency may be so involved with a foreign investigation that the foreign authorities would be deemed as "acting as agents for their American counterparts."  At that point, the U.S. citizen has the right to constitutional protections.  But, the circuits are split as to what level of involvement the U.S. agency has to have to give rise to a joint venture.

What about evidentiary issues?  For example, in one PROTECT Act case, an NGO was helping U.S. and foreign authorities investigate a U.S. citizen traveling in Asia.  When the foreign agents arrested the defendant, an individual from the NGO took the defendant's laptop home which created problematic chain of custody issues at the U.S. trial.  From both practical and legal perspectives, securing witnesses and admissible evidence in the prosecution of extraterritorial crimes create extraordinary legal battles.  Given how easy international travel has become, these issues will become more and more prominent.

Posted by Naomi Goodno on June 19, 2014 at 05:55 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Current Affairs, International Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Two Newest Faces of the Problem with the Lack of the Rule of Law - a Newborn and a 20-month Old

As a tangential follow-up to my previous post concerning the use of a crime against humanity charge as a way to bolster the rule of law, another heart-wrenching story is gaining international attention. 

Meet Maya, the first U.S. citizen to be born in a Sudanese prison while her mother was shackled to prison walls.  Meet Martin, Maya's twenty-month old bother, who is probably the second youngest U.S. citizen to be sitting in a Sudanese prison.  Their father is a U.S. citizen.  Their mother is Meriam Ibrahim, a doctor and a Sudanese citizen, who has been sentenced by a Sudanese court to 100 lashes for adultery because she married a non-Muslim man and to death by hanging (once Maya is weaned) for apostasy for refusing to denounce her Christian faith.  Ibrahim was found guilty of apostasy because it was determined that she was Muslim even though she testified she was Christian and raised by her Christian mother when her Muslim father abandoned the family.  The trial raises due process issues since three of Ibrahim's witnesses were not allowed to testify.  

There are clear human rights violations and violations of Sudanese law.  Ibrahim's imprisonment violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which, since Sudan has ratified the treaty, guarantees that all Sudanese citizens "have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" and due process of law.  Sudan has also ratified the African Charter on Human and People's Rights which also guarantees freedom of religion and due process.  Indeed, Sudan's own 2005 interim constitution specifically guarantees the "right and freedoms enshrined in international human rights treaties" ratified by Sudan.  Ibrahim's case (and the impact on her children) graphically illustrates the rule of law problem - the laws are in place but not enforced.

The pressure from the international community caused some movement, albeit ineffectual as it currently stands.  A few weeks ago the Sudanese government pledged Ibrahim's release, but recanted a few days later.  This probably is not surprising given the government is headed by Omar al-Bashir who has an outstanding ICC warrant for CAH for his actions in Darfur.  What can be done?  What should be done?  Perhaps with continued and more world-wide pressure (which should be headed by the U.S. given that some of the youngest U.S. citizens - Maya and Martin - are sitting in deplorable conditions), there might be another small step forward even if it simply means more discussion about and attention given to the lack of the rule of law and the consequential human rights violations of women and children.  More legal attention and monetary support should be put in place to uphold the rule of law. 

Posted by Naomi Goodno on June 13, 2014 at 05:25 PM in Criminal Law, Culture, Current Affairs, Gender, International Law, Law and Politics, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 05, 2014

'Bring Back Our Girls' - Failure to Enforce the Rule of Law as a Crime Against Humanity

The media has been saturated with stories of violence against children and women in developing countries and the lack of meaningful action by government officials.  As a recent example, hundreds of girls in Nigeria were kidnapped from a boarding school and Nigerians have criticized the government for failure to sufficiently act.  In India, two girls were raped and hung from a mango tree while, villagers allege, the police stood by.  In Pakistan, a pregnant woman, while literally standing on the courthouse steps of a high court, was stoned to death by relatives even though such "honor killings" are illegal. 

Many developing countries have well-written laws dealing with such issues as violence against women and children, bonded labor, property grabbing, and the general administration of justice, but a large swath of the most vulnerable part of the population (the poorest, the women, and the children) fail to receive protection or justice.  No doubt, there is a rule of law problem.

Rule of law issues are complex.  Developing countries do not have the funds to enforce laws.  Citizens of developing countries are often unaware of their rights and protection under the law.  Corruption is a problem throughout law enforcement agencies and the justice system, from the police to the prosecutors and the judges.  The international community needs to do more to help battle this corruption (of course, this is not to say that we don't have our own major corruption problems on the domestic front).  The rule of law problem is so pervasive in some of these countries that all the good NGOs do by providing food, education and health care is overshadowed by the violence that the most vulnerable populations face daily.  Focus (and funds) should be shifted away from simply providing material aid, and instead more attention should be given to establishing the rule of law. 

It doesn't matter how healthy or educated a young girl is if she is raped without any recourse or murdered without any justice.  This is the subject of my current research project where I argue that the failure by high ranking government officials to enforce their countries' laws could establish a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute.  A systematic failure to protect a large portion of the population (i.e., women and children) from murder, rape and other inhumane acts fits the definition of a crime against humanity.  There are some potential problems with this analysis, though. 

Even if the failure to enforce laws (an act of omission) could constitute a crime against humanity, could anyone really be charged?  Many developing nations (including India and Pakistan) have not ratified the Rome Statute.  However, the U.N. Security Council has referred a few matters (Sudan and Libya) to the International Criminal Court.  In the Sudan matter, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for the leader of Sudan under the Rome Statute even though Sudan is not a party member.  With enough international pressure, perhaps the Security Council would act again.  Even if it did not, some of the countries where gender and children violence is pervasive are parties to the Rome Statute (like Nigeria).

Second, and perhaps more important, even if a government official is charged with a crime against humanity, so what?  The ICC is struggling with number of issues, including the problem of enforcement.  Despite the issues surrounding the ICC, however, the shame brought upon an individual with a crime against humanity charge (or investigation) might send a strong message that the international community believes in the rule of law.

Posted by Naomi Goodno on June 5, 2014 at 03:39 PM in Criminal Law, Current Affairs, Gender, International Law, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Internet and Violence on Campus

I want to thank Dan Markel and everyone at PrawfsBlawg for the opportunity to guest blog this month.  As a regular reader, I am honored to officially join the conversation.

Because of the recent tragedy at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where Elliot Rodger murdered six students, I have been thinking a lot about violence in school.  Although Rodger wasn't a current student and didn't use the internet to threaten one specific individual, his video messages posted on YouTube were clearly directed at students at the school.  I have written about the intersection of the internet and school violence, but my focus was on K-12 public schools, not public universities.  These cases raise complex First Amendment and due process challenges.  When does a public school have the authority (or the requirement) to regulate off-campus speech that bullies or threatens other students or school officials?  As for K-12 public schools, the courts are all over the board in their decisions and the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue.  Because the pedagogical goals are different in college than in K-12 school, these issues become even more complex in the public university setting.

In a recent case, Tatro v. University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that a public university could discipline a student enrolled in a professional program for posting inappropriate comments on Facebook that violated her academic program rules without impinging on her free speech rights.  The University disciplined Tatro, who was enrolled in the undergraduate mortuary science program, for posting off-colored remarks about a cadaver in an embalming lab.  The Court only sided with the University because the University's rules were narrowly tailored and directly related to the professional conduct standards of the student's program.  Although this case did not raise issues about violent comments created off-campus, it does bring to the forefront issues that desperately need resolution.

First, does the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District standard, which, in part, allows schools to regulate speech that substantially impinges upon the rights of others, apply to speech that students make off-campus and post on the internet?  If so, does that same standard apply to college students?  I have argued that the Tinker standard should apply to K-12 public schools, but the analysis seems different for public universities.  Not only are most college students legally adults who should be afforded more speech protection than minors given their presumed cognitive development, but colleges themselves are supposed to be bastions for the free exchange of ideas.  Thus, even if the Tinker standard applies to off-campus speech in the university setting, the bar should be much lower.  But, even with a lower bar, college officials should be required to take action when there are threats or extreme bullying - of course, what constitutes "extreme bullying" (my phrase) raises a host of other issues. 

Given this digital age and that social-networking sites pervade people's daily lives, students will undoubtedly continue to use the internet as the forum in which to air grievances, bully, make threats, and even post suicide notes.  I would be interested to hear what others think about how schools should respond to these issues.

Posted by Naomi Goodno on June 3, 2014 at 01:44 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Culture, Current Affairs, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, June 02, 2014

Prosecutorial Discretion in Bond

Who would have thought that Bond v. United States -- today's much-awaited decision involving the Chemical Weapons Convention -- would have so much to do with prosecutorial discretion? Yet prosecutorial discretion appeared repeatedly in the Court's consideration of the case, serving different purposes each time.

First, the fact of prosecutorial discretion is the critical factor explaining why Bond even arose. By way of background, the defendant Bond used certain harmful chemicals to retaliate against a romantic rival. Bond was then prosecuted for violating federal legislation implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention. In Bond, the Court relied on federalism canons to conclude that the implementing legislation didn't reach Bond's conduct. A major theme of the majority opinion is that Bond is an "unusual" and "curious case" that is "worlds apart" from what anyone would have associated with the Chemical Weapons Convention or its implementing legislation. Another major theme is that the "common law assault" at issue in Bond would normally be handled by state and local government. But if that's so, then why was the defendant federally prosecuted? The answer is that the federal prosecutors involved in the case concluded -- contrary to the intuitive view -- that the Convention's implementing legislation properly applied.

Second, prudent use of prosecutorial discretion was a source of comfort to the majority, since it meant that the Court's statutory holding wouldn't have harmful effects. "[W]ith the exception of this unusual case," Bond noted, "the Federal Government itself has not looked to section 229 to reach purely local crimes." Instead, federal authorities had previously used the relevant statutory authority primarily to prosecute things akin to "assassination, terrorism, and acts with the potential to cause mass suffering," and the Court declined to "disrupt the Government’s authority to prosecute such offenses." In a related discussion, the Court relied on the constitutional value of state prosecutorial discretion to deflect an argument raised by the federal government. In justifying its decision to prosecute in Bond, the United States argued that state and local prosecutors had fallen down on the job in that they had "charged Bond with only a minor offense based on her 'harassing telephone calls and letters' and declined to prosecute her for assault." The Court's response was curt: "we have traditionally viewed the exercise of state officials’ prosecutorial discretion as a valuable feature of our constitutional system."

Finally, the federal government's failure to exercise wise prosecutorial discretion in Bond was, to a great extent, the problem that the Court perceived and chose to solve. That is surprising. Bond was widely expected to be a grand verdict on Missouri v. Holland and the scope of the constitutional treaty power. To the Court, however, that abstract debate seemed far removed from the facts of the case. The real problem was that federal prosecutors had overreached. As Justice Kennedy told the Solicitor General during oral argument: "It ... seems unimaginable that you would bring this prosecution." But bring it they did. The solution was to prevent such overreaching in the future. As the Court put it: "Here, in its zeal to prosecute Bond, the Federal Government has 'displaced' the 'public policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, enacted in its capacity as sovereign,' that Bond does not belong in prison for a chemical weapons offense." Under the Court's narrowed reading of the statute, that problem will no longer arise.

Bond's discussion of prosecutorial discretion calls to mind other instances where the Court has policed federal attorneys.  In United States v. Stevens, for instance, the Court (per the Chief, as in Bond) noted that the United States had repeatedly invoked "its prosecutorial discretion" as a potential cure for First Amendment problems.  The Court retorted: "But the First Amendment protects against the Government; it does not leave us at the mercy of noblesse oblige." A related sentiment is at work in Bond.

Looking ahead, the decision in Bond is likely a harbinger for the recently granted case Yates v. United States, where a defendant was convicted of violating Sarbanes-Oxley's "anti-shredding" prohibition by throwing illegally caught fish off his boat. Critics have viewed Yates as an instance of federal prosecutorial overreach accomplished by reading statutory definitions in an unnaturally broad way. Surprisingly, the statutory issue in Yates will be informed by the Court's most recent brush with the treaty power.

 The above is cross-posted from Re's Judicata.

Posted by Richard M. Re on June 2, 2014 at 04:20 PM in Criminal Law, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, May 04, 2014

CrimFest 2014 (aka the Sixth Annual CrimProf Conference)

Folks, I'm delighted to share some information regarding the upcoming CrimProf Conference at Rutgers-Newark that the indomitable Carissa Hessick and I have cobbled together with the help of many others.  

First, the conference schedule is here. We have 18 panels and over 60 people slated to present and/or comment. If you're not on the list of presenters/commenters but would like to attend, you are welcome to do so if you're a crimprof or vap/fellow. Information about registration is below. The very modest fee of 50$ gets you breakfast and lunch for two days along with snacks/coffee. Big thanks to our hosts at Rutgers-Newark. Please note the registration fee is NON-REFUNDABLE, and the deadline for registration is June 1, 2014. 

In order to register, you have to use Paypal (kudos to Carissa for figuring this out). Here's the button that should get you on your way to the registration fee:

Posted by Dan Markel on May 4, 2014 at 12:14 AM in Blogging, Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

MERCY IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM: CLEMENCY AND POST-CONVICTION STRATEGIES

My colleagues at the NYU Center on the Administration of Criminal Law are hosting a very interesting day of discussions on mercy and clemency in the criminal justice system on the upcoming Ides of April. Doug Berman, a frequent guest here at Prawfs, will be one of the many interesting speakers. Here's the info.

Date: Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Time: 10 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (CLE registration starts at 9:30 a.m.)

Location: Greenberg Lounge, Vanderbilt Hall, 40 Washington Square South

Keynote Speaker: White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler

Panel Discussions: The Role of Law Schools in Delivering Clemency and Post-Conviction Assistance. This panel will discuss how law schools are providing critical services to prisoners through clemency clinics and other mechanisms, and will also provide practical training on how to effectively prepare clemency petitions, post-conviction motions and provide other reentry support to prisoners. Moderator: Prof. Mark Osler, University of St. Thomas Law School. Panelists: Prof. Anthony Thompson, NYU Law; Prof. J.P. “Sandy” Ogilvy, Columbus School of Law, Catholic University; Harlan Protass, Esq., Clayman & Rosenberg; Prof. Joann M. Sahl, University of Akron Law School.

What We Can Learn About Clemency From the States. This panel will examine the different ways clemency and pardon petitions are administered in selected states with effective systems. Moderator: Nancy Hoppock, Executive Director of the CACL. Panelists: Lt. Governor Matthew Denn, State of Delaware; Hon. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., King & Spalding and former Governor of Maryland; Margaret Love, Esq., former U.S. Pardon Attorney; Jorge Montes, Esq., former Chairman of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

The Future of Clemency. This panel will discuss recent developments in federal clemency and where clemency could and should be headed in the future. Moderator: Prof. Rachel E. Barkow, NYU Law. Panelists: Amy Baron-Evans, National Federal Defender Sentencing Resource Counsel; Prof. Paul G. Cassell, University of Utah Law School; Prof. Douglas A. Berman, Ohio State University Law School; Sam Morison, Esq.; Daphna Linzer, Managing Editor of MSNBC.com.

REGISTER FOR CONFERENCE HERE.

Posted by Dan Markel on April 2, 2014 at 11:09 PM in Blogging, Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, March 10, 2014

Deadline Reminder for CrimProf Conference at Rutgers Newark July, 2014

Folks, just a reminder for those who are interested, the deadline for this conference that Carissa Hessick (Utah) and I are organizing is today-ish.

Here's the text of an email that we sent out to the CrimProf list-serv. Not everyone who is interested in this conference subscribes to that list-serv, so I'm reproducing the body of it here. If you know crim profs or aspiring ones, please feel free to send them the link to this post and then have them get in touch with Carissa and me ASAP. Thanks!

Dear Fellow CrimProfs: 

Because of some changes to the Law & Society rules that we found, um, inhospitable, Danny & I have, in consultation with others, decided to move the LSA Shadow Conference to its own time and venue. Hence, what would have been the 5th Annual CrimProf Shadow Conference at LSA will now be known simply as the 5th Annual CrimProf Conference. We might move it back to LSA in the future if conditions improve, but for now we will go it alone.

Our friends at Rutgers-Newark have kindly agreed to host.  The conference will begin on Sunday, July 20th with the chance to socialize in the evening, but the panels will begin in earnest on Monday morning the 21st of July and depending on the level of participation, we will end on Tuesday, July 22nd or Wednesday July 23rd.  Participants will be responsible for their own travel and lodging costs (discounted hotel information is included below), and we will also ask attendees to pay a $50 registration fee to help cover the costs of snacks and lunches so that we can break some bread together. More info after the jump.

As in past years, we will have a substantial number of paper panels for WORKS in PROGRESS. Unlike LSA, we will probably do 3 papers per panel, instead of 4. Panelists will be required to read and share comments with the other panelists. And, in contrast to our LSA experience, we will ask panelists to share their drafts a week in advance with the other attendees, by posting their notes/drafts in a password-secured website, so that more people can offer more informed comments at the panels.

 

Finally, we also hope to include some slightly different formats---such as a couple of sessions for folks to help shape book manuscripts or discuss completed books, or teaching issues and other topics that may be of interest to the broader community. If you have an idea for a non-traditional paper panel, please let us know ASAP. 

 

Participants may include tenured or tenure track professors of law at any accredited law school. VAPs and Fellows are welcome to present too, space permitting. For all who are interested in attending, please email me & Danny no later than Monday March 10.  Our email addresses are: carissa.hessick at law.utah.edu and markel at law.fsu.edu

  

To reduce any likelihood of administrative error on our part, your email should have a subject heading that states "Proposal for 5th Annual CrimProf Conference," and the body of your email should include:

(a)          The title and abstract for the paper you wish to present, or information about another type of session in which you are interested in participating;

(b)         Whether you are willing to serve as chair or discussant for another panel; and

(c)          Any date restrictions you have.  We cannot promise to accommodate date restrictions, but we will do our best. Needless to say, if you flake on us and thereby blow up a panel without a completely compelling excuse, we will remember! :-)

 

We hope that many and more of you will be able to join us.  And we hope that this conference will be the herald of many more summer crim gatherings in the future.

 

Best,

Carissa & Danny

 

Discounted Hotel Information:

Hilton Hotel = $149 per night

Contact person for the Hilton is Lucile Cox, her direct number is  973-645-2050
Rooms have been placed on hold under names of Vera Bergelson and Mayra Caraballo

 

Robert Treat Best Western = $99 per night

Contact person for the Robert Treat, Mercedes, she can be reached at  973-622-1000
Rooms have been placed on hold under names of Vera Bergelson and Mayra Caraballo

Guests should refer to Group#5529 when they reserve the room.

 

 

Posted by Dan Markel on March 10, 2014 at 10:56 AM in Criminal Law, Dan Markel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Post-Script on Samuel Sheinbein

I'm not sure how many of you remember this, but one of the more fascinating stories my co-authors (Jennifer Collins and Ethan Leib) and I relied upon in our 2009 book on criminal justice and family status had to do with Samuel Sheinbein.  After he gruesomely murdered someone in Maryland, Sheinbein, with his father's assistance, escaped to Israel and avoided extradition. The Sheinbein parents thought they were doing their parental duty by trying to squire their son to a more compassionate jurisdiction.  Sheinbein was charged and convicted in Israel and sentenced to 24 years in prison in Israel, with furloughs, which is probably a better outcome than he would have received in Maryland. (Though with the recent excuse of affluenza, who knows?)

For our purposes, we were primarily interested in Sheinbein's parents' involvement in assisting their son, since our Privilege or Punish: Criminal Justice and the Challenge of Family Ties focused on two questions: what role does and what role should family status play in the operation of the criminal justice system? Among other things, we discovered that about a dozen states around the country explicitly carve out exemptions for family members from laws that otherwise prohibit assisting fugitives and we argued that these exemptions were largely misguided and should be jettisoned.  Here's a short version of what we argued on the Freakanomics Blog.

The Sheinbein parents' good intentions, certainly understandable if not justifiable, have had deadly consequences. For the latest news is that Samuel Sheinbein the killer is now dead. He was shot by special forces in a prison raid once he barricaded himself in a room within the prison; somehow, Sheinbein secured the firearm of a guard and seriously wounded three prison officials along the way. There's no definite lesson to be learned here from one anecdote--one might well imagine the Sheinbein saga ending with a story of redemption and rehabilitation. Here, however, it was intransigence and bloodshed. And so, when legislators are considering whether to be sympathetic to parents or children placed in difficult positions by their criminal family members, they would also do well to remember the Sheinbein story, a case where we see the cruelty and cost of misplaced compassion.  

Posted by Dan Markel on February 25, 2014 at 11:36 AM in Article Spotlight, Criminal Law, Current Affairs, Dan Markel, Privilege or Punish | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The myth of the trial penalty?

Every now and then, I like to spotlight some articles that unsettle the conventional wisdom, particularly in criminal law. Add this one to the file. Almost every teacher of criminal procedure is aware of the idea of the "trial penalty," which conveys the sense that defendants who exercise their right to a trial will invariably get a worse result if convicted than if they plea bargain. The leverage prosecutors have in exploiting the trial penalty dynamic was described by my friend Rich Oppel in a front page NYT story he wrote a few years back.

Comes now (or relatively recently at least) David Abrams from Penn with an article that slays the sacred cow of the trial penalty by providing, you know, data. And the data is the best kind of data because inasmuch as it's true, it is SURPRISING data. Specifically, Abrams argues that based on the study he performed (which originally appeared in JELS and now appears in a more accessible form in Duquesne Law Review), the data supports the view that in fact there's a trial discount not a trial penalty. Fascinating stuff. Abrams offers some suggestions for what might explain this surprise: possibly a salience/availability bias on the part of the lawyers who remember the long penalties imposed after dramatic trials. Regardless of what explains the conventional wisdom, the competing claims should be ventilated in virtually every crim pro adjudication course.

Since this empirical stuff is far outside my bailiwick, I wonder if those who are in the know have a view about how Abrams' research intersects with the Anderson and Heaton study in the YLJ, which argued that public defenders get better results in murder cases than court appointed defense counsel, or Bellin's critique of that YLJ study here.  Anderson and Heaton basically argue that public defenders get better results because they get their clients to plea bargain more frequently than court appointed counsel and that explains the outcome. As I recall dimly, that conclusion may have been true for the murder cases but the study didn't purport to make the claim that PDs were better across the board and maybe that's consistent with Abrams' views too. It would be odd (wouldn't it?) if comparatively fewer murder cases involve a trial penalty while the many other cases do not and in fact show a trial discount. Granted, these studies took place in different cities, etc., so I am also wondering if the various studies can be reconciled. Thoughts?

Posted by Dan Markel on February 19, 2014 at 11:30 AM in Blogging, Criminal Law, Dan Markel, Legal Theory | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The 5th Annual CrimProf Conference--Call for Papers

Here's the text of an email that the incomparable Professor Carissa Hessick and I sent out earlier today to the CrimProf list-serv. Not everyone who is interested in this conference subscribes, so I'm reproducing the body of it here. If you know crim profs or aspiring ones, please feel free to send them the link to this post and then have them get in touch with Carissa and me. Thanks!

Dear Fellow CrimProfs: 

Because of some changes to the Law & Society rules that we found, um, inhospitable, Danny & I have, in consultation with others, decided to move the LSA Shadow Conference to its own time and venue. Hence, what would have been the 5th Annual CrimProf Shadow Conference at LSA will now be known simply as the 5th Annual CrimProf Conference. We might move it back to LSA in the future if conditions improve, but for now we will go it alone.

Our friends at Rutgers-Newark have kindly agreed to host.  The conference will begin on Sunday, July 20th with the chance to socialize in the evening, but the panels will begin in earnest on Monday morning the 21st of July and depending on the level of participation, we will end on Tuesday, July 22nd or Wednesday July 23rd.  Participants will be responsible for their own travel and lodging costs (discounted hotel information is included below), and we will also ask attendees to pay a $50 registration fee to help cover the costs of snacks and lunches so that we can break some bread together. More info after the jump.

As in past years, we will have a substantial number of paper panels for WORKS in PROGRESS. Unlike LSA, we will probably do 3 papers per panel, instead of 4. Panelists will be required to read and share comments with the other panelists. And, in contrast to our LSA experience, we will ask panelists to share their drafts a week in advance with the other attendees, by posting their notes/drafts in a password-secured website, so that more people can offer more informed comments at the panels.

 

Finally, we also hope to include some slightly different formats---such as a couple of sessions for folks to help shape book manuscripts or discuss completed books, or teaching issues and other topics that may be of interest to the broader community. If you have an idea for a non-traditional paper panel, please let us know ASAP. 

 

Participants may include tenured or tenure track professors of law at any accredited law school. VAPs and Fellows are welcome to present too, space permitting. For all who are interested in attending, please email me & Danny no later than Monday March 10.  Our email addresses are: carissa.hessick at law.utah.edu and markel at law.fsu.edu

  

To reduce any likelihood of administrative error on our part, your email should have a subject heading that states "Proposal for 5th Annual CrimProf Conference," and the body of your email should include:

(a)          The title and abstract for the paper you wish to present, or information about another type of session in which you are interested in participating;

(b)         Whether you are willing to serve as chair or discussant for another panel; and

(c)          Any date restrictions you have.  We cannot promise to accommodate date restrictions, but we will do our best. Needless to say, if you flake on us and thereby blow up a panel without a completely compelling excuse, we will remember! :-)

 

We hope that many and more of you will be able to join us.  And we hope that this conference will be the herald of many more summer crim gatherings in the future.

 

Best,

Carissa & Danny

 

Discounted Hotel Information:

Hilton Hotel = $149 per night

Contact person for the Hilton is Lucile Cox, her direct number is  973-645-2050
Rooms have been placed on hold under names of Vera Bergelson and Mayra Caraballo

 

Robert Treat Best Western = $99 per night

Contact person for the Robert Treat, Mercedes, she can be reached at  973-622-1000
Rooms have been placed on hold under names of Vera Bergelson and Mayra Caraballo

Guests should refer to Group#5529 when they reserve the room.

 

 

Posted by Dan Markel on February 5, 2014 at 04:09 PM in Criminal Law, Life of Law Schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, January 13, 2014

A couple reading suggestions for students in criminal law and the Spring 2014 schedule for the NYU Crim Theory Colloquium

N.B. This post is a revised version of an earlier post and is basically for crimprofs and those interested in crim theory.

This week marks the onset of classes for many law schools across the country, and that means  the first criminal law class is here or around the corner for some 1L's.  As many crim law profs lament,  first-year criminal law casebooks generally have pretty crummy offerings with respect to the state of the field in punishment theory. (The new 9th edition of Kadish Schulhofer Steiker Barkow, however, is better than most in this respect.) Most first year casebooks give a little smattering of Kant and Bentham, maybe a gesture to Stephen and, for a contemporary flourish, a nod to Jeffrie Murphy or Michael Moore or Herb Morris.

Murphy, Morris, and Moore deserve huge kudos for reviving the field in the 1970's and since.  Fortunately, the field of punishment theory is very fertile today, and not just with respect to retributive justice.  But for those of you looking to give your students something more meaty and nourishing than Kantian hand-waving to fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus, you might want to check out and possibly assign either Michael Cahill's Punishment Pluralism piece or a reasonably short piece of mine, What Might Retributive Justice Be?, a 20-pager or so that tries to give a concise statement of the animating principles and limits of communicative retributivism.  Both pieces, which come from the same book, are the sort that law students and non-specialists should be able to digest without too much complication.  Also, if you're teaching the significance of the presumption of innocence to your 1L's, you might find this oped I did with Eric Miller to be helpful as a fun supplement; it concerns the quiet scandal of punitive release conditions.

Speaking of Cahill (the object of my enduring bromance), Mike and I are continuing to run a crim law theory colloquium for faculty based in NYC at NYU. On the heels of AALS, we had Francois Tanguay-Renaud and Jenny Carroll present last week, and the schedule for the balance of the semester is this:

February 25: Stuart Green (Rutgers) and Joshua Kleinfeld (Northwestern)

March 31: Amy Sepinwall (Wharton Legal Studies) and Alec Walen (Rutgers)

April 28: Corey Brettschneider (Brown/NYU) and Jennifer Daskal (American)

As you can see, the schedule tries to imperfectly bring together crim theorists of different generations and perspectives. This is now the seventh semester of the colloquium and we are grateful to our hosts at NYU and Brooklyn Law School who have made it possible. If you're a crimprof and interested in joining us occasionally, let me know and I'll put you on our email list for the papers.

Posted by Dan Markel on January 13, 2014 at 04:44 PM in Article Spotlight, Criminal Law, Dan Markel, Legal Theory | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Friday, January 10, 2014

Consent Forms and Affirmative Disclosure

Thanks to Dan and the other prawfs for inviting me to return as a guest!  I promise to make up for a slow start with frequent posting for the rest of the month.

One thing I'd like to discuss during my visit is police officers' use of written forms to document consent to perform a suspicionless search.  Many civil liberties advocates have long touted the forms as a way of reducing police abuse -- for one example, see this 1999 ACLU press release advocating written consent forms as part of a suite of interventions designed to address racial profiling.  More recently, some have questioned whether the forms truly facilitate knowing and voluntary consent.

In an article coauthored with Kira Suyeishi (University of Denver '13), I looked at the ways that different jurisdictions use consent forms and the consequences of the use of such forms.  Among other things, we argue that when a defendent signs a consent form, reviewing courts tend to treat the form as dispositive of the consent issue, rather than conducting a more searching inquiry into voluntariness.

I'll talk about courts' treatment of consent forms in a future post.  Today, I want to focus on the front-end use of consent-to-search forms.  At the outset, one interesting issue relates to the range of consent forms currently in use.  Many forms, such as this one used in New Hampshire, simply describe the scope of the search and explain that signing the form constitutes voluntary agreement to the search.  Such forms basically track the Supreme Court's decision in Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, which held that consent must be voluntary, as determined from the totality of the circumstances, but that law enforcement officers are not affirmatively obligated to inform suspects of the right to refuse consent.

Other forms provide more information than is constitutionally required.  Schneckloth states that "knowledge of the right to refuse consent is one factor to be taken into account, the government need not establish such knowledge as the sine qua non of an effective consent."  Yet forms used in Indiana, Maryland, and Ohio nonetheless explicitly state that the person has the right to refuse to consent to the search.  Still other forms, such as this one from Oregon, provide multilingual warnings, which, at least superficially, appear to ensure more information for non-native speakers of English.

The range of consent forms raises a few questions in my mind.  First, I wonder whether written forms that provide affirmative notice of the ability to decline consent have any effect on the rate of consent.  It's unclear that such warnings -- whether oral or written -- actually make any difference at all.  Consider the Miranda warning.  Although the conclusion is not unanimous, many studies have found that Miranda warnings make little difference in rates of confession -- indeed, one study even found that rates of confession actually increased -- and that these results hold true even when the warnings are communicated in writing rather than orally.  (See some of Richard Leo's work for a useful summary of the empirical literature, including his own considerable contributions.)

Perhaps the same is true of consent forms.  Anecdotally speaking, a police officer who visited one of my criminal procedure classes a few years ago said that he didn't think the form made a difference.  His experience was that if a suspect was willing to grant verbal consent -- and according to him, most are, even when they are guilty -- then the suspect would also almost always be willing to sign a form.  Some other police officers appear to hold similar beliefs.  This thread, for example, describes some techniques that police officers use to work around consent forms or even leverage them for their own benefit.

Secondly and relatedly, I wonder whether forms that provide people with non-constitutionally-required affirmative information about their right to refuse consent end up weighing against defendants at trial despite doing very little to empower the suspect to withhold consent.  Given that Schneckloth says that a suspect's knowledge of the right to refuse consent is a factor to be considered in determining whether consent is voluntary, we might speculate that a form that provides such information will almost automatically convince a judge that the consent is voluntary, even if the person in fact felt that he or she had no choice but to agree to the search and sign the form.  Similarly, a judge who would otherwise be concerned about whether a non-English-speaking suspect understood a situation well enough to consent voluntarily to a search might be persuaded by a multi-lingual form that the consent was indeed voluntary.

And finally, I wonder how the apparent generosity of the form in affirmatively disclosing the right to withhold consent affects public perception.  For example, do the forms engender a portrayal of law enforcement as (overly?) accommodating of suspects, while simultaneously obscuring the type of work-arounds discussed above?

Thoughts?  Reactions?  If any current or former law enforcement officers happen to be reading, I'd be particularly interested in your perspectives.

(Cross-posted on my nascent personal blog at nancyleong.com)

Posted by Nancy Leong on January 10, 2014 at 02:12 PM in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Monday, January 06, 2014

"Sex offender seeks admission to Kentucky bar"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article discussing a notable dispute concerning the potential professional collateral consequences of getting convicted of downloading the wrong dirty pictures.  Here are the details, followed by a bit of commentary: 

Guy Padraic Hamilton-Smith graduated in the top third of his law school class at the University of Kentucky, but the state Supreme Court blocked him from taking the bar exam because he is a registered sex offender.  In the first case of its kind in Kentucky, the court rejected Hamilton-Smith’s bid and a move by the state Office of Bar Admissions to create and endorse a blanket rule that would have kept all registered sex offenders from gaining access to the bar.

“Rather, we believe the better course would be to allow any applicant for bar admission who is on the sex offender registry the opportunity to make his or her case on an individualized basis,” Chief Justice John D. Minton wrote in the Dec. 19 opinion on Hamilton-Smith’s case and the proposed rule.

Hamilton-Smith, who was convicted of a charge related to child pornography in 2007, has until Jan. 13 to ask the court to reconsider its decision. In an email, Hamilton-Smith referred Associated Press questions to his attorney, who said the reconsideration request will be filed.

Nationally, cases of felons seeking admission or re-admission to the bar are common. But situations of registered sex offenders attempting to do so appear to be rare. Beyond a recent rejection in Ohio and an ongoing case in Virginia, legal experts and those who work to rehabilitate sex offenders couldn’t recall a similar situation arising in recent years.

But Shelley Stow of Reform Sex Offender Laws — a Massachusetts-based organization that seeks to ease restrictions on offenders and promote rehabilitation — said she wouldn’t be surprised to see more cases out there. “It is so difficult for registrants to even get jobs and support themselves and function day to day, let alone pursue a law career,” she said.

The Kentucky case brings up the question of how to treat someone who has admitted to criminal activity, wants to rehabilitate himself and serve others, but is still monitored by law enforcement, said Hamilton-Smith’s attorney, Scott White, of Lexington. “It’s a highly stigmatized thing,” White said.

Hamilton-Smith pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a child in March 2007. He received a five-year prison sentence, which was suspended, and was required to register as a sex offender for 20 years — until 2027.

After disclosing the conviction and sex offender status on his applications, Chase Law School at Northern Kentucky University and Brandeis Law School at the University of Louisville both rejected him in 2008. But the University of Kentucky College of Law accepted him in 2008 and he graduated in 2011. Hamilton-Smith later competed on the National Trial Team and National Moot Court Team, and he had a piece published in the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal through the University of California law school.

Since graduating in 2011, Hamilton-Smith has held a non-lawyer position for Baldani, Rowland and Richardson. The Lexington firm has filed letters in support of Hamilton-Smith taking the bar exam, White said. But Hamilton-Smith still has not been cleared by the Kentucky Office of Bar Admissions to take the exam that would allow him to practice law.

White called Hamilton-Smith “a classic sex addict.”

“The classic example is somebody who just downloads buckets of pornography,” White said. “In that download, there just happened to be child pornography.” In this case, Hamilton-Smith has gone through Sex Addicts Anonymous, despite a few admitted relapses with adult, but not child, pornography, White said.

White also said his client used law school as a redemptive and rehabilitative effort while owning up to his criminal conduct. “He just hasn’t let it define him,” White said....

For the justices, the nature of the crime defines someone lacking in the “requisite character and fitness” to be admitted to the bar.  “Indeed, our certification could significantly mislead the public into believing that we vouch for (Hamilton-Smith’s) good character,” Minton wrote.  “Consequently, a client’s subsequent discovery of the registry listing could then justifiably lead him to question the value of this court’s certification of the good character of those who are permitted to take the bar examination.”

I find this matter interesting for lots of reasons, especially because I suspect that Hamilton-Smith's personal background and recent professional challenges are likely to make him a much better lawyer to serve the (ever-growing) legal needs of the (ever-growing) sex offender population.  Indeed, were I running a law firm that often dealt with sex offense cases and offenders, I would be very eager to hire Hamilton-Smith to help me serve this client population whether or not he ever gets admitted to the bar.

That said, it is quite possible (even likely?) that Hamilton-Smith is eager to develop a legal practice that has nothing to do with sex offenders.  If that is true, I cannot help but wonder and worry that his status as a registered sex offender may always serve as a problematic disability in the competitive legal marketplace: I fear Hamilton-Smith's adversaries may be inclined (even perhaps eager) to use the modern stigma associated with sex offenders to harmfully impact both Hamilton-Smith and his clients.

More broadly, if the goal of the barring process was only to ensure that only those capable of being a competent lawyer served in this profession, it would be clear that Hamilton-Smith should be allowed to sit for the bar exam.  Conversely, if the goal the barring process was only to ensure that nobody with a blemished past could become a lawyer, it would be clear that Hamilton-Smith should not be allowed to sit for the bar exam.  But because it seems the goal of the barring process is a little of both, this is an interesting case.

 

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law and Policy

Posted by Douglas A. Berman on January 6, 2014 at 01:03 PM in Criminal Law, Employment and Labor Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, December 02, 2013

Happy to be here!

Hi there Prawf readers,

As always, it is nice to return to the Prawfs fold.  As some of you may know, my interests lie in the intersection of criminal and corporate law.  I teach Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Corporations, and a White Collar Crime seminar.  I write about corporate compliance and what might generally be referred to as criminal law and economics.   Recently, I have become interested in the connection between fraud and two overlapping topics, "temporal inconsistency" and the study of "willpower lapses."  Over the years, several scholars, most notably Dan's colleague at FSU, Manuel Utset, have asked: what implications does temporal inconsistency have for criminal law enforcement and punishment?  How should our understanding of temporal inconsistency alter the mix of criminal and civil statutes, regulation and enforcement activity that we rely upon to reduce socially undesirable conduct? Recently, I along with several other scholars had the great opportunity to offer some thoughts on this topic in comments that the Virginia Journal of Criminal Law solicited for a volume featuring Utset's work.  After completing my own contribution, I decided to write a separate article exploring temporal inconsistency's implications for the corporation's internal compliance function. That paper, Confronting the Two Faces of Corporate Fraud, will appear in the Florida Law Review in early 2014.  I'll post and talk about the paper later this month. 

Meanwhile, in addition to writing my exam, winding down my classes (last week of teaching) and grading, I plan to blog this month on major developments in the white collar crime world.  To that end, it is impossible not to be fascinated by Michael Steinberg's insider trading trial, which seems to be moving along smoothly (at least from the prosecution's perspective) for now.  More on that tomorrow - I've got to head home now and light some candles.  Happy holidays! 

Posted by Miriam Baer on December 2, 2013 at 06:20 PM in Blogging, Corporate, Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, November 22, 2013

Making Law Sex Positive

It has been a good decade for sexual freedom. The Supreme Court issued opinions protecting the rights of gay individuals to engage in sexual relationships and striking down a ban on the federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Two gay teen characters were portrayed as having a positive sexual relationship (leading to a marriage proposal) on network television. Sexual practices formerly viewed as perverse, such as role playing and sado-masochism, seem almost provincial now that there is a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey on every great-aunt’s bookshelf.

But, in an op-ed published in the Washington Post this weekend, I argue that even among this legal and pop culture sexual revolution, much of our law remains curiously silent, squeamish, or disapproving on the topic of sexual pleasure itself. Indeed, several areas of the law rely on the counterintuitive assumption that sexual pleasure has negligible or negative value and that we sacrifice nothing of importance when we curtail it. This phenomenon extends even to legal realms that regulate behaviors central to the experience of sexual pleasure.

The assumption that sexual pleasure has negligible or negative value is simply unfounded, and unfounded assumptions create bad laws and policies. Legal regulation generally sacrifices our freedom to engage in certain activities because the activities result in harm or because regulation generates benefits. Devaluing sexual pleasure distorts this calculus. In truth, sexual pleasure is actually a very good thing, simply because it is pleasurable.

Truly progressive legal reform would recognize the inherent value of sexual pleasure. This would have significant implications for several areas of law, ranging from obscenity to rape law. The op-ed out this weekend is part of a larger project challenging the sex-negativity of law and envisioning how simply valuing sexual pleasure in itself would require us to rethink different areas of law.

Obscenity law, for example, relies on the assumption that offensive speech that is intended merely to arouse is entitled to less constitutional protection than any other type of offensive speech. The Miller test allows states to freely ban any material that depicts sexual activity “in a patently offensive way” and “appeals to the prurient interests.” The First Amendment only protects this material if it has some serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value to redeem it. In contrast, states may not ban other types of offensive material unless they can show it is likely to cause some harm. If sexual pleasure in itself is valuable, then we can’t justify banning offensive prurient material more freely simply because its primary purpose is to arouse people. Instead, we have to think more carefully about how (and whether) states should be able to regulate any offensive materials.

Recognizing sexual pleasure would also require state courts and legislatures rethink the criminalization of sado-masochistic sexual activities (or “BDSM”). BDSM has become so prevalent in popular culture that it seems almost quaint. But even some consensual spanking can lead to an assault or battery charge in most states. In contrast, the law permits violent sports, cosmetic surgery, tattooing, and skin piercing, in large part because courts and legislatures accept their value. We can’t justify this distinction if we acknowledge that sexual pleasure has as much value as the pleasure derived from a boxing match or cheek implants.

Recognizing the value of sexual pleasure doesn’t mean we have to value it above everything else. We regulate the things that bring people pleasure all the time. We value the pleasure we experience from music, but I may not kidnap Beyoncé and force her to join me on a song-filled road trip, no matter how magical the experience would be for me. Sexual pleasure is no different—we can acknowledge it is important and still regulate it.

But valuing sexual pleasure does require us to regulate more honestly. It allows a more complete and well-reasoned discussion of what we choose to regulate, what we fail to regulate, and our justifications for those choices.

The op-ed “The Joyless Law of Sex,” is available here. “Sex-Positive Law” will appear in the 87th volume for the NYU Law Review in April.

Posted by Margo Kaplan on November 22, 2013 at 05:12 PM in Criminal Law, Culture, First Amendment, Legal Theory | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Event on Reining in Mandatory Minimums

My friends at the NYU Center on the Administration of Criminal Law are co-hosting this interesting event tonight in case you have time and inclination.

Reining in Mandatory Minimums: Perspectives from both sides of the “V”

Date:   Thursday, November 21, 2013

Time:   5:45 – 7:45 p.m.

Location: Greenberg Lounge, Vanderbilt Hall, New York University School of Law, 40 Washington Square South (between McDougal and Sullivan Street), New York, NY

 Judicial Moderator

The Honorable John Gleeson, U.S. District Judge, EDNY

 

Panelists

Marshall L. Miller, Esq., Chief, Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney's Office, EDNY

David E. Patton, Esq.Executive Director and Attorney-In-Chief, Federal Defenders of NY

Julie Stewart, President, Families Against Mandatory Minimums

Jonathan J. Wroblewski Esq.Director, Office of Policy & Litigation, U.S. Department of Justice & Ex Officio Member United States Sentencing Commission

 

Program Description

On August 12, 2013, Attorney General Holder released a memorandum entitled “Department Policy on Charging Mandatory Minimum Sentences and Recidivist Enhancements in Drug Cases.” The memorandum acknowledges that mandatory minimums and recidivist enhancements often result in “unduly harsh sentences” and in many cases “do not promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation.” Our program will discuss how this recent federal policy change has affected the on-the-ground practice of attorneys on both sides of the bar. The panelists will also discuss what this executive action means for the future of mandatory minimums and sentencing reform. At a time where incarceration rates are soaring and budgets are tight, this program will be a unique opportunity for legal practitioners, policymakers, and members of the public to engage in a dialogue about fair and effective sentencing in the criminal justice system.

 

Registration Information

All attendees must register online.   https://www.federalbarcouncil.org/vg/custom/form/emailregistration.aspx?meeting=CL0414R

 

CLE Credit Information

This program will provide 2.0 transitional/non-transitional CLE credits in Areas of Professional Practice.  There is no charge to attend this program.

 

The Federal Bar Council is certified by the New York State Continuing LegalEducation Board as an Accredited Provider of Legal Education in New York State.

Posted by Dan Markel on November 21, 2013 at 03:07 PM in Criminal Law, Sponsored Announcements | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, October 07, 2013

Law and Society 2014 CrimProf Announcement

For the last five years or so, I've been involved with planning a "shadow" crimprof gathering at the annual Law and Society conference. Carissa Hessick (Utah) has been my partner in crime the last couple years, and the endeavor has gone very well, with this last year's event including over fifteen panels and something like seventy participants or so.  

Sadly, Carissa and I are deciding to not play much of an organizer's role this year for the upcoming gathering in Minneapolis. There are a few considerations at play. We've always chafed under the somewhat peculiar participation rules that limited our sense of what number of panelists made optimal sense.  But aside from that, we now have to deal with the unwillingness/inability of LSA to coordinate more than four panels for us or for any other group that would like to ensure that we could attend each other's panels without conflict in time and place. We might reconsider in future years, but for now, we figured that we'd let crimprof type people who want to go to LSA in Minneapolis this spring use the comments to this thread as a vehicle for putting together panels.  

I should add: while we may return to LSA in the future, we are also considering just having a stand-alone crimprof conference at a law school, probably in May or June also, so that early drafts can be shared and repaired over the summer.  (In my own head, it would like something like the ImmProf biennial gathering about which you can read here.) If your law school is interested in hosting this, either this year or in future years, let Carissa and me know. We anticipate that we would keep costs down by requiring participants to pay their hotel, perhaps most meals, and airfare. 

In any event, if you're a crimprof and want to go to LSA, please feel free to include an expression of interest and abstract that you'd like to present. Remember that panels need to be packaged within the next week or so (october 15 is this year's early deadline).

 

Posted by Dan Markel on October 7, 2013 at 03:54 PM in Criminal Law, Life of Law Schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, October 04, 2013

Compensation, Takings and Preventive Detention for Failure to Appear and Dangerousness

For a little while a couple years ago I was entertaining the thought that pretrial detention based on risk-based considerations (failure to appear or danger to oneself or the community or to the judicial process) was a regulatory takings that warranted compensation (at least normatively if not constitutionally). That position, it turned out, was largely advanced in a thoughtful piece by GW prof Jeff Manns on Liberty Takings.  

I was delighted that I didn't pursue that line of thought, not only because it was preempted by Jeff but also because I soon realized the view wasn't entirely sound (at least to the extent I recall it now). In short, there's a big difference between the innocent property owner and the person who is preventively detained: namely, there is a hearing where a judicial officer finds that, at least in the fed context, clear and convincing evidence shows that the defendant poses a social risk of some sort that requires containment or management, however you want to frame it. (Manns recognizes the distinction between the innocent homeowner and the pretrial detainee but I think he gives it less normative significance than I do.)

Of course, that distinction doesn't mean the pretrial detainee deserves no compensation, but the force of the "takings" rhetoric or jurisprudence attenuates substantially; if there is a warrant for compensation it likely occurs at a substantially discounted rate insofar as the detainee is responsible for having created the risk.

 Interesting questions bear on what the discount should be, what the baseline should be, etc. Moreover, it doesn't at all follow that the detainee should be "boxed" or confined in the same kind of facilities as those who are convicted. A least intrusive means test is probably warranted, perhaps triggering what my colleague Sam Wiseman, in his forthcoming YLJ piece, has called a right to be monitored (electronically).

Let's stipulate for purposes of argument that at least in some cases, confinement is required for particular people, rather than monitoring. The box the detainee goes in, however, should be a pretty nice box, glibly akin to condos with views of the beach and wifi, rather than putrid and overcrowded jail cells.  Along the same lines, if I'm right about the need to separate these preventive from punitive purposes, there would be no justification for extending credit for "time served" if the person is ultimately convicted (creating my unorthodox but I think justifiable view, a view that is naturally (!)  pace my friend Adam Kolber in Against Proportional Punishment).

When looking at the pretrial detainee world, there is often agitation for compensation. But this doesn't necessarily follow as a matter of rights or out of respect for the presumption of innocence. Even compensating a later-acquitted defendant doesn't necessarily follow so long as the standards of proof and purposes/structures of confinement are properly respected. Compensation to the detained person would only be warranted if the detention proved to be tortiously procured through some form of negligence, recklessness, etc on the part of the prosecution. But it's not obvious that a good-faith preventive detention of a person who, with a lawyer by his side, is shown by  the gov't to be dangerous by clear and convincing evidence, requires anything like a liberty takings model for compensation. The preventive detention box has purposes and structures and procedures that can be readily distinguished from those appropriate to the punitive boxes with their underlying purposes.

Of course, if we're serious about keeping these social projects distinct, then, per Justice Stevens' dissent in Salerno, the presence of an indictment is of no significance (except to the flight risk group). And if that's true, we should be able to have a restrictive though non-punitive form of preventive detention available for the future dangerousness folks (putting me in good company with Justice Stevens, though not Justice Marshall in Salerno). That model would probably look a good bit like Chris Slobogin's proposed regime of preventive detention (see his piece in Criminal Law Conversations), but perhaps without some of the pre-requisites he required (again, if I recall correctly).

This was roughly the set of views I tried to communicate to my students yesterday in teaching about pretrial detention and Salerno. However, as we were talking in class yesterday, I thought the liberty takings argument had more force in the context of the post-conviction post-punishment detainment of  folks, e.g., the sexually violent  predator types in Kansas v. Hendricks.  I realized those guys do warrant full compensation for the liberty takings (though again, query what the baseline is there, and whether the baseline should be discounted for earlier choice-tracking behavior on their part).

To summarize, I wonder who has the best claim to liberty takings compensation in the preventive detention world. If I'm right, the people who have the best claim are the SVPs or the mentally/criminally insane who are confined but not punished/blamed (anymore). Ironically, if I'm right, even acquitted (and even convicted) defendants who were detained would not have a strong moral claim to full compensation for pretrial detentions on a liberty takings model unless they could show that the detention was tortiously procured through misconduct on the part of the government. That said, even though these folks are not akin to innocent homeowners whose property is taken, they do have some claim to some compensation and incredibly better detention facilities than we currently extend to them. Indeed, home detention plus surveillance options are probably the closest reasonable approaches.

And perhaps most unorthodox is the claim that we should eliminate altogether the pervasive practice of giving credit for "time served" in jails for pretrial detention. Extending time-served only blurs the lines between preventive detention and punishment and makes the goverment less circumspect in their decisions about who they box and under what guise.  Anyway, this is just a first pass attempt at making sense (to me) of these boxes and social functions, and I will be revisiting the literature (including the Kolber, Slobogin, Manns pieces among others) if and when I flesh out these views further. Tell me in the comments if I'm way off base (at least normatively, if not constitutionally), and if you think someone has already articulated these views more coherently so that I don't bother chasing rabbits down a preempted hole.

Posted by Dan Markel on October 4, 2013 at 03:29 PM in Article Spotlight, Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Dan Markel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, September 16, 2013

Longer Sentences and Prison Growth, Part 1

Over several future posts, I am going to argue that despite all the academic, political, and media attention they receive, long prison sentences are not driving prison growth. Sentences are not that long, and time served has been fairly stable over the years. It is a counter-intuitive and contrarian position to be sure, but I think I have the data on my side.

I want to start, though, with a very simple argument for why we should be skeptical of the longer-sentences-are-central-to-prison-growth argument. And it is one that requires almost no real statistical digging at all.

It’s this graph:

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 11.18.05 AM

All this graph plots is total annual admissions to prison in blue, and total annual releases from prison in red. Intuitively, if states were forcing entering cohorts to serve longer and longer sentences, we should expect to see the red releases line flatten relative to the admission line. And maybe that happens to some degree around the late 1980s/early 1990s, but it disappears by the end of the 1990s.

This at least suggests, with some strength, that any sort of lengthening was short-run in duration, and thus that increases in time served in prison--regardless of whatever the legislatures have done to the sentencing--is not at the heart of prison growth. And I think this is generally the right way think about prison growth.

But I don’t want to oversell this point. In fact, let me undermine it a bit right out of the gate. I decided recently to run a simulation. I assumed that a state used one release schedule for all prisoners and then made a permanent one-time change to that schedule, and plotted the admissions and releases trends for this hypothetical jurisdiction.

Specifically, I initially assumed that all inmates were released over 6 years: of all the inmates admitted to prison in year t, 40% are released in t, 20% in t+1, 15% in t+2, 15% in t+3, 5% in t+4, and 5% in t+5. I then assumed that the state toughened sentencing laws so that it took 11 years for all inmates to be released: of those admitted in t, 35% are released in t, 15% in t+1, 12.5% in t+2 and t+3, 5% each in t+4,t+5, and t+6, and 2.5% each in t+7 through t+11.

In other words, under the first sentencing regime, the median time served in prison is 1 year and the mean 2.4 years, while under the second regime the median is exactly 1 again and the mean 3.375. 

Then, to make my simulated admissions data track the actual admissions data more closely, I assume that admissions increase every year by 100 (from an initial value of 1000) for the first 13 years, by 200 for the next 7 years, and then again by 100 for the rest of the years. This is to capture the admissions increase that appears in the real data from the mid-1980s to 1990.

Here are the simulated results:

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 11.20.11 AM

What immediately stands out, of course, is that this simulation seems to produce a bulge similar to the one we see in the real data in the 1990s. So close-tracking/bulge/close-tracking can arise in the presence of toughening sentencing lengths. 

In other words, the real data is not a slam-dunk argument for the fact that tougher sentencing laws are not behind prison growth.

But I have three major caveats to my caveat:

  1. In the simulation, even though the admissions and releases lines return to tracking each other closely in the end, as a result of the tougher sentencing regime the gap between them has grown. We don’t see that in the real data, where the gap actually narrows in the mid-2000s.
  2. I have other approaches using other data that all seem to substantiate the idea that tougher sentences are not driving prison growth. I’ll being working through all these in future posts.
  3. The simulation may suggest that tougher sentencing has contributed more to prison growth than I sometimes give it credit, but that does not necessarily imply that it has been more important than admissions.

All of which is to say the following: I don’t think tougher sentences are driving prison growth. And I think I have the data to back up that claim in the main. But I also want to fight off epistemic closure and confirmation bias, and to keep an open mind to the possibility that sentence lengths are playing a bigger role than I sometimes acknowledge.1

So, it seems pretty clear to me that we overstate the importance of longer sentences. Even more, I feel that the data appear to strongly support the claim that admissions increases are doing most if not close to all the heavy lifting. But the complete story will almost surely be a (fair?) bit more confusing and convoluted. 

 

1I think it is too easy, when one finds oneself sincerely convinced of a contrarian position, to oversimplify it (“your argument that time served matters is completely wrong. It is just admissions!”) and then defend it to the death. That’s what gets people’s attention. “The conventional wisdom isn’t entirely right, though often it does have its merits” just doesn’t excite people at all.

I don’t want to do either, despite the fact that refusing to fanatically defend an extreme position must violate some part of the Law of Blogging.

 

Posted by John Pfaff on September 16, 2013 at 11:30 AM in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, September 13, 2013

Do any studies explore increased (or decreased) violent crime or unemployment (or other undisputed social ills) in medicial marijuana states?

Perhaps to the chagrin and annoyance to students in my "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" seminar, I keep pushing our class discussion to try to figure out and precisely specify what could be considered undisputed and undisputable harms from any drug legalization regime --- especially if one views simply increased drug use alone, even by young people, to be a social good or at least not clearly a social harm.  (This prior post raised some of these issues and ideas.)  The question in the title of this post is prompted in part by our most recent class discussion, where a rough consensus emerged that increases in violent crime and/or unemployment might be undisputed metrics of a failed social policy.

Thus the question in the title of this post, which also builds a bit off a prior post which asked "Two decades into experimentation, what is really known about medical marijuana practices?".  Specifically, I am wondering if anyone has yet tried (or if it really would even be feasable) to develop effective and sophisticated empirical studies to explore if there have been any statistically significant changes in violent crime rates or unemployement rates in states that have legalized medical marijuana.  

As a relative agnostic (with libertarian leanings) on lots of marijuana reform issues, I believe I would be moved significantly by serious data showing (or even just suggesting) causal links between medical marijuana legalization and violent crime rates or unemployment rates.  Of course, like research on incarceration and crime rates, the results of any such empirical study linking medical marijuana to an increase or decrease in social ills could be disputable and would be disputed by partisan advocates in the reform policy debate.  But for those without a predetermined perspective on various marijuana law, policy and reform issues (which likely describes a majority of Americans), even tentative or partial data showing the positive or negative impact of medicial marijuana and violent crime or other undisputed social harms could and would likely "move the needle" considerably.

This post is intended not only to inquire as to whether anyone is aware of any modern studies exploring these issues in states with medical marijuana laws, but also to ponder whether there are other clear empirical metrics of undisputed social ills that ought to be a central part of the medicial marijuana reform discussion and debate.

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform

Recent related posts:

Posted by Douglas A. Berman on September 13, 2013 at 10:52 AM in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Sky Is Falling (Less Quickly). Yay!

Good news from Erica Goode at the NYT. Third year in a row of declines in prison population across the country. Let's hope the conventional wisdom becomes a Bayesian updater.

Posted by Dan Markel on July 26, 2013 at 11:09 AM in Article Spotlight, Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Petition: Save Federal Defender Services

[At the suggestion of a commenter on my last post, I offer this petition:]

Sequestration imperils the constitutional right of criminal defendants to adequate legal representation.  About 90% of federal criminal defendants require court-appointed counsel.  In FY 2013, sequestration resulted in a $52 million cut to Federal Defender Services, bringing massive layoffs and furloughs.  It is estimated that in FY 2014, if nothing is done, FDS will be forced to terminate as many as one-third to one-half of employees.

Funding for prosecutors is apparently headed in the opposite direction.  The Senate Appropriations Committee last week announced a $79 million increase to the FY 2014 budget for U.S. Attorneys’ offices for the express purpose of bringing more criminal cases in federal court.  This radical imbalance threatens the fundamental right to counsel.

Please join me in urging Congress and the President to restore adequate funding for Federal Defender Services. 

Update: Thanks to all for the strong support so far. Please send me an email (fvars@law.ua.edu) with your name, institutional affiliation (if applicable), and city of residence. I will subsequently post a document with this petition and the names of signatories.

Fredrick Vars

Associate Professor, University of Alabama School of Law

Birmingham, Alabama

Posted by Fredrick Vars on July 24, 2013 at 01:38 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (70) | TrackBack

Things you ought to know if you're about to teach criminal law

I realized a few weeks ago that people may have forgotten about our pedagogical series, Things you ought to know if you teach X. Of course, I'm only now reminding you, and I hope it will be helpful for the group of rising professors among our readership, or for those undertaking new preps.

Oddly, we didn't have a criminal law version of this post, so I informally took a stab at drafting one for Facebook, and here's what I've got. I've appended some of the comments from fellow prawfs (without attribution) in the event that a few extra perspectives are helpful.

Dear Crim prof friends:
A friend who's a rising crim prof wants to know what she should know as she enters the legal academy and begins teaching crim/crim pro. Here's an opinionated stab at what I wrote her, but let me know what else you'd add in terms of conferences, resources, opinions about casebooks, etc.


So, for crim law's basic class, I'd highly recommend using the Dressler casebook. If you want to make casebook costs very cheap for your students I'd use the 5th edition. In the chapters I teach, there's basically no difference b/w the 5th and 6th edition, and that would make the cost go down substantially. That said, at the very least there will be a secondary market for the used 6th edition this fall so if that's enough, you could do that. With apologies to friends who have their own casebooks, I'll just say that I've never had a complaint about the Dressler casebook in teaching this casebook over ten times. Also, there's a very good teacher's manual, Dressler has a good hornbook, and there are lots of folks who can give you their notes/outlines,etc. Also, Joshua and Steve are very good about servicing the casebook meaning that they respond to emails quickly.

For crim pro, I teach only bail to jail and I used Marc Miller and Ron Wright's excellent book, Criminal Procedures, most of my career. Last year I experimented with the Allen/Stuntz casebook and I found it unsatisfying for reasons that it is a) too Supreme Court focused,  b) too federal focused and c) here, i'll get in trouble, but I found it too Stuntzian in the embrace of perversity and fantasy in the interpretation of criminal procedure. (Yes, Bill was a prince of a guy, teacher and colleague; still, the work has largely been over-valued imho--sorry, friends). That said, it is probably easier to teach/test material from that casebook than the Miller and Wright one. Both have very good teacher's manuals and support from the casebook authors. Your choice on this matter should probably turn on whether you're interested in crim pro II as an extension of con law stuff, or whether you're interested in, you know, criminal procedure in all its legal and policy diversity. There are important and interesting reviews of these casebooks back in the day by Bob Weisberg and Stephanos Bibas.

Regarding intellectual networks: if you're interested in crim law theory, I co-run a colloquium up in nyc (usually at nyu) that meets once a month or so during the academic year and I can put you on that list. If you're interested in presenting crim-related papers, there's a shadow conference at Law and Society that Carissa Hessick and I run. There also used to be a junior crimprof workshop that met once a month. I'm not sure if that's still up and running.

There's a crimprof listserv: I think the way to get on it is by emailing Steve Sowle at Chi-Kent. 

There's a crimprof blog you might want to bookmark:
http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/crimprof_blog/

And Doug Berman's sentencing law blog is indispensable too:
sentencing.typepad.com

For reading generally, you might want to make sure you get the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, which is excellent, and consider perusing some other "specialty" peer-edited journals, such as the New Criminal law review, Punishment and Society, and Criminal Law and Philosophy.

From the FB thread: some people chimed in to say they agreed on Dressler, and liked Dressler's crim pro book with Thomas; others liked Paul Robinson's crim law casebook b/c of its emphasis on statutory interpretation; some liked Chemerinsky and Levinson for criminal procedure (my recollection is that this would be a heavily doctrinal scotus kind of book); and some liked Kadish/Schulhofer et al or Kaplan Weisberg for crim. I had heard complaints before about Kadish/Schulhofer as too dense but the revised editions seem quite good. The best advice is to order them all and see what fits your teaching priorities. The next tidbit: be leery of over-assigning. I only assign 20 pages or so per 80 minutes class.  Better to do what you can well rather than over-reach and be scattered. Keep in mind that criminal law is a class that students have lots of priors about and so you want to make sure you can exploit that level of interest by having rich discussions rather than racing through the material. Of course, YMMV.

Please feel free to use the comments for signed and substantive contributions, especially with respect to criminal procedure (cops and robbers), which I've not taught and which might have other networks and nodes of which I'm scarcely aware.

 

Posted by Dan Markel on July 24, 2013 at 12:12 PM in Criminal Law, Dan Markel, Teaching Law, Things You Oughta Know if You Teach X | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Could FACs induce retirement of government officials? A "Corruption" Work-around?

Btw, a couple weeks ago on FB (where all my random mental burps occur), I proposed a possible variation of our crowdfunded FAC model in the gov't context. Specifically, I wondered aloud: could a cabal of Soros and Gates and Bloomberg create a FAC (Fan Action Committee) to throw money at Justice Ginsburg (or her favorite charity) to retire from SCOTUS (so POTUS could appoint someone new presumably) without violating any laws?

We just saw Sec. J. Napolitano step down from DHS to head the UC system. So if Soros et al. couldn't offer RBG 20 million to retire, could he give her 20 million to join as a board member of Open Society to have tea with him once a year? There you at least have a peppercorn of consideration for the contract. Is that enough to circumvent the corruption statutes or relevant ethics rules? Would you give the same deal to get Michelle Bachman to leave Congress? The interesting wrinkle here is that unlike general corruption statutes governing improper quid pro quo of "official action" for $, this FAC-y scenario just requires $ in exchange for no "official action", ie, retirement. A couple friends thought scenarios of this sort would still be illegal, but I'm not sure I'm persuaded yet; if it's illegal at the federal level under extant law, could it be used at the state level? If you disagree with me, please cite chapter and verse on why! And file this in the "devilish and probably misguided idea" drawer.

Posted by Dan Markel on July 23, 2013 at 06:23 PM in Article Spotlight, Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Culture, Current Affairs, Dan Markel | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Friday, July 19, 2013

Bad Day for Reporter's Privilege in Leaks Invesitgations: 4th Circuit in US v. Sterling

As is by now well know, the Obama administration has initiated six Espionage Act prosecutions against government officials accused of leaking national security information, more than all previous administrations combined. One case was against Jeffrey Sterling, a former member of the CIA's Iran Task Force.  The government suspected Sterling of being the source of an account in James Risen’s book “State of War” of a botched CIA attempt to sabotage Iranian nuclear research.  The government subpoenaed Risen, contending his testimony was essential to prove the case against Sterling. The district judge quashed the government’s subpoena insofar as it required Risen to identify his source, U.S. v. Sterling, 818 F.Supp.2d 945 (E.D.Va. 2011), but the government appealed to the Fourth Circuit, claiming that without Risen’s testimony it would be impossible to continue the prosecution. The Fourth Circuit today reversed the district court’s holding that a First Amendment reporter’s privilege prevented Risen from being compelled to reveal his source. The majority opinion on this issue analyzed both Supreme Court precedent (Branzburg v. Hayes) and Fourth Circuit precedent and concluded:

 There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or
qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify by the
prosecution or the defense in criminal proceedings about criminal conduct that
the reporter personally witnessed or participated in, absent a showing of bad
faith, harassment, or other such non-legitimate motive, even though the
reporter promised confidentiality to his source.

Read the whole case here.

The court's conclusion was shaped by the fact that Risen's testimony was sought in a criminal case in which he had "direct information" about the "commission of a serious crime."  The opinion stated: "Indeed, he can provide the only first-hand account of the commission of a most serious crime indicted by the grand jury--the illegal disclosure of classified, national security information by one who was entrusted by our government to protect national security, but who is charged with having endangered it instead." The majority emphasized that the public interest in "enforcing subpoenas issued to reporters in criminal proceedings" is compellling, given the public interest in "effective criminal investigation and prosecution," and the majority explicitly contrasted the lower public interest in enforcement of subpoenas to compel the testimony of reporters in civil cases. 

The court also ruled out the existence of a federal common law privilege that would shield Rosen from having to testify. The court felt bound by precedent not to recognize the privilege, but stated it would not even if it were at liberty to do. Even if a privilege were available, "the common law would not extend so far as to protect illegal communications that took place between Risen and his source or sources in violation of the Espionage Act."

Finally, the court (dotting its i's and crossing its t's) showed that even if a qualified privilege were recognized, the privilege would be overcome in this case based on the strong need for Risen's information.  Moreover, it suggested that Risen might have already waived the privilege by revealing the name of his source to a third-party.  

I hope you'll read this opinion, which is an important word, but perhaps not the last, on whether the First Amendment allows reporters to protect confidential sources whose identities might be relevant to leaks investigations. As the number of leaks investigations continues to grow, and the government uses more creative tactics to deter leaks and uncover leakers, the effect of the Fourth Circuit's holding on the ability of journalists to uncover government wrongdoing may grow. The opinion also seems to suggest at points, though subtly, that Risen's own behavior was criminal, which again raises the issue whether the government might choose to prosecute reporters who knowingly receive illegally leaked classifed information.

This post is intended to be a brief summary of this important case, about which I hope to write more later. There's much more to this 118-page opinion, including additonal legal issues not addressed here.

   

Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on July 19, 2013 at 04:03 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, First Amendment, Lyrissa Lidsky | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Is there a Case Against Angela Corey?

So much has been written about the Zimmerman verdict that I was reluctant to join the fray, but I've decided to do just that, having found few extended discussions of the prosecutor's mishandling of the case, the bizarre nature of her press conference, and whether any ethics violations could potentially be brought against her with the Florida Bar.  

First, as others have written, the prosecution -- led by controversial veteran Angela Corey -- did a lousy job.  But, given the many years of trial experience of the lawyers for the state, the types of errors they made have struck me as more than just the result of mere sloppiness or oversights. Isn't one of the most basic lessons of first year trial advocacy to prepare your witnesses?  How could it be that the state in a high-profile murder prosecution allows a critical "ear witness" to the incident, Rachel Jeantel, to testify with so little obvious preparation?  How could it be that the state could allow their medical examiner, Dr. Shiping Bao, to testify in such an confusing, halting, and ill-prepared manner (particularly under cross-examination) -- not to mention the contrast between his shaky performance and that of the defense's smooth and confident forensic pathologist, Dr. Vincent Di Maio?

Much has been said about the charges Corey's office brought against George Zimmerman, but indulge me by considering them again.  Why on earth would the DA bring second degree murder charges after a six week investigation in which the police concluded that the suspect had legitimate grounds for a justifiable homicide defense?  Even if Corey had disagreed with their estimation, she should have known that the investigating officers would fight tooth and nail on the stand to support their initial analysis of the evidence -- particularly given that she and her colleagues were "special" prosecutors appointed from another county and, therefore, had no history or relationship with these cops? Also, why not just charge manslaughter from the outset, thereby shifting the prosecution's focus from the nearly impossible-to-prove (given the evidence), "hate in his heart," to the more palatable, "reckless actions that led unfortunately to a death"?  In fact, why not give the state the cover provided by first presenting the case to a grand jury, rather than proceeding by means of criminal information and a bare bones probable cause affidavit?  

Yes, I used the term "performance" when describing the witness testimony, as every litigator knows that trials are more akin to theater than to an actual search for the truth.  Your witnesses must know their lines, maintain the right affect, and have the preferred style of delivery.  Not only do you prepare them for direct examination by rehearsing the questions you intend to ask and the answers you expect them to offer, but you bring in another lawyer to conduct a moot cross-examination, so that they are ready and confident before facing the other side.  I find it difficult to believe that this actually happened in the state's case.  And, if it did not, what was the reason?  Lack of time, motivation, concern?  If so, could any of these serve as the basis for an ethical violation against Corey and her associates?    

Related to this point is the failure of the prosecution team to anticipate and thereby counter the age-old defense strategy of putting the victim on trial.  It should have been no surprise that Zimmerman's lawyers would urge the jury to put themselves in their client's shoes and view the scenario from his perspective (Scary black male wearing hoodie!  Threatening presence in the neighborhood!  And he was high on weed!).  Why did the prosecution make this even easier for the defense by readily admitting into evidence Zimmerman's statements as well as the VIDEO of him at the station house when he walks the detective through his seemingly reasonable version of events? Why not keep that out and try to force the defense to put Zimmerman on the stand to get these exculpatory facts into evidence?  Similarly, what of Zimmerman's completely self-serving claim that Trayvon Martin told him, "You're going to die tonight"? Does this have any ring of truth to it?  And if not, why not make the defendant take the stand to assert it himself, when the state could then cross-examine him?

I was perplexed by all of this, gravely disappointed though not surprised by the acquittal, and then I watched Angela Corey's surreal press conference following the verdict  First of all, what of her smile?  Why is she smiling when the defendant was found not guilty?  She claims that she has "brought out the truth on behalf of Trayvon Martin."  If she believed in the prosecution, in the commission of second degree murder by George Zimmerman, how was the truth brought out?  She is proud to be part of the "historical aspect of the case."  What makes it historical from her perspective -- the degree of press attention?  She says that the jury has carefully "gone over all the facts and circumstances," has worked "very hard," and rendered a just verdict.  And then she admits to reporters that she has not yet spoken with Trayvon Martin's parents or family but immediately made herself available to the media.  It just doesn't add up.

Where does this leave the Martin family?  It seems unlikely that there will be a federal prosecution of Zimmerman on different criminal charges, and as for civil rights charges, proving racial animus via the Hate Crimes Prevention Act would be extremely difficult.   A wrongful death civil suit against Zimmerman is another possibility, though despite the lower standard of proof and likelihood that Zimmerman would have to testify, if he wins his hearing under the Stand Your Ground law, he'd be immune from civil action.

All of which brings me to Angela Corey and her future as a state prosecutor.  Rule 4-3.8 of the Rules of Professional Responsibility regulating the Florida Bar calls for prosecutors to adhere to the following:

(a) refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause;

(b) not seek to obtain from an unrepresented accused a waiver of important pre-trial rights such as a right to a preliminary hearing;

(c) make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense, and, in connection with sentencing, disclose to the defense and to the tribunal all unprivileged mitigating information known to the prosecutor, except when the prosecutor is relieved of this responsibility by a protective order of the tribunal.   

From what I've read, it does not appear that (b) or (c) apply, but could subsection (a) be provable against Corey?   If not, is there any redress under any of the other Rules?  Is there any equivalent of ineffective assistance of counsel by the prosecution?

I acknowledge that this may seem to be a strange inquiry coming from a criminal defense lawyer, but I'm not convinced that if the prosecution had been handled differently, the verdict would have been the same.  Trials are crap shoots, as there are so many unknowns, but they are crap shoots in which the skill of the gambler does matter.  The state of Florida was clearly out-lawyered in this case, which is always possible in a jury trial.  What troubles me is that it almost seemed too easy for the defense, as though the other side had decided to throw the game . . . and that's not a fair or just result for anyone.  

Your thoughts?  Please share in the comments.   

Posted by Tamar Birckhead on July 18, 2013 at 01:55 AM in Criminal Law, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (67) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Not Quite Post-Script on Zimmerman, etc.

Interesting exchange I though I'd share.  I just rec'd an email from a stranger (to me):

Prof Markel,
You write here -  - that "I fear that if the races had been turned around, we might have a different verdict."

Why, given the evidence presented, the law, the jury instructions, etc., do you have this fear? Is there a scintilla of evidence that the jury, in its deliberations, was influenced by considerations of race in any way?

My answer:
Thanks for writing (respectfully!).
My sense is that there likely were some subtle racial dynamics as to what prompted GZ's suspicions. I doubt that if TM had been white, GZ would have bothered to call. If GZ had been black and shot a TM who were white, I could see the possibility of conviction going up, even if the same evidence were there. I regret that's the world in which I harbor that concern.

Still, in this case, I think it would be a serious injustice to alter the verdict just because of the risk that injustice elsewhere could erupt. My point, modestly, was that one can't fix other injustices by doing an injustice in this case.

My correspondent wrote back:

Thanks for your quick -- and equally respectful -- response.

1) Re: GZ being suspicious if TM had been white: This is a bedrock assumption -- I don't think there's much evidence on the issue one way or the other -- which I don't share, but let's assume it anyway.

2)  The jury seemed to be meticulous (14 hours of deliberation, etc.).  According to the juror interviewed on CNN, at first, 3 jurors wanted to convict GZ "of something."  But, based on the evidence presented and the "options we were given," acquittal was the only decision, in the end. I very much doubt that this jury would have acted any differently had TM been white/GZ been black.  Also bear in mind that white guilt, as well as white racism, can play a role.  But this is just my opinion.

At this point, it seems, we are in the realm of speculation and sociology, so I don't have much more to add than my first response. But I thought it was an interesting exchange, and I'm sure some of our readers would have more vigorous responses and reactions.

Update: I have since learned (h/t to Adler on FB and Bernstein below) that I may have been leaping to judgments re: my speculation about Zimmerman's reticence to call in suspicious non-blacks. He has a history of calling in a range of people, including fellow Hispanics, and he's also made calls, from what I understand, designed to ensure the wellbeing of young black children. I'm grateful for the information--obviously, I can't verify it myself, but if it's true, the information seems relevant about what kinds of speculations are warranted in race-switching scenarios.

Posted by Dan Markel on July 16, 2013 at 11:37 PM in Criminal Law, Culture, Current Affairs, Dan Markel | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Much Worse than Making Sausages

When I first moved to North Carolina nine years ago, I remember being shocked when I learned that juvenile court jurisdiction ended at age 16 for all purposes and with no exceptions.  This means that if your 16-year-old son or daughter were to intentionally push another kid in the hallway of a public school with a zero tolerance policy, the school resource officer (SRO) could bring assault charges against them in adult criminal court.  I know because I have represented young people facing this very scenario.  

It also means that the collateral consequences of a criminal charge and conviction are potentially borne by every 16 and 17 year old alleged to have violated a criminal offense -- misdemeanor or felony -- regardless of their criminal history, the nature of the injury or harm (if any), personal circumstances, etc.  As you know, a criminal record makes it harder to get a job, to get accepted into college, to receive financial aid, to be licenced in such professions as nursing, and to become a naturalized citizen of the United States.  16 and 17 year olds held in adult prisons are more likely to be raped, assaulted, and to commit suicide than are adult offenders.  

North Carolina is the only state in the country to have such harsh jurisdictional age caps.  One other state ends juvenile court jurisdiction at age 16 -- New York -- which, unlike North Carolina, has mechanisms for "reverse waiver" or removal of a case from criminal court to juvenile court under specified circumstances.  About ten states cap jurisdiction at 17, and the remainder -- the vast majority -- end it at 18.  The numbers of teenagers impacted are significant -- over 65K 16 and 17 year olds are processed in the criminal courts of North Carolina each year, about 26K of whom are only 16.  Stats show that only four percent of this cohort are convicted annually of felonies against people, with the remainder being property crimes or misdemeanors.    

I thought about all of this the other day when reading that Illinois raised the cap on its juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18, thereby joining the majority.  The governor and the bipartisan contingent that supported the bill recognized its value -- that by giving original jurisdiction over all minors to the juvenile court, those who are amenable to its rehabilitative offerings will not be saddled with the burdens of criminal convictions and imprisonment with adults.  Lawmakers also acknowledged that the change would bring significant cost savings in the long run, no small factor given the broken state of the economy and the overflowing numbers of those incarcerated.

The bill's passage is the second step in a reform process in Illinois that began in 2010 when 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors were moved from adult to juvenile courts. Earlier this year, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission released a 2-year study of the impact of the misdemeanor change that found a decrease in the recidivism rate, and it recommended that Illinois join the other states that place 17-year-olds charged with felonies in juvenile court.  Of course, this does not mean that those minors charged with serious offenses cannot be transferred to adult criminal court -- only that all criminal cases against minors must originate in the juvenile forum.  Connecticut has successfully raised the juvenile court age cap from 16 to 18 in recent years as well, also reducing recidivism rates.    

Five years ago, I wrote an article on the history of the movement to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in North Carolina.  I researched the legislative history, looked at reams of old newspaper accounts, studies on adolescent development, commission reports and committee minutes from the various periods during the past century when attempts to raise the age had failed.  The pattern was clear -- with the powerful opposition of the sheriffs' lobby and the backing of state prosecutors, few bills had ever made it out of committee.  The arguments that the cost was too much, that the juvenile court system was already overloaded, and that the result would be a mere "slap on the wrist" to young offenders consistently prevailed in the General Assembly.

Yet, I was naively optimistic that progress would soon be made in my state.  I joined other advocates in writing op-eds, appearing before state legislative commissions, serving on task-forces, and protesting at rallies.  With each step forward, however, we've had at least two steps back.  During the past year, I was heartened that even when our General Assembly is in the grips of conservatives bent on tearing down the little that's left of the social safety net, there are still Republicans willing to sponsor yet another bill to raise the age -- incrementally, of course, but even just moving 16 year old first-offenders charged with misdemeanors into the juvenile system would be a victory.  Now the bill has "run out of steam," and those in the know have shared that it doesn't look like anything will happen with it during this legislative session.  In other words, the pattern continues, and this time I'm a (small) part of the narrative of failure.  

So, what have I learned?  Making sausages is, apparently, nothing like making laws.  In sausage making, there is generally only one person -- the wurstmeister -- who's in charge of the business and makes all the decisions.  Sausages are made according to a recipe that specifies the exact amount of pork, while the inedible parts are discarded. Everyone at the factory is committed to producing a good product, and they strive for uniformity.  The bottom line?  If I were a sausage maker, I'd be insulted by the comparison.  As an advocate trying to bring about change, it only saddens me.

Your thoughts?  Experiences with legislative reform (or with making sausages)?  Please share in the comments.  

 

 

Posted by Tamar Birckhead on July 16, 2013 at 12:53 AM in Criminal Law, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Some more thoughts on self-defense, Stand Your Ground, and Zimmerman

The point of this post is to extend some reflections of ambivalence on some difficult questions regarding self-defense. First, Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws are found in over 20 states including Florida. So, although Florida's getting a lot of heat in my FB thread, I'm not sure it's right to castigate FL as uniquely bizarre in its embrace of SYG. More importantly, it's worth noting that, although the SYG instruction was given here, it wasn't a critical part of the overall case. GZ wasn't claiming a right to deadly force at a moment when he had avenues of retreat. GZ's claim of self-defense was invoked when he (putatively) was on the bottom and shot upward at TM. Might it have framed the defense nonetheless? Perhaps. But given that the forensics were completely consistent with GZ's claim that he shot while he was on the bottom, I'm not sure we should think SYG (in place of a duty to retreat instruction) polluted the jury's decision-making here.

One way in which the FL law did play a role is by shifting the relevant burden regarding self-defense to the gov't. Specifically, the gov't bore the burden of showing beyond a reasonable doubt that GZ did not act in self-defense. In Ohio some states, and historically, self-defense is an affirmative defense, meaning that the defendant shoulders that burden.* Professor Joshua Dressler notes that FL has the burden of disproving SD BRD in the WSJ, but apparently he lumps this burden-shifting point with SYG, which seems mistaken.  In other words, a legislature could make the defendant bear the burden of self-defense while still allowing SYG or requiring a duty to retreat and a state could still have the burden of disproving self-defense claims while allowing SYG or requiring a duty to retreat. (In fact, since 49 of the 50 states, including Florida, make the government bear the burden of disproving SD if the Def't is able to produce some evidence supporting SD, it's probably misleading to suggest that FL's law here is an outlier regarding who bears the burden. I don't think Dressler directly said that, but it's possible some might infer that from his comments.) 

The verdict unsurprisingly seems to be renewing hostility to SYG. There are some powerful reasons to welcome this hostility.

One of the reasons cops don't like it is that it makes it harder to prosecute drug dealers who kill rivals and claim self defense because they were the last ones standing. Some have stressed that SYG hurts minorities. Here the response is typical: it depends. Inasmuch as SYG is a general boon to defendants, and most crime occurs intra-racially, it's not obviously racially biased against minorities in terms of its impact on defendants. That said, analogous to the McCleskey dynamic in the death penalty, there is cause for concern based on the racial impact on victims in inter-racial crimes, and this is what seems to be raising lots of people's hackles, for good reason. But according to the study that I've seen getting circulated for trumpeting this effect, the inference of bias is unproven for two reasons:

The disparity is clear. But the figures don’t yet prove bias. As Roman points out, the data doesn’t show the circumstances behind the killings, for example whether the people who were shot were involved in home invasions or in a confrontation on the street. Additionally, there are far fewer white-on-black shootings in the FBI data — only 25 total in both the Stand Your Ground and non-Stand Your Ground states. 

One last point about SYG's apparent vices. The SYG notion stands in tension with the common law duty to retreat when safe avenues of avoidance are available because we don't want the streets and floors piled with dead bodies on the ground. As mentioned before, I have a lot of sympathy for the common law rule of requiring retreat when feasible. But a principled commitment to the duty to retreat would require revision to the laws allowing the equivalent of SYG in the home. There's a pretty deep sociological commitment to the castle doctrine that works as an exception to the duty to retreat, and thus allows you to prevent being dispossessed of your home. I'm not sure the castle doctrine is net-net justified if there really are safe avenues of avoidance for everyone in the home, but regardless of whether I'm right about that, I do think it's a tough issue. Accordingly, one must bear in mind that self-defense law has to be drawn in a way that takes into account a cluster of complicated moral commitments: do we want to maximally protect home-owners? do we want to make S-D easier for battered women? do we want to maximize lives saved? do we want to maximize only non-culpable lives saved? Do we want to facilitate people feeling safe wherever they have a lawful right to be? Those who proclaim in righteous thunder against SYG have to be confident of their views in at least a couple troubling situations: domestic violence and racist intimidation.  Here's a hypo from Dressler's casebook that I've altered somewhat to make the salience of SYG a little more obvious, despite my concerns about it.

One day Arthur, the resident racist homophobe, informs Dina that if she brings her "trashy gay black ass" that way again he will kill her. Dina could just as conveniently walk along another street, but believing that ‘‘I have every right to walk where I choose,’’ she decides the next day to arm herself with a licensed gun and walk along the now fraught route with her weapon visible to onlookers, as she is permitted to do. Arthur appears and, because of a bum leg, he hobbles toward her, but menacingly, raising his fists and says, "I'm going to get you now." Dina is an olympic class runner, however, and she knows she could run away without problem. Arthur hobbles toward her and is about to punch her. So Dina shoots him because she fears that if she doesn't run, Arthur's strength will overpower her completely.  

Notice that here Dina has several avenues of avoidance: she could have walked along a different road altogether that day, she could have called the cops after receiving the menacing threat, and, ex hypothesis, she could have run away to safety even at the moment prior to Arthur's instigating the violence. Duty to retreat laws would require Dina to avoid this conflict and SYG laws allow her to shoot. I'm inclined to believe that she should have retreated, but I'm also not sure I want to argue that when my fellow citizens vote these laws in place that they are committing some form of moral reasoning malpractice. Anyway, I want to stress, before I close, that I'm not saying Dina and GZ are similarly situated at all.  We have precious little information about the beginning of violence between TM and GZ. My point is simply that there might be a case for SYG that appeals to some "progressives" at least in some cases. 

I'll close with one link to a very interesting recent article on self-defense by Larry Alexander; it is intellectually rich with examples that will stimulate and challenge most people's intuitions. 

*Eugene Volokh notes here that 49 of the 50 states (all but Ohio) put the burden of disproving S-D beyond a reasonable doubt on the state once the defendant has put forth some evidence.

Posted by Dan Markel on July 14, 2013 at 03:32 PM in Article Spotlight, Criminal Law, Current Affairs, Dan Markel | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Zimmerman's Not Guilty

The jury just returned an acquittal on all counts in the George Zimmerman case. I have been expecting this verdict from before the trial when I looked at the evidence that had been produced in the state's discovery. Martin's death is an unfortunate loss, but this case had close to zero evidence to support the goverment's charge of murder and only a bit more evidence to support a finding of manslaughter under a standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. As an ethical matter, the government should be ashamed to have even brought the murder charge, even though over-charging is routine. It's an ethical problem hiding in plain sight.

When I peruse some of my friends' Facebook reactions expressing dismay, they seem not to understand that beyond a reasonable doubt is a standard that precludes finding guilt when there is a plausible explanation that is consistent with the defendant's innocence. In this case, there was very strong evidence supporting the defendant's innocence, so much so that Zimmerman's lawyer expressed a desire for something approximating the Scottish verdict for the jury: guilty, not guilty, and innocent.  That confidence was one that he exhibited early on in the process since Zimmerman decided to press for a trial instead of go to a pre-trial self-defense immunity hearing.  He wanted to show his innocence. I'm not sure he could show his moral innocence, but for reasons Jack explained the other day, there was nothing provably unlawful about Zimmerman's following Martin, and there's also no evidence about who was the aggressor, which is a distinct and critical aspect to whether one forfeits one's privilege of self-defense. Being a provacateur is distinct from being an aggressor. 

I will note, hastily, and in closing, since I have to go catch my flight, that I fear that if the races had been turned around, we might have a different verdict. Inasmuch as that is true, it is an indictment of sociological realities, not a prescription for what should have been done in this case, under the BRD standards afforded to defendants in our criminal justice system. And for what it's worth, I am optimistic that the public will get this, and that predictions of violence or mob justice will prove to be mistaken.

P.S. I will be moderating comments on this thread carefully. Signed, specific, and substantive comments will usually get a response.

 

Posted by Dan Markel on July 13, 2013 at 10:27 PM in Criminal Law, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Poor are Still Losing: Gideon's Empty Promise

This past weekend I spent some time thinking about the future of indigent public defense and what role, if any, defense lawyers can play in a system beset by racism and classism.  First, I read a provocative essay by Paul Butler, "Poor People Lose: Gideon and the Critique of Rights," in the Yale Law Journal's most recent issue, which contains over twenty articles (all available for free download) by law professors and lawyers reflecting on the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright.  

Professor Butler makes a strong case for the idea that the focus on rights discourse -- the right to counsel at trial, the right to counsel during plea negotiations, the right to Miranda, the right to a jury trial -- ultimately has little impact on a criminal justice [or juvenile justice] system in which poor people nearly always lose.  Why do they lose?  Because, as Butler explains, protecting defendants' rights is much different than protecting defendants:  "What poor people, and black people, need from criminal justice is to be stopped less, arrested less, prosecuted less, incarcerated less."  Providing a lawyer -- especially one who is underpaid, overworked, and under-resourced -- does little to change this calculus.  As Butler reminds us, the reason that being poor and African American substantially increases the risk of incarceration has more to do with class and race than with the quality -- or lack thereof -- of the indigent defense system.  

So, what do we do about it?  That, Butler acknowledges, is the hard part.  We certainly don't discourage law students from becoming public defenders, because on an individual level, they do help clients [more on this below].  But what is the alternative?  Michelle Alexander has urged defendants to take their cases to trial, putting a stop to the vicious plea mill that has subsumed the adversarial process, and to "crash the justice system."  Butler has called for "racially based" jury nullification for nonviolent, victimless crimes as well as decriminalizing or legalizing drugs.  I'm not convinced that these specific strategies in and of themselves will catalyze a social reform movement large enough to alter the system, but it's clear that nothing should be discounted, for the situation is dire.  

With all of this percolating in my mind, I happened to watch the new HBO documentary, "Gideon's Army," which follows three public defenders working in under-resourced counties in Georgia and Mississippi.  The film was engrossing and offered (what seemed to me, at least) a realistic portrayal of the challenging and gruelling nature of indigent defense.  The three young PDs -- two women and one man, all African-American -- were dedicated and driven, although one understandably walks away from the job when she can't pay her bills to support herself and her son.  The film concludes (perhaps for marketing purposes) with a happy ending -- an acquittal after a jury trial, which made me -- a total sap -- cry as the PD was hugged by her (young black male) client and his (low-income) single mother.  

But as the credits rolled, I didn't feel much like recruiting baby PDs for this "army" or donating to the organization that inspired the documentary -- the Southern Public Defender Training Center (SPDTC) (now called "Gideon's Promise"), led by the dynamic (white male) Jon Rapping.  Instead, I wanted to crash the system.  The film's explicit message is that there's a "battle" going on in which dedicated and hard-working PDs can win if only enough of them sign up, endure slave wages, and get down with representing one poor person of color (and the occasional white poor person) after another, as our prisons only continue to expand.

The director, Dawn Porter, draws clumsy parallels to the civil rights movement (and even offers a cameo by John Lewis who appears at a fund-raising event for SPDTC), but there's no acknowledgement that the lawyers who represented civil rights workers in the south had clear goals and objectives, while these PDs are fighting for...what exactly?  By acting as cogs in a broken machine, one that even Rapping admits is "hell,"  they are not bringing about systemic change.  Yes, they may make a difference to an individual defendant, but there is no talk of broader-based action -- such as a demand for a living wage, reasonable caseloads, or enough funding to perform basic investigative tasks and forensic testing.  Let's be real -- how could there be this sort of activism?  These lawyers are barely hanging on, working 15-16 hours/day and scrambling for change to buy enough gas to get them to the courthouse.    

Don't get me wrong -- I was a proud public defender for ten years, and as a clinical professor, I still represent the same client population; I am heartened whenever one of my students enters this field.  But I would never suggest that the work of the average PD, like the ones featured in the film and in most offices across the country, actually transforms the populations they serve or that the appointment of a lawyer -- the RIGHT to a lawyer -- helps dismantle the incarceral state.  

I would also be reluctant to recruit young lawyers for this work using the pitch championed in the film, because as romantic as it sounds, it will inevitably attract people for all the wrong reasons, such as one of the women who balks when a client feels no remorse for his heinous crime.  She thought she was on the "right" side of the war, only to find that the lines are not so easily drawn.  As Travis Williams, my favorite PD in the film said, "I don't see how you can do this job for any period of time and not love it.  Either this is your cause or this ain't."  He's the guy who has tattooed the names of his clients who have been convicted after trial on HIS OWN back.  He will be a career PD, and his clients will be truly blessed to have him on their side.  He also recognizes, however, that the work is thankless, that the conditions are unlikely ever to change, and that it's more of a marathon than a war.  A marathon with no end in sight.    

Your thoughts?  Please share in the comments.   

 

Posted by Tamar Birckhead on July 9, 2013 at 07:52 AM in Criminal Law, Current Affairs, Film, Judicial Process, Law Review Review | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Monday, July 08, 2013

"Stalking", George Zimmerman and Curry v. State

Many commentators, some in response to my earlier post, have suggested that GZ was "stalking" Trayvon Martin.  GZ admittedly was "observing," "monitoring" or "watching" Mr. Martin, at least for some period of time, but the implication of "stalking" is that, assuming GZ was following Mr. Martin as closely as he possibly could, he was doing something inappropriate or illegal.  This seems incorrect, because GZ's conduct was not unlawful. 

First, although I am not an expert in torts, it seems in the absence of stalking statutes, a person is free to follow any other in public in a non-threatening manner.  I invite correction if I am wrong.  (And, of course, in a state which allows the carrying of weapons by license, the lawful exercise of that privilege simpliciter cannot be a threat).  I get this from Prosser and Keeton, as quoted by the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals: “[o]n the public street, or in any other public place, the plaintiff has no legal right to be alone;  and it is no invasion of his privacy to do no more than follow him about and watch him there."  Similarly, the U.S. Supreme Court explained in United States v. Knotts, "When [defendant] travelled over the public streets he voluntarily conveyed to anyone who wanted to look the fact that he was travelling over particular roads in a particular direction, the fact of whatever stops he made, and the fact of his final destination when he exited from public roads onto private property."  That is, it was not that the police could follow the defendant because they were the police and had special powers, it was that the police could follow the defendant because any private person could follow anyone in public.  Although Knotts involved a car, the principle is equally applicable to pedestrians.

This common-law tradition, of course, has been changed by stalking statutes; Florida's is Fla. Stat. Ann. 748.048.  It requires that the misconduct (which clearly can be conduct which would be legal in the absence of the stalking statute) be without a "legitimate purpose."  The key Florida case on "legitimate purpose" is Curry v. State, which reversed a conviction for aggravated stalking.   Not surprisingly, it involves a dispute among neighbors.  The Court found that "A report to an arm of government, concerning a matter within the purview of the agency's responsibilities, serves a "legitimate purpose" . . . , regardless of the subjective motivation of the reporter."  The Court also found that reporting to the government was constitutionally protected as a petition for redress of grievances.  Gathering information for use in a possible report to police seems covered by Curry and similar cases.

By a quirk of Florida law, arrests by on-duty police outside the officer's jurisdiction are treated as citizen's arrests.  Such officers, accordingly to the Florida Supreme Court, have no "greater power of arrest outside their jurisdiction than private citizens."   Yet, they may follow suspects, and, if probable cause develops, make arrests.  (However, under the "color of office" rule, if they use their police authority to investigate, i.e., show their shields to get statements or consent to search, the out-of-jurisdiction action is invalid).  It is clear, then, that citizens are not categorically prohibited from investigating crimes and making arrests in public.  Therefore, I see no per se illegality in GZ following Trayvon Martin even if he intended to investigate and, if warranted, make an arrest.  This puts in a different light the statement by the dispatcher to GZ that "we don't need you" to follow Mr. Martin. 

The wisdom of every legal doctrine affecting the case is debatable, including the permissibility of citizen's arrests and neighborhood watches, the liberal granting of concealed weapons permits, limited stalking statutes, and broad self defense doctrines.  Particularly in a former Confederate state, taken together, these doctrines have the whiff of the slave patrol.  But GZ's conduct must be evaluated given the law on the books at the time, which, in my view, quite favors him.

Posted by Jack Chin on July 8, 2013 at 02:33 AM in Criminal Law, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 04, 2013

When Police Question Young Suspects

Two years ago, Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court in JDB v. North Carolina, an important decision and one to which I had a personal connection.  When I had been practicing in the juvenile delinquency courts of North Carolina for only a year, UNC's Juvenile Justice Clinic was appointed to represent a young man who was the co-defendant to JDB, a 13-year-old special education student at one of our local middle schools (the one my older daughter currently attends).  Weeks earlier, the Chapel Hill juvenile police investigator at the time, DiCostanzo, had been stymied from questioning JDB at his home about a string of neighborhood burglaries (JDB's grandmother, who was his legal guardian, had not allowed it), so DiCostanzo went to Smith Middle School to talk to the boy there.  DiCostanzo had the school resource officer (a uniformed cop on detail to the school) take JDB out of his social studies class and bring him to a small conference room where they were joined by the assistant principal (the school disciplinarian) and another adult who was an administrative intern.  

Long story short -- the adults closed the door and began questioning JDB who initially denied any involvement in the crimes, but after they told him to "do the right thing" and threatened to place him in juvenile detention, he confessed.  Because DiCostanzo et al. didn't consider the questioning to be custodial, JDB's grandmother was never contacted (which was required for custodial interrogation of juveniles under the NC Juvenile Code), and he wasn't given Miranda or told he could leave, make a phone call, etc.  At the motion to suppress hearing in the local juvenile court, I sat and watched JDB's public defender expertly cross-examine DiCostanzo, clearly showing that as a result of JDB's age/youth/student status, no one in his position would have felt free to leave the conference room -- or, for that matter, challenge two police officers and school administrators.  Although I was angry when the suppression motion was denied, I was hardly surprised, as I had become long resigned to the fact that common sense rarely prevailed in juvenile court.  

About six years later, I paid the fee to join the USSC bar, drove up to D.C., and sat several rows away from the justices when the case was argued.  At one point, Justice Breyer asked with no small degree of sarcasm, "And what is the terrible thing, the awful thing that has to happen if the officer isn't sure whether this individual thinks he's in custody or not?  Suppose the officer just isn't sure.  What terrible thing happens?"  He paused and then said, "The terrible thing that happens is you have to give them a Miranda warning."  To which Justice Scalia responded, ""We don't want Miranda warnings to be given where they are unnecessary because they are only necessary to prevent coercion, and where there's no coercion, we want confessions, don't we?" To emphasize his point, he added, "It's a good thing to have the bad guys confess that they're bad guys, right?"  Breyer, of course, recognized the irony -- that giving Miranda has a negligible effect on most interrogations, particularly if the suspect is a 13-year-old boy questioned at school.  In contrast, Scalia didn't want criminal suspects -- no matter their age -- to have any perceived advantage.

I was heartened when the decision came down several months later and the liberal justices -- joined by Justice Kennedy -- reversed the denial of JDB's suppression motion (which the NC appellate courts had affirmed) and remanded the case to address whether interrogation was custodial taking into account the boy's age at the time.  In relying on Roper v. Simmons (ending the juvenile death penalty) and Graham v. Florida (ending JLWOP for non-homicide offenses), the Court held that "officers and judges need no imaginative powers, knowledge of developmental psychology, training in cognitive science, or expertise in social and cultural anthropology to account for a child’s age. They simply need the common sense to know that a 7-year-old is not a 13-year-old and neither is an adult." As can happen with even Supreme Court decisions, no action in the North Carolina courts has yet to be taken, as JDB is no longer a juvenile and perhaps feels no great incentive to pursue the matter.

I've been thinking of all of this of late, as I learned from Josh Tepfer and Steve Drizin of Northwestern Law's Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY) about several recent instances of interrogations of teenagers in Tennessee and elsewhere in which confessions were given in homicide cases only after the police made extreme threats, including promises that the suspect would face the death penalty if he didn't confess (a legal impossibility given Roper) or that the suspect would be raped in prison on a daily basis if he didn't confess.  The cases have been resolved in a variety of ways; in two matters the motions to suppress were supported by strong amicus briefs from CWCY, which led to favorable plea deals for the juveniles; in the case of 17-year-old Codey Miller, the confession was suppressed by the judge who called the interrogation practices of the police "mind-boggling"; in the case of 14-year-old Jonathan Ray, the confession was also suppressed, though the case has not yet been resolved; in the case of 19-year-old Carlos Campbell, the motion to suppress the confession was denied and it's unclear whether there will be an appeal; and in a recent decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court, the conviction of 17-year-old Garrett Dye was reversed and a new trial ordered after holding that his confession was involuntary.  

Because the fact patterns in these cases are clearly different than JDB, as the parties agreed that police questioning was custodial and Miranda warnings were given, the legal issues raised are also somewhat different (Was the Miranda waiver involuntary?  Was the right to counsel invoked?  Was the confession coered?), but the critical questions remain the same:  should the rules that apply to the questioning of juveniles, and the standards by which courts review interrogations of kids, be different than those for adult suspects?  If so, what should be different?  The principle reform has been mandatory recording (either audio or video) of the interrogations of suspects, whether juveniles or adults, something that has been successfully adopted in 17 states and Washington, D.C., either by legislatures or courts.  Mandating that juveniles be given counsel prior to custodial interrogation is a proposal that has yet to gain much traction (likely for pragmatic as well as philosophical reasons), with states preferring to provide "parental notification" before police can question youth, which rarely helps as most parents are as unfamiliar with how best to handle these situations as their children.  Given that most police officers receive fewer than 10 hours of juvenile interview and interrogation training over their entire careers, another proposal is that law enforcement should be regularly trained consistent with the best practices established by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and be directed not to use aggressive or deceptive strategies when questioning minors.  

Your thoughts?  Please share in the comments. 

 

Posted by Tamar Birckhead on July 4, 2013 at 01:55 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Monday, July 01, 2013

Sneak and Peek

Thanks to Dan & Co for having me.

My main topic for the month:  Sneak and Peek searches, aka Delayed Notice Search Warrants, aka Black Bag jobs.

What’s a sneak and peek search?  Simple:  the police conduct a covert search of a home or business when the occupant is away.  Sometime later, they give the occupant notice of the search—maybe days, weeks or months (today, 90 days is most common).

Covert government surveillance is all the rage these days, but most of the discussion focuses on high-tech surveillance that involves packet switching and $2 billion NSA data centers in the Utah desert.  Sneak and peek searching is old school—any fool with a crowbar can break into your house while you are gone and look through your stuff.  Even the smug Amish have to worry about the FBI secretly looking through their handcrafted cabinets. 

So check this out—the government has discovered that "breaking into people's homes while they are away" is a very useful tool.  There's been a (largely unnoticed) explosion in sneak and peek searches in the past 6+ years:

  Figure 1 Delayed Notice Search Warrants Issued

The chart is from my forthcoming article, Jonathan Witmer-Rich, The Rapid Rise of “Sneak and Peak” Searches, and the Fourth Amendment “Rule Requiring Notice,” 41 Pepperdine Law Review __ (2014), Figure 1, draft available here on SSRN.  (Data for FY 2012 will be available sometime this month; I'll share it with you when I have it; I'll bet anybody $37.33 that the number goes up not down.)

Back in 2005, in a speech at U. Richmond Law School, James Comey—President Obama’s nominee for FBI Director—said that “[w]e in law enforcement do not call them [sneak and peek warrants] . . . because it conveys this image that we are looking through your sock drawer while you are taking a nap.”  James Comey, Fighting Terrorism and Preserving Civil Liberties, 40 U. Rich. L. Rev. 403, 410 (2006). 

Ha ha!  What a ridiculous image!  Of course police do not do this while you are taking a nap.  You might wake up and discover them!  Otherwise, this is a pretty good description of a covert search—police secretly looking through your sock drawer, when you are away.  Police do not like that image.  It's alarming because it's accurate.

Here's what I will be doing in my posts this month:

1.  Giving a more detailed empirical description of the rapid rise of sneak and peek searching.

2.  Looking at the history of sneak and peek searching (aka "black bag" jobs).

3.  Arguing that notice is part of Fourth Amendment reasonableness, and so delayed notice warrants require serious Fourth Amendment scrutiny.  Most lower courts to date have rejected this proposition, at least in the context of delayed notice search warrants.

4.  Arguing that the current statutory regime is a total failure, and is facilitating the explosive growth in covert searching.

5.  Giving some solutions to limit the number of covert searches that can be done, while still preserving this tool for when it is really important.

 

Posted by Jonathan Witmer-Rich on July 1, 2013 at 10:12 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Zombie in the Wild

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

Screen Shot 2013-06-24 at 10.41.18 AM

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. 

Gunderman's conceptually and factually misleading number misses all of this, and thus understates the direct and indirect roles that crime can play. Sadly, this is not an unusual problem in the literature.

Next he moves on to sentencing:

New sentencing guidelines have been a key factor. They have reduced judges' discretion in determining who goes to jail and increased the amount of time convicts sentenced to jail spend there. A notable example is the so-called "three-strikes" law, which mandates sentences ranging from 25 years to life for many repeat offenders. 

First, let's start with the strike laws. While a majority of states have them, according to Frank Zimring about 90% of all strike sentences are handed down in California. So states have them, but don't use them. 

Moreover, guidelines are used in a minority of states, and some data suggests that guidelines are negatively correlated with prison growth: states adopted them to rein in prison populations. Now if we are talking about the federal guidelines, maybe Gunderman is right. But the story is much different in the remaining 89% of the system.

Even more important, it simply isn't the case that longer sentences has caused prison growth. This is the biggest zombie idea of them all, and I will be dedicating several posts to it down the line. But it simply is not the case. I'll give Gunderman a pass on this claim, though. It is almost accepted as gospel inside and outside the academy. I've had people tell me that my results must be wrong because of the conclusions I reach, a complete inversion of the (social) scientific process, and one that must make Thomas Bayes and Pierre-Simon Laplace spin in their graves.

Up next, an oldie-but-goodie:

Perhaps the single greatest contributor has been the so-called "war on drugs," which has precipitated a 12-fold increase in the number of incarcerated drug offenders. About 1.5 million Americans are arrested each year for drug offenses, one-third of whom end up in prison. Many are repeat offenders caught with small quantities of relatively innocuous drugs, such as marijuana, a type of criminal activity often referred to as "victimless."

Do I even need to say anything more at this point? Maybe just two small things. First, the ratio of drug inmates to drug arrests is about 23%, not 33% (see here and here). And 1.5M arrests is a large number, but keep in mind we arrested almost 12.5M people in 2011. It would be surprising if just 12% of all arrests drove everything. The back-of-the-envelope calculations don't seem to work.

Gunderman then turns his attention to crack/powder sentencing in particular:

Some sentencing laws seem little less than perverse. For example, in the 1980s, crack cocaine received a great deal of public attention. In response, the U.S. Congress passed legislation imposing a 100 to 1 sentencing ratio for possession of crack cocaine, as compared to its powdered form. ... From a medical point of view, this makes little sense.

First--again!--we should focus on state sentencing, not federal. And apparently most states do not punish crack and powder differently, and those that do use lower ratios.

Moreover, the medical argument is tricky. What matters is not the chemical form but the method of delivery: oral ingestion is more addictive than smoking or IV use, and smoking and IV use are more addictive than inhaling. Since crack is generally smoked and powder frequently inhaled, the form did make a difference. Moreover, there were real social costs associated with the introduction of crack, though these were almost certainly linked more to the destabilizing effects of the crack markets, not the drug itself, since crack use appears to remain at about 70% of its peak use level.

Now perhaps targeting form rather than method of distribution, or targeting the drug rather than the social ills directly, were bad policy decisions. But the issue is far more complex than the glib "little less than perverse" implies.

Next, Gunderman turns to the costs of prisons, arguing:

The costs of incarceration are high. For example, the state of California spends approximately $9,000 per year for each public school student it educates but over $50,000 per year for each inmate it keeps incarcerated. The proportion of the state budget devoted to imprisonment has been increasing at a rate much faster than that for education. Moreover, despite California's huge prison expenditures, its prisons recently held 140,000 prisoners in facilities designed for only 80,000.

First, all fifty states are different, and when it comes to penal policy California is a distinct--albeit large--outlier. So it does not necessarily make sense to use California as a stand-in for the US. As my own work has shown, Census data on expenditures suggest that prison spending as a share of the budget has been flat since crime started dropping in the 1990s. States have become much richer during that time, and they have chosen to spend on everything. There may be some crowding out going on, but it is not immediately clear.

Screen Shot 2013-06-24 at 12.07.29 PM
(In the figure, don't worry about the three lines: they are just different ways of thinking about a state's budget. But no matter how we define "budget," the same pattern holds.)

Moreover, at a national level, spending on schools greatly exceeds that on prisons. Perhaps on a per-student and per-prisoner basis the prisons get more, although the implications of that are not immediately clear--there are a host of assumptions about the correlation between spending and outcomes that underlie Gunderman's point. These assumptions may be true, but they need to be supported (or at least acknowledged).

Finally, note that the $50,000/prisoner number--which is one of the highest levels in the country--is just an average cost measure, not a marginal. Cutting one prisoner will not reduce costs by $50,000. After all, releasing one prisoner does not reduce heating, staffing, maintenance, or other costs at all. The best estimate of marginal costs that I have seen, using data from Maryland, suggests that marginal costs are half of average costs.

Then, he turns to the other side of the prison-crime problem:

Does prison do any good? This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. 

He's absolutely right: given the endogenous nature of prison and crime, disentangling any sort of causal story is incredibly hard. But he uses this difficulty to basically just throw up his hands and admit that there may be some incapacitative and retributive benefits, but that's about it. Perhaps. But while complicated, there is a lot of data out there, and the more-methodologically sound studies do find that prison growth reduced crime. We may be well past a point of declining--maybe even negative--marginal returns, and our focus on prison likely distracted us from what would have been a much more efficient focus on police. But again, these are much more nuanced arguments than the usual "prison doesn't stop crime" argument that gets trotted out as part of the Standard Story.

He goes on:

Yet it is difficult to make the case that so-called correctional institutions do much in the way of correcting, reforming, or rehabilitating inmates. The recidivism rate at 3 years post-release is about two-thirds, of which over half end up back in prison. The most important factor in preventing recidivism is not the amount of time people serve in prison, but the age at which they are set free. The older inmates are at the time of their release, the less likely they are to return.

First, an "amen." The age-profile of offending is a hugely-overlooked issue in our criminal justice system. Offending does not occur randomly over the life-course. Those who offend repeatedly start in their early teens with property crime, graduate into violent crime in their late teens and early 20s, and start to ease out of offending in their late 20s and 30s. Of course, there is a lot of variation in these trends, and sadly we cannot seem to predict who will follow what trajectory in advance. 

But our policies clearly ignore this fundamental fact. Offenders generally get their harshest recidivist-enhanced sentences just as they are most likely to start aging out of criminal behavior. One could argue that such sanctions are the necessary evils of maintaining a credible threat, but the evidence about the deterrent effect of severe sanctions is weak. On the other hand, throwing the book at the young first-timer is hard because of the false-positive risk. Gunderman deserves credit for drawing our attention to this.

On the other hand, the 2/3 number is a really tricky one to understand. First, if 1/3 of all cancer patients receiving a chemotherapy treatment survived three years, would we call the therapy a "failure"? It depends on the baserate survival risk without the treatment--and we have no idea what that would be for the recidivists. If 1/3 would not have recidivated no matter what happened, then prison does not reform well. But if all would have recidivated but for incarceration, then maybe 1/3 is a remarkable success, given the challenges of changing human behavior later in life.

Instead, we should look to prison programs directly. And here there is a huge literature which suggestst that a lot actually works, although context, design, etc., etc. all matter significantly. Again, a much more complicated picture than the Standard Story is equipped to handle.

His next point is that incarceration hurts the families of inmates, and this is a good point to make; I don't really have anything to criticize. In our debates over prisoners-vs-victims, it is important to remember that many family members of inmates--particularly their children--are themselves now victimized by the process.

His turn to community harms, though, again reflects the unnuanced perspective of the Standard Story:

Incarceration also takes a big toll on communities. Its costs, both direct and indirect, are high, and it draws resources away from other equally or more worthy needs, such as education and healthcare. Some communities, particularly in inner cities, are devastated by incarceration.

True, but since crime is geographically concentrated, these are also the communities devastated by crime. As James Forman has pointed out, much of the demand for tougher sentencing laws during the 1980s came from inner-city black communities, which have also borne the brunt of their enforcement. Crime policy is not just some disinterested state imposing its will on politically powerless inner-city communities. 

That's enough (and the end of the Atlantic article). Sadly, this is what I am used to reading: this is the Standard Story in a nutshell. And it is wrong in so many ways. It undersells crime, it oversells harsh sentences, it focuses too much on drugs and not enough on the complicated politics of a disaggregated criminal justice system. It looks at the harms to inmates and families--perhaps because its focus on drug crimes leads it to think of average offender as someone who committe a "victimless" crime--but ignore the victims of crimes. And, in particular, ignores how the victims of crimes are generally the neighbors of the victimizers, making the community story a tough one to describe empirically.

And as long as we accept the Standard Story, it is unlikely we will implement reforms that really target the heart of the problem.

1Gunderman is a pediatric radiologist who writes primarily about bioethics. So I have no idea why he feels qualified to write about prison growth, and why the Atlantic decided to publish his writings. His primary hook seems to be that mass incarceration has serious public health ramifications, which is indubitably true. But that does not automatically make a doctor qualified to write about such a complicated social process (nor an epidemiologist, for that matter). All I can think of is this xkcd cartoon.

2Violent crime has fallen by 37%, and property crime by 28%, since 1992. But that is just 24 years, not 40. 

 

Posted by John Pfaff on June 24, 2013 at 03:18 PM in Criminal Law, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Friday, June 21, 2013

Modified Categorical Imperative

I am pleased by Descamps.  Like many people to have clerked on courts with a sizable criminal docket, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the so-called "categorical approach" to sentencing, and what Justice Kagan calls the "not very inventively" labeled "modified categorical approach."  If you don't know what this is, it probably isn't worth your time to learn it, but the gist of it is a formalistic, frequently misunderstood approach to determining when a defendant has a prior conviction for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act and other similar statutes, instigated by a case called Taylor.  Anyway, in keeping with the prior format:

  • This is the most correct thing the Court has written about the categorical approach since Taylor itself.
  • That said, I am still unsatisfied with pages 16-19, where the Court tries to explain the difference between alternative elements of a crime and alternative means of committing the same crime.  The Court seems to link this test, for modified categorical approach purposes, to the rules about juror agreement on alternative theories of the crime.  ("Seems" because the dissent, but not the majority, cites Schad and Richardson.)  That might be right, but I know enough to know that it's a complicated area where the Court's precedents are unsatisfying.  And if Steve Sachs is right about how to think about alternative theories of the crime, then it's an unpromising fulcrum from which to move the modified categorical approach.
  • This is not a decision about burglary.  It's a broad statement about the modified categorical approach and a big change in what I've seen from many judges' thinking in this area.
  • I also find it moderately surprising that the opinion purports to "reserve" the question of whether to "take account not only of the relevant statute’s text, but of judicial rulings interpreting it," which many people had thought was uncontroversial.
  • If you are interested in sharp-tongued judicial rhetoric, you should be following Justice Kagan.  The opinion positively mocks the Ninth Circuit decision, Aguila-Montes de Oca, that is substantively reversed in this case. ("When assessed in light of those three reasons, the Ninth Circuit strikes out swinging." "Similarly, consider (though Aguila-Montes did not) ..." "The Ninth Circuit defended its (excessively) modified categorical approach ..." "Here is the only conclusion in Aguila Montes we agree with:")
  • For a long time, every time I thought I had a useful article to write about the modified categorical approach, the Court would ruin it with a new (problematic) decision.  For once, I feel like it is moving wholly in the right direction.

Posted by Will Baude on June 21, 2013 at 02:09 AM in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Two and a Half Reasons to Overrule Griffin

Earlier this week, I mentioned as an aside that I appreciated Justice Thomas's call to overrule Griffin v. California (which forbids judicial and prosecutorial comment on a defendant's exercise of his right not to testify).  I don't have anything terribly profound to say about why, but since that view seemed to surprise and displease some people, I thought I'd say more about my thinking.

First, Griffin is probably wrong.  As Justices Thomas and Scalia discuss in their separate dissents in Mitchell v. United States, there's little reason to believe that the no-commenting-on-defendants'-silence rule has a historical basis, nor is it a straightforward reading of the text of the Fifth Amendment.   Petitioner's merits brief in Salinas did a creditable job of finding 19th century cases that supported the Griffin rule (see the three citations on page 13 of the brief), but the record is still pretty thin.

Second, the system would probably be more legitimate-- and might even be more accurate-- if defendants testified more.  The current incentives are rigged to discourage defendants from testifying-- even defendants who have something they'd like to say.  Nobody can comment on the defendants' failure to testify, and if the defendant does testify, prior convictions or other damaging impeachment evidence can come in. (See.)  Ideally, I'd scrap the Griffin rule and the use of prior convictions for impeachment as a package, but even scrapping one or the other would be an improvement.

Third, I don't think it makes much sense for the Constitution to regulate most of prosecutors say during opening and closing argument.  Criminal cases are full of litigation about various kinds of improper comments and prosecutorial misconduct for the things prosecutors tell the jury, and the whole enterprise strikes me as misguided (with the exception of statements that describe inadmissible evidence).  The prosecutor's comments are not the law.  The defense attorney can disagree with them.  The judge can tell the jury they are not the law.  The jury should know they are not the law.  If we think the criminal trial system currently doesn't work that way-- that juries take what the prosecutors say at face value even if the defense attorney vigorously disagrees and the judge tells them that both sides are advocates-- we have much bigger problems.  After all, the prosecutor also tells the jury that the defendant is guilty, and the game is over if the jury takes that at face value.

Now, I don't mean to sound too optimistic about criminal trials.  It may well be that we do indeed have much bigger problems and that the system is rigged to make the prosecutor a functional authority in the courtroom.  But if that's true, then abolishing the Griffin rule is probably harmless.  So under the optimistic view of the process, juries can be trusted to weigh the prosecution's and the defense's explanations for the failure to testify; and under the pessimistic view of the process the jury probably assumes the defendant's guilt anyway.

This third argument, to be sure, only applies to comments by the prosecution; comments by the court are more complicated.  Griffin involved both, though most of the subsequent cases have been about prosecutors.  I think there would be some wisdom (whether or not there would be some constitutional legitimacy) in retaining the Griffin rule for courts, even if prosecutors are allowed to comment.

But all of these thoughts are quite provisional, and some of them rely on quasi-empirical guesswork. I'd welcome any thoughts about why I am wrong.

Posted by Will Baude on June 20, 2013 at 01:55 AM in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

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

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 3,143 counties 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.

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 11.02.22 AM

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.

In fact, so concentrated is crime that Lawrence Sherman has argued that we should think more about “wheredunit” than “whodunit”: tell me that a mugging happened, and I am better able to guess where it happened than who did it.

Furthermore, not only is crime quite local, it seems to be fairly immobile: evidence suggests that for most crimes displacement is not a major concern. Weisburd and others have shown that even within a high-crime neighborhood, concentrated enforcement at a particular crime hot-spot does not appear to displace crime to other, nearby blocks. The hotspot is a hotspot for a reason: there is something about that block—its architecture, its lack of light, etc., etc.—that makes if favorable for, or even encourages, criminal conduct.

Of course, some crimes are more displaceable than others. The low-level drug dealer may not move a few neighborhoods over to sell more drugs, but cartels will reroute their distribution networks through entire new countries if need be. (This perhaps suggests why we see many regional drug enforcement task forces.) And the fact that a majority of violent crime victims know their attackers suggest that much violent crime is localized, while something like terrorism is perhaps much more likely to respond to changing enforcement patterns.2

But, in general, crime is a fairly local, stable (if destabilizing) problem.

Given this, it is hard to immediately justify the way in which we have allocated responsibility for criminal justice issues. Why should county officials decide which offenses deserve prosecutorial attention? Why should state officials decide what crimes deserve longer punishments—and should we even want such one-size-fits-all sanctions? Should crimes in Utica face the same sanctions as those in New York City? (Or is this a defense of plea bargaining, which allows local officials to craft local sanctions from state-level starting points?)

Even California, the one state to seriously rethink this allocation of powers via its Realignment program, does not seem to address these questions well. Realignment will require counties to incarcerate “triple-nons”—non-violent, non-serious, non-sex-offense-registered offenders—in county jails, even for long terms. But what exactly is the relationship between severity and externalities? I can see traces of complicated arguments that could provide some support, but nothing like a slam-dunk.3

There may be some normative arguments for our current system, but these do not feel all that appealing either. Maybe we think it would be offensive if Utica set a much lower punishment for, say, domestic abuse than New York City. But we let the various states set different punishments for such crime, so what is the difference between Utica/NYC and New York/New Jersey?

And it is hard to see a real efficiency argument, either. Perhaps criminal codes are expensive and difficult to write. But then why not have the state write the code and allow local communities to adopt and amend as they see fit, at least for those offenses that seem least displaceable?

But this is an issue that I have not given as much thought to as others, so I would love to hear about justifications that I’m missing. And I’m curious: how big a problem is misdesigned federalism (again, at the local-state level) in other areas of law? Is this a big concern in, say, environmental law (where the externalities seem more obvious and pervasive to me) or labor law? I’d love to hear from people who study other areas of law about whether similar concerns arise there, or if criminal law has a uniquely poorly allocated division of responsibility.

 

1I’ll use “federalism” here because it is easy. Given the central role of states in criminal justice policy, “statism” is probably more accurate, but more confusing as well. So the “federal” divides I’m looking at here are city/county and county/state far more than state/federal.

2For a cynical take on this, see Robert Wright’s 2002 column about the need for the US to keep its allies close in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks: the less our allies are associated with us, the more likely terrorist retaliations will be concentrated on US targets. His title says it all: “Friends as Flak Jackets.”

3And there could be a serious problem here. As David Ball’s work has shown, Californian counties differ greatly in their innate “punitiveness” towards all offenders, violent and otherwise. And as I’ve shown here, the incarceration of violent offenders has been the majority cause of prison growth. So Realignment appears to fail to realign costs and benefits for the very offender class most responsible for rising incarceration rates.

Posted by John Pfaff on June 19, 2013 at 03:24 PM in Criminal Law, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, June 17, 2013

What Does Justice Stevens Think of Gant?

Justice Stevens's remarks at ACS this weekend have gotten some attention in the blogosphere.  But one interesting point I haven't seen noted has been what appears to be a slight revision in his view of Arizona v. Gant.  Gant restricted the ability of police officers to search the entire body of a vehicle after arresting somebody who had been it.  That broad search ability had been thought justified by a case called Belton, written by Justice Stewart, in which Justice Stevens concurred in the judgment.

In Gant, the majority opinion by Justice Stevens went out of its way to claim that the new, narrower, rule was how Belton should have been understood all along.  The Court's opinion said that there was "the textual and evidentiary support" for a narrower reading of Belton; it described itself as rejecting a "broad reading of Belton," not overruling it; and it explicitly noted that Justice Stevens had once concurred in the judgment in Belton.  Justice Scalia wrote separately to call Justice Stevens's construction of Belton implausible ("I read those cases differently"), though he ultimately "acced[ed] to what seems to me the artificial narrowing of those cases adopted by Justice Stevens," and joined the majority.

Justice Stevens's comments on Gant in his speech sound very different.  He now says that he "dissented from Potter Stewart's opinion in the Belton case," (not technically true -- though maybe this is merely an infelicity in the prepared text).  He says that he "enjoyed" reading Justice Scalia's footnote that suggested that Gant had rejected Belton, and says that "in the Belton case, I remember being particularly offended because the majority's rule allowed an arresting officer making a traffic stop to search through the driver's briefcase," which is precisely the kind of search that the broad reading (rejected in Gant) would had allowed.

Now, these passages are not pellucidly clear, but it seems like Justice Stevens is now closer to Justice Scalia's view of Belton.  If Stevens meant what he wrote in Gant, one would expected him to say that Belton was a good decision that had been misunderstood, not that it was offensive and led to bad results.  And recharacterizing his Belton concurrence (as Gant had emphasized) into a dissent seems like another clue.  Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I thought it was noteworthy.

Posted by Will Baude on June 17, 2013 at 03:25 AM in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Obeying Judges

Acquiescence is in the news.  The Obama administration has announced that it will make Plan B available in a single pill, over the counter, for women of all ages, assuming that will comply with a district court's prior ruling.  Meanwhile an Illinois has prosecutor has announced that he will start allowing Illinoisians to carry concealed weapons, even though the legislature has not yet repealed Illinois's public gun ban.  A Seventh Circuit decision had held the law unconstitutional, but the Illinois courts have so far disagreed.

I am not sure whether either decision is the right one, although both may be.  As for Plan B, it's a little odd for the administration to let a single district court make regulatory law for the entire country without even an appeal.  (Remember all of that talk in the administration's DOMA briefs about how important it was for the issue to be resolved nationwide rather than left to the lower courts?)  On the other hand, perhaps the administration was inclined to make the pill more widely available, and the court simply set the agenda or provided a political excuse.

As for the Illinois prosecutions, the disagreement among the prosecutors and the disagreement between state and federal courts suggests that a higher power will have to resolve this sooner or later.  And the case for acquiescence until then is not obvious.  The Seventh Circuit doesn't sit in review of state prosecutions, and under AEDPA the court of appeals decision is irrelevant to collateral attack.  If the prosecutor doesn't think the statute is constitutional, perhaps he shouldn't enforce it, but if he does I'm not so sure why he cares what the Seventh Circuit thinks.

Posted by Will Baude on June 11, 2013 at 06:00 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Monday, June 10, 2013

Judges Gone Wild?

I couldn't help but think that this judge's behavior, earlier today, is an example of imperious official action. The judge was all set to accept the defendant's plea bargain, but because the offender, footballer Chad Johnson, gave a playful slap on the backside to his lawyer during the hearing, in response to a question asked by the judge regarding whether he was satisfied with his counsel, she rejected the bargain, which called for no jail time, and gave him 30 days in jail. You can read more about it here and see the footage from the court. (H/t: atl). Stephen A. Smith's apt albeit volcanic reaction on ESPN emphasizes the socio-legal realities of why Johnson was an idiot here. It's true that Johnson is  a criminal wife-beating a**hole, and, in this context, acted imprudently, but is the bum-slap really the kind of thing that warrants jail when it was not otherwise about to happen? It doesn't warrant the judge's behavior in my mind, and instead strikes me as the kind of official tyranny and hot-headed hubris that rule of law constraints are meant to prevent. The quickness of the decision also suggests the need for courts to impose a mandatory cooling-off period between the time they reach a decision re: liability and the time they impose a sentence.

Cf. some of the problems of judicial discretion more generally.  And of course, this seems right in the same vein as Judge Marvin Frankel's famous story in Criminal Sentences: Law Without Order about the judge who, over cocktails, acknowledged elevating a defendant's sentence by a year simply because the offender had been disrespectful to the judge that day.  

 

Posted by Dan Markel on June 10, 2013 at 05:50 PM in Article Spotlight, Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Current Affairs, Dan Markel, Sports | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

The Law and Economics of "The Purge"

"The Purge" is the number one movie in America -- by a healthy margin!  People are pretty surprised.  Perhaps it's because it stars Jesse and Cersei.  Or perhaps it's because of its concept.  As Box Office Mojo says: "The fact that The Purge wound up so much higher can be attributed to the movie's unique, intriguing premise—what if all crime was legal for 12 hours once a year?"  You can check out the trailer here.

I haven't seen the movie, but it seems to focus more on one particular home invasion than it does on the broader implications of its premise.  (Cf. "Panic Room.")  But I want to focus on that frankly unbelievable premise.  First, what does it mean that there is no enforcement of the law during the twelve hours of the purge?  Do norms still exist?  The father in the trailer indicates that he has "no need" to engage in the atavistic free-for-all, because he has no violent urges to purge.  But is society endorsing those urges, or simply acknowledging they exist?  I'd be curious to know how the movie treats it.  (Of course, it looks like our heroes have to get violent to save themselves in the end, which is how most of these movies have their cake and eat it, too.)

My second question -- and the basis for the somewhat silly title for my post -- is whether the film's premise has any tether in criminal law theory.  Basically, the idea is that the purge -- or, The Purge -- allows the nation's criminals to beat up on each other for a night and kill each other off.  The lawlessness is justified by its overall effects -- crime rates go down, unemployment goes down, the other 364.5 days are better.  I don't know if a purer faceoff between consquentialist and deonotological theories could be devised.  Let's assume that a lawless 12-hour period would reduce overall crime, and that the primary victims would be the criminals themselves.  Would that justify such a period?

Of course (and again, I haven't seen the movie) I think part of the movie's philosophical bent is that the purge leaves the wealthy elites better off, since they have their fortresses to retreat to, but society as a whole is not better off, particularly the poor.  And from there you could argue that the purge is not so unlike the everyday reality of Rio de Janeiro or even -- name your U.S. city of choice.  So the faceoff is really a false faceoff -- which is the attack that a lot of law & economics critics have leveled against that form of utilitarianism.  Again, I'd be interested to hear whether the movie explores these themes, but even if it doesn't -- there's always The Purge 2.  Perhaps our blogfather could be a script consultant.

Posted by Matt Bodie on June 10, 2013 at 11:56 AM in Criminal Law, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 06, 2013

If You Don't Like Prisons That Much, Then Why "Let Judges Be Judges?"

One of my ongoing concerns about many in the academy's infatuation with individualized sentencing and the preservation of substantial judicial discretion when it comes to sentencing is that there is a tendency to obscure what judicial discretion will do. Lots of folks complain about how structured sentencing (particularly in the Fed system) means that prosecutors now run the show and that judges are less powerful than they were (or would be) in indeterminate (fully discretionary) sentencing regimes. Lots of these academic voices, however, are pretty lefty/libertarian/pro-defendant/anti-mass incarceration (pick one or more of these). The problem as I see it is that the presence of substantial judicial sentencing power will often lead to stiffer sentences, not more lenient ones. That's because prosecutors and defense lawyers often bargain away charges, facts, etc, and by not sharing the existence of those facts/charges, the sentencing judges are left to defer to the deals struck by the insider repeat players. But when judges have concerns that these deals are being struck in a way that's anti-retributive or bad for public safety, they often want to have the information that would allow them to impose LONGER sentences.  In sum, I bet that the more judicial discretion there is, and the more information judges have, the longer the sentences will be. 

This is, of course, an empirical hypothesis, and happily, there is some good empirical support for the proposition I'm noting. Kevin Reitz wrote a fantastically important and understudied piece in the Texas Law Review showing, among other things, that states with indeterminate sentencing have among the highest rates of incarceration. 

But anecdotally, you need a good story to see this dynamic, and Doug Berman's Sentencing blog has the story you need to see this. As the story goes, Judge Stephanie Rose on the fed bench in Iowa is excoriating the federal prosecutor's office for not disclosing more information about defendants that would lead to stiffer sentences. To my mind, this is an illuminating example of a much larger problem. Normatively, of course, indeterminate/discretionary sentencing doesn't have to lead to higher punishment levels necessarily, but it shouldn't be suprising that the contingent forces tend to work in that way.

--One last note. I've been watching The West Wing on Netflix while working out for the last few weeks, and I noticed that, at one point in one of the episodes, late Season 1 or early Season 2, Aaron Sorkin/Jed Bartlet seemed to think that empowering judges with substantial sentencing discretion was an obviously attractive thing to do from the liberal political perspective of the Bartlet presidency. I found this, um, unconvincing, notwithstanding my general intoxication with the show.  

Posted by Dan Markel on June 6, 2013 at 11:33 AM in Article Spotlight, Blogging, Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Dan Markel | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Some Reactions to Maryland v. King, and a Question for Barry Friedman and other 4A Friends

I have done only a bit more than skim Maryland v. King, and because I'm not really a Fourth Amendment guy, I'm preserving my strategic ambivalence about the outcome as a matter of doctrine. But I have a policy question for NYU's Barry Friedman along with a few other hasty reactions.

First, Barry writes the following in Slate, :

"Did the fact that Alonzo King was accused (not convicted) of pulling a shotgun on some folks provide a better reason to believe he’d committed an unrelated rape than that anyone else walking the streets had done so? Hardly."

It seems to me that Barry's posing either a specific or a general empirical question, neither of which I possess excellent knowledge about, although I bet there are good proxies out there for saying we know more than nothing.  In fact, I bet the reason law enforcement wants access to DNA of arrestees is because of their view that arrestees provide, on the margin, a better pool to capture DNA from than a random selection of the population at large.  Law enforcement interests here are driven by Big Data patterns that suggest that felony arrestees are likelier to be tied to other crimes than non-felony arrestees.  That's an empirical claim and Barry doesn't provide any links or data to suggest that we should doubt that claim's truth.

From a crime control perspective, would it be better if we had a DNA swab of every person and new baby? Sure, assuming the integrity of the collection. Indeed, Friedman thinks this would be permissible under the 4A (were Congress to pass it) but it's not likely to be authorized by Congress anytime soon.  (Btw, would a nation-wide DNA registry itself be unconstitutional under the 4A? Distributed benefits and costs might save it from the suspicionless problem. Curious for thoughts.)

But as long as a) we are not swabbing every new baby and all existing persons to create a national DNA database, and b) we are taking the time to inventory and identify felony arrestees, can anyone doubt that someone arrested for a felony is, on the margin, more likely to be guilty of some other offense that's out there?

I'm not saying there aren't doctrinal or other reasons that should restrain the DNA swabs. But simply as a matter of statistics or common experience, I'm left wondering  what supports the pretty heterodox view Barry offers that felony arrestees are not in fact more likely to have ties to other crimes than a randomly selected individual? Yes, I recognize that the value of the signal of a felony arrest is not the same as the signal of a felony conviction, but ... if we were going to block the swabs for crime-control purposes on constitutional grounds, let's at least be aware of what's being traded off in the name of constitutional fidelity.  And while we're at it, let's not forget that wide DNA access has the capacity not only to reduce Type II errors, but also to exonerate and thus redress Type I errors too. Fixing false positives is a constitutional value as well as a moral imperative for state officials. I'm not sure the 4th amendment claims advanced by the dissenters and their supporters are adequately sensitive to that, even if the majority implies this is happening already as a matter of fact.*

2.  I agree with Scalia's dissent that  the "identification" arguments on behalf of the DNA swabs are more make-weight than the straightforward though constitutionally more tricky arguments in favor of clearing cases and fixing mistakes. That's because the police could always use the DNA swab to promote their administrative needs (e.g., ensuring that the offender doesn't have a record of violence toward prison officials or communicable diseases that would have to be taken into account for housing him) without using the DNA swab to scope out possible relevance to other crimes.

3. The Court's special needs doctrine allows for suspicionless searches of the public in order to regulate safety or achieve other non-crime detection goals of certain policy weight. Here are two reasons for thinking that the majority's result is correct even if not its reasoning.

a) It's not that far a stretch to say that given the criminal justice system's interests in ensuring that the institutions of punishment are taking adequate care and precaution for the wellbeing of inmates and officials, that the population of felony arrestees is distinct from the population at large, and thus the goal of using DNA to ferret out possible dangerousness or illness is one that should pass muster on special needs grounds. But the reason I  don't love this argument is because if taken on good faith, it would not permit allowing the DNA information to be used to exonerate previously convicted offenders. That would probably be too close to the crime-detection purposes that the special needs doctrine is supposed to be attentive to. However, one might slice the constitutional baloney very thinly and say: DNA swabs are constitutional for administrative purposes pre-conviction, and they are also constitutional for purposes of exonerating others, but they can't be used as the basis to clear other cases against the defendant whose cheek is being swabbed.

b) Speaking of slicing constitutional baloney thinly, I didn't see this argument and it seems worth consideration too--though I detest it because I'm doubtful of the constitutionality and morality of the underlying practices. Here goes: Crime detection is distinct from calibrating punishment. In indeterminate sentencing regimes as well as structured sentencing that allows for "real offense" sentencing instead of (my preferred) charge offense sentencing, the admission of the DNA evidence as a tie to other crimes should be permitted for purposes of sentencing offenders on an individualized basis on the basis of conduct not proven to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt.  So, say King is in Texas and convicted of aggravated assault, which leaves him open to  a 5-99 year spread under the statute for first degree felonies.  The sentencing judge/jury/parole folks can all take into account that he's been tied via DNA to other rapes, even though not convicted of those rapes.  Poof. The sentence for the assault goes up, we don't bother with charging and convicting King for the rapes, and we rest our heads on the pillow of Williams v. New York.  Sentencing is distinct from crime-detection. Right? How awesome is that. Ick.

 

 

*Scalia notes in his dissent (fn.2) that the Type I error redress option is not currently available b/c of the way the FBI runs its DNA databases. That could be fixed of course, and should be.

 

 

 

Posted by Dan Markel on June 5, 2013 at 03:54 PM in Article Spotlight, Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law, Dan Markel | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

(When) Was Fingerprinting Unconstitutional?

One of my main items of business during this blogging stint is to write about this month's Supreme Court cases as the term wraps up.  So the first order of business is Monday's cases.  I fear I don't have anything interesting to say about Hillman v. Maretta, the group life insurance case that a friend described as "the most preempted law ever."  And while a lot of people have written things about Maryland v. King, I thought I'd throw in my own thoughts.

I'm more sympathetic to the dissent's reasoning than I expected to be.  When I first saw the case granted, I confidently predicted a reversal and I wasn't even sure there would be a dissent.   But I do now see why the dissent thinks this is a questionable extension of the special needs doctrine.  It's common ground that the police can't just go search your house or your off-site car or your gym locker without suspicion when you've been arrested, so it needs a story about why DNA is different.  And the claim that the DNA searches are largely for identification purposes rather than crime-solving purposes seems implausible.

That said, I don't think Justice Scalia does a good job of distinguishing DNA from fingerprints.  As I read it, the dissent actually trots out three different arguments about why its view doesn't forbid the routine fingerprinting of those who are arrested.

  1. Fingerprinting is not a search. ("The Court does not actually say whether it believes that taking a person’s fingerprints is a Fourth Amendment search, and our cases provide no ready answer to that question.")  Possible, but Justice Scalia seems unwilling to actually commit to this argument, he just mentions it and moves on.

  2. Fingerprinting really is for identification purposes. ("Fingerprints of arrestees are taken primarily to identify them (though that process sometimes solves crimes); the DNA of arrestees is taken to solve crimes (and nothing else).")  Possible, but this argument relies heavily on computer databases that were only created in the late 1990s, and fingerprinting has been around for a lot longer than that.

  3. Fingerprinting was unconstitutional for a long time (and maybe still is?). ("The 'great expansion in fingerprinting came before the modern era of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence,' and so we were never asked to decidethe legitimacy of the practice ... but it is wrong to suggest that this was uncontroversial at the time, or that this Court blessed universal fingerprinting for 'generations' before it was possible to use it effectively for identification.") Justice Scalia's views about the IAFIS database would seem to imply that routine fingerprinting was unconstitutional until it became part of an identification system.  But he is oddly non-commital.  The Court didn't "bless" it, and it was not "uncontroversial," but was it actually wrong?

As best I can tell, the dissent's view is a combination of 2 and 3, with 1 mentioned but not seriously contended.  If so, that's somewhat surprising.  At the oral argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry, Justice Scalia pestered Ted Olson with the question:  "When did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage?" and seemed incredulous that the constitutional answer could have changed more recently than the enactment of the 14th Amendment.  It seems fair to ask him the same question about the constitutionality of fingerprinting.

[CORRECTION:  I originally mistyped "affirmance" instead of "reversal" above.]

Posted by Will Baude on June 5, 2013 at 12:15 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Thursday, May 23, 2013

LSA Happy Hours and info on the CrimProf Shadow Conference.

Some announcements for folks attending Law and Society next week in Boston:

1) there's a crimprof happy hour on Thursday at 9pm at CityBar,

2) The general Prawfs and friends happy hour will be on Saturday from 9pm at the Sheraton SideBar.

Nunc est bibendum!

3) My co-organizer, Carissa Hessick, has, in her typical god-like ways, assembled the info for the Shadow CrimProf conference. This year's shadow conference will have a fantastic turnout.

Info appears after the jump (although not in exact chronological order).

2013 LSA Shadow Conference on Criminal Justice 

 

Criminal Justice 01:  Sentencing

Thurs. May 30, 10:15am-12noon

Christine Scott-Hayward – Shadow Sentencing

Carissa Hessick – Enforcing Procedural Rights at Sentencing

Dan Markel: Luck or Law: Is Indeterminate Sentencing Unconstitutional?

Lea Johnston -- Vulnerability as a Mitigating Factor: A Tool of Proportionality for Seriously Ill Offenders

Moderator/Discussant: Gerry Leonard

 

Criminal Justice 02:  Policing and Investigation

Thurs. May 30, 12:30pm-2:15pm

Lauryn Gouldin -- The Law of Investigative Detention

Amna Akbar -- The End of Community Policing?

Seth Stoughton – Policing the Constitution

Sandra Thompson -- Defining "Independence" in Forensic Science Labs

Moderator/Discussant: Carissa Hessick

 

Criminal Justice 03:  Crim Theory 

Sat. June 1, 2:30pm-4:15pm

Paul Litton – Is Psychological Research on Self-Control Relevant to Criminal Law?

Vincent Chiao -- Criminalization and Liberalism

Michael Rich -- Flipping the Murder Switch: Limits on the Perfect Preventive State

Youngjae Lee -- Moral Uncertainty and Reasonable Doubt

Moderator/Discussant: Michael Cahill

 

Criminal Justice 04:  Substantive Crimes and Defenses 

Fri. May 31, 2:30pm-4:15pm

Avlana Eisenberg -- Criminal Infliction of Emotional Distress

Jonathan Witmer-Rich -- The Heat of Passion Defense:  Tolerable Reasons to be Angry

Michal Buchhandler-Raphael -- Drugs, Dignity and Danger: Human Dignity as a Constitutional Constraint to Limit Overcriminalization

Steven Morrison -- The System of Modern Criminal Conspiracy

Moderator/Discussant: Eric Blumenson

 

Criminal Justice 05: Kids, Crime and Punishment

Thurs. May 30, 8:15am-10am

Arnold Loewy -- Juveniles and the Constitution

Mary Graw Leary -- The Role of Technology in Child Sex Trafficking

Deborah Ahrens -- Parenting Behind Bars

Elaine Chiu -- The Movement Against Male Circumcision

Moderator/Discussant: Richard McAdams

 

Criminal Justice 06: Punishment and the Constitution 

Fri. May 31, 10:15am-12noon

Will Berry -- When Dangerousness is Different

Meghan Ryan -- Juries and the Criminal Constitution

Beth Colgan -- Reinvigorating the Excessive Fines Clause

Todd Haugh – The Critical Mess Theory of Federal Sentencing

Moderator:  Rick Bierschbach 

 

Criminal Justice 07: Criminal Justice, Discretion, and Policy Challenges

Thurs. May 30, 2:30pm-4:15pm

Babe Howell: Prosecutorial Discretion and the Duty to Do Justice in an Overburdened Criminal Justice System

Jennifer Laurin: Discretion, Pretrial Procedure, and Forensic Science

Cecilia Klingele: Revocation and Law Reform

Ion Meyn: Discovery and Darkness

 

Criminal Justice 08: Frontiers of Criminal Justice

Thurs. May 30, 4:30pm-6:15pm

Audrey Rogers: Cyber bullying and Suicide

Alex Kreit: Drug Truce

Michael Mannheimer: The Contingent 4th Amendment

Kenworthy Bilz: Punishment and social standing of victims and offenders

Don Braman: Up Against the Wall, Democracy and Policing in Urban America

 

Criminal Justice 09:  4th Amendment 

Fri. May 31, 4:30pm-6:15pm

Shima Baradaran: Reconsidering Fourth Amendment Balancing

Caren Myers Morrison -- The Drone Wars: Will Technology Outstrip the 4th Amendment?

Laurent Sacharoff -- Constitutional Trespass

David Gray -- A Technology-Centered Approach to Quantitative Privacy (co-author Danielle Citron)

Tigran Eldred -- Tunnel Vision on Trial: A Review Essay on "A Wilderness of Error" by Errol Morris

Moderator/Discussant: Andrew Taslitz

 

Criminal Justice 10:  Socio-Legal Panels on Defense Counsel & Prosecutors 

Fri. May 31, 8:15am-10am

Ron Wright – Prosecutor Experience and the Culture of Self-Restraint (co-author K. Levine)

Jenia Iontcheva Turner – Effective Remedies for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: A New Look After Lafler v. Cooper Cynthia Alkon -- Does your lawyer make a difference?  Plea bargaining drug cases for indigent defendants (co-author J. Marshall)

Nirej Sekhon --- Prosecutors and politics

Moderator/Discussant: Don Dripps 

 

 Criminal Justice 11: Roundtable on Criminal Justice in 2020 book

Fri. May 31, 4:30pm-6:15pm

Song Richardson (Chair)

John Parry

Janice Nadler

Jack Chin

Juliet Stumpf

 


 

Criminal Justice 12: Juries 

Sat. June 1, 8:15am-10am

Anna Roberts – Casual Ostracism: Jury Exclusion on the Basis of Criminal Convictions

Giovanna Shay -- In Open Court

Jenny Carroll – A Jury for All of Us                                           

Catherine Grosso -- Information Seeking in Voir Dire: Could Modifying Juror Questioning Reduce Jury Selection Racial Disparities? (Co-Author Barbara O'Brien)

Moderator/Discussant: Luis Chiesa 

 

Criminal Justice 13:  Difference, Crime, and Punishment 

Fri. May 31, 12:30pm-2:15pm

Kim Bailey -- Watching Me: The War on Crime and Its Effects on Individual Privacy

Francine Banner -- "You Have No Leave to Sing”: First Amendment Remedies for Retaliation in Reporting Military Sexual Assault and Harassment

Barbara O'Brien -- Discrimination and the Death Penalty:  Empirical Findings, Limitations, and Directions for Future Research (co-Author Catherine Grosso)

Kay Levine --- Romance, Education or Abuse? Media Narratives about Female on Male Statutory Rape (co-authors Emily Danker-Feldman, Brenda Smith, and Andrea Smith)

Moderator/Discussant: Frank Cooper 

 

Criminal Justice 14 and CRN Feminist Legal Theory group:  Vulnerability and Criminal Law

Fri. May 31, 8:15am-10am

Mary Anne Franks -- The Vulnerability Tax

Cynthia Godsoe -- Punishing to Protect

Aya Gruber -- Discriminatory Leniency in Criminal Law

Katie Oliviero -- Vulnerability’s Ambivalent Political Life: Precariousness and Law in Social Justice Organizing

Moderator/Discussant: Cyra Choudhury

 

Criminal Justice 15:  Adjudication

Thurs. May 30, 12:30pm-2:15pm

Darryl Brown – Free Market Ideology in the Law of Bargaining and Trials

Brian Gallini -- Bringing Down a Legend:  How Pennsylvania’s Investigating Grand Jury Ended Joe Paterno’s Career

Greg Gilchrist – Trial Bargaining

Melissa Hamilton – Sentencing: Politics or Empiricism

Moderator/Discussant: Brooks Holland

 

Criminal Justice 16: Roundtable on Future of Gideon at 50

Sunday June 2, 8:15am-10am

Darryl Brown (Chair)

Don Dripps

Josh Bowers

Erica Hashimoto

Jenny Roberts

 

 

 

Posted by Dan Markel on May 23, 2013 at 01:06 PM in Criminal Law, Culture | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack