Analysis and Commentary on Criminal Law

Exceptional, but not an Exception

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies relates the story of one young man whose early life experiences and mistakes landed him in prison but who, after excelling in the Cornell Prison Education Program—a program in which Cornell professors teach university classes to prisoners—was released on parole after his first parole hearing and now attends Cornell University as a student. Margulies explains that this young man—Darnell Epps—may be exceptional, but he is not unique in being a person incarcerated at an early age who can redeem himself and contribute great things to our society.

Big Business Battles the #MeToo Movement

Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, describes how insurance, chamber of commerce, and religious lobbyists are impeding child sex abuse victims’ access to justice in several states. Hamilton points to three states that were considering bills that seemed optimistic but have since been turned sideways by big business and powerful lobbyists.

The Sex Assault Avengers: The Enemies and a Superpower

Marci A. Hamilton—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 Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania—analogizes Marvel’s blockbuster Avengers movie with the far more serious (and real) fight for justice for sexual assault victims. Hamilton explains in terms understandable to any moviegoer why statutes of limitations on sexual abuse claims allow the “bad guys” to win.

The Bill Cosby Re-trial: What a Difference a Year Makes

Marci A. Hamilton, the Fox Professor of Practice and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, explains why Bill Cosby’s retrial for the sexual assault of Andrea Constand will likely go differently from the first one, which ended in a mistrial. Hamilton describes the changes in public awareness and understanding of sexual assault over the past year, as well as some procedural differences between the first trial and the retrial.

Donald Who? Reform Goes Forward Despite His Idiocy

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes how President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on criminal justice has not actually impacted (positively or negatively) the state of criminal justice reform across the country. Margulies describes the modest progress but cautions that the most significant shifts may be taking place at a level that is not yet detectable.

The EEOC and the #MeToo Era: Is the Budget Increase Enough?

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—considers recent news of the EEOC’s budget increase for fiscal year 2018. Hamilton notes that this appears to be a win for the EEOC and the #MeToo movement at first glance. Nevertheless, Hamilton explains that the increasing public encouragement for victims of sexual misconduct to come forward does not negate the unwillingness of those in power to effect change within the legal system for these victims to have a real chance at justice.

Misgoverning Missouri: Sex, Privacy, and the Leering Eye of the Camera

Joanna L. Grossman, SMU Dedman School of Law professor, and Lawrence M. Friedman, a Stanford Law professor, comment on the legal trouble facing Missouri governor Eric Greitens for allegedly taking a nonconsensual compromising photo of a woman with whom he was having an affair. Grossman and Friedman describe the relatively new state statute under which Greitens was charged and explain some of the nuances of that law.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Victim?

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—describes the small step forward New York has recently taken to improve access to justice for child sex abuse victims. Hamilton points out that Republican senators are dragging their feet and offering flimsy excuses for not backing the legislation that would expand the window for sex abuse claims, a stance inconsistent with their position on other windows, such as those for medical malpractice claims.

Miracles in Child Sex Abuse Statutes of Limitation Reform: Three of the Worst States Are Stepping Up

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor and resident senior fellow in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, describes what three states are doing to improve child sex abuse victims' access to justice. Hamilton explains how Georgia, Michigan, and New York are finally changing their restrictive statutes of limitations to start to give victims access to the court system they so deserve.

The #MeToo Elephant in the Room During the 2018 State of the Union

Marci A. Hamilton, a professor and resident senior fellow in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, critiques President Donald Trump for failing to mention the #MeToo movement during his State of the Union address. Hamilton posits that like Dr. Larry Nassar, who was accused of sexually abusing 265 young gymnasts, Trump believes he can indefinitely deflect questions about sexual assault, but she argues that he can do so only because the Republicans and evangelicals are propping him up.

#MeToo, Time’s Up, and Restorative Justice

Illinois Law professor Lesley Wexler comments on the 2018 Golden Globes acceptance speech by Laura Dern calling for restorative justice in the context of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. Wexler analyzes the possible meaning of this somewhat ambiguous call to action, explaining that it could mean the restoration and reintegration of women who have suffered employment setbacks at the hands of their harassers and assaulters, and pointing out that it could also carry the more traditional notion of restorative justice, which includes the wrongdoers and the community as a whole to engage in "apologies, restitution, and acknowledgments of harm and injury."

The Seduction of Piety

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies continues his discussion of what he calls "pious stories" that come up in discussions of the criminal justice system, explaining why the media and policy-makers continue to repeat these stories despite their being egregiously incorrect or even dangerously incomplete. Margulies points to three characteristics common to all three of these stories: they reduce complex social processes into over-simplified parables about heroes and villains, they engender racial colonialism, and they are perpetuated by people deeply committed to criminal justice reform.

My Resolution for 2018: Less Piety, More Complexity

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

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?

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

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

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.

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

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... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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