Criminal Law

Anthony LoMonaco

It is well-known that in a criminal trial, the prosecution must prove culpability beyond a reasonable doubt. But during the subsequent sentencing phase, the standard of proof is much lower: a preponderance of the evidence. This relatively low standard can lead to a problem known as “disproportionate impact.” Disproportionate impact occurs when evidence of additional criminal activity is introduced during the sentencing phase and becomes more determinative of the defendant’s punishment than the actual crime of conviction. Such evidence can subject criminal defendants to significantly more punishment without the safeguards available at a criminal trial, and it may include uncharged and acquitted crimes. In response to this issue, some circuit courts fashioned an exception to the preponderance rule, raising the standard of proof to the clear and convincing standard to protect the due process rights of criminal defendants. However, use of this exception was curtailed in all circuits but the Ninth when the Supreme Court rendered the Sentencing Guidelines advisory in 2005. This Note analyzes the lopsided circuit split surrounding the disproportionate impact exception and challenges the notion that the exception is no longer necessary because the Guidelines have become advisory.

Daniel I. Morales

Why not rid the United States of criminal noncitizens and the disorder they cause? Because, scholars urge, immigrants reduce crime rates, deporting noncitizens with criminal convictions costs far more than it is worth, and discarding immigrants when they become inconvenient is wrong. Despite the force of these responses, reform efforts have made little headway. Crime-based deportation appears entrenched. Can it be transformed, rather than modified at the margins?

Transformation is possible, but only if crime-based deportation is reenvisioned as the prerogative of local governments. National transformation, this Article shows, is a dead end. When the problem of immigrant crime is digested at the national level, under the rubric of “the national interest”—where noncitizen interests do not count by definition—there are numerous “rational” reasons why a self- interested citizenry would want to deport noncitizens, even for minor crimes. Additionally, whatever rational reasons exist are exaggerated by the national media, which gives the rare violent crime committed by an immigrant outsized national attention. The danger posed by this distorted media reality was highlighted by Donald Trump throughout his campaign for president. Trump’s establishment of an office to publicize crimes committed by deportable noncitizens will make the problem more acute.

Local governments, by contrast, can be more concrete, flexible, and pragmatic; they are apt to think in terms of residents and community, rather than citizen versus alien. Local residents think about neighbors, classmates, and fellow churchgoers, and the economic and social contributions of noncitizens who run afoul of the law loom larger in the local calculus than the national one. Were local governments granted responsibility for crime-based deportation, the humanity, value, and membership of immigrants who commit crimes would be more likely to enter the conversation about appropriate responses, helping to transform crime-based deportation. 

Kristen Loveland

Dignity has been associated with death in two very different areas of constitutional jurisprudence: assisted suicide and the death penalty. This Note seeks to analyze what the concept of dignity means in these two contexts: who is the subject of dignity and what are dignity’s requirements? It argues that assisted suicide foregrounds the subjective dignity of the individual; what dignity involves is largely, though not wholly, a question of what an individual considers a dignified way to die. By contrast, the subject of dignity in death penalty jurisprudence is the collective and not the individual. Inasmuch as the jurisprudence claims to speak to the dignity of the individual, that dignity is objective and extends no further than collective dignity’s reach. As a result, what constitutes dignity in execution is almost wholly determined by what appears dignified to society. This Note ends by critically assessing how the two constitutional areas that link death and dignity may fruitfully inform each other. It suggests that assisted suicide’s individualistic dignity includes not just a right to decide how to die, but also a responsibility to collective society to consider how the nature of that suicide may impact collective dignity. In turn, in the death penalty context, states and courts should import subjective individual dignity considerations and reconsider whether their invocation of “dignity” in fact reflects a collective valuation of dignity or merely assuages social sensibilities by masking the reality of death.

Stephanie Spies

This Note analyzes the relationship between “malice aforethought,” the mens rea required to commit murder, and self-defense, a potential justification for a killing. Although both concepts are well-established in criminal law, there is a dearth of jurisprudence dealing with their intersection. Specifically, many jurisdictions, including the Second Circuit, have yet to conclusively address the issue of whether the mental state required for proving a self-defense justification is incompatible with the mens rea of malice aforethought required for committing murder under the primary federal murder statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1111. Because under federal law, self-defense is an issue of common law, rather than statutory, the existing case law on this question in federal jurisdictions is inconsistent, inconclusive, and often nonexistent. Some circuits have indicated, often in dicta, that malice is incompatible with the reasonable fear for one’s safety that is required when acting in self-defense, while other courts have found it consistent for a defendant to possess a preformulated intent to kill another person but also act (and therefore kill) in the moment due to a fear for his or her life or safety. While both positions present analytical difficulties, these problems all stem largely from the definitional ambiguity surrounding “malice aforethought” and courts’ subsequent inconsistent applications of the concept in murder trials. Therefore, this Note argues for the adoption of a clear and consistent definition of “malice aforethought” which encompasses its common law definition, requiring a depraved or evil mental state beyond mere intent to kill.

Daniel Epps

It is a common lament that prosecutors in our criminal justice system are too adversarial. This Article argues that in a deeper sense, prosecutors may not be adversarial enough. The issue—which I call adversarial asymmetry—is that, as political actors, prosecutors have no inherent desire to seek maximal punishment, at least in any consistent way. While commentators tend to see this as a good thing, adversarial asymmetry helps explain a range of seemingly disparate pathologies in the criminal process. A number of problems—including the coerciveness of plea bargaining; pretextual prosecution; discriminatory charging practices; the proliferation of overly broad criminal statutes; the difficulty in deterring prosecutorial misconduct; and use of the grand jury as political cover for unpopular decisions—would not exist, or at least could be more easily solved, in a world where prosecutors were more single mindedly focused on maximizing victory in the criminal process. In fact, a more consistently adversarial system might have surprising advantages over our own, providing more accountability for prosecutors while being more consistent with the rule of law. And while heightened adversarialism unquestionably poses risks, alternative institutional structures could minimize those dangers. Even if actually implementing such a system is unrealistic or unappealing, the proposal has value as a thought experiment, for it exposes deep fault lines in the theoretical foundation of our system of criminal prosecution. Our current approach combines an adversarial process with politically accountable prosecutors—yet we lack a compelling account of what precise level of adversarialism is optimal or why political accountability is the right tool for producing good behavior from prosecutors. It should thus be unsurprising that our system often works poorly in practice. Absent a better reason to think that our current approach is the only option, we should be more willing to reconsider basic structural arrangements in criminal justice.

Barry Friedman & Maria Ponomarenko

Of all the agencies of executive government, those that police—that employ force and engage in surveillance—are the most threatening to the liberties of the American people. Yet, they are the least regulated. Two core requisites of American constitutionalism are democratic accountability and adherence to the rule of law. Democratic accountability ensures that policy choices are vetted in the public arena and have popular support; the rule of law requires that those choices be constitutional as well. Legislative enactments governing policing are few and far between. Although police departments have internal rules, these rules are rarely made public or publicly debated. When it comes to regulating policing, we rely primarily on ex post judicial review, which at best ensures policing practices are constitutional (though it often fails on this score), and does nothing to assure democratic accountability or sound policymaking.

This Article argues that it is fundamentally unacceptable for policing to remain aloof from the ordinary processes of democratic governance. All police practices—such as use of drones or other surveillance equipment; SWAT, Tasers, and other means of force; checkpoint stops, administrative inspections, and other warrantless searches and seizures—should be legislatively authorized, subject to public rulemaking, or adopted and evaluated through some alternative process that permits democratic input. In addition to spelling out the ways in which the ordinary processes of governance can be utilized to regulate policing, this Article fills in substantial gaps in the existing literature by analyzing why this has not been the case in the past, and explaining how, within the existing framework of administrative and constitutional law, courts can motivate change. It also directs attention to the manifold questions that require resolution in order to move policing to a more democratically accountable footing.

Shana Knizhnik

The “substantial assistance” provisions of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines dominate the practice of modern federal criminal law. This primary mechanism by which criminal defendants who provide valuable information to federal prosecutors are compensated for their cooperation—namely, in the form of a sentence either below the calculated Guidelines sentencing range or, more significantly, below any mandatory minimum—has created a system where defendants are incentivized to incriminate themselves and as many others as possible, all without any guarantee that their cooperation will actually result in a lesser sentence. This Note explores the operation of this provision; the consequent “cooperator’s dilemma” it creates for defendants considering cooperation; and the unreliable, unfair, and unethical results it generates. It offers a novel incremental solution: an intermediate departure provision called “good faith cooperation,” whereby defendants who have attempted to cooperate but do not obtain substantial assistance motions can move to receive sentences below guidelines ranges and mandatory minimums on the basis of their attempted assistance. This provision provides a politically feasible option for legislators and commissioners that addresses multiple concerns regarding the current system without entirely upending the practice of federal criminal law as it exists.