Archive | Criminal Procedure

“The designation ‘That innocent man’ would also be acceptable.”

A Tennessee prosecutor in the case of State v. Powell apparently moved to preclude the defense from referring to his side as “the government.” The defense lawyer had an entertaining response. You can get the whole motion here, but I’ve reproduced most of it below:


The government has moved to ban the word “government.” The State of Tennessee offers precisely zero legal authority for its rather nitpicky position, and the defense can find none. The Plaintiff has failed to carry its burden on this motion. Moreover, the Plaintiff’s proposed ban on speech would violate the First Amendment. The motion should be denied.

Should this Court disagree, and feel inclined to let the parties basically pick their own designations and ban words, then the defense has a few additional suggestions for amending the speech code. First, the Defendant no longer wants to be called “the Defendant.” This rather archaic term of art, obviously has a fairly negative connotation. It unfairly demeans, and dehumanizes Mr. D.P. The word “defendant” should be banned. At trial, Mr. P. hereby demands to be addressed only by his full name, preceded by the title “Mister.”

Alternatively, he may be called simply “the Citizen Accused.” This latter title sounds more respectable than the criminal “Defendant.” The designation “That innocent man” would also be acceptable.

Moreover, defense counsel does not wish to be referred to as a “lawyer,” or a “defense
attorney.” Those terms are substantially more prejudicial than probative. See Tenn. R. Evid. 403. Rather, counsel for the Citizen Accused should be referred to primarily as the “Defender of the Innocent.” This title seems particularly appropriate, because every Citizen Accused is presumed innocent.

Alternatively, counsel would also accept the designation “Guardian of the Realm.”


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Possible Federal Prosecution of George Zimmerman, and the “Dual Sovereignty” Exception to the Double Jeopardy Clause

The recent talk about a possible federal prosecution of George Zimmerman reminds me that my colleague Stuart Banner recently filed a petition for certiorari challenging the “dual sovereignty” exception to the Double Jeopardy Clause. The case is Roach v. Missouri, and Stuart’s historical argument strikes me as quite powerful, though I should stress that I’m not an expert on the subject. (Orin also blogged about this petition a month ago.) Here’s the Introduction (paragraph breaks added):

At the time of the Founding, the common law protected criminal defendants from all successive prosecutions for a single offense, even by different sovereigns. The Framers intended to preserve this fundamental common law protection when they ratified the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause.

In a series of decisions adopting the so-called dual sovereignty doctrine, which permits separate state and federal prosecutions for the same offense, the Court strayed from the Double Jeopardy Clause’s original meaning and reduced the protection it affords. In the decades since those decisions were handed down, the constitutional and practical underpinnings of the doctrine have eroded. The Double Jeopardy Clause, like many other fundamental criminal procedure rights, is now applicable to the states. And the exposure of criminal defendants to serial state and federal prosecutions has grown dramatically with the expansion of federal criminal jurisdiction.

This petition asks the Court to restore the original scope of the Double Jeopardy Clause and abrogate the dual sovereignty doctrine.

For more on the historical argument that the Double Jeopardy Clause was originally understood as “barr[ing] successive prosecutions, even by different sovereigns” (such as a state and the federal government, or two states, or even a foreign country and a state or federal government), see the petition, which is quite readable. [...]

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The Six-Person Jury in the Zimmerman Case

There’s a six-person jury in the Zimmerman case — why six rather than twelve?

The Supreme Court has held, in Williams v. Florida (1970), that the right to trial by jury doesn’t require the traditional jury of twelve people; six suffices. (Ballew v. Georgia (1978) held that juries of five or fewer are unconstitutional.)

Nonetheless, while many states allow six-person juries in misdemeanor cases, very few allow them for very serious felonies, such as murder, for which Zimmerman is being tried. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, State Court Organization 2004, tbl. 42 (supplemented by this statute), only Connecticut and Florida provide for a six-person jury for very serious but noncapital felonies, and only Florida provides for a six-person jury when the offenses is punishable by life imprisonment (with or without parole); Utah apparently provides for an eight-person jury; all other states provide for twelve-person juries. (Again, I’m speaking here of very serious felonies; a few more states provide for six-person juries for less serious felonies as well as misdemeanors.)

Naturally, having a six-person jury rather than a twelve-person jury makes it more likely that the jury will have an unusual demographic mix, such as the Zimmerman jury, which is all female and has no blacks (it apparently consists of five white women and one Hispanic woman). Having a six-person jury will also tend to decrease the likelihood of a hung jury, since a jury of twelve is mathematically more likely to have one outlier holdout than a jury of six (though of course there are complicated social dynamics of the jury in play, as well as the purely mathematical probabilities).

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Gideon for noting that Connecticut provides for a twelve-person jury for felonies punishable by life imprisonment; I’ve revised the post [...]

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“Revisiting the ‘Preponderance’ Debate”

Joe Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — a group which I very much respect — passed along this response to my post on whether universities should apply the “preponderance of the evidence” standard in deciding whether to expel or otherwise discipline students accused of sexual assault:

Professor Volokh recently authored a post here on The Volokh Conspiracy parting company with my organization, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, with regard to our opposition to the Department of Education’s April 4, 2011, “Dear Colleague” letter (DCL), which requires colleges and universities that accept federal funds to utilize the “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof when adjudicating sexual misconduct cases on campus. (The DCL is not to be confused with the Department of Education’s May 9, 2013, “blueprint” that requires the adoption of unconstitutional harassment codes, which Professor Volokh also recently discussed in this space. Happily, Professor Volokh and FIRE are in full agreement on this score.)

FIRE has had the distinct honor and pleasure of working with Professor Volokh on a variety of cases and issues over the years. As a result, we know very well how deeply considered his opinions are, how thoroughly he interrogates his own conclusions, and how powerful and precise his arguments are as a result. Suffice to say, having Professor Volokh on your side is a real boon. And on those relatively rare occasions where we disagree, we know that it’s useful and illuminating to identify exactly where our calculations diverge, so as to better understand our own contentions and their implications. Thankfully, Professor Volokh is always willing to hear us out, even when our results differ. To that end, we are very appreciative that he has provided us this opportunity to respond to his piece

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Quantum of Proof in University Sexual Assault Investigations

When a university is deciding whether to expel, suspend, or otherwise discipline a student for an alleged sexual assault, how much proof should the university proceeding require? Should the student’s guilt be shown by “clear and convincing evidence”? By a “preponderance of the evidence,” which is what the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has demanded, under its interpretation of Title IX? Beyond a reasonable doubt? I’m inclined to say — contrary to quite a few people whose judgment I generally much respect — that preponderance of the evidence would likely be the right standard, at least for claims of sexual assault and not just offensive words. Let me briefly explain why.

First, let’s think of preponderance of the evidence, clear and convincing evidence, and proof beyond a reasonable doubt as probability thresholds. Preponderance of the evidence means that the university should expel or discipline the accused student if there’s just a bit more than a 50% chance that the student is guilty. Clear and convincing evidence might be seen as requiring a 75% or 80% probability, or thereabouts. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt might be seen as requiring a 95% probability. These are oversimplifications, to be sure, but they are probably the most helpful way of looking at these standards.

And each of these probabilities might correspond to a number n in the statement that “better that n students guilty of sexual assault remain at the university, with no discipline imposed, than one innocent student be expelled or otherwise disciplined.” Proof beyond a reasonable doubt would be something like “better that ten students who have committed sexual assault remain at the university unpunished than one innocent student be expelled.” Proof by clear and convincing evidence would be something like “better that three guilty students (but no more) remain [...]

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Former Prosecutor (Now Judge) Arrested and Charged for Past Prosecutorial Misconduct

I’m told that such arrests and charges are very rare, so I thought this was noteworthy, from the Austin American-Statesman, April 19, 2013 (thanks to Lawrence Goldman [White Collar Crim Prof Blog] for the pointer):

Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson was arrested … after a specially convened court found that he intentionally hid evidence to secure Michael Morton’s 1987 conviction for murder.

In a blunt and scathing ruling, District Judge Louis Sturns said Anderson acted to defraud the trial court and Morton’s defense lawyers, resulting in an innocent man serving almost 25 years in prison.

“This court cannot think of a more intentionally harmful act than a prosecutor’s conscious choice to hide mitigating evidence so as to create an uneven playing field for a defendant facing a murder charge and a life sentence,” Sturns said.

Sturns, presiding over a court of inquiry that examined the Morton prosecution, found probable cause to believe that Anderson broke two state laws and committed criminal contempt of court for lying to Morton’s trial judge. He then signed a warrant for Anderson’s arrest as required under state law governing courts of inquiry….

Sturns’ ruling is the first step in a potential criminal case against Anderson, who was Williamson County’s celebrated law-and-order district attorney for 16 years before he became a district judge in 2002. His current term as judge will end in 2014. State law does not require him to step down as the case against him progresses….

Morton was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his first wife, Christine, in their Williamson County home. He was freed and declared innocent in 2011 after DNA tests pointed to another man as the killer….
Sturns told the standing-room-only courtroom that the evidence showed that Anderson improperly concealed two pieces of

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Bleg on temporary of seizures firearms

I would be grateful if commenters could point to cases, statutes, or secondary materials which address these questions: In Terry stops, traffic stops, and other police encounters with individuals which do not involve an arrest, under what circumstances can a law enforcement officer temporarily detain a person’s firearm? For example, for officer safety during a traffic stop? To call a central database and see if the gun’s serial number is on a list of stolen guns? [...]

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Prisoner Offshoring, or Gaolbalization

Belgium and the Netherlands have an interesting arrangement, an example of economics and incentives working clearly in the public law field. Belgium has more convicts than it can accomodate in its prisons. Neighboring Netherlands has the opposite problem: not enough prisoners. Several years ago, it was facing having to shutter some facilities. But then the two countries made a deal: Belgium rents space for its inmates in Dutch jails, patrolled by Dutch corrections guards. (Perhaps the Flemish hope they can be “transferred” to Dutch custody as well, or at least out of Belgium.)

One would think this would spark some significant criticism on human rights grounds. So far, a delegation from the Council of Europe paid a site visit to the Dutch prison, and issued what seems a largely favorable report. There have been calls for emulation in Britain. Prime Minister Cameron has gone halfway, and come out in favor of sending foreign nationals back to their home countries to serve their time, though implementing this has been a bit of a bother.

There may be a trend here – call it Gaolbalization. Sending prisoners to the cheapest justice provider really went global in the past few years with Somali piracy. Dozens of nations have sent warships to catch the pirates. Piracy is a universal jurisdiction crime that can be tried by any country, and the Law of the Sea Treaty gives precedence to the capturing state. The problem is, piracy prosecution is time-consuming (at least in Western legal systems) and expensive, and leaves one with a permanent pirate population.

Thus European nations, the U.S., and other countries have worked out deals with Kenya and the Seychelles to transfer pirates caught by the former nations to be tried and imprisoned in the latter. There seems to be [...]

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Does the Supremacy Clause mean that the federal government always wins?

Last week, I filed an amicus brief on behalf of petitions for certiorari in Chafee v. United States and Pleau v. United States. These related cases could be among the most important federalism cases before the Court this term. The amici are the Cato Institute and the Independence Institute.

The State of Rhode Island and the federal government are fighting for custody of Jason Pleau, who is accused of perpetrating a murder during the course of a bank robbery. Rhode Island got him first, by revoking his parole for previous crimes. Pleau has offered to plead guilty in Rhode Island state court, and receive a sentence of life without parole for the murder/robbery. Although Pleau’s robbery of the bank’s night depository involves no particularly strong federal interest (such as the murder of a federal officer), the U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island wants to prosecute Pleau in federal court, and has stated that capital punishment may be sought.

Over four decades ago, the States entered into an interstate compact, the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (IADA). The Act provides the procedures for the temporary transfer of a prisoner from one state to another state, for criminal prosecution in the second state. Congress liked IADA so much that it not only gave permission for the compact, it also enacted IADA as a federal statute, and made the U.S. a party to the compact. So under IADA, the U.S. functions just like any other “sending” or “receiving” state.

The U.S. Attorney filed a detainer under IADA, to obtain temporary custody of Pleau. IADA explicitly provides that the Governor of the sending state has an unlimited right to refuse to transfer a prisoner. Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee exercised this right. Because Rhode Island does not have the death penalty, Chafee believes that [...]

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Florida’s Self-Defense Laws

Media coverage of Florida’s self-defense laws in recent weeks has often been very inaccurate. While some persons, particularly from the gun prohibition lobbies, have claimed that the Martin/Zimmerman case shows the danger of Florida’s “Stand your ground” law, that law is legally irrelevant to case. So let’s take a look at what the Florida laws actually say. [...]

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The Machinery of Criminal Justice #6: Equality, Vengeance, and Competence

In the past week’s posts about my new book, I’ve sketched out some of the hidden costs of professionalizing our system and suggested ways in which we might deliberately slow down our speedy, impersonal assembly-line justice. This set of posts has focused on one aspect: giving victims larger roles. (The book offers an even more radical proposal for turning sentencing back into a victim- and defendant-centered morality play, which I call restorative sentencing juries, but I can’t go into that here.)

Naturally, including victims gives rise to various fears. Today I’ll discuss three such fears: vengefulness, inequality, and unprofessionalism. Each set of concerns is legitimate, but manageable if not overblown.

First, we tend to assume that victims thirst for revenge. Give victims power, one might think, and they will simply take it out of defendants’ hides. To this way of thinking, criminal justice is a zero-sum game, and making victims happier necessarily comes at the expense of defendants, tilting the playing field against them.

But contrary to what one might expect, victims are not reflexively punitive. Empirical studies find that participation by victims does not lead to harsher sentences. Thus, giving victims voices in the process need not produce harsher outcomes, particularly because plenty of safeguards would remain. A neutral judge or jury would have to authorize any conviction or punishment and would weigh the victim’s input against the defendant’s and all the other evidence. A prosecutor would still be able to override a victim’s vengeful, selfish, or otherwise unbalanced requests.

What victims care about is not so much the substantive outcome as whether they are treated fairly and respectfully along the way, including whether they are listened to and taken seriously. Keeping victims informed, letting them speak, and giving them their day in court makes them more [...]

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The Machinery of Criminal Justice #5: Returning Power to the Public in a Lawyer-Driven System

In this week’s guest-blog posts on my new book, I’ve explored just a few of the ways in which our criminal justice machine has drifted far from its moral roots. Today I want to summarize the range of problems and offer just a couple of possible solutions, though the book goes into many more.

Lawyers’ bottom-line, cost-benefit approach has brought many undoubted benefits, including efficient case processing and thus crime control. Those goods do indeed matter greatly to ordinary citizens. But criminal justice ought to serve more than this single goal to which it has been boiled down.

The machinery’s relentless pursuit of mechanistic efficiency has slighted the downsides: It disempowers victims, defendants, and the public. It cheapens justice into a marketable commodity, a fungible widget to be mass-produced. It eschews the rhetoric of moral judgment in favor of legalese and mathematical gobbledygook.

It also hides the workings of the system, leaving outsiders frustrated and mistrustful and insiders free to indulge their self-interests or idiosyncratic preferences. It exacerbates the cycle of pathological politics of crime legislation, helping to provoke draconian referenda in response and later dishonest subversion of those populist measures.

In addition, the machine neglects remorse, apology, forgiveness, healing of relationships, reintegration, and reentry. It creates a semi-permanent underclass of prisoners and ex-cons in exile. It hollows out large swaths of minority neighborhoods. And it deprives countless children of their fathers and women of their husbands and boyfriends, with little hope that these men will return to lives of lawful work and responsible fatherhood.

Whew! That’s a daunting list of problems. It is immensely difficult to reform a system as broken as our punishment factory. Skeptics can dismiss incremental reforms as cosmetic, like straightening deck chairs on the Titanic. More ambitious reforms get attacked from the other side [...]

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The Machinery of Criminal Justice #4: Semi-Privatizing Criminal Justice

In yesterday’s guest-blog post on my new book, I explored the gulf between criminal-justice insiders and outsiders, the lawyers and laymen who see criminal justice very differently. The book explores in detail some of the human needs that criminal justice professionals overlook, such as the thirst for remorse, apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Today I’ll suggest that the root problem is the state’s monopoly on criminal justice, and solutions have to involve giving greater roles to victims.

Today, the right to punish belongs exclusively to the state, not the victim. Crimes violate the state’s laws and its interest in maintaining public order and social cohesion. The state does not settle for restitution and fines, as private litigants do, but imprisons and even executes wrongdoers. It exacts its justice quickly and impersonally to lock up the dangerous criminal and to deter him and others. All that seems to matter is the bottom-line number of years in prison and, to an extent, accuracy in discerning guilt.

The state-centered model assumes that cold reason should dominate criminal-justice decisions and exclude human emotions. But the cool logic of state-monopolized justice, to the exclusion of victims, conflicts with many people’s moral intuitions.

Why should the right to punish belong exclusively to the state? Disputes aren’t simply impersonal red flags that alert the government to dangerous threats. They wrong both the state and the victims. Crime has a human face, and that face deserves standing and a say in the matter. The victim or his representative seems naturally to deserve at least a partial right to pay back the wrongdoer.

That is a big part of why victims’ rights laws have proven so popular (though, as the book explains, they haven’t lived up to their promise and have often been hijacked by tough-on-crime groups such as [...]

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The Machinery of Criminal Justice: The Gulf Between Insiders and Outsiders, and Its Costs

In yesterday’s guest-blog post on my new book, I discussed some of the ways in which criminal justice developed from a common-sense morality play into a professionalized machine during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Now I want to describe what the gulf between criminal justice insiders and outsiders looks like today; offer a few examples of the tug of war that erupts between the two sides; and explain some of the hidden costs of this gulf.

By insiders, I mean the lawyers and other professionals who run the machinery of criminal justice: the prosecutors, police, probation officers, judges, and even defense counsel. They are knowledgeable about investigations, crimes, and punishments. Back when jury trials were common, insiders were primarily adversaries, but now both sides’ lawyers collaborate in plea bargaining; cynics might even call it collusion.

Though prosecutors and police are nominally agents of the outsiders whom they supposedly represent — victims and the public — outsiders lack the knowledge and leverage to effectively oversee how insiders do their jobs. Insiders tend to mellow over time, and their practical concerns about huge dockets and fear of losing trials (risk aversion) make them especially pliable in plea bargaining. Finally, as lawyers, insiders are taught to weigh costs against benefits, focusing on neutral, amoral criteria such as speed and cost.

Outsiders see the system quite differently. They see little of police enforcement decisions, plea-bargaining conversations in courtroom hallways, or secret grand jury proceedings, and receive little notice or information even about proceedings that are public. Sensational media accounts and crime dramas lead the public to imagine that sentences are lighter than they actually are. In addition, victims and members of the public have few opportunities to participate and have their day in court, or even to see what’s going on. Finally, outsiders [...]

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The Machinery of Criminal Justice: From Public Morality Play to Hidden Plea Bargaining Machine

In yesterday’s guest-blog post on my new book, The Machinery of Criminal Justice, I surveyed how colonial American criminal justice was public, participatory, informal, and run by laymen.

To be clear in response to some comments, I did not imply that we should go back to Salem witch trials, let alone medieval European trial by ordeal. Nor did I endorse flogging or rampant use of the death penalty, though actual executions were much less common than most people suppose. Nor did I say that we ought to get rid of all modern due process and lawyers and go back to 20-minute-long trials (though one can question how much better modern plea bargaining is in practice). My point was more modest: that the colonists saw justice done and had their day in court. In our Whiggish assumption that the past was irredeemably backward and all change is progress, we often overlook what we have lost in our quest for efficiency.

Today, I’d like to set forth some of the things that changed over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, transforming the lay-run morality play into a professionalized plea bargaining assembly line.

First, over the course of the nineteenth century, public prosecutors steadily gained control of American criminal justice at the expense of victims. Some colonies did have public prosecutors, but their role was occasional and limited. To give just one example, some public official was needed to prosecute homicides because, for obvious reasons, the victim could not. But there was nothing like a professional, state-dominated system of routinely detecting, charging, and prosecuting crime.

Prosecutors, of course, lack victims’ personal stake in the outcome. That is good as a way to check private vengeance, but it also opens the door to what economists call agency costs: the distinctive [...]

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