Analysis and Commentary on Criminal Law

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

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?

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)

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

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?

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Two Big Legal Misconceptions That Have Recently Arisen in the Presidential Race

Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and California civil litigation attorney Michael Schaps address two common misconceptions about the relationship between criminal law and politics that recently arose in the presidential race. Amar and Schaps explain first why the presumption of innocence does not apply to politics, and second, why the president actually does have the power to order prosecutions.

The Fury of the Mob: Comparing the Calls to Prosecute Clinton and Bush

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies compares and contrasts Donald Trump’s call for Hillary Clinton’s imprisonment and the same call against George W. Bush. Although he disagrees with both attempts to seek prosecution, Margulies argues that the call for Clinton’s imprisonment is at best akin to a lynch mob, whereas at least the desire to have Bush prosecuted reflects a good-faith attempt to use the law to punish war crimes.

Notorious P.I.G.: Rape Culture Meets Presidential Politics

SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman and University of Pittsburgh law professor Deborah L. Brake analyze the infamous video of Donald Trump boasting about what he can do to women, as well as the response of the Trump campaign. Grossman and Brake argue that Trump’s words in the video, and his non-apology following its release, epitomize the formula that creates rape-prone culture: deny harm, deflect responsibility, and normalize what happened.

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.

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 U... 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 country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... 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