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.
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.
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.
Kathryn Robb, executive director of CHILD USAdvocacy, comments on a public-health crisis that is getting relatively less attention right now: the scourge of child sex abuse. To address this crisis, Robb calls for greater public awareness, stronger laws protecting children, and legislative action
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.
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.
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.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses blackmail and the paradox of coercion, that is, the phenomenon where the law permits two different actions but prohibits a person from making one action a condition of the other. Colb proposes that our laws should evolve over time toward a framework that is less and less supportive of coercion.
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.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb cautions against using a disgust reaction alone to justify legislation—particularly legislation involving criminal penalties. Colb points out that disgust can sometimes help us determine that something bad is in fact going on, but we should not to allow disgust to power our moral choices without interrogation.
In this second of a series of columns, Illinois law professors Lesley Wexler, Jennifer Robbennolt, and Jennie Pahre continue their discussion of the legal mechanism of cy pres—by which a court decides a remedy based on how closely it serves the intended purpose (originally from the law of trusts). The authors draw upon the plot and characters of the television show Fleabag to illustrate how restorative justice might help re-center the #MeToo debate away from its seemingly sole punitive focus and more towards the twin purposes of victim restoration and deterrence.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers when the void-for-vagueness doctrine, which has a due process component, does and does not make sense. Colb argues that differences in the length of a criminal sentence have little or no deterrence effect, so imposing long sentences as an attempt to deter crimes is a waste of resources.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses the criminal defenses of self-defense and defense of others and considers what role emotions should and do play in society’s assessment of whether a person’s violent conduct is justified and thus not criminally punishable. Colb argues that fear, rather than anger, most clearly motivates legitimate uses of self-defense or defense of others, but the mere fact of the victim’s anger (which might be present in addition to fear) should not necessarily mean the victim is criminally culpable.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies explains why and how a progressive prosecutor should work to correct injustice throughout the criminal justice system. Margulies argues that a prosecutor must not, for example, turn a blind eye to the prisons in her state or pursue convictions for unjust laws.
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.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes seven steps that progressive prosecutors must take to advance three fundamental principles of meaningful criminal justice reform—dignity, community, and equity. Margulies explains the importance of going beyond piecemeal initiatives to truly embracing and furthering an alternative organizing vision for the prosecutorial function.
Marci A. Hamilton, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and CEO of CHILD USA, and Kathryn Robb, executive director of CHILD USAdvocacy, describe the latest trick by Catholic bishops in Maryland to successfully lobby for a statute of repose to be included in a bill, undermining its ability to provide meaningful justice to abuse victims. Hamilton and Robb call upon legislators to stop cooperating with Catholic bishops, as doing so leads only to continued secrecy, suffering, and pedophile empowerment.
Marci A. Hamliton—professor and resident senior fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania and founder, CEO, and Academic Director of CHILD USA—describes the similarities and differences between the Vatican’s gathering of bishops to address clergy sex abuse scandals and the federal judge’s ruling in the case of Jeffrey Epstein over sex trafficking scandals. Hamilton points out that decision in the Epstein case is a victory for child sex abuse victims, while the approach of the Catholic Church is already misguided.
Marci A. Hamilton—professor and resident senior fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania and founder, CEO, and Academic Director of CHILD USA—comments on New York’s recent passage of the New York Child Victims Act and the troubling class action lawsuit filed purportedly on behalf of victims on the same day. Hamilton explains why class action lawsuits are inconsistent with child sex abuse victim empowerment and healing, pointing out that such lawsuits are designed for circumstances where the victims have identical or nearly identical harm, which is not the case with child sex abuse.
Marci A. Hamilton—professor and resident senior fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania and founder, CEO, and Academic Director of CHILD USA—comments on an op-ed by New York City’s Archdiocese’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan that Hamilton characterizes as full of “misstatements and ugly implications.” Hamilton disassembles Dolan’s claims and explains why litigation—not mediation, as Dolan claims—is critically essential for the victims of child sex abuse to access the justice they deserve.