Criminal Justice

  • September 20, 2017

    by Christopher Wright Durocher, Director of Policy Development and Programming, American Constitution Society

    On Wednesday morning, the American Constitution Society and the National Bar Association presented “The Power to Promote Progress: Opportunities and Limits to Prosecutors Seeking Reform,” featuring a panel of current and former state and federal prosecutors discussing what it means to be a reform-minded prosecutor.

    In the past few years—often in response to incumbent chief prosecutors’ failure to reflect the values and needs of their constituencies—cities and counties across the country have elected self-described “progressive prosecutors.” Recently elected prosecutors like Kimberly Foxx in Chicago, Kim Gardner in St. Louis (Missouri), Mark Gonzalez in Corpus Christi, Kim Ogg in Harris County and Aramis Ayala in Orlando, join the ranks of other reform-minded prosecutors like acting-DA Eric Gonzalez in Brooklyn, Cyrus Vance in Manhattan, Pete Holmes in Seattle, and James Stewart in Shreveport. In addition to elected leadership, reform-minded attorneys are also serving as line prosecutors in federal and state prosecutor offices across the country.

  • September 20, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Kim Gardner, Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis

    I am disappointed with the court’s finding in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. As the Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis, I remain committed to holding people accountable for violating the law, regardless of their race, gender, occupation, or station in life. My job is to ensure a fair and transparent process and to vigorously present the evidence in the best manner possible, and my team did exactly that.  

    While officer-involved shooting cases are extremely difficult to prevail in court, I believe we offered sufficient evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Jason Stockley intended to kill Mr. Smith. However, in this case it was the judge’s duty to evaluate the evidence and deliver his findings. That’s how our system works.

  • September 18, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Lauren Sudeall Lucas, Associate Professor, Georgia State University College of Law

    In imposing the most severe of sentences—the death penalty—our legal system expects and requires jurors to be fair and impartial.That requires them to refrain from making decisions based on race. What then would we make of a capital juror who questions whether black people “have souls” and suggested that a black defendant wasn’t “in the ‘good’ black folks category” but instead told an attorney in a sworn affidavit that the defendant was a “ni**er”? Allowing that juror to decide whether a black defendant should be sentenced to death would directly contradict the principles on which our legal system is based, and yet that is precisely what happened in the case of Keith Tharpe, who is scheduled for execution in Georgia on September 26.

  • September 18, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Christina Beeler, ACS Student Board member

    President Donald Trump seemingly endorses police brutality of suspects. He said, “like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody – don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?” Although defenders insisted his remarks were made in jest, police departments all over the country rushed to condemn Trump’s remarks.

    Trump’s words brought up an old debate: should the protections of the Constitution extend only to those we deem worthy of empathy or is the Constitution there to protect even those who we may find abhorrent?

  • September 13, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Bidish Sarma

    *Sarma is an attorney who represents individuals sentenced to death and other harsh punishments including life without parole. He previously worked as a clinical teaching fellow at the Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic and staff attorney and Deputy Director of the Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans.

    The panoply of laws that govern the lives of individuals convicted of sex crimes after they have served their sentences is overwhelming. As this web of civil regulation has “grown into a byzantine code governing in minute details” how these people must live day-to-day, questions about these laws’ legitimacy and constitutionality are being litigated around the country. Several courts have struck down onerous and overbroad registration requirements that apply to offenders living in the community. Yet, questions persist, particularly where the government actually deprives individuals of their physical liberty. Civil commitment schemes specifically designed for sex offenders have been in vogue for more than two decades now. The U.S. Supreme Court approved some of these schemes as they took root, but it insisted that courts could bring constitutional scrutiny to bear if it turned out these schemes were punitive. The real test of that promise has now arrived.