Criminal Justice

  • December 1, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law.

    The failure to indict Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown fits an all too familiar pattern of police officers not being held accountable. The decision to not indict in Ferguson follows the acquittal a year ago of George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, for the killing of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. Even more recently this year, two Fullerton, California police officers were found not guilty of all charges in the killing of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Medical records show that bones in his face were broken and he choked on his own blood; the compression of his thorax by the police made it impossible for Thomas to breath and deprived his brain of oxygen.

    Nor is this a new phenomena.  Even with a videotape of a savage bearing, a state court jury in 1992 acquitted the four officers who beat Rodney King and a subsequent federal court jury acquitted two of them. The riots in Los Angeles, after the state court acquittals, like the unrest last week in Ferguson, reflected the enormous anger and frustration with the inability to hold police accountable.

  • November 25, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Krishnadev Calamur of NPR reports on the aftermath of the Ferguson Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson. Kimberly Kindy of The Washington Post discusses how juries tend to give police the benefit of the doubt in such cases.

    In The New York Times, Adam Liptak considers whether there is a numerical tipping point at which the Court will feel prepared to invalidate state laws and what it could mean for the marriage equality fight.

    In Slate, Mark Joseph Stern writes about how a Supreme Court ruling that allowed religious holiday displays has meant that the government must also support the Satanic Temple and other controversial religious groups.

    E.J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post examines President Obama’s immigration announcement and what it says about the plans of the president’s political opponents.

    In The New Yorker, Jill Lepore writes about the theft of Justice Felix Frankfurter’s papers from the Library of Congress and the challenges to investigating the history of the Court.

  • November 24, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Brandon L. Garrett, Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law. Since the 2011 publication of Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, Professor Garrett has written widely on issues of criminal procedure, scientific evidence, corporate crime, and the law. This fall, Harvard University Press published his new book, Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations.

    “He’s a grown man today, he was just a boy back then,” said Ricky Jackson upon his release from prison last week.  “I don’t hate him.” Jackson spent 39 years behind bars, more than any other person exonerated in the U.S., according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Jackson was speaking of the 12 year-old who had identified him and two others as murderers, and whose testimony in 1975 sent him to Ohio’s death row. Last week, the eyewitness admitted his testimony was “all lies.” There was no other evidence in this case: no forensic evidence, physical evidence, or other witnesses.  The exoneration highlights just how malleable eyewitness testimony can be, and how important it is to get it right. 

    This Fall, the National Academy of Sciences published an important report “Identifying the Culprit: Assessing Eyewitness Identification.” I was a member of the committee that produced the report. The report evaluates decades of research on eyewitness memory and it details scientific procedures that can help to prevent error. 

  • November 21, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Thomas NolanAssociate Professor of Criminology & Director of Graduate Programs in Criminology, Merrimack College; former Senior Policy Advisor at the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties; former lieutenant, Boston Police Department

    Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced an initiative sponsored by the Department of Justice through the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office of Community Oriented Police Services that provides guidance and support for law enforcement agencies in their response to protesters who are engaging in constitutionally protected activities, particularly those activities protected by the First Amendment such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press. The provision of this guidance appears to coincide with the expected announcement of the findings of a grand jury hearing evidence in the case of the death of Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014.

    In the aftermath of the shooting death of Brown, the world watched as protesters took to the streets in Ferguson and were met with a hyper-exaggerated, highly militarized response from the police in Ferguson that unilaterally trounced the First Amendment rights of the protesters and unequivocally suspended the provisions of the United States Constitution that guarantee the protections of free speech, free assembly, and a free press.  The world saw law enforcement officers engage in a shameless and hysterical display of unrestrained force against a relatively small group of largely peaceful protesters using sound cannons (designed for use in wars by the military), tear gas (chemical weapons banned by the Geneva Conventions for use during war), rubber bullets (potentially lethal), smoke bombs and grenades, stun grenades (potentially lethal), wood bullet projectiles, pepper pellet rounds (of the type that killed student Victoria Snelgrove in Boston in 2004), and bean bag rounds (also potentially lethal).

  • November 20, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Boer Deng and Dahlia Lithwick report in Slate on the upcoming Texas execution of a profoundly mentally ill man.

    In The Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel provides a hopeful vision of criminal justice system reform.

    In The New York TimesMichael D. Shear previews President Obama's upcoming announcment on his executive action on immigration. 

    Ian Millhiser argues at Think Progress that the Supreme Court has previously said that President Obama has the necessary power to issue his immigration order.

    At Vox, Sarah Kliff profiles Michael Cannon, the ardent Obamacare opponent who has led the new legal attack on the law. 

    Mychal Denzel Smith writes for The Nation that a failure to indict Darren Wilson will not stop the movement against police violence in the United States.