Analysis and Commentary on Criminal Procedure
What Insanity and Animal Welfare Have in Common

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb why the question whether a state may abolish the insanity defense (presently before the Supreme Court) is similar to the question whether a state should adopt so-called animal welfare laws. Colb argues that both the insanity defense and animal welfare measures provide the public with a sense of moral relief but only if we willfully ignore the reality of how animals and criminal defendants are treated.

When Criminal Defendants Tell You Who They Are

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses the rationale behind Federal Rule of Evidence 609, which allows for impeachment of criminal defendants’ testimony with prior convictions, and the seminal cases applying that rule. Colb explains why the jury’s reaction to evidence of prior convictions is both predictable and irrational.

How to Detect a Liar

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to a colleague’s claim (yet unconfirmed) that jurors have an easier time distinguishing truth from falsehood when they read a transcript of testimony than when they listen to and watch the testimony directly. Assuming the claim is true, Colb describes why that claim might at first be surprising and also why, on further consideration, it makes sense. She proposes that if the claim is true, we ought perhaps to consider whether the distractors inherent in live testimony should excludable under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Is Physical Liberty an Important Right?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a decision the U.S. Supreme Court issued toward the end of the last term, in which a majority of the Court ruled that as long as police have probable cause for an arrest, it does not matter if their actual motivation for arresting someone violates the person’s First Amendment rights. Colb considers whether such pretextual, speech-based arrests are a problem, how they differ from other pretextual arrests, and how the ruling in this case resembles the law of a seemingly different area—post-conviction incarceration for convicted criminals.

The Court That Cried “Exigency”

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb and George R. El-Khoury, JD, comment on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last month applying the “exigent circumstances” exception to the warrant requirement to permit the admission in evidence of a blood-alcohol test administered on an unconscious driver. Colb and El-Khoury describe some of the problems with using the exigent circumstances exception to arrive at the result in this case and propose some alternative approaches that might yield the same outcome but for stronger reasons.

Does the Constitution Require the Insanity Defense?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses a question the U.S. Supreme Court will consider next term—whether the U.S. Constitution prohibits a state’s abolition of the insanity defense. Colb points out the various ways in which our current criminal justice system arbitrarily excuses some sources of criminal conduct but not others, and she argues that because of these inconsistencies already inherent in the system, the insanity defense cannot logically be required.

A Welcome Turn to Violence

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes several refreshing perspectives in the area of criminal justice reform that tackle the crucial and difficult issue of violent crime. By way of background, Margulies explains the simplistic and erroneous idea that drives the enormous (and enormously expensive) carceral state and explains the importance of recognizing humanity in order to begin to dismantle it.

Should Police Need a Search Warrant to Chalk Tires and Discover Illegal Parking?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit holding unconstitutional the use of chalk by police officers to track whether a parked car has remained longer than permissible. Colb considers whether the decision—which seems to faithfully apply the US Supreme Court’s decisions in Jones v. United States and Florida v. Jardines—falls short of the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test the Court established in Katz v. United States. Colb proposes a test that instead combines trespass, information-gathering, as well as some privacy interest in that information, arguing that such a test would better reflect the scope of the Fourth Amendment.

Supreme Court Takes a Case About Jury Unanimity

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case in which the US Supreme Court recently granted review, Ramos v. Louisiana, which presents the question whether states may permit conviction of an accused criminal on less than a unanimous jury voting “guilty.” Colb explains the doctrine of incorporation—by which most provisions of the Bill of Rights are held to be applicable as against the states as well as the federal government through the Fourteenth Amendment—and explains the possible significance of a unanimous jury verdict.

“Implied Consent” and the Fourth Amendment Go To the US Supreme Court

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case the US Supreme Court recently agreed to review raising the question whether a state statute may constitutionally conduct a blood test on an unconscious driver suspected of drunk driving under a theory of “implied consent.” Colb explains the meaning of “implied consent”—deceivingly named, for there is no actual consent—and predicts that, consistent with the Court’s recent precedent on a similar issue, the state statute should be struck down.

Who’s a Good Boy? US Supreme Court Considers Again Whether Dog Sniffs Are Searches

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case in which the US Supreme Court is considering whether to grant review that presents the question whether police must obtain a search warrant before bringing a trained narcotics dog to sniff at a person’s door for illicit drugs. Colb highlights some of the most interesting arguments on the issue and explains some of the nuances that make a clear answer more elusive in these cases.

2018 Year in Review: Child Sex Abuse Statutes of Limitations, and the Catholic Bishops’ Spiritual Retreat

Marci A. Hamilton—the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania—comments on the progress (and lack thereof) of legislation in 2018 affecting child sex abuse victims’ access to justice across the United States. In particular, Hamilton calls upon American bishops to start advocating for, rather than against, the victims of abuse.

Collins v. Virginia: An Innocuous, Fourth Amendment Decision About Curtilage

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the US Supreme Court’s precedents recognizing, yet not clearly defining, “curtilage”—the area near one’s house that is constitutionally protected against warrantless searches by law enforcement. As Colb explains, the Court’s cases involving curtilage, including its recent decision in Collins v. Virginia leave many Fourth Amendment questions unanswered.

Carpenter and the Beginning of the End of Privacy

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Carpenter v. United States, in which the Court held that the government must have a search warrant to obtain an individual’s cell-site location information (CSLI). Colb describes the Court’s holding and the dissenting opinions, and considers the Court’s minority (but growing) view that only property, and not privacy, is protected under the US Constitution—particularly when privacy rights encompass the right of a woman to obtain an abortion and the right of same-sex couples to engage in private, consensual sexual acts.

Rental Cars, Privacy, and Suppression of Evidence

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the recent decision by the US Supreme Court in Byrd v. United States, in which the Court unanimously held that a lawful but contractually unauthorized driver of a rental car has a reasonable expectation of privacy against police searches of the car. Colb explains that the Court’s ruling is significant for more than its face value; it signals a rejection of property-linked formalism and bolsters the ability of the Fourth Amendment to keep certain types of police in check.

Do Defendants Have the Right to Make Bad Decisions?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the case before the US Supreme Court, McCoy v. Louisiana, in which the Court will decide whether a criminal defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to stop his attorney from announcing to a jury that his client killed the victims for whose murder he is standing trial. Colb considers the argument that the lawyer's behavior constituted deficient performance counsel and argues that in that case, the defendant's conviction should be reversed and remanded for a new trial.

What Miranda Can Teach Us About Sexual Consent

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb compares the requirement that police officers advise suspects in custody of their Miranda rights with the proposal that we as a society adopt a "Yes means yes" requirement for sexual consent. Colb describes how many of the fears about Miranda never actually came to fruition and points out how both the strengths and weaknesses of Miranda can help us to figure out how best to design the rules defining sexual assault.

Does the Automobile Exception to the Warrant Requirement Extend to Private Driveways?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers a question raised, but most likely not to be decided, in a criminal procedure case currently before the US Supreme Court. That case, Collins v. Virginia addresses the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, and Colb explores some reasons for eliminating the automobile exception altogether.

Why Justice Gorsuch May Have Avoided the Word “Privacy” at the Carpenter Oral Argument

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the recent oral argument in Carpenter v. United States, in which the US Supreme Court will consider whether the Fourth Amendment requires the government to obtain a warrant before demanding that a cell phone service provider reveal location data about a target’s phone for a certain period of time. Colb notes that during oral argument, the Court’s newest justice, Justice Neil Gorsuch, conspicuously avoided using the word “privacy”—a choice that Colb suggests reflects his views on substantive due process and the rights that flow from that constitutional principle, such as abortion and physician assistance in dying.

Meet our Columnists
Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, holds the James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973.... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately... more