Criminal Law


Was I Speaking to You?: Purely Functional Source Code as Noncovered Speech

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.

Toward an Optimal Bail System

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.

Transforming Crime-Based Deportation

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.

Judicial Challenges to the Collateral Impact of Criminal Convictions: Is True Change in the Offing?

Nora V. Demleitner

In Response to: Return of the JRAD

Judicial opposition to disproportionate sentences and the long-term impact of criminal records is growing, at least in the Eastern District of New York. With the proliferation and harshness of collateral consequences and the hurdles in overcoming a criminal record, judges have asked for greater proportionality and improved chances for past offenders to get a fresh start. The combined impact of punitiveness and a criminal record is not only debilitating to the individual but also to their families and communities. A criminal case against a noncitizen who will be subject to deportation and a decade-long ban on reentry and three different requests for expungement will demonstrate how three federal judges struggled with the long-term effects of the current sentencing and collateral consequences regime. These cases exemplify both judicial creativity and judicial impotence, as the courts have to call upon the support of other actors within the executive and legislative branches for change, in these individual cases and systemically.

These judicial critics of the current approach argue within an emerging normative framework that is coming to dominate the societal discourse on punishment. Increasingly some offenders are deemed “worthy” of receiving our assistance in reintegration. They are generally nonviolent first offenders, those with an unblemished record save for the offense of conviction, those who have been gainfully employed or desperately want to work, and those who have cared for their children. They present no danger to the community, and their continued punishment may negatively impact them, their surroundings, and ultimately the country. On the other hand, those labeled violent or sex offenders or terrorists are being considered dangerous, unredeemable, and deserving of the harshness the criminal justice system has brought to bear on them. The specific categorization of offenses, the definitions of terms, and the categorization of offenders remain fluid, contingent, and subject to constant revision. Still, these judicial efforts expand on the incipient efforts at full reintegration of some of those with a criminal record. Whether their challenges will resonate with their colleagues and in other branches of government remains to be seen.

Nora V. Demleitner, Judicial Challenges to the Collateral Impact of Criminal Convictions: Is True Change in the Offing?, 91 N.Y.U. L. Rev. Online 150 (2016).

A New Hope: Bringing Justice Back into Removal Proceedings

Jennifer M. Chacón

In Response to: Return of the JRAD

In his article, Return of the JRAD, Professor Jason Cade makes a strong and viable case that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can and should take into account nonstatutory Judicial Recommendations Against Deportation (JRADs) and other criminal justice signals of diminished criminal culpability when deciding whether or not to charge a noncitizen with deportability. Professor Cade’s proposal is a good one. The overall effects of his proposal will be modest. It can neither eliminate racial disparities in the criminal justice system and deportations nor end capricious distinctions between similarly situated criminal defendants in removal proceedings. On the other hand, it has no notable downsides and some significant potential upsides. Part I explains why exercising discretion along the lines that Cade proposes is firmly within DHS’s discretion and why such modest and rational exercises of discretion are unlikely to spark political backlash. Part II elaborates upon the potential benefits of Cade’s proposal. First, by encouraging criminal sentencing judges to issue nonstatutory JRADs, the Cade proposal promises to provide DHS with useful information otherwise unavailable at the charging stage, thus increasing charging fairness. At the same time, his proposal would make a positive change in the way that at least some criminal sentencing judges think about immigration consequences in criminal sentencing. Ultimately, it might even change the way that we talk, think, and write about the nexus of immigration and criminal law—better exposing the common failings and the interconnections of these systems to scholars and practitioners other than those who routinely work at their intersection.

Jennifer M. Chacón, A New Hope: Bringing Justice Back into Removal Proceedings, 91 N.Y.U. L. Rev. Online 132 (2016).