Site Meter

Category: Criminal Law

24

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?

2

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

1

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

2

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.

23

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

0

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.

9

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.

0

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.

18

More Thoughts on the Dangerous Fragility of Men

First, I want to thank my hosts here at Concurring Opinions for asking me to stay on for another month. One of the things this extended invitation allows me to do is to respond at some length to issues raised in the comments on my last post, “The Dangerous Fragility of Men.” In that post, I highlighted a troubling phenomenon: men with privilege and power characterizing their insecurities and lack of self-control as vulnerability, and using that alleged vulnerability as an excuse or justification for murder, rape, and discrimination (and I would add, though I didn’t discuss it in the post, harassment and intimidation). To demonstrate this phenomenon, I offered a sample of quotations from recent, high-profile cases including Oscar Pistorius‘ shooting of his girlfriend and the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Texas. The post suggested that our society should make a greater effort both to marginalize this cowardice and become more attentive to actual vulnerability. In this post, I’d like to elaborate on these ideas and address some of the objections raised in the responses to my post.

I first want to spend a bit more time on the question of perceived v. actual vulnerability. I noted in my original post that one of the perplexing aspects of this form of male vulnerability is that it seems to increase, rather than decrease, with power or privilege. Frequently, the men using weakness as an excuse or justification (or others offering such explanations on their behalf) for harm are people who are objectively less vulnerable than most. They include famous athletes, soldiers, and wealthy businessmen. I think it is worth spelling this out more explicitly: there is a tendency on the part of privileged individuals to overstate their vulnerability. This tendency towards exaggerated sensitivity is important because it stunts what might otherwise be a meaningful process of self-examination. Feeling vulnerable is not the same thing as being vulnerable, and even actual vulnerability might need to yield before (or at least take into consideration) the greater vulnerability of other people.

We are all vulnerable in certain ways. Figuring out the what and why of our vulnerabilities is an important part of psychological awareness and well-being. What is of most interest to me here, however, is determining the conditions under which it is permissible for us to impose our vulnerabilities on other people, especially when that imposition takes the form of violence or discrimination. In determining those conditions, I would suggest we should ask ourselves at least three questions. One, we should question whether our vulnerability is objectively reasonable. Vulnerability that results from personal insecurity or prejudice is not vulnerability that we may rightfully impose on others. It is our own responsibility to correct vulnerabilities of our own creation. Second, we should question the magnitude of our vulnerability, especially when put in perspective with the vulnerabilities of others. Third, even if our vulnerability is both reasonable and of serious magnitude, we should question whether we are imposing it on appropriate parties in a just and proportional way. Read More