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Category: Criminal Law

Badge = Deference & Submission

We know that, in theory, citizens have some rights vis-a-vis police. But in practice, does it make sense to simply submit to any person waving a badge? Reason magazine features a story where that seems to be the lesson:

A group of state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents clad in plainclothes approached [Daly], suspecting the blue carton of LaCroix sparkling water to be a 12-pack of beer. Police say one of the agents jumped on the hood of her car. She says one drew a gun. Unsure of who they were, Daly tried to flee the darkened parking lot. “They were showing unidentifiable badges after they approached us, but we became frightened, as they were not in anything close to a uniform,” she recalled Thursday in a written account of the April 11 incident. . . . That led to Daly spending a night and an afternoon in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.

This story also suggests a wider range of opportunities for abuse of the discretion granted to officers.

10

Sherlock and the Law

sherlockLike many, I’ve been watching the BBC’s Sherlock, a modern re-telling of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective series. I’m only mostly finished the first series, but thus far it has been striking how little role law (and its constraints) play in the narrative.  Basically, although Sherlock is a “consulting detective” (and under US rules, certainly an agent of the State), he routinely behaves in unlawful ways.  He often breaks into dwellings (and cellphones, and cars) to get information; he is resistant to writing up his methods (and consequently, a defense attorney would not be able to effectively examine them); he browbeats suspects and witnesses; etc.  In the States, quite obviously, all of the confessions produced by his methods would be thrown out as poisoned fruit.

There’s nothing earth-shaking here – and it’s not the only time that law is devalued by storytellers – but I wondered whether and to what extent a series based primarily in the UK can avoid barnacled procedural discussions in a way that a series based in the US obviously can not.  That would then suggest that Elementary, a CBS show that apparently apes Sherlock in many ways, would spend more time talking about law (and the rules of criminal procedure) than Sherlock does. I haven’t seen the former show, so I’d love to be disabused of my fear that Elementary’s Sherlock spends most of his time filling out paperwork and discoursing on the complicated rules of electronic surveillance.

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Suicide and Legal Liability

A recent study indicates that more Americans committed suicide last year than were killed in car accidents.  This could be good news for auto safety, but it may also be bad news about the suicide rate.  This raises an interesting question–should the law do anything directly to discourage suicide?

At common law, suicide was a crime.  The penalties ranged from prison for attempted suicide that failed, being barred from burial in a cemetery, or escheat of the suicidal estate.  These sanctions were abolished in the twentieth century (at least in Anglo-American law).  A libertarian argument can be made that suicide should not be a crime because we have a right to end our life. (Assisted suicide presents more problems.)  Or you might say that suicide is a mental health issue and hence should not be punished at all.  Or you could say that punishing suicide only hurts the victim’s surviving family members.

Still, I wonder if the current hands-off posture is a little too sanguine.  Maybe there are some people who could be discouraged from suicide by legal consequences.  Complete escheat of the victim’s estate to the state is rather harsh, but what about partial escheat?  In effect, what if we said that you will pay a higher estate tax if you commit suicide?  Would that be so wrong?  Not all problems have a legal solution, but is this one of them?

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LSA Retro-Recap Days 2-3: Leisure, Law & Econ, and Liberalism

Day 2 of the conference saw a spirited panel (featuring Scott Shaprio, Ken Ehrenberg, Michael Guidice, and Brian Tamanaha) about the (ir)reconcilability of legal anthropology and sociolegal studies with analytic jurisprudence. Much of the discussion (not to mention the spirit) here concerned the appropriate definition of a “concept.” If that kind of question does not induce somnolence for you, then read on! Read More

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LSA Retro-Recap Day 1: Two Papers on Punishment Theory and Practice

I saw a lot of interesting presentations and met many interesting folks on Day 1. I note a spirited (and sparsely attended) panel on Corey Brettschneider’s When the State Speaks, What Should it Say? that, for some inexplicable reason, was held 8:15 am.

Here are two projects to keep an eye on. Both have extremely high VOSFOTWOAS. Read More

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Franks on “How to Feel Like a Woman, or Why Punishment Is a Drag”

Professor Mary Anne Franks and fantastic guest blogger makes an important contribution with her latest work “How to Feel Like a Woman, or Why Punishment Is A Drag” (forthcoming UCLA Law Review). Professor Franks focuses on the sexual abuse of men in prison to help us better understand sexual and domestic abuse more generally. As Franks writes:

If a man in prison claims he was made “to feel like a woman,” this is commonly understood to mean that was degraded, dehumanized, and sexualized. This association of femininity with punishment has significant implications for the way our society understands not only the sexual abuse of men in prison, but sexual abuse generally. These important implications are usually overlooked, however, because law and society typically regard prison feminization as a problem of gender transposition: that is, as a problem of men being treated like women. This Article argues that feminization is punitive for both men and women: it is as unnatural and as wrong for women to be degraded, dehumanized, and sexualized under coercive circumstances as it is for men to be. This Article suggests that examining the sexual abuse of men in prisons can help disrupt the persistent and uncritical linking of feminization and women. By reading the sexualized abuse of men in prison as a form of forced drag, this Article hopes to expose the artificiality and violence of compelled feminization. The proper approach to assessing forced feminization is to focus on its oppressive structure, not on the gender of its victims. When we do so, we can see what all victims along the spectrum of sexual and domestic abuse have in common, and to form our social and legal responses accordingly. The phenomenon of male sexual abuse in prison thus provides a potentially illuminating opportunity to think about the structure and consequences of sexual abuse in general. This is significant not least because social and legal responses to sexual abuse outside of the prison setting – where sexual abuse is overwhelmingly experienced by women and committed by men – are constrained by pernicious gender stereotypes and a massive failure of empathy. Understanding the phenomenon of male prison sexual abuse is thus essential not only for addressing a specific problem in carceral institutions, but forces law and society to consider sexual abuse in a productively counter-intuitive way.

Also, as my co-blogger Kaimi notes in our Asides, there is a write up of Prof. Franks in Ocean Drive that captures the force of her intelligence and personal strength.

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Computer Crime Law Goes to the Casino

Wired’s Kevin Poulsen has a great story whose title tells it all: Use a Software Bug to Win Video Poker? That’s a Federal Hacking Case. Two alleged video-poker cheats, John Kane and Andre Nestor, are being prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030. Theirs is a hard case, and it is hard in a way that illustrates why all CFAA cases are hard.

Read More

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Cynthia Lee on Trayvon Martin, Self-Defense, Implicit Bias, and Making Race Salient

I attended a fantastic colloquium talk yesterday at which Cynthia Lee (GW) presented on her forthcoming article about the Trayvon Martin case. (The TJSL colloquium committee, including my colleagues Alex Kreit and Meera Deo, have done a fantastic job of bringing speakers to campus.) Professor Lee drew on her own prior work as well as groundbreaking new research, and used the Martin case as a lens:

This Article uses the Trayvon Martin shooting to examine the operation of implicit racial bias in cases involving claims of self-defense. Recent research on race salience by Samuel Sommers and Phoebe Ellsworth suggests that individuals are more likely to overcome their implicit biases if race is made salient than if race is simply a background factor, known but not highlighted. Sommers and Ellsworth demonstrate through empirical research that making race salient, or calling attention to the relevance of race in a given situation, encourages individuals to suppress what would otherwise be automatic stereotypic congruent responses in favor of acting in a more egalitarian manner. Building on these insights, Professor Lee suggests that in the run of the mill case, when an individual claims he shot a young Black male in self-defense, the police, the prosecutor, the judge, and the jury are likely to find reasonable the individual’s claim that he felt he was being threatened by the young Black male unless mechanisms are in place to make the operation of racial stereotypes in the creation of fear salient. In the Trayvon Martin case, race was made salient by the huge public outcry over the Sanford Police Department’s failure to arrest Zimmerman and extensive media coverage. Most criminal cases, however, do not receive the kind of media attention received by the Trayvon Martin case. In most interracial criminal cases, race is a background factor but generally is not something either party tries to highlight. Professor Lee concludes with some suggestions as to how prosecutors and defense attorneys concerned about the operation of implicit racial bias can make race salient in the criminal courtroom.

Professor Lee’s previous scholarship has explored in some detail the ways in which racial biases can infect verdicts, especially in areas like self-defense where subjective intent can be important. Her article Race and Self-Defense is foundational, and I assign it every year in my Critical Race Theory class (along with other important work in this area, like Paul Butler‘s writings on jury nullification and on mass incarceration). It was a delight to hear Professor Lee present about her new work, and I’ll absolutely be using this as I teach in the fall. And Professor’s Lee’s talk illustrated one silver lining to the Trayvon Martin case: The intense media scrutiny focused public attention on possible racial biases, and this created a public awareness which may ultimately lead to a more just criminal justice system.

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Federalism and Capital Punishment

I want to add one aside to the capture of the suspect in Boston last night.  It is possible that he will be charged with federal crimes related to terrorism.  If so, then he could be eligible for the death penalty.  Massachusetts, on the other hand, does not have the death penalty for state crimes.

I’ve posted before about the federalism issue presented by this sort of situation.  Of course the U.S. Attorney can seek the death penalty, but is that the right thing to do when the state where the prosecution will occur opposes the death penalty?  Will a Massachusetts jury even apply the death penalty?  Long way to go before those decisions get made, of course, but it’s worth thinking about.

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Autonomous Vehicles: Unintended Upsides and Changes

Some day we might do away with pretext traffic stops, because some day autonomous vehicles will be common. At ReInventlaw Silicon Valley, David Estrada from GoogleX, made the pitch for laws to allow autonomous vehicles a bright future. He went to the core reasons such fuel sustainability and faster commutes. He also used the tear jerking commercial that showed the true benefits of enabling those who cannot drive to drive. I have heard that before. But I think David also said that the cars are required to obey all traffic laws.
If so, that has some interesting implications.

I think that once autonomous vehicles are on the road in large numbers, the police will not be able to claim that some minor traffic violation required pulling someone over and then searching the car. If a stop is made, like the Tesla testing arguments, the car will have rich data to verify that the car was obeying laws.

These vehicles should also alter current government income streams. These shifts are not often obvious to start but hit home quickly. For example, when cell phones appeared, colleges lost their income from high rates for a phone in a dorm room. That turned out out to be a decent revenue stream. If autonomous vehicles obey traffic laws, income from traffic violations should go down. Cities, counties, and states will have to find new ways to make up that revenue stream. Insurance companies should have much lower income as well.

I love to drive. I will probably not like giving up that experience. Nonetheless, reduced traffic accidents, fewer drunk drivers, more mobility for the elderly and the young (imagine a car that handled shuttling kids from soccer, ballet, music, etc., picking you up, dropping you home, and then gathering the kids while you cooked a meal (yes, should I have kids, I hope to cook for them). The time efficiency is great. Plus one might subscribe to a car service so that the $10,000-$40,000 car is not spending its time in disuse most of the day. Add to all that a world where law enforcement is better used and insurance is less needed, and I may have to give in to a world where driving myself is a luxury.