Criminal Justice

  • December 2, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In The New York Times, Mark Landler reports on President Obama’s announcement of new standards for police gear and body cameras for police officers. ACS hosted a panel on police militarization in November that featured discussion of more significant reforms to police policy that legislators could undertake.

    Noah Feldman writes in Bloomberg View about the Elonis case and asserts that “Anthony Elonis doesn’t deserve sympathy or admiration – but he does deserve for the government to prove that he meant to threaten others before he goes to jail.”

    In The Washington Post, Paul Waldman argues that the Supreme Court should be the biggest issue of the 2016 campaign.

    Caitlin Borgmann writes in the Los Angeles Times that the Supreme Court should take up a case about laws regulating abortion clinics in order to send a message to state legislatures that pass “disingenuous laws designed to shut down clinics.”

    Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz report in The New York Times that New York City will expand public health services throughout its criminal justice system.

  • December 2, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Nancy Leong, Associate Professor, University of Denver Sturm College of Law. Follow her on Twitter @NancyLeong.

    Scott Panetti is scheduled for execution in Texas tomorrow, Wednesday, December 3.

    Mr. Panetti has suffered from schizophrenia and other mental illness for over thirty years. He first exhibited signs of a psychotic disorder as a teenager. Between 1978 and 1992, he was hospitalized for mental illness fifteen times. He developed a delusion that he was engaged in spiritual warfare with Satan. He tried to exorcize his home by burying furniture in the backyard because, he claimed, the devil was in it.

    In 1992, Mr. Panetti went off his medication, shaved his head, and dressed in camouflage fatigues. He went to his in-laws house and murdered his mother and father-in-law in front of his wife and daughter. After turning himself in, Mr. Panetti blamed the crime on “Sarge,” one of his recurring hallucinations. He explained that God had ensured that his victims had not suffered.

    A trial judge allowed Mr. Panetti to represent himself at the subsequent trial and sentencing, even disregarding the concerns of the prosecutor.  Predictably, the proceedings were, in the words of Mr. Panetti’s stand-by attorney, “truly a judicial farce.” Mr. Panetti wore a cowboy costume and a purple bandana to court. He attempted to subpoena John F. Kennedy, the Pope, Jesus Christ, and his own alter ego, “Sarge,” among 200 others. His statements were rambling and incoherent. He fell asleep during trial. While describing the shooting, he assumed the personality of “Sarge” and narrated the events in the third person. He pointed an imaginary rifle at jurors, visibly frightening them. And he rejected a plea bargain that could have saved his life.

  • 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.