Criminal Law

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.

Rachel A. Harmon

Dozens of federal statutes authorize federal agencies to give money and power to local police departments and municipalities in order to improve public safety. While these federal programs encourage better coordination of police efforts and make pursuing public safety less financially costly for local communities, they also encourage harmful policing. Of course, policing often interferes with our interests in autonomy, privacy, and property, and those harms are often worthwhile in exchange for security and order. Federal public safety programs, however, are designed, implemented, and evaluated without reference to the nonbudgetary costs of policing. When those costs are high, federal programs can make local policing seem cheaper for communities, but actually make it more costly in its impacts and therefore less efficient.

The coercion costs of policing are overlooked in most assessments of policing policy, not just in federal programs. Ordinarily, however, even when they are not formally recognized, those costs are accounted for, at least to some degree, in local political processes because local government officials experience public ire when the harms of policing become too great. Unfortunately, federal programs also frequently undermine this check on the intrusiveness of local policing. Internalizing the nonbudgetary costs of policing depends on public capacity to monitor harmful police conduct and on city officials’ capacity to influence police conduct. Some federal programs interfere with these conditions by clouding responsibility for law enforcement coercion and by giving money directly to departments rather than to municipalities. Thus, federal programs not only ignore significant costs of the policies they subsidize, they also interfere with the usual local mechanisms for man- aging those costs. Until federal public safety programs are approached with a more complete understanding of policing—one that attends to its full costs and the need for accountability—federal programs will continue to promote policing practices that do more harm than necessary and maybe even more harm than good.

Rachel E. Barkow

President Obama’s use of enforcement discretion to achieve important domestic policy initiatives—including in the field of criminal law—has sparked a vigorous debate about where the President’s duty under the Take Care Clause ends and legitimate enforcement discretion begins. But even with broad power to set enforcement charging policies, the President controls only the discretion of his or her agents at the front end to achieve policy goals. What about enforcement decisions already made, either by the President’s own agents or by actors in previous administrations, with which the President disagrees? The Framers anticipated this issue in the context of criminal law and vested the President with broad and explicit back-end control through the constitutional pardon power. This clemency power is a powerful tool for the President to oversee federal criminal administration. But while centralized authority over enforcement discretion at the front end has grown, the clemency power finds itself falling into desuetude.

This Article explores the fall of the clemency power and argues for its resurrection as a critical mechanism for the President to assert control over the executive branch in criminal cases. While clemency has typically been referred to as an exercise of mercy and even analogized to religious forgiveness, it also serves a more structurally important role in the American constitutional order that has been largely overlooked: It is a critical mechanism for the President to control the executive department in criminal matters. Those in favor of strong presidential administration or advocates of a unitary executive theory should encourage a more robust employment of the clemency power. But even critics of strong presidential powers or unitary executive theory in other contexts should embrace clemency as a mechanism of control in the criminal sphere. Whatever the merits of other unitary executive or presidential administration claims involving military power or oversight over administrative agencies, clemency stands on different footing. It is explicitly and unambiguously grounded in the Constitution’s text, and it has an established historical pedigree. It is also a crucial checking mechanism given the landscape of criminal justice today. The current environment of expansive federal criminal laws and aggressive charging by federal prosecutors has produced a criminal justice system of unprecedented size and scope. Federal prisons are overcrowded and expensive, and hundreds of thousands of individuals are hindered from reentering society because of a federal record. Clemency is a key tool for addressing poor enforcement decisions and injustices in this system, as well as checking disparities in how different U.S. Attorneys enforce the law.

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