Analysis and Commentary on Criminal Law

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.

Football, Sexual Assault, and the Web: The End of the Institutional Cover-ups of Sexual Abuse and Assault

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the confluence of forces that have made the victories in the fight against child sex abuse possible. Among the key factors, Hamilton argues, are the end of the old boys’ network; survivors who are empowered by the justice system; and revelations that go public far more quickly than they could have prior to the Age of the Internet, when victims and critics of abusers have a strong, far-reaching voice and the ability to recruit allies and supporters. With all these developments, together, sparking public outrage, Hamilton notes that even previously untouchable football institutions can be made accountable—noting, for instance, the crimes toward a young woman in Steubenville, Ohio, by members of that town’s team.

The Ongoing Debate Over Physician-Assisted Suicide

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp comments on the controversial topic of physician-assisted suicide (“PAS”), which is legal in only three states: Washington, Oregon, and Montana. Kemp provides a history of PAS; explains the distinctions between PAS and other end-of-life decisions such as palliative care and the choice to withdraw life-sustaining treatments; and comments on the question whether PAS merits criminal liability.

The Year in Review: 2012 Marks the Highest Watermark Yet for Victims of Child Sex Abuse

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton looks back on this year’s important developments regarding justice for victims of child sex abuse. Among the events Hamilton chronicles are the conviction of prominent Satmar Hasidic school counselor Nechemya Weberman, and the Catholic Church and Penn State cases, which led to the convictions, respectively, of Msgr. Willam Lynn and Jerry Sandusky. Other developments, as Hamilton explains, have involved the Boy Scouts’ release of previously secret files, as well as the release of previously secret files pursuant to the settlement by the Catholic Church’s Los Angeles Archdiocese. Key priorities for the future, Hamilton notes, are increased legal reform in this area, and a greater focus on the problem of incest.

A Review of the Documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Which Reveals the Paradigm of Institution-based Child Sex Abuse

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton reviews a recent HBO Films documentary about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church, noting that the paradigm that the documentary reveals also applies to many other institutions where child sex abuse has occurred, including Penn State, the Boy Scouts, other religious groups, other schools, and many more. Mea Maxima Culpa is especially heart-wrenching, Hamilton explains, because the victims of sex abuse were deaf boys, and some of their families had never learned to sign—making them all the more vulnerable to the predation. The documentary, Hamilton contends, surely deserves an Oscar nod, especially as it captures the paradigm of institution-based abuse, covering the victims, the perpetrators, and the institution.

The Global Child Sex Abuse Scandals in Institutions Continue, With Australia Now Joining the Countries That Are Investigating: What Congress and the President Should Do Here in the U.S.

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton discusses the child-sex-abuse investigation in Australia and developments regarding child sex abuse here in the U.S. Hamilton argues that America’s response to evidence of child sex abuse in our institutions has been woefully deficient. While some local or state prosecutors have moved forward, Hamilton argues that what is needed, as well, is a response at the federal level. Hamilton suggests that Members of Congress are afraid to take on the relevant institutions, despite the terrible toll that child sex abuse takes on children and the monetary costs that are associated with that toll. Hamilton argues, however, that addressing child sex abuse is not only the right thing to do, but also ultimately in Members of Congress’ political interests. In particular, she urges Republicans to change their focus from “unborn children” to actual children who are suffering due to child sex abuse. Hamilton also urges Democrats in Congress and President Obama to investigate and act on this important issue, including by reforming the insurance industry's role.

I See London, I See France: Upskirting and the Law

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and Stanford law professor Lawrence Friedman comment on the law regarding the despicable practice of “upskirting.” As Grossman and Friedman explain, upskirting is the secret taking of photos or videos with a camera that is angled so as to look up a woman’s skirt. They begin by discussing expectations of privacy, and go on to consider the particular invasion of privacy that is perpetrated through upskirting. They then note that while one might assume that upskirting (and its counterpart, downblousing) in a public place would be illegal and penalized in every jurisdiction, in fact that is not the case. Grossman and Friedman explain the puzzling legal status of upskirting in many jurisdictions, and comment on why the current law in this area often defies our intuitions about privacy—though some recent state laws are now authorizing punishments for upskirters.

An Educated Electorate: Essential to a Robust Democracy

Justia guest columnist and Loyola Law School professor Paula Mitchell discusses the high costs of the death penalty in California and suggests that life in prison without the possibility of parole is a more expeditious alternative. Mitchell describes the different components contributing to the expense of having the death penalty, including direct appeals and habeas corpus petitions, finding that the total costs far exceed a system where life without the possibility of parole is the maximum sentence. Mitchell then explains the initiative that will appear on the ballot in California in November 2012—Proposition 34—which will give California voters an opportunity to reform the state’s penal system by replacing the costly death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Failure of Criminal HIV Transmission Laws

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp criticizes criminal HIV-transmission laws, arguing that the criminalization of HIV transmission succeeds only in marginalizing people with HIV; deterring sexually active persons from acting responsibly and getting tested; and in some instances, leading to violations of constitutional due process protections. Kemp notes that such laws have led to dramatic injustice, citing, as a case in point, the 25-year sentence that was imposed on a man after his one-time encounter involving protected sex. Though that particular sentence was ultimately commuted to five years of supervised probation, laws that allow strict punishments for consensual sexual contact still remain on the books. Rather than resort to invoking such laws, Kemp argues, states should focus their efforts on (1) seeing that people know their HIV status by getting tested; (2) seeing that people disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners; and (3) urging people to engage in safer behavior via publicly funded campaigns, using billboards or the like, to get the word out.

Why the Summer of 2012 Will Go Down in History as the Breakthrough Summer for Child-Sex-Abuse Victims

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton makes the case that Summer 2012 has marked a key moment in American history with respect to the country’s treatment of child sex abuse. She focuses not only on the recent convictions of Penn State’s notorious Jerry Sandusky, but also the child endangerment conviction of Monsignor Lynn of the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Noting the sea-change in our society with respect to trials about, and punishments for, child sex abuse, Hamilton reflects that we have come a very long way. Commenting on the problems with even the best of internal investigations, such as that which Louis Freed conducted for Penn State, Hamilton argues that internal investigations are no substitute for public trials. In addition, she applauds the state legislatures that are seeking to enact or expand mandatory child-sex-abuse reporting laws.

What the Freeh Report Does—and Does Not—Tell Us About Child Sexual Abuse at Penn State

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the recently released Freeh Report. Authored by former FBI Head Louis Freeh, the Report—commissioned by Penn State itself—summarizes the result of Freeh’s investigation into Penn State’s child sex abuse scandal, and its failure to protect children from serial child sexual predator Jerry Sandusky. As Hamilton notes, the Report pins blame on Penn State former President Graham Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and legendary (and now deceased) football coach Joe Paterno. Hamilton discusses the Freeh Report’s recommendations, and tells readers what may be ahead, in terms of possible criminal and civil trials, in the quest for accountability for Penn State’s, as well as Sandusky’s, wrongs.

Why The D.C. Court of Appeals Rejected the Claim that Performing a Rap Constituted Making a Criminal Threat

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals—D.C.’s highest court—regarding the First Amendment and the “true threats” doctrine, which holds that true threats are not First Amendment-protected. Hilden notes that the case was unusual as it involved not just a statement, but a rap. After covering three key U.S. Supreme Court cases regarding the “true threats” doctrine, Hilden goes on to consider why the court ruled in favor of the speaker, and to agree with the court’s result. She also emphasizes the importance of context in the decision whether a given comment counts as a true threat or First-Amendment-protected speech, and notes a number of factors that might cut for or against a “true threat” finding in particular cases.

Survivors of Sexual Abuse Prevail in Pennsylvania: The Lynn and Sandusky Cases Show Us What Justice Looks Like

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton discusses the guilty verdicts that juries recently reached in the cases of Jerry Sandusky and Monsignor William Lynn. The verdicts were both handed down this past Friday, June 22. Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child abuse, in connection with his alleged sexual abuse of numerous young boys. Lynn was convicted of a count of child endangerment arising from his alleged allowing another priest, who had committed child sexual abuse, to continue to have access to children. Hamilton also covers progress in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey legislatures regarding extending those states’ statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, in order to enable survivors to receive justice.

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