Criminal Law

Grace E. Leeper

When it wants to be, the federal government is good at counting things. It tracks average daily caffeine intake (300 milligrams per adult older than twenty-two in 2008), weekly instances of the flu (875 reported by public health laboratories in the week ending January 14, 2017), monthly production of hens’ eggs (8.97 billion in December 2016), and annual bicycle thefts (204,984 in 2015). But it currently cannot provide a comprehensive count of how often police officers use lethal force against its citizens. The deaths of Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald—all unarmed, black, and shot by police officers—and far too many others have forced the issue of lethal police use of force into the national consciousness. But while many recent reports have focused on the unreliability of current data, there has been relatively little consideration of how, exactly, the federal government might go about getting it. This Note seeks to fill this gap by laying out the contours within which the federal government can act to incentivize states to collect more and better data. After highlighting the need for robust data collected at the federal level and describing various issues with the current state of federal collection of law enforcement data, this Note outlines the legal landscape legislators considering such a policy must grapple with: the combination of federalism concerns that are particularly acute in the sphere of state and local law enforcement, and the Supreme Court’s somewhat ambiguous conditional spending jurisprudence. Finally, it explains how the federal government might incentivize data collection without running afoul of the law, proposing a legislative scheme for federal collection of law enforcement data that combines national guidelines, conditional spending requirements, and competitive grant funding.

Stephanie L. Damon-Moore

In the last decade, many fields within forensic science have been discredited by scientists, judges, legal commentators, and even the FBI. Many different factors have been cited as the cause of forensic science’s unreliability. Commentators have gestured toward forensic science’s unique development as an investigative tool, cited the structural incentives created when laboratories are either literally or functionally an arm of the district attorney’s office, accused prosecutors of being overzealous, and attributed the problem to criminal defense attorneys’ lack of funding, organization, or access to forensic experts.

But none of these arguments explain why trial judges, who have an independent obligation to screen expert testimony presented in their courts, would routinely admit evidence devoid of scientific integrity. The project of this Note is to understand why judges, who effectively screen evidence proffered by criminal defendants and civil parties, fail to uphold their gatekeeping obligation when it comes to prosecutors’ forensic evidence, and how judges can overcome the obstacles in the path to keeping bad forensic evidence out of court.

 

Mark C. Bennett

This Note asks whether computer source code, when developed as a means to an end—as distinct from source code intended for third-party review—is covered speech under the First Amendment. I argue it is not. My argument has two parts. First, I describe case law treating First Amendment challenges to regulations of source code to demonstrate courts’ failure to address the status of purely functional source code. Second, I describe how courts should address such a question, by referencing an array of theories used to explain the scope of the First Amendment. I conclude no theory alone or in combination with others justifies the constitutional coverage of purely functional source code. I thereby undermine a key constitutional argument by technology manufacturers contesting, in the context of criminal investigations, the government-compelled creation of software to circumvent encryption technologies. 

Crystal S. Yang

Few decisions in the criminal justice process are as consequential as the determination of bail. Indeed, recent empirical research finds that pre-trial detention imposes substantial long-term costs on defendants and society. Defendants who are detained before trial are more likely to plead guilty, less likely to be employed, and less likely to access social safety net programs for several years after arrest. Spurred in part by these concerns, critics of the bail system have urged numerous jurisdictions to adopt bail reforms, which have led to growing momentum for a large-scale transformation of the bail system. Yet supporters of the current system counter that pre-trial detention reduces flight and pre-trial crime—recognized benefits to society—by incapacitating defendants. Despite empirical evidence in support of both positions, however, advocates and critics of the current bail system have generally ignored the real trade-offs associated with detention.

This Article provides a broad conceptual framework for how policymakers can design a better bail system by weighing both the costs and benefits of pre-trial detention—trade-offs that are historically grounded in law, but often disregarded in practice. I begin by presenting a simple taxonomy of the major categories of costs and benefits that stem from pre-trial detention. Building from this taxonomy, I conduct a partial cost-benefit analysis that incorporates the existing evidence, finding that the current state of pre-trial detention is generating large social losses. Next, I formally present a framework that accounts for heterogeneity in both costs and benefits across defendants, illustrating that detention on the basis of “risk” alone can lead to socially suboptimal outcomes.

In the next part of the Article, I present new empirical evidence showing that a cost-benefit framework has the potential to improve accuracy and equity in bail decision-making, where currently bail judges are left to their own heuristics and biases. Using data on criminal defendants and bail judges in two urban jurisdictions, and exploiting variation from the random assignment of cases to judges, I find significant judge differences in pre-trial release rates, the assignment of money bail, and racial gaps in release rates. While there are any number of reasons why judges within the same jurisdiction may vary in their bail decisions, these results indicate that judges may not be all setting bail at the socially optimal level.

The conceptual framework developed in this Article also sheds light on the ability of recent bail reforms to increase social welfare. While the empirical evidence is scant, electronic monitoring holds promise as a welfare-enhancing alternative to pre-trial detention. In contrast, application of the conceptual framework cautions against the expanding use of risk-assessment instruments. These instruments, by recommending the detention of high-risk defendants, overlook the possibility that these high-risk defendants may also be “high-harm” such that they are most adversely affected by a stay in jail. Instead, I recommend that jurisdictions develop “net benefit” assessment instruments by predicting both risk and harm for each defendant in order to move closer toward a bail system that maximizes social welfare.

 

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.

Pages