Analysis and Commentary on Criminal Law

My Resolution for 2018: Less Piety, More Complexity

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Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes three stories among those who study the criminal justice system that are pejoratively described as “pious.” Margulies explains what it means to be a “pious story,” why such stories exist (because simple narratives are the easiest to translate into policy), and calls upon himself and others on both the Right and Left to abandon “pious” stories and tell whole truths instead.

2017 SOL Reform Year in Review and How #MeToo Relates to Child Sex Abuse SOLs

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Marci A. Hamilton, a professor and resident senior fellow in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, reflects on the changes to civil and criminal statutes of limitations (SOLs) for child sex abuse across the United States in 2017, and points out how SOLs relate to the #MeToo movement exposing the breadth and pervasiveness of adult sexual assault and harassment. Hamilton praises the progress made over the past year and but calls upon legislators and politicians at all levels to take additional steps to protect children.

Did the Sexual Revolution Cause the Sexual Misconduct Revealed by #MeToo?

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Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the claim by some people that the increase in accusations and occurrences of rape and other sexual misconduct is attributable to the sexual revolution of the late 1960s and mid-1970s. Colb points out that both rape and sexual misconduct existed well before the sexual revolution, and in fact the legal system until very recently either condoned or made it very difficult to prove rape (and categorically excluded the possibility of marital rape). In contrast, the sexual revolution was about liberating consenting adults to have sex with one another and giving women ownership over their own bodies.

Why “Believing Women” Has Been a Challenging Task

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Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb explains why it is so difficult for society as a whole to believe women’s accounts of sexual assault and harassment. Colb argues that the first step in developing solutions is for society, and particularly men, to admit that many (if not all) of these claims are true, and once that happens, then one has to either say that such behavior is acceptable or unambiguously condemn the behavior. Assuming that one rightfully condemns the behavior, Colb points out that the next step is to investigate the claims and impose whatever penalties are appropriate.

What Needs to Happen Next for the #MeToo Campaign to Fulfill Its Potential

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Professor and resident senior fellow in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Marci A. Hamilton praises the #MeToo campaign and explains what more needs to happen to meaningfully address the pervasive issues of sexual assault and abuse against children and adults. Hamilton points to the brave actions by Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney and elaborates on what must change in our society to empower victims and hold those in power accountable.

When Should Encouraging Suicide Be a Crime?

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Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent tragic incident in which a young man committed suicide under the encouragement via text message by his girlfriend. Colb considers whether her conviction by a Massachusetts judge of involuntary manslaughter was appropriate and just, and discusses some of the issues that her conviction raises, including free speech, the right to die, and traditional conceptions of causation and responsibility.

The Silence of the Children (Locked Away in the Secret Archives of the Archdiocese of New York City)

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Marci A. Hamilton—a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, and the CEO and Academic Director of CHILD USA—explains why the New York Senate refuses to take up the issue of the Child Victims Act, which would reform the state’s antiquated child sex abuse statutes of limitations. Hamilton points out that none of the arguments against reform actually hold water and that the real reason lies in the secrets contained in the Secret Archives.

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely in The Keepers

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Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania and CEO of CHILD USA, encourages everyone to watch the Netflix docuseries The Keepers, which addresses child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. Hamilton describes the progress toward justice for child sex abuse victims, including the growing awareness of the pervasiveness the problem and increasing numbers of states who extend or eliminate statutes of limitations for these types of lawsuits and prosecutions.

“Stealthing”: Is Secret Condom Removal Akin to Sexual Assault?

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Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on “stealthing,” a practice in which men surreptitiously remove their condoms while having intercourse. Colb considers whether the practice is best characterized as sexual assault, as some have argued, or whether it is a different kind of harm that should be addressed through a different set of legal processes.

Can We Stop the Attorney General?

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Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies points out that Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears poised to take criminal justice reform nationwide in the wrong direction. Margulies explains why place-based, problem-solving approaches improve community wellbeing better than saturation policing strategies like Broken Windows and Zero Tolerance.

The Drumbeat of SOL Reform

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Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, and the CEO and Academic Director of CHILD USA, comments on the current progress of state statutes of limitations (SOL) for child sex abuse. Hamilton is optimistic that eventually the SOL for child sex abuse will be eliminated in every state, but she points out that the pace can be frustratingly slow.

The Supreme Court Rejects Fake Facts in Capital Cases

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Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers one recent instance in which the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed a standard because it was factually more accurate than a prior standard, and several other instances in which the Court has done the opposite. Colb points out that, unfortunately, the law often seeks facts that facilitate a desired outcome rather than facts a more just or correct outcome.

The Corner Market

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Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes how implementation of “criminology of place” can improve communities without expanding the carceral state. Margulies draws upon a specific example out of Cincinnati illustrating the power of actions based on criminology of place.

Changing Places

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Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies explains the recent trend in criminal justice reform in Seattle to alter conditions that make a particular place criminogenic. As Margulies explains, most people and places have no involvement in criminal activity, and crime—especially violent crime—occurs at a tiny number of micro-places. Thus, the solution is not for police to view crime as widespread throughout a particular neighborhood and therefore increase police presence generally; rather, if they think of crime as confined to a small number of people and concentrated at an even smaller number of places, they can focus on working with, rather than against, communities to make them safer.

President Trump’s Tools to Prosecute Leakers

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John W. Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, discusses President Trump’s recent comments regarding information leaks, one of which led to the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. While Dean explains that there is no official law in the United States that makes it a crime to leak information to the news media or others, many former U.S. presidents have made attempts to prosecute those who leaked information during their presidencies, with varying degrees of success. This, Dean notes, may lend credence to President Trump's threat of legal consequences, should the individuals responsible for these most recent leaks be identified.

This Holiday Weekend, Try Not to Be Penn State

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Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, points out that for many victims of child sexual abuse, the holiday season is a time of torture of revisiting painful memories, rather than joy. Hamilton calls upon us to address the problem of child sex abuse directly by changing the laws, teaching the adults, reforming the institutions, and supporting the victims.

The Many Faces of Backlash

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Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies considers how the politics of quiescence and backlash might manifest itself in the areas of criminal justice and national security. As to national security, Margulies predicts that backlash will be particularly potent, but as to criminal justice, his poor decisions that disproportionately affect poor people of color will unable to generate the same political resonance.

Clear Thinking About the Ferguson Effect

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Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies discusses the so-called “Ferguson Effect,” a hypothesis that increased public scrutiny of police violence correlates to higher rates of violent crime. Margulies argues that even if the Ferguson Effect is real—which he does not concede—the alternative of Zero Tolerance and other similar policies wreak havoc on poor communities of color. Margulies makes the case for communities having their own say in how they are policed.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior to taking the position at Illinois, Amar served as the Senior Assoc... more

Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington University. He teaches tax law and tax policy, and he has taught contract law, law and economics, and... more

Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in constitutional criminal procedure, evidence, and animal rights. She has published a... more

John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Before becoming White House counsel at age thirty-one, he was the chief minority counsel to the Judiciar... more

Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has written hundreds of popular essays, dozens of scholarly articles, and four books on constitutional la... more

Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of Law.  She is an expert in sex discrimination law. Her most recent book,  more

Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Practice and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion in the... more

David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from Rice University and his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Boalt Hall)... more

Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in Rasul v. Bush (2004), involving detentions at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Station, and in more

Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, where she also directs the graduate program on Sustainable International Developmen... more

Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at Chapman University, Fowler School of Law. He joined the faculty in 2008. Before that, he was Univ... more