NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 95, Number 4

October 2020
Symposium Articles

The Peter Parker Problem

W. David Ball

Sandra Mayson, in her article Dangerous Defendants, points out the ways in which pretrial detention on the basis of public safety risk violates the “parity principle”—a measure of decisionmaking fairness that evaluates whether individuals of like risk are treated alike. As Mayson convincingly argues, if public safety risk is what justifies detention of those who have been arrested, it should also justify preventative detention of similarly risky people who remain in the community at large. In other words, merely having a person in custody does not logically change the analysis of the risk they present or what should be done with them.

In this Article, I argue that psychological factors, not assessments of risk, can explain why the parity principle is violated. A person in custody and a person in the community may present the same level of public safety risk, but the human brain typically uses heuristics, not calculations, to make decisions. Our brains want to minimize losses and regret. Whenever something bad happens, our brains automatically generate counterfactuals—the “if only I had done X” hypotheticals that allow us to imagine (and believe in) a world where tragedy would have been avoided. Counterfactuals that eliminate harm are easy to generate when someone is in custody, but hard to generate when someone is at large, and our brains conflate ease of generation with real-world probability. Counterfactuals, then, may help explain why the pretrial, public safety default seems to be to keep someone locked up, “just in case”—and why this desire is resistant to information and argument.

This Article adds an important dimension to the ongoing debates about whether judicial discretion or actuarial tools should govern pretrial release decisions. Judicial discretion may be biased towards incapacitation by operating on the “gut level” of psychology—even if the harms of detention outweigh the benefits. Across the United States, jails contain thousands of prisoners who could be released safely, who could resume work and the rest of their lives, but who remain incarcerated because of the fear that one of them might commit a sensational crime. The insights of this Article may also apply more generally to a host of similar problems, including parole release, executive clemency, diversion programs, and the removal of children from potentially abusive parents, and suggest that policymakers and reformers be cognizant of the way in which current criminal justice thinking is short-sighted, overly reactive, and biased towards incapacitation. By applying theories of the counterfactual proposed by Neal Roese and other behavioral psychologists, the Article provides an explanation for why, even when regulations change, judicial decisions to release arrestees may remain low. It suggests that experimental research specifically targeting judicial counterfactual thinking should be conducted.

Restoring the Historical Rule of Lenity as a Canon

Shon Hopwood

In criminal law, the venerated rule of lenity has been frequently, if not consistently, invoked as a canon of interpretation. Where criminal statutes are ambiguous, the rule of lenity generally posits that courts should interpret them narrowly, in favor of the defendant. But the rule is not always reliably used, and questions remain about its application. In this article, I will try to determine how the rule of lenity should apply and whether it should be given the status of a canon.

First, I argue that federal courts should apply the historical rule of lenity (also known as the rule of strict construction of penal statutes) that applied prior to the 1970s, when the Supreme Court significantly weakened the rule. The historical rule requires a judge to consult the text, linguistic canons, and the structure of the statute and then, if reasonable doubts remain, interpret the statute in the defendant’s favor. Conceived this way, the historical rule cuts off statutory purpose and legislative history from the analysis, and places a thumb on the scale in favor of interpreting statutory ambiguities narrowly in relation to the severity of the punishment that a statute imposes. As compared to the modern version of the rule of lenity, the historical rule of strict construction better advances democratic accountability, protects individual liberty, furthers the due process principle of fair warning, and aligns with the modified version of textualism practiced by much of the federal judiciary today.

Second, I argue that the historical rule of lenity should be deemed an interpretive canon and given stare decisis effect by all federal courts. If courts consistently applied historical lenity, it would require more clarity from Congress and less guessing from courts, and it would ameliorate some of the worst excesses of the federal criminal justice system, such as overcriminalization and overincarceration.

Articles

Disability and Design

Christopher Buccafusco

When scholars contemplate the legal tools available to policymakers for encouraging innovation, they primarily think about patents. If they are keeping up with the most recent literature, they may also consider grants, prizes, and taxes as means to increase the supply of innovation. But the innovation policy toolkit is substantially deeper than that. To demonstrate its depth, this Article explores the evolution of designs that help people with disabilities access the world around them. From artificial limbs to the modern wheelchair and the reshaping of the built environment, a variety of legal doctrines have influenced, for better and for worse, the pace and direction of innovation for accessible design.

This Article argues that two of the most important drivers of innovation for accessible design have been social welfare laws and antidiscrimination laws. Both were responsible, in part, for the revolution in accessibility that occurred in the second half of the twentieth century. Unlike standard innovation incentives, however, these laws operate on the demand side of the market. Social welfare laws and antidiscrimination laws increase the ability and willingness of parties to pay for accessible technology, ultimately leading to greater supply. But in doing so, these laws generate a different distribution of the costs and benefits of innovation than supply-side incentives. They also produce their own sets of innovation distortions by allowing third parties to make decisions about the designs that people with disabilities have to use.

The law can promote innovation, and it can hinder it. For example, the law’s relationship to the wheelchair, the most important accessibility innovation of the twentieth century, produced both results. Policymakers have choices about which legal incentives doctrines they can use and how they can use them. This Article evaluates those tools, and it provides guidelines for their use to encourage accessible technology in particular and innovation generally.

Notes

Price Tags on Citizenship: The Constitutionality of the Form N-600 Fee

Juan Esteban Bedoya

Proof of citizenship is of paramount importance. In the United States, the need for citizenship documentation is particularly acute in light of heightened immigration enforcement. For U.S. citizens born abroad, proof of citizenship can be obtained by submitting a Form N-600 to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which in turn provides a Certificate of Citizenship. Although these individuals are entitled to citizenship and all of its benefits by statute, they are required to pay $1170 in order to obtain this Certificate. This Note seeks to analyze the constitutionality of this exorbitant fee. Determination of citizenship confers with it important rights and several privileges, such as access to employment, the ability to vote and seek public office, and many other government benefits. Perhaps more importantly, determination of citizenship also confers protection—protection from detention, from removal proceedings, and from deportation. This Note analyzes the viability of a constitutional challenge to the $1170 filing fee through a procedural due process claim, the importance of which is underscored by the life-altering consequences of citizenship as well as the benefits and protections it affords. Simply put, access to the benefits of citizenship should not turn on a citizen’s ability to pay a prohibitively expensive fee; the Constitution demands greater protections.

Permanently Excluded

Maia M. Cole

New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) deprives hundreds of residents of their housing every year without affording them due process. Based on the allegedly undesirable behavior of one household member, NYCHA can begin a termination of tenancy action against an entire family. Using the threat of termination as leverage, NYCHA coerces the tenant of record into permanently excluding the “undesirable” occupant, barring them from living with or visiting their family. The excluded family member is given no notice of the termination action and no opportunity to contest their permanent exclusion.

This Note contends that authorized occupants in NYCHA housing have due process rights which mandate notice and the opportunity to be heard before they lose their home. NYCHA does not currently recognize such rights. But, as this Note will show, authorized occupants have a property interest in public housing. NYCHA’s practice of permanent exclusion deprives them of that interest. This Note suggests alternatives for NYCHA to consider instead of relying on permanent exclusion as a means of crime reduction. Ultimately, the goal of this Note is to push NYCHA to live up to its mission: to provide decent and affordable housing to low-income New Yorkers.

Antitrust Litigation of Strategic Patent Licensing

Ryan Fackler

Antitrust and patent law exist in permanent tension, with patentholders permitted to engage in conduct that would otherwise be plainly anticompetitive. Given the over five hundred billion dollars of annual R&D investment in the United States, and given the importance of R&D for corporations’ long-term economic profits, the broad deference given in antitrust law to patentee conduct is shocking. Continuing such deference misunderstands the purpose of antitrust law and undermines the purpose of patent law. This Note focuses on one area where this tension should be resolved in favor of increased antitrust enforcement: strategic patent licensing arrangements whereby a patentee transfers a share of its monopoly profits in order to control its competitor’s R&D. Such strategic arrangements can be used in 1) a duopoly where large competitors agree to divide an existing market; and 2) a platform technology where the patent holder encourages inventions that follow on, rather than compete with, an existing patent. This Note argues that anticompetitive strategic patent licensing is currently addressable under existing antitrust doctrine. By defining a market for research and development, regulators can successfully litigate against strategic licensing without needing to extend existing antitrust doctrine. Defining a market for research and development, moreover, connects the academic push for dynamic antitrust analysis into the existing static antitrust framework, allowing courts to gain experience with dynamic analysis in a more comfortable static setting. Lastly, while this Note is broadly theoretical, this is not by choice, but a byproduct of the broad-scale secrecy surrounding patent license agreements. Accordingly, this Note calls for the FTC to use existing statutory authority to begin investigating the real-world anticompetitive uses of strategic patent licensing.

The Case Against Criminalizing Homelessness: Functional Barriers to Shelters and Homeless Individuals’ Lack of Choice

Joy H. Kim

In 2018, the Ninth Circuit ruled in Martin v. City of Boise that the city’s ordinance criminalizing individuals for sleeping or camping outdoors in public space—an increasingly popular method for cities to regulate the homeless—is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause. Martin was not the first case in which a court struck down an anti-homeless ordinance under the Eighth Amendment. However, it was the first to deem it unconstitutional for a city to punish a homeless person for sleeping outside when shelters are not “practically available,” even if they technically have available beds. The court in Martin said the shelters at issue were not practically available because they were religiously coercive. This Note argues, however, that courts reviewing criminalization measures should consider whether shelters are practically available to homeless individuals for reasons beyond religious coercion. Many functional barriers to shelter deprive homeless individuals of a meaningful choice, and the Eighth Amendment prevents governments from punishing individuals for matters beyond their control. Courts should make individualized inquiries when considering the constitutionality of criminalization measures to assess whether individuals experiencing homelessness truly have a meaningful “choice” in sleeping outside. However, the constitutional infirmities behind criminalization measures, the highly factual inquiries required of courts to determine their constitutionality, and their exacerbation of homelessness underscore the need for cities to stop criminalizing homelessness.

Combatting Copyright Overreach: Keeping 3D Representations of Cultural Heritage in the Public Domain

Linnea Dale Pittman

Three-dimensional (3D) scanning technology presents cultural organizations with new opportunities to share their collections with a wider audience online, and conserve and archive art objects and antiquities for safekeeping. However, this technology can also present legal challenges when institutions like museums assert ownership, in particular employing copyright notices, over digital copies of public domain art and antiquities in their collections. The public domain comprises the collection of shared works that are free from legal barriers imposed by copyright law. When institutions attach copyright notices to public domain works, the legal language, even if unenforceable in court, chills the public’s use of these scans for far-ranging educational, artistic, and commercial purposes. This Note examines the current uses of 3D technology by cultural institutions and analyzes the current doctrine guiding copyright of digital models. It then discusses some of the reasons why, despite the best reading of the caselaw, cultural institutions continue to assert ownership over and restrict access to 3D models of public domain art. This Note proposes an American analogue to Article 14 of the European Union’s Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. The proposed amendment to the Copyright Act would provide needed clarity to cultural institutions and the public, affirming that public domain works cannot receive copyright protection when reproduced in a digital format. A clear statement rule would reduce the chilling effect by discouraging copyright notices and restrictive terms of use on digital copies of public domain art and antiquities, in turn encouraging more institutions to provide open access to their digital collections.