Analysis and Commentary on Criminal Law
What Insanity and Animal Welfare Have in Common

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.

A Critical (Non-Dershowitz) Look at Statutory Rape Laws

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.

Exploring Cy Pres, Restorative Justice, and Earned Redemption through Fleabag: Part II in a Series

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.

You’re So Vague, You Probably Think This Law’s Not About You

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.

What Makes Self-Defense Justifiable?

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.

How Should A Progressive Prosecutor Respond to Injustice Beyond Her Courtroom?

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.

A Welcome Turn to Violence

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.

Seven Steps for Progressive Prosecutors

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.

Lawmakers Must Stop Cooperating in the Bishops’ Dirty Tricks

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.

Compare and Contrast: The Vatican’s Gathering of Bishops in Rome with the Epstein Court on Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims

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.

With Ink Not Yet Dry on the New York Child Victims Act, There Is Already Reason to Be Concerned About the Victims in this Process

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.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan Proves Once Again the Church Will Never Reform Itself without the Law and Civil Society Behind It

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.

2018 Year in Review: Child Sex Abuse Statutes of Limitations, and the Catholic Bishops’ Spiritual Retreat

Marci A. Hamilton—the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania—comments on the progress (and lack thereof) of legislation in 2018 affecting child sex abuse victims’ access to justice across the United States. In particular, Hamilton calls upon American bishops to start advocating for, rather than against, the victims of abuse.

Changing How We Think About Date Rape

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explains how the Enhanced Assess, Acknowledge, Act (EAAA) program might help change the way we think about acquaintance rape and reduce the incidence of such rape and other similar sexual crimes. Colb points out some of the shortcomings of consent-focused education about rape and describes how EAAA addresses many of these shortcomings.

Larry Nassar and the Milgram Experiment

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the narrative of Kyle Stephens, a woman who was first abused by Dr. Larry Nassar when she was six years old, particularly as compared to the narratives of other women Nassar victimized. Colb points out that patients, parents, and law enforcement all give great deference to medical doctors, and Nassar recognized and took advantage of that deference to sexually assault so many women over such a great period of time.

The Latest Report on Institution-based Sex Abuse Is Issued on the United States Olympic Committee’s Failures

Marci A. Hamilton—the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania—comments on the most recent report on child sex abuse, which was commissioned by the US Olympic Committee and focuses on the Dr. Larry Nassar scandal. Hamilton points out that scandal after scandal should make clear to the public that we have a systemic problem that is cultural, not isolated.

Abuse Victims Still Don’t Get Justice

UNLV Boyd School of Law professor Leslie C. Griffin criticizes the recent order by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to permanently redact the names of eleven priests from the grand jury report on sexual misconduct by the clergy in six Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses. Griffin argues that the redaction undermines the purpose of the grand jury report to promote openness and sends the negative signal to survivors that the court will protect their abusers.

Tension Between the Vatican and American Bishops Over Next Steps in the Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis: Could We See the Beginning of a Schism?

Marci A. Hamilton—the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania—describes the growing tension between the Vatican and American Bishops with respect to clergy sex abuse and considers whether a schism might be imminent. Hamilton refers to and draws upon a column she wrote in 2002, in which she argued that disagreement between American bishops and the Vatican over the correct path for dealing with clergy sex abuse was foreordained.

Kavanaugh Saga Shows the #MeToo Movement at a Crossroads: Three Legal Reforms Needed Now

Marci A. Hamilton, professor and resident senior fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania, explains how the Kavanaugh confirmation process shows the crossroads at which the #MeToo movement now stands. Hamilton goes on to describe three legal reforms that are needed now: to fix the criminal and civil statutes of limitations, to revise defamation laws, and to fix the mandated reporting laws so those with knowledge of sex assault share it with the authorities.

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

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 Robert A. Fox Leadership Program 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

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

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