Analysis and Commentary on Criminal Law
From Boston to Brunswick, Georgia: The Perils of Jury Selection

Texas law professor Jeffrey Abramson explains why the trial judge in the case against the three men who chased and shot to death Ahmaud Arbery should not commit the same mistake that occurred in the Boston Marathon trial—speeding up jury selection to convict obviously guilty defendants, only to have the sentence thrown out on appeal. Professor Abramson argues that while judges may understandably feel frustrated during jury selection in high-profile cases, taking shortcuts during jury selection risks forcing victims, witnesses, and the community to live through traumatic events twice.

Supreme Court Poised to Put Boston Marathon Bomber Back on Death Row

Texas Law professor Jeffrey Abramson explains why the U.S. Supreme Court should not reinstate the death penalty for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, though a majority seemed poised to do just that when it heard oral arguments earlier this week. Professor Abramson argues that even this pro-death-penalty Supreme Court should see that when grievous mistakes are made at trial, as they were in Tsarnaev’s case, the defendant deserves a new death sentence hearing.

Will the Death Penalty Survive the Pandemic?

Amherst professor Austin Sarat observes that a sharp reduction in executions during the COVID-19 pandemic represents a clear departure from the typical response to crisis in the United States. Professor Sarat explores whether this departure signifies the demise of capital punishment, or instead whether, as suggested by Oklahoma’s plan to execute seven people over the next six months, we will see a return to the historic norm.

Some Think Dylann Roof Deserves to Die, But Executing Him Lets Hatred Carry the Day

Amherst College professor Austin Sarat responds to a federal appellate court decision upholding the conviction and death sentence of Dylann Roof for the 2015 murders of nine members of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, during a meeting of a Bible-study group. Professor Sarat argues that the death penalty is inappropriate even for one of this nation’s most reviled mass murderers because capital punishment has no place in a democratic society.

Abolitionists Must Put Reviving Clemency in Capital Cases High on Their Agenda

Amherst College professor Austin Sarat explains why death penalty abolitionists should prioritize seeking grants of clemency in capital cases. Professor Sarat points to studies showing that the use of clemency in individual capital cases has lagged behind a larger trend of states turning away from capital punishment and argues that we as a nation should demand from our leaders the courage and conviction to see people worth saving on death row and to exercise mercy toward them.

What the American People Really Think About Capital Punishment

Amherst professor Austin Sarat critiques the conclusion of a study by Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College suggesting that the American public widely supports the death penalty. Professor Sarat points out that the study’s “sensationalist” questions are likely to elicit responses based on expectations of what the interviewer wants, rather than what respondents would do given the responsibility of deciding real cases in which a real person’s life is at stake.

#BillCosby Is Still #Guilty

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Bill Cosby’s conviction for the sexual assault of Andrea Constand. Professor Colb makes clear that the court’s actions in that case do not exonerate Bill Cosby; rather, it remains true that a jury of his peers convicted him of sexual assault based on proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Cosby Conviction Reversal Reveals a Faultline in Our Justice System for Sex Assault Victims: Unfairly Short Statutes of Limitation

Marci A. Hamilton, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and CEO of CHILD USA, comments on the recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturning Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction. Professor Hamilton argues that the decision illustrates the need for states to reform both civil and criminal statutes of limitations (SOLs) to give sexual assault and abuse survivors their day in court.

Justice Thomas Calls Out Liberals for Distinguishing Incarceration from Pregnancy

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to an observation made by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence in his concurring opinion in Jones v. Mississippi, noting an ostensible inconsistency in the language liberals use in discussing incarceration, as compared to pregnancy. Professor Colb acknowledges the face value of Justice Thomas’s point—that liberals refer to minors seeking an abortion as “women” and minors facing life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”) as “children”—but she points out that the difference in terminology reflects a consistent view that minors are not fully developed and should not be forced to do irreversible “adult” things like carry a pregnancy to term or serve a mandatory LWOP sentence.

Pervis Payne’s Case Shines a Light on the Continuing Injustices of America’s Death Penalty

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—describes three kinds of defects and injustices inherent in capital punishment exemplified by the case of Pervis Payne, who is on death row in Tennessee. Professor Sarat points out that the death penalty in the United States is built upon erroneous convictions and miscarriages of justice, the prejudicial use of use of so-called victim impact evidence, and disproportionate targeting of defendants with intellectual disabilities or mental illness.

International Criminal Court Authorizes Investigation Into Alleged War Crimes in Territory “Occupied” by Israel as a Result of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

NYU Law professor Samuel Estreicher and Hofstra Law professor Julian G. Ku comment on a recent decision by a Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruling that the ICC’s jurisdiction extends to territory occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, namely, the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Professors Estreicher and Ku argue that the tenuous and legally unpersuasive nature of the ICC’s jurisdictional assertion in this case, as well as similarly aggressive findings over U.S. activities in Afghanistan, will only further weaken the tribunal’s overall international legitimacy going forward.

Lethal Injection’s Dreadful Failures: How States Are Trying to Normalize Accidents

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—describes ways in which states are attempting to normalize errors that occur during the process of lethal injection. Professor Sarat argues that lethal injection is demonstrably far from the painless form of death it once promised to be, and that it should be abolished in the United States.

Death Penalty Opponents Should Rethink Their Support for Life Without Parole Sentences

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—argues that life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOP) are as problematic and damaging as the death penalty. For this reason, Professor Sarat calls upon death penalty opponents to reconsider their support for LWOP sentences.

Virginia Delivers a Rebuke to Trump’s Execution Spree and Points to the End of America’s Death Penalty

Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—comments on the news that both houses of the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation abolishing the death penalty in that state. Professor Sarat explains why Virginia’s change in policy is so significant: it has executed more people than any other state and is the first state south of the Mason-Dixon line to abolish capital punishment.

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).

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 the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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