Criminal Justice

  • 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.

  • September 1, 2017
    Guest Post

    by James Tierney, Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School

    *This piece was originally posted on

    On Tuesday, the citizens of Chicago woke up to discover that their own Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, had sued the City of Chicago and its Police Department and is now asking a federal judge to force the City and other stakeholders to negotiate a consent agreement that would bring about long overdue police reform. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports the lawsuit and stood with the Attorney General at her press conference. This odd coupling is the result of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions backing away from an agreement in principle that followed a scathing U.S. DOJ report in January 2017 detailing civil rights violations by the Chicago police. Indeed, the U.S. DOJ initiated its pattern and practice investigation and issued its findings at the urging of General Madigan.

  • August 30, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Thomas Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Departmentpolice lights

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed the 63rd Biennial Conference of the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) on Monday, August 28 in Nashville, Tennessee. In his remarks, he observed that the police are “fighting a multi-front battle” that is characterized by “an increase in violent crime, a rise in vicious gangs, an opioid epidemic, (and) threats from terrorism.” This set the stage for his depiction of law enforcement as the “thin blue line,” that is the only thing standing between “sanctity and lawlessness.” It was within this context that Sessions cited a rollback of former President Obama’s January 2015 Executive Order 13688, which established a Law Enforcement Equipment Working Group, a group charged with establishing guidelines and processes for law enforcement agencies’ acquisition of surplus military equipment from the federal government. In an executive order to be signed later in the day, the police would once again have unfettered access to surplus military equipment and be free to use federal funds to purchase military-grade weapons, ammunition, vehicles, aircraft, and other military equipment.