Analysis and Commentary on Criminal Law
Why Georgia Should Take the Lead in Holding President Trump Accountable for His Crimes Against Democracy

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—and history teacher John deVille argue that George should take the lead in holding Donald Trump accountable for crimes against democracy. Professor Sarat and Mr. deVille point out that a criminal trial with Trump in the dock would be both “a galvanizing national seminar on democratic values” and “a chance for officers of the court to question the President in a forum where he could neither obfuscate nor intimidate.”

Transitional Justice, Anti-Democratic Riots, and Private Responses

In light of the events of January 6, Illinois law professors Lesley M. Wexler and Colleen Murphy identify some preliminary questions raised by private actors sanctioning other private actors for the latter’s potentially criminal activities at the Capitol. In particular, Professors Wexler and Murphy explain why the event gives rise to transitional justice concerns, and through the transitional justice lens, they assess the advantages and disadvantages of private action in this context.

The Invisible Man and His Visible Victim

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a movie some have described as one of the best of 2020, The Invisible Man, and describes how the story in the movie offers possibilities for envisioning accountability for domestic violence and other crimes that often receive dismissive treatment under the heading of “he said/she said.” Professor Colb briefly describes the plot of the movie (including spoilers), and explains why the movie is so revelatory.

COVID Comes to Federal Death Row—It Is Time to Stop the Madness

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—explains the enhanced risk of COVID-19 infection in the federal death row in Terre Haute, not only among inmates but among those necessary to carry out executions. Professor Sarat calls upon the Trump administration and other officials to focus on saving, rather than taking, lives inside and outside prison.

He Said/She Said, Save Our Sons, and the Stories that Stick: Part Two of a Two-Part Series of Columns

In this second in a series of columns on the U.S. Department of Education’s recent push toward a higher burden of proof in determinations of sexual harassment or assault under Title IX, Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb suggests that gendered narratives play a role in people’s willingness to regard an acquaintance rape case as “he said/she said.” Colb describes several examples in which people prefer a story that confirms a pre-existing bias over truth based on evidence.

He Said/She Said, Save Our Sons, and the Stories that Stick: Part One of a Two-Part Series of Columns

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s recent push toward a higher burden of proof in determinations of sexual harassment or assault under Title IX. In this first part, Colb suggests that men who say “not guilty” in response to a sexual assault accusation are not especially credible and that we accordingly need an explanation for why people find the accuser’s words equally lacking in credibility (and therefore call the dispute a “he said/she said” dilemma for the factfinder).

Incorrigibility of the Juvenile Offender

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case the U.S. Supreme Court will consider this term that presents the question whether the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits sentencing a juvenile offender to life without the possibility of parole. Colb considers the wisdom and constitutionality of imposing such a sentence on a person who was under 18 at the time of his crime.

William Barr Uses Victims and Their Families to Prop Up America’s Failing Death Penalty System

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—argues that Attorney General William Barr erroneously characterizes the families of victims of violent crimes as a homogeneous group unified in their support of the death penalty. Sarat points out that, in fact, some families of victims oppose the application of the death penalty (for a variety of reasons), so by trying to justify the reinstatement of the federal death penalty as bringing closure to victims and their families, Barr and his political allies are simply using these victims and their families to support his political ends.

The Right to Be Judged by What You Do, Not Who You Are

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the case for occasionally including status—“who you are”—in assigning blame in criminal matters. Colb explains that generally, our penal system prohibits “status offenses,” but sometimes, such as in the case of psychopaths, we are comfortable deciding how to punish a person based at least in part on who they are.

“Hi, I’m Richard, and I served 39 years for murder”

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies comments on an essay by John J. Lennon, who is serving time in New York for murder, and a response by the sister of the murdered man responding to Lennon. Margulies points out that exceptional stories like Lennon’s set the bar too high, at the expense of the many who are ordinary.

Lessons of the Cooper Affair

Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies comments on the recent incident in which Amy Cooper, a young white woman, called the police on Christian Cooper, an African American man who was birdwatching in Central Park. Margulies argues that the repercussions of Ms. Cooper’s actions—her suffering public ridicule and losing the valuable commodity of anonymity—achieve both the consequentialist and retributivist purposes of our penal system, so for the state to prosecute her as well would serve only to humiliate and demonize her

A Profile of John J. Gleeson, the Trial Court’s Proposed “Friend Of The Court” in the Michael Flynn Case

Touro law professors Jeffrey B. Morris and Rodger D. Citron conduct a profile of John J. Gleeson, the lawyer and former judge who has been appointed as a “friend of the court” to advise the federal district court on a matter where the U.S. Department of Justice is seeking dismissal of the case against former national security advisor Michael Flynn. Morris and Citron describe Gleeson’s background both on and off the bench and predict that, if given the opportunity to fulfill his role, Gleeson will certainly be fair and proper in determining the proper way to deal with Michael Flynn’s case.

Is My Dog a Psychopath? What Predators May Tell Us About the Insanity Defense

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes an incident where her dog “K” stalked and killed a rabbit, and she considers what criminal-law inferences we might draw from observing such predators’ behavior toward their prey. Colb ponders what distinguishes a dog who kills a rabbit from psychopaths who commit heinous crimes, noting that among humans, a so-called “moral imbecile” lacks conscience and empathy for others, and our society deems such individuals as deserving punishment.

Supreme Court Reverses “Bridgegate” Convictions

Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on last week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court reversing the convictions of two New Jersey officials for their role in the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal of 2013. Although the Court made clear that the underlying conduct was dangerous and wrong, its holding reversing the convictions may effectively permit corrupt bullies to continue to exercise political power, due in part to inadequate responses from other political actors.

Why People Dislike the Insanity Defense

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the insanity defense, considering when and why juries (and others) might perceive a criminal defendant to be not guilty by reason of insanity. Colb proposes that if a criminal defendant’s mental illness looks like an outside force that made him behave in an out-of-character fashion, then the jury is more likely to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.

Is Retribution Worth the Cost?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses the four purported goals of the criminal justice system—deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, and rehabilitation—and argues that retribution may preclude rehabilitation. Colb considers whether restorative justice—wherein a victim has a conversation with the offender and talks about what he did to her and why it was wrong—might better serve the rehabilitative purpose than long prison sentences do.

Will Coronavirus Stop America from Carrying Out Executions?

Guest columnist Austin Sarat—Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College—points out one unusual effect of the COVID-19 pandemic: deferring the executions of death row inmates. Sarat observes that while past pandemics have not affected the rate at which states have executed inmates, last week the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted 60-day stays in the execution sentences of two men, and other states seem poised to follow suit.

“He Took It Like a Man”: Harvey Weinstein’s Conviction and the Limits of Discrimination Law

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the recent conviction of Harvey Weinstein for criminal sexual assault in the first degree and rape in the third degree. Grossman points out that our country’s antidiscrimination laws do not actually protect the people they intend to protect, instead focusing on employer policies and procedures. She argues that we should take this opportunity to learn from the system of criminal law, which did work in this case, to fix the antidiscrimination laws that purport to protect against sexual harassment and misconduct.

Did President Trump Commit the Federal Crime of Bribery?

NYU law professor Samuel Estreicher and 3L Christopher S. Owens analyze, based on the facts presently known to the public, whether President Trump committed the federal crime of battery. After describing the elements required for the offense of bribery, Estreicher and Owens conclude that Trump’s conduct would support a finding of an exchange of official acts (by Trump) for things of value (the public statement sought from Zelensky), as well as the corrupt intent necessary to maintain a bribery charge.

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

Samuel Estreicher
Samuel Estreicher

Samuel Estreicher is the Dwight D. Opperman Professor, Director, Center for Labor and Employment... more

Leslie C. Griffin
Leslie C. Griffin

Dr. Leslie C. Griffin is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las... 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 Fels Institute of Government 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

Austin Sarat
Austin Sarat

Austin Sarat is Associate Provost, Associate Dean of the Faculty and William Nelson Cromwell... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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