Analysis and Commentary on Criminal Procedure

A Fresh Look at Jury Nullification

In response to a recent episode of the podcast Radiolab that relates the story of a juror who was prosecuted for attempting jury nullification, Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers how we ought to think about the power of jurors to acquit for any reason. Colb explains what jury nullification is and describes some situations in which it is most clearly appropriate and some in which it is problematic. She also proposes a solution to address bias in all phases of the criminal process, rather than just prosecution and trial.

The Supreme Court Rejects Fake Facts in Capital Cases

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.

Does the Juror Deliberation “Privilege” Work? Questioning the Supreme Court’s Assumptions

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that a juror’s use of racial stereotypes to vote for conviction may be used to invalidate the verdict, despite evidentiary rules that otherwise prohibit the use of juror testimony to challenge a verdict. Colb argues that the Supreme Court should have either extended the Sixth Amendment exception to cover other types of juror misconduct, or repealed the rule that prohibits the use of post-verdict juror testimony to impeach a verdict.

How Race Changes Things: The Supreme Court’s Decision in Buck v. Davis

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb examines the how ineffective assistance of counsel and equal protection interact in cases involving race to produce results different from what might result from similar cases not involving race. Specifically, Colb looks at whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s conclusion of ineffective assistance of counsel in Buck v. Davis would have been different if the issue of race had not been involved.

Is President Trump Really Filling the Scalia Seat?

John W. Dean, former counsel to President Nixon, converses with author David Dorsen about whether President Trump’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, is going to be ideologically consistent with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat Gorsuch would fill. Led by Dean’s questions, Dorsen explains that Scalia was not as across-the-board conservative as many thought him to be, and Gorsuch may not be either, at least not on topics such as trial by jury and double jeopardy.

Supreme Court to Consider When a Criminal Defendant Must Pay With His Life for His Lawyer’s Error

Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that presents the issue whether and when a criminal defendant should pay with his life for an error made by his lawyer. Dorf explains the facts behind the case as well as the relevant legal precedents. He argues that Davila, the criminal defendant in this case, might convincingly argue that his first real opportunity to complain about the ineffectiveness of counsel on direct appeal is in a state habeas proceeding.

Is It “Reasonable” For Police to Kill Dogs in the Homes that they Search?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb critiques a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit holding that it was reasonable for police officers to kill two dogs in a home they searched. Colb first explains the facts behind the case and then argues that the police should have asked the dogs’ owner to subdue the dogs prior to the search, and that not doing so was unreasonable and led to the unnecessary killing of the dogs.

The Supreme Court Considers Whether to Pierce Jury Secrecy for Evidence of Racial Bias

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the arguments on both sides of a difficult question currently before the Supreme Court—whether a defendant is entitled to use juror testimony to impeach a verdict based on racial bias, notwithstanding a contrary rule of evidence. Colb describes the facts leading up to the case and discusses the jurisprudence that will most likely affect the justices’ ultimate decision.

Allocating Burdens of Proof in a Criminal Case: An Arizona Decision Raises Questions

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent decision by the Arizona Supreme Court holding that a state statute properly created an affirmative defense to sexual abuse or child molestation when it placed the burden of proving no sexual motive on the defendant. Colb describes the court’s reasoning and explains why the U.S. Supreme Court should revisit its jurisprudence affirmative defenses to crimes and hold that some conduct may simply not be classified as an affirmative defense to be proved by the defendant in a criminal case.

Indiana Court Rules in Favor of Cell Phone History Privacy

Cornell University law professor Sherry Colb comments on a recent decision by the Court of Appeals of Indiana, holding that police violated their suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights by acquiring, without a warrant, the suspect’s cell site information from his cell phone provider. Colb explains the Indiana court’s reasoning and discusses the evolving law regarding people’s privacy expectations in information their cell phones store and transmit.

Is Taking Blood from a Dog a “Search” of the Dog’s Owner?

In light of a recent decision by the Oregon Supreme Court, Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers whether taking blood from a dog constitutes a search of the dog’s owner for Fourth Amendment purposes. Colb identifies good and bad features of the court’s opinion and expresses what, in her view, would have been the ideal resolution of the case.

What’s the Matter With “Bomb Robots”?

In light of recent events in Dallas, Texas, Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf considers the use by local police of a “bomb robot” to kill the man who shot twelve police officers and two civilians. In particular, Dorf addresses (1) whether the use of the bomb robot represents an important change in policing, (2) whether the robot is a military tool inappropriately used in a domestic policing situation, and (3) whether its use in this instance violated the Constitution.

Birchfield v. North Dakota: An Acceptable Compromise

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota, in which the Court held that states may criminalize the refusal to take a breathalyzer test but may not criminalize the refusal to take a blood test, absent a warrant, as an ordinary incident of an arrest for driving while impaired. Colb explains why the Court distinguished the two types of tests and argues that the decision effectively balances competing interests in public safety and individual privacy.

A Potential Landmine in Waiting in Utah v. Strieff

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Utah v. Strieff, holding that evidence found in that case as a result of a Fourth Amendment violation was not the direct consequence of the violation and was therefore properly admitted into evidence against the defendant under the attenuation doctrine. Colb explains how one throwaway line in the opinion, if taken to its logical conclusion, could potentially spell the death of the exclusionary rule.

Finding Justice in Baltimore

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies explains why a criminal conviction of police officers is neither a necessary nor sufficient component of justice. In fact, Margulies argues that those who would dismantle the carceral state should not be the first to invoke it by seeking convictions as the sole means of justice.

What Montgomery v. Louisiana Portends for Future Juvenile Sentencing

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the changing meaning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Miller v. Alabama, which held that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole. Colb discusses specifically the Court’s decision earlier this year in Montgomery v. Lousiana, which held that Miller must be applied retroactively on state collateral review.

Prisoner Case Underscores Justice Scalia’s Legacy

Cornell University law professor Michael Dorf discusses a recent unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that illustrates the lasting impact Justice Scalia had on the Court’s approach to statutory interpretation. Dorf describes the shift from purposivism to textually constrained purposivism over the past half century, and explains how they differ from the textualism Justice Scalia espoused.

Discrimination & Criminal Justice in the 21st Century

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies comments on last week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Foster v. Chatman, in which the Court considered whether a prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenges to remove all eligible black jurors constituted impermissible race discrimination. Margulies argues that true criminal justice reform requires us to acknowledge the pervasiveness of implicit bias in society and let go of the idea that the behavior is an individual wrong by one person against another, and reconceive it as a social wrong by a person against the community.

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 Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

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

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

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

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the leading church/state scholars in the United States, a Fox Distinguis... more

David S. Kemp
David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

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

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at... more