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Category: Criminal Law

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“The German Prosecution Service: Guardians of the Law?”

I want to note the publication of my colleague Shawn Boyne’s fascinating new book on prosecutorial discretion in Germany.  Here is the Abstract:

Acclaimed as the “the most objective prosecutors in the world”, the German prosecution service has long attracted the attention in the past of comparative law scholars. At first glance, the institutional position and statutory mandate of German prosecutors indicate that that reputation is well-deserved. Unfortunately, the introduction of charge-bargaining has opened the door to criticism that German prosecutors have abandoned their role of objective decision-makers. Using interview data collected from interviews with German prosecutors themselves as well as quantitative data, the book uses the actual voices of German prosecutors to show how real-world constraints, rather than changes in the law, undermine the ability of German prosecutors to objectively seek the truth. The book will take readers behind closed doors where prosecutors discuss case decisions and unveil the realities of practice. As a result, it will critically revise previous studies of German prosecution practices and offer readers a well-researched ethnographic analysis of actual German decision-making practices and the culture of the prosecution service. Unlike prosecutors in America’s adversarial system, whom critics claim are driven by a “conviction-mentality” and gamesmanship, German prosecutors are institutionally positioned to function as (at least semi-)judicial officials dedicated to finding a case’s objective truth. The book argues that, organizational incentives and norms, rather than the boundaries of the law determinately shapes how prosecutors investigate and prosecute crime in Germany. 

American Arms Race

One has to wonder what the upshot of this story is for those who promote more widespread ownership of guns:

As a male moviegoer texted, the man seated behind him objected, and asked the texter to put his phone away. . . . Voices were raised. Popcorn was thrown. And then came something unimaginable — except maybe in a movie. A gun shot. [The texter] was fatally wounded. His wife was hit, too, through the hand as she raised her hand in front of her husband as the shooter drew a handgun.

Is the idea behind, say, universal carry (or concealed-carry) that someone else in the theater could have shot the gun out of the killer’s hand before he shot the texter? That in a world of universal gun ownership, nobody would think to pull a gun on someone else in a trivial situation like this because the other person’s wife would shoot back? I recall reading a science fiction novel years ago about a world where everyone was exceedingly polite, because they knew everyone else was packing lethal force. That may be about the most positive outcome I can imagine from the emerging American arms race.

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Gay Polygamy in Utah!

mUX_twETB9XdG_75sgCSB3ABy now you’ve heard the news. A federal judge in Utah just ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. This follow on last week’s ruling, from a different judge, that portions of Utah’s polygamy statute were also unconstitutional.

What does it mean? Obviously, it means the advent of gay polygamy!! It won’t stop until everyone is married to everyone else, in one giant gay-polygamous-mega-wedding. Let the festivities begin!

Okay, maybe not. Let’s go through the rulings, piece by piece, to see what they say, and what their effects may be. Read More

A Strange New Front in the Medicalization of Penality

The headline says it all: “Cops Subject Man To Rectal Searches, Enemas And A Colonoscopy In Futile Effort To Find Drugs They Swear He Was Hiding.” We can at least hope that Rochin has some applicability to colonoscopies.

But the Supreme Court has “upheld invasive strip searches even for those charged with the most minor crimes—–including unpaid traffic fines.” Perhaps the drug war will lead to new job opportunities for medical professionals willing to ensure that various police or military interventions don’t cross the line into Rochin territory.

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Squaring Revenge Porn Criminal Statutes with First Amendment Protections

Yesterday, the New York Times editorial board endorsed the efforts of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative to criminalize revenge porn. As the editorial board urged, states should follow the lead of New Jersey in crafting narrow statutes that prohibit the publication of nonconsensual pornography. Such efforts are indispensable for victims whose lives are upended by images they shared or permitted to be taken on the understanding that they would remain confidential. No one should be able to turn others into objects of pornography without their consent. Doing so ought to be a criminal act.

Professor Mary Anne Franks has been at the forefront of legislative efforts in New York, Wisconsin, and Maryland. Soon, I will be blogging about the work Franks and I have done with Maryland legislators. Now, I would like to shift our attention to the First Amendment. As free speech scholar Eugene Volokh has argued elsewhere, non-consensual pornography can be criminalized without transgressing First Amendment guarantees. Let me explain why from the vantage point of my book Hate 3.0 (forthcoming Harvard University Press) and an essay Franks and I are writing for the Wake Forest Law Review. Read More

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Recommended Reading: Avlana Eisenberg’s Expressive Enforcement

Avlana Eisenberg recently posted on SSRN her article “Expressive Enforcement” forthcoming in the UCLA Law Review. The piece makes an important contribution to the literature on hate crimes laws and enriches the literature on expressive theories of law. Eisenberg’s study of hate crimes charging decisions (based on a set of interviews with prosecutors in 23 states) finds some surprising patterns. While the prosecutors Eisenberg spoke to often don’t bother with hate crimes charges in archetypal hate crimes cases (because they already can get a serious conviction for a violent crime, and it’s not worth the difficulty of proving bias motives), many do charge hate crimes in certain kinds of cases that don’t really seem “hate”-related at all–for instance, frauds that target senior citizens. Such crimes may well involve “vulnerable victims,” but they do not involve the kind of group-based animus that hate crimes laws are generally intended to condemn. (I blogged about such prosecutions here). Eisenberg uses this to illustrate a broader point: when we talk about the “expressive message of a law,” we usually are thinking about the message legislators intended to express when they passed the law, or at least some message that is encapsulated, even if unintentionally, by the legislation itself. But the way the law plays out on the ground may be very different, and that affects the way the expressive message is actually heard by communities (and, in this case, risks devaluing it, by turning the threat of hate crimes prosecution into just another instrumental tool in prosecutors’ toolboxes).

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Stanford Law Review Online: Privacy and Big Data

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published a Symposium of articles entitled Privacy and Big Data.

Although the solutions to many modern economic and societal challenges may be found in better understanding data, the dramatic increase in the amount and variety of data collection poses serious concerns about infringements on privacy. In our 2013 Symposium Issue, experts weigh in on these important questions at the intersection of big data and privacy.

Read the full articles, Privacy and Big Data at the Stanford Law Review Online.

 

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Putin Gays on the Agenda

When I hear about American supporters the new Russian homophobic legislation (or, for that matter, about President Putin and his aides who initiated such crazy legislation, which prohibits, among other things, even expressing tolerance towards LGBTs), I can’t help but recall a New York Time article from last year titled Homophobic? Maybe You’re Gay, which claimed that there is “empirical evidence of a connection between homophobia and suppressed same-sex desire.”