Analysis and Commentary on Criminal Law

Should Revenge Porn Be Illegal? Victims Say Yes, and so Does the California Legislature

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on “revenge porn,” which occurs when a person agrees to provide nude photos to his or her partner during a relationship, but after the breakup, the partner posts the nude photos online, at times connected to the partner’s name or other information. Hilden notes that California now has a relevant law on this topic, but some think that the law is not sufficiently strong.

Some Flaws in California’s New Law Regarding Paparazzi’s Harassment of Celebrities’ Children

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on an updated California law that protects celebrities' children from the paparazzi, with penalties of jail time and hefty fines. Hilden suggests that the new law ignores serious First Amendment concerns, and that civil remedies, rather than criminal sanctions, might have been enough, particularly in light of those concerns.

Is Republican Obstructionism Criminal?

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on whether current Republican obstructionism could be charged as a federal crime. In particular, Dean questions whether Section 371 of Title 18 of the United States Code, which prohibits conspiracies to defraud the government of the United States, applies here. Dean concludes, however, for interesting reasons, that, even if Section 371 could apply, no criminal charges ought to be brought.

Are Trial Courts Even-Handed in Excusing Jurors Based on their Views on the Death Penalty?

Justia guest columnist and Loyola Law School professor Paula Mitchell continues her series of columns on the death penalty in California. She describes the methods trial courts must use in deciding whether to exclude prospective jurors in death penalty cases. She then examines several cases suggesting that trial court judges do not necessarily act even-handedly when excusing jurors based on their views on the death penalty.

Ripe for Resolution: Ending Taxpayer Expenditures on Pointless Litigation

In this second of a series of columns on the death penalty in California, Justia guest columnist and Loyola Law School professor Paula Mitchell describes a procedural dilemma facing federal courts in states with the death penalty. Mitchell explains that under a Supreme Court case decided earlier this year, federal courts are not required to stay habeas corpus proceedings for death row inmates who are mentally incompetent. She describes the absurd result this holding creates and calls on death penalty states to implement alternative dispute resolution programs in order to reduce miscarriages of justice and end “taxpayer expenditures on pointless litigation.”

The Legal Significance of the Leo Frank Case

Justia guest columnist and Touro Law Center professor Rodger Citron comments on the historic case of Leo Frank, who was convicted of the murder of a woman who worked at the factory he managed, and ultimately lynched by an angry mob, but might well have been innocent. Citron focuses on the case's legal significance as this year marks the 100th anniversary of Frank's conviction, noting two key lessons that we can take from it.

California Voters’ Shifting Views on the Death Penalty

Justia guest columnist and Loyola Law School professor Paula Mitchell describes California voters' changing views on the death penalty. She provides several possible explanations for the death penalty's decreasing support, including the presence of high-profile cases where an innocent person was sentenced to death, lower concerns about crime rates, and the high economic costs of maintaining capital punishment in the state. This is the first of a series of columns by Mitchell discussing the death penalty in California.

Sullivan & Cromwell and Yeshiva University Issue a Disappointing Report on Child Sex Abuse That Is Short on Facts and Long on Public Relations

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the investigation that occurred after many months, and many media stories about child sex abuse at the Yeshiva University High School (YUHS) in The Jewish Daily Forward. In the end, Yeshiva University released an “independent investigation” led by Karen Patton Seymour of Sullivan & Cromwell. Hamilton takes strong issue with the report that resulted from the investigation, and explains in detail her sharp criticisms of it, and what she contends that it should have contained, but did not. She also argues that, in this situation, pending litigation is a poor excuse for nondisclosure, especially in light of the statute-of-limitations situation in New York.

New Accusations by a Nixon Apologist Based on Recently Discovered Information Regarding the Watergate Cover-Up Trial

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on Watergate revisionism, and, in particular, Geoff Shepard’s recent piece in The Atlantic claiming that Nixon’s top advisers did not get justice when they were convicted for conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury. Dean strongly differs with Shepard’s account, and explains precisely why. Among other points, Dean rebuts Shepard’s claim that former Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski and Judge Sirica held secret ex parte meetings which were unlawful.

Will Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Be Prosecuted for Lying to Congress Regarding the NSA’s Surveillance?

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the testimony of DNI James Clapper regarding NSA data-gathering, testimony which appears to be false. Dean explains why, despite the apparent falsity of the testimony, it is highly unlikely that Clapper will be prosecuted. Some of the reasons why that is so, Dean notes, include the difficulty of successfully invoking laws that penalize lying to Congress. Dean describes the key three statutes that might be invoked, and explains why, over American history, there have been so few prosecutions for lying to Congress.

The Supreme Court Renders Another Decision Interpreting the Ex Post Facto Clause That Makes It More Difficult to Incarcerate Sex Offenders: What the Ruling Means for Child Safety

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the Supreme Court’s recent Peugh decision. She contends that the ruling, although it does not deal with sex offenders, will have an impact that will surely be felt in sex-offender cases. In particular, Hamilton argues that the case's interpretation of the Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause will make it more difficult to incarcerate criminals, and sex offenders in particular. As a result, Hamilton notes, the Court’s decision, and another it issued a decade ago, may put children in very serious peril.

Who Is Afraid of Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims, and Who Is Fighting for It? Some Recent Developments

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on developments in States across the nation regarding abolishing the statute of limitations on child sex abuse. Hamilton chronicles the details of the progress in each of the relevant states, and notes the rising calls for justice not only for victims, but also for those who knew of a victim’s abuse and did nothing about it or, even worse, covered it up.

Rape by Deception, Rape by Impersonation, and a New California Bill

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb discusses two types of rape that may not at first come to mind when one thinks of the crime, but that are very traumatic for the victim: rape by impersonation, and rape by deception. Colb illuminates the law with respect to these little-known crimes, and describes a California bill that is meant to ensure that rape by impersonation of the victim's partner can be prosecuted even if the victim is an unmarried woman, as was historically required. Colb also discusses other aspects of modern and historic rape law (such as the now-abolished marital rape exception), and raises the question whether lying about oneself to obtain sex should be deemed a crime, as an Israeli court ruled.

Unstated Findings of the Detainee Treatment Report: Bush/Cheney & Co. Are War Criminals

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the bipartisan Detainee Treatment report that was recently released by The Constitution Project (TCP). Dean characterizes the report’s findings as nothing less than devastating. In particular, Dean notes that the report leads Dean—who serves on the TCP committee on Liberty & Security—to conclude that Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as others, engaged in war crimes. Dean focuses especially on TCP’s most notable findings in his column.

Coaches’ Codes of Conduct: What Universities, Schools, Teams, and Leagues Must Do in the Wake of the Penn State, Olympic Swimming, and Poly Prep Country Day School Child Abuse Scandals

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton discusses what the institutions and people who oversee youth and school sports must do in order to avoid child sex abuse, and other types of abuse that can be related to sports, such as verbal abuse. Hamilton begins by noting that we need to clearly define what is abuse, whether sexual, verbal, or otherwise. In addition, she argues that youth athletic organizations need to institute hotlines for reporting abuse, and also to ensure backup support for young athletes if a hotline alone is not enough, as it may not be in some circumstances. In addition, Hamilton discusses the institution of penalties for adults who know of abuse and do nothing, and notes how sports culture can be changed for the better with the help of The Positive Coaching Alliance.

Salinas v. Texas in the U.S. Supreme Court: Does the Fifth Amendment Protect the Right to Remain Silent? Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns

In Part One of a two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on an upcoming Supreme Court case that raises the following question: Does the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of protection against compelled self-incrimination protect a suspect’s “right to remain silent” outside of the custodial setting? That is, does a suspect who has neither received any Miranda warnings nor is currently in custody have a right not to speak? In this series, Colb analyzes the question and suggests possible answers. (Part Two of this two-part series will appear on Justia on Wednesday, February 13th.)

Down the Rabbit Hole: A Review of Errol Morris’s A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald

Justia guest columnist and law professor at Touro Law Center in Central Islip, New York, Rodger Citron reviews Errol Morris’s book on one of the most infamous murders in American history, in which Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald was convicted of the 1970 killing of his wife and two daughters. MacDonald, however, has consistently maintained that not he, but four intruders, committed the murders, and has pointed to the stab wound he incurred, which punctured his lung, as evidence of his claim. MacDonald is still in prison, but should he be? Citron considers the evidence.

Dealing With Aaron Swartz in the Nixonian Tradition: Overzealous Overcharging Leads to a Tragic Result

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the Aaron Swartz case—in which the brilliant young computer programmer was, according to many commentators, including Dean himself, overzealously prosecuted—and eventually chose suicide over the likely lengthy prison sentence that he faced, based on his downloading for free numerous journal articles that otherwise would have cost money to access, and using MIT facilities to do so. Dean recalls instances where others have proved more reasonable, such as the case of a Vietnam War demonstrator with which Dean was familiar, and deems the Swartz case an instance of blatant prosecutorial overcharging. Dean also warns that there is nothing unusual about Swartz's case, in that prosecutorial overcharging is rife.

The Release of the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Records Relating to Clergy Child Sex Abuse: The Insights It Reveals, and Why the Justice System Deserves Great Credit Here

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on a recent development relating to the fight for justice for victims of child sex abuse: the release of the records of the Catholic Church's Los Angeles Archdiocese in one case, with many such more records to come, pursuant to a 2007 settlement. Hamilton argues that, in addition to the brave survivors who have come forward to report abuse, and the journalists who exposed the truth, our justice system deserves credit for bringing the perpetrators to justice. Hamilton also notes the key role of statute-of-limitations window legislation in ensuring that the victims' cases could be tried despite the expiration of the original statutes of limitations.

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