Sunday, August 9, 2015

German Prisons and Human Dignity

German prisons are popular right now with criminal justice reformers, non-profit organizations, and even some reform-minded American politicians.

According to a recent editorial in the New York Times by Nicholas Turner of the Vera Institute and Jeremy Travis of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Germany not only incarcerates individuals at a far lower rate than in the U.S., but German prison officials treat those individuals far differently than in the U.S. Turner and Travis highlight the fact that German prisons allow inmates to wear their own clothes, encourage responsible decision-making, and seldom use solitary confinement. 

While punishment in America seems structured to strip inmates of any vestige of humanity and dignity, German inmates live in rooms rather than cells, sleep on beds rather than concrete slabs, and cook their own meals rather than attempt to survive on the cheapest meals than prisons can provide.

Ironically, the American public that appears to crave television programs like “Lockup” and “Jail” that use a National Enquirer-like lens to paint a picture of life behind bars in America as some sort of spectacle in which the American public feasts on the brutality of prison life. Footage of correctional officials decked out in full riot gear entering into cells to “extract” non-compliant inmates, inmate fights, and officials finding contraband in cells apparently boost viewership.

Perhaps we can take solace in the fact that in some corners there is a debate about the value of these shows.  When “Lockup” visited Cincinnati to film life at the Hamilton County jail, the majority of community officials opposed the visit. Dan Horn of the Cincinnati  Enquirer described the show as “sort of the Kardashians with blood, death threats, snitches and a guy who stabs people with pencils.” According to Horn, while Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neill approved the visit, other county officials opposed it.  Notably, County Administrator Chrisian Sigman wrote  in an email to other county officials that “[i]t is highly unlikely that viewers of Lockup will visit or invest in our community after watching, in fact, I believe the show would have the opposite effect." To his credit, Sigman also denounced the show as being “dehumanizing and essentially us[ing] the misfortune of others for entertainment purposes.”

 While most of the county officials were worried that the portrayal of the county lockup would hurt the community’s economic fortunes, the jail officials apparently were more interested in showing the public their working conditions. To that end, the Sheriff’s spokesman told the paper that, “[o]verall, we believe it's a fair representation of life in the Hamilton County Justice Center and it gives viewers a small glimpse into what we deal with day in and day out.”

In contrast to the brutality and dehumanization in American facilities that seems to pervade our criminal justice system, American visitors to German prisons note that the centerpiece of the German correctional system is “human dignity.” But the difference between our correctional systems is broader than that, in the sentencing hearings and main proceedings that I observed in German, I noticed that both prosecutors and judges in most cases treated defendants, much more like the prodigal son or daughter who needed to be built up and reintegrated into the community rather than stripped down banished as some constructed “other.” As Nora Demleitner wrote in an article last year: “European sanctioning systems start with the offender’s ‘‘place in the community’’ rather than his relegation to a space outside society. Presumably that concept makes all actors in the criminal justice system more reluctant to remove the offender from the community by sending him to prison.”

The focus on human dignity can be extended beyond the criminal justice system towards governance in general. In particular, how does the concept of human dignity square with how American society treats the poor, the disabled, and the sick? Can we even square “human dignity” with the American myth that if you work hard enough, you will be rewarded? More on point, can we bring “dignity” to our criminal justice system, without bringing “dignity” into our norms of governance? 


Maurice Chammah, “Germany’s Kinder, Gentler, Safer Prisons,” THE MARSHALL PROJECT, June 17, 2015 at: https://www.themarshallprojec

Nora V. Demleitner, “Human Dignity, Crime Prevention, and Mass Incarceration: A Meaningful, Practical Comparison Across Borders, FEDERAL SENTENCING REPORTER, Vol. 27, No. 1, Ideas from Abroad and TheirImplementation at Home (October 2014), pp. 1-6 at 

Nicholas Turner & Jeremy Travis, “What we Learned from German Prisons,” THE NEW YORK TIMES,  August 6, 2015 at:


August 9, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Snowden: Patriot, Whistleblower, or Spy? (Part I)

I had the privilege this week of participating on a panel at the 2015 SEALS Conference that explored the question of whether Edward Snowden is a whistleblower or a spy.  The panel members engaged in a robust discussion  which examined (1)  whether Snowden’s actions fit under a traditional model of civil disobedience; (2) the extent to which Snowden harmed national security; and (3) whether our current legal framework offers adequate internal avenues for individuals like Snowden  to question the legality and wisdom of national security programs.

My comments focused primarily on question three. In this post, I’d like to briefly highlight that issue looking at U.S. law. In a subsequent post, I will offer a comparative perspective by looking at how European states address the issue.

While a good number of American commentators have called on Snowden to return to the U.S. to face trial, our current whistle-blowing laws in the national security field offer Snowden no adequate defense to his actions.  Although whistle-blowing legislation in the healthcare, financial, and consumer products industries protects whistleblowers from retaliation and in some cases actually provides financial rewards for disclosure, whistle-blowers in the national security field enjoy less protection.

Although the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 (ICWPA ) creates a process for employees and contractors who work in the national security sphere to report matters to Congress, it does not fully protect those individuals who do report from retaliation.  Nor does it cover civilian contractors like Snowden. The IWCPA also gives the agency directors the ability to limit the scope of external disclosure.  President Obama attempted to rectify that problem with Presidential Policy Directive 19. However, the real problem for whistleblowers is that none of these laws protect them from prosecution under the Espionage Act.  Notably, the structure of the act does not allow the fact finder to consider the defendant’s motivations for disclosure. Nor does the Act permit a jury to weigh whether the benefits from the disclosure to the public outweigh the damage done to our national security.

Harvard law professor, Yochai Benkler, has proposed a Public Accountability Defense for individuals who “violate the law on the reasonable belief that by doing so they will expose to public scrutiny substantial violations of law or substantial systemic  error, incompetence, or malfeasance even when it falls short of formal illegality.” Benkler argues that this defense is necessary because the national security organizations themselves, like other organizations, are prone to group think and routinely discourage individuals from challenging the majority position. As Benkler points out, by failing to adequate provide a robust mechanism for external review, our current regulations insulate the national security establishment from public accountability.



Yochai Benkler, “A Public Accountability Defense for National Security Leakers and Whistleblowers,” 8(2) Harvard Review of Law and Public Policy, July 2014.

Daniel D’Isidoro, “Protecting Whisteblowers and Secrets in the National Intelligence Community,” Harvard National Security Journal, September 29, 2014. Available online at:


July 29, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Trade Dress Case in China

A colleague, Professor Hongjun (Nick) Yao, recently told me about an interesting trade dress case currently pending before the Supreme People’s Court in China. The state-owned Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Group (GPG) licensed its trademark, “Wang Lao Ji” (also read as “Wong Lo Kat”) to Hong Kong-based Hongdao Group for use in marketing ready-to-drink herbal tea throughout China. Hongdao invested millions of dollars in both advertising and designing a well-known red can for what became the top-selling canned beverage in China, surpassing even Red Bull and Coca Cola. GPG also marketed the same tea in a green carton under the same trademark but at much lower sales volumes. Problems arose, however, when the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission invalidated continuations of the licensing arrangement in 2011 because they were based on bribery. Hongdao thereafter changed the name of its tea to “Jia Duo Bao” but continued using its well-recognized red can design.

GPG sued Hongdao, however, claiming that the red can design was protectable trade dress that belonged to GPG along with the licensed Wang Lao Ji trademark. The Guangdong High Court agreed in a decision that has engendered more than a little criticism. First, as Professor Yao notes, trademarks serve as “source” identifiers, allowing consumers to associate the quality of a particular good or service with the company that manufactures the good or provides the service. Because the red can design marked the herbal tea that Hongdao produced and sold (as opposed to the herbal tea that GPG produced and sold in green cartons), the High Court presumably should have held that trade dress rights in the red can design belonged to Hongdao. Second, the High Court suggested that trade dress rights in the red can design could not be separated from the trademark rights in the licensed WLJ mark. As Professor Yao notes, this differs markedly from U.S. trademark jurisprudence, under which any single product might bear multiple protectable trademarks owned by multiple separate entities.

One interesting aspect of the case that might explain the High Court’s decision, however, is the court’s factual finding that it was GPG, not Hongdao, who was more responsible for the reputation and trade dress value of the red can design. Although the Court acknowledged that Hongdao had invested a great deal in the design, the court attributed most of reputation and value of the red can trade dress to its association with the 150-yr-old WLJ mark – i.e., that GPG’s “investment” (associating its WLJ mark with the red can design) was more important than Hongdao’s investment in the design. This seems dubious as a factual matter, but if nonetheless accurate, it would not only explain the High Court’s decision but also help reconcile it to general trademark theory.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see the Supreme Court’s decision when it comes out.


Thanks so much to my fellow Comparative Law Prof Bloggers, Shawn Marie Boyne, Monica Eppinger, and Lissa Griffin for allowing me to join them on this blog. 

July 23, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Japan: Prosecutorial Misconduct

A recent article in The Economist of a case in which a Japanese prosecutor altered a document that was being used as evidence casts an unusually revealing eye on the traditionally respected Japanese prosecution, in a system that is already heavily weighted against an accused.

July 19, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Marriage Equality Worldwide

Anne Marie Lindemann of Slate has posted a short video  entitled "The Stunning 15 year March to Marriage Equality Around the World" that tracks the growth of marriage equality around the world beginning with the Netherlands' 2000 decision to legalize gay marriage.

June 28, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Teaching Criminal Law in China

I've been in China for three weeks teaching a class on American criminal law to a group of Chinese students studying law and/or criminal justice at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law. Ironically, I couldn't log into this blog while in Shanghai.  Despite their varying degrees of English proficiency, the students engaged with the material. There were hiccups along the way. After spending the first session of the course laying out the basics of the adversarial system and the due process model, the students asked to learn about famous trials-including the O.J. Simpson case.

So I adjusted my material and used the narratives of famous trials to explain the basic elements of our adversarial system of justice as well as a few ways in which the system diverges from the ideal. Although my sample size of 40 students is a small one to build insights upon, I did notice some similarities and differences with my experiences of teaching in Germany's civil law system. To begin, many of my students in Shanghai questioned the ability of a jury to understand the case and not be swayed by emotions well-enough to render a decision. Their German peers also tend to question the merits of the jury system-though that questioning is rooted more deeply in the complexity of the law.

One big difference between justice in China and Germany is the relative harshness of punishment in China. In Germany, the bulk of cases that cross prosecutors desks are dismissed or slated for diversion progrems.  For that reason as well as the relative disinterest of German prosecutors in striking onerous bargains against the defedant, the rise of plea bargaining in Germany has reinforced the system's leniency. In contrast, justice in China may be both harsh and swift.

Given the harshness and ubiquity of the death penalty in China, I did not expect my students in Shanghai to place as much faith as they did in the symbolic role of punishment. One student even commented that it would be better for 9 innocent people are convicted, than if the court would let free one guilty person. While the prevalence of plea bargaining and the prospect of harsh sentences has compromised the fairness of the process in the U.S., the general public has begun to question the wisdom of high incarceration levels. In contrast in China, at least among the future elite, there appears to be a solid faith in the system's results and a cautious optimism that the State may temper those punishments in the future.

June 7, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Scottish Prosecutors to use IPads in Court

An interesting, and alluring, article in The Times of London contains an announcement that Scottish Prosecutors are going to be equipped with Ipads for use in court.  Although it is unclear exactly what they will use the ipads for, there is a reference to using ipads to take witness statements, which could well raise confrontation issues.  Otherwise, more efficient and cheaper access to records and increased security for records is intended.

June 1, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Treading Carefully: A British Bill of Rights

Next week the UK Parliament will consider a proposed British Bill of Rights (BBR) that is intended to replace the Human Rights Act of 1988, which essentially adopted the European Code of Human Rights as domestic UK law.  That's a broader statement than is probably accurate, but the HRA did force the UK courts to consider whether domestic legislation might violate the ECHR. 

A recent column in the London Times questions the need for a different bill of rights.  Will the rights be different?  Are there particularly 'British" rights that are not contained in the ECHR and vice versa?

To read the article in the Times, please click here.

My own guess is that the declaration of rights will  not be that different, but that the way in which the BRR will bind the courts and government could be quite different than the  apparatus for review under the  HRA.  Major differences between US and UK criminal procedure and law enforcement stem from the existence of the US Constitutional Bill of Rights.   Methods of fighting terrorism, for example, or the right to jury trial and the plea bargaining explosion in the United States are two examples that come readily to mind.  And maybe that's a good thing.   But the point is that the UK should tread carefully:  in the zest to free itself from the continent, it should make sure to replace what is already there with something that will function, in reality, in a way that is best for Britain.  

May 27, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Benefits & Limits of Comparative Criminal Justice Research

In 2013, the Vera Institute of Justice published a report entitled, “Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the United States.”  The report was part of a larger “experiential” project in which teams of state officials from Colorado, Georgia, and Pennsylvania visited Germany and the United States to get a first-hand look at prison facilities and correctional practices. Without a doubt, American practices such as high mandatory minimum sentences, long sentences for drug crimes, and the incarceration of mentally ill offenders have fueled the rise of our nation’s prison system and led to incarceration rates that lead the Western world.

Some of the key differences in prison practices that the report taught include: longer and more professional training for prison officials, changes in the architectural design of prisons, and increased freedom of movement of inmates may be worth trying in the United States.

However, what the report fails to consider is the extent to which the problems in the U.S. system extend beyond our sentencing and correctional practices. Even if we eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, will the current structure of prosecution offices (headed by elected officials) embrace the widespread use of diversionary sentences?  There is a vast difference between the organizational culture in German prosecution offices and their U.S. counterparts.  To begin, the German Code of Criminal Procedure actually mandates that prosecutors conduct an objective investigation. It is the judge or judicial panel that conducts the bulk of the questioning in a criminal trial, not the prosecutor. Indeed, in most of the trials that I observed in Germany, the prosecutor is not invested in a particular outcome. 

Underpinning these differences in institutional design are historical and cultural norms. In Germany, where law is considered a science that can only be understood by professionals, the prospect of allowing a civilian jury to adjudicate guilt is inconceivable. In the U.S., with our wariness of government, the prospect of entrusting the fate of the accused to a government bureaucrat might be enough to provoke riots in the streets.  Perhaps an even deeper divide to bridge is our societal condemnation of criminals and the barriers that the system places in the way of reentry. In Germany, the government aims to reintegrate those who have gone astray quickly back into society. Thus prisons are not isolated gulags where inmates are stripped of their humanity.  In the U.S., we treat inmates as people who need to be separated from society as well as their own humanity.  

So, as we look for “solutions” to our problems in the U.S., let’s be open to the fact that the true roots of the problems in the criminal justice system go beyond sentencing practices.

May 11, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hearsay and Confrontation: Recorded Victim Statements in the US and UK



A recent case in England epitomizes the difference between our bill-of-rights-based criminal justice system and the UK’s more practical, parliamentary and judge-based process.


Last week, Masood Mansouri was convicted of rape. Mansouri, a carwash owner, apparently pretending to be a cab driver, picked up Ceri Linden, who was hailing a taxi, kidnapped her and raped her. Five days later, she committed suicide. She thus was unavailable to testify at trial. Instead, the jury watched a videotaped recording of an interview Ms. Linden gave to the police in which she described the assault. No rape case has ever been successfully prosecuted in England and Wales based on statements of a victim who is not subject to cross-examination.


Interestingly, of course, this kind of evidence would not be admissible in the United States -- and for a host of reasons. Aside from the fact that it is hearsay for which there is no exception, it would not be admissible under the residual clause. According to the testimony of a consultant forensic psychologist, Ms. Linden had an “emotionally unstable personality disorder,” and had been hospitalized nine times over six months for attempted suicides. My guess is that these circumstances would have made it inadmissibly unreliable. Nor would it be admissible under 'forfeiture by wrongdoing,' exception, because the defendant did not intentionally cause her to be absent.  Last but manifestly not least, the videotape clearly is a testimonial equivalent whose admission violates the confrontation clause under the Supreme Court’s Crawford v. Washington jurisprudence.


The stark inadmissibility of the video under US law raises interesting, recurring questions. While this conviction could be overturned either by UK domestic courts or the European Court of Human Rights, it’s a good reminder about the protections of the bill of rights and the limitations on US judges.   


Related References

May 7, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Google Challenge to the Common Law Myth

James Maxeiner, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law, has posted: A Government of Laws Not of Precedents 1776-1876: The Google Challenge to Common Law Myth (April 21, 2015). 4 British Journal of American Legal Studies 141 (2015).

Available at SSRN:

From the abstract:
Conventional wisdom holds that the United States is a common law country of precedents where, until the 20th century (the “Age of Statutes”), statutes had little role. Digitization by Google and others of previously hard to find legal works of the 19th century challenges this common law myth. At the Centennial in 1876 Americans celebrated that “The great fact in the progress of American jurisprudence … is its tendency towards organic statute law and towards the systematizing of law ; in other words, towards written constitutions and codification.” This article tests the claim of the Centennial Writers of 1876 and finds it credible.

April 27, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

UK Criminal Justice and a UK Bill of Rights


Today in London, English lawyers are protesting what they see as the collapse of the criminal justice system.  No doubt austerity and budget cuts are to be blamed. 


At the same time, there is still talk from the Tories about creating a British bill of rights. Readers will recall that the Human Rights Act, which came into effect in 2000,  essentially rendered the British judicial system subject to the European Charter of Human Rights and to review by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  9/11 occurred shortly thereafter.  As a result of the fear and reality of terrorism, the Human Rights Act and its focus on human rights has lost popularity.  Perhaps the notion of being subject to review by the mainland has lost whatever popularity it once had too.


To read an article from The Times of London on these subjects, click on the link below.

April 23, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Methods of Comparative Corporate Law

Mathias Siems of Durham Law School (Durham University) and the Centre for Business Research (The University of Cambridge) recently posted on SSRN an article that admirably categorizes various the main research approaches to comparative corporate law. From the abstract:

In the growing literature on comparative corporate law there is often a lack of consideration to the recent advances made in the general field of comparative law. This chapter aims to fill this gap. It outlines a conceptual framework that shows how seven core themes of comparative law can be linked to research on comparative corporate law. Subsequently, it explains these seven topics in more detail, also distinguishing between research approaches that have a legal focus and those that follow a more interdisciplinary perspective. The conclusion suggests that there is a need to overcome not only the separation between comparative and corporate law research but also between legal and interdisciplinary perspectives of comparative corporate law

April 20, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Fearing Dissent or Equality: China Detains, Then Releases Young Feminists

Twenty years after Beijing hosted the Fourth World Conference on the Status of Women, the Chinese government just today released five women on bail who had been detained for weeks after trying to bring attention to sexual harassment on public transportation. There is no evidence that the young activists’ plans to use apolitical performance art to bring attention to the problem of harassment posed a threat to the political order.   Despite the fact, on the eve of International Women’s Day, the government arrested the five women and charged them organizing a crowd to disturb public order- a charge that may carry up to a five year prison sentence (Article 291 China’s Criminal Law).

The government has charged activists for organizing activities under this statute before. Just last year, a court sentenced lawyer-activist Xu Zhiyong, who helped to organize Chinese plaintiffs in the 2008 milk powder lawsuits, to a four year sentence under the statute. Three years earlier, in 2005, Yang Maodong, who provided legal advice to villagers in Guangdong province, was arrested under this same statute. Maodong had been trying to help villagers remove an allegedly corrupt municipal leader from office. Though the government released him in December 2005, a few months later Beijing security officials arrested him again and charged him with “running an illegal business.”

Given the history of Article 291, it appears that anyone who attempts to capture the public attention to improve socio-political issues may find themselves arrested and charged under this Article.


 “A Great Danger for Lawyers”: New Regulatory Curbs on Lawyers Representing Protestors,” Human Rights Watch (2006).

Donsheng Zhang, “Civil Procedure and Anti-Modern Myths in the ‘Harmonious Society’: China and pre-war Japan Compared,” in LEGAL INNOVATIONS IN ASIA: JUDICIAL LAWMAKING AND THE INFLUENCE OF COMPARATIVE LAW. (2014)

Edward Wong, “Chinese Police Seeking Charges Against Detained Women’s Activists, Lawyer Says. New York Times, April 9, 2015.

Edward Wong, “China Releases 5 Women’s Rights Activists Detained For Weeks,” New York Times, April 13, 2015.

April 13, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Procedural Economy in Pre-Trial Procedure: Developments in Germany and the United States

My most recent article, "Procedural Economy in Pre-Trial Procedure: Developments in Germany and the United States," was recently published in the Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Review (my alma mater).

And for my other alma mater: GO BADGERS!


April 5, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

UK Parliamentary Committee Report on the Criminal Cases Review Commission

A Parliamentary committee recently published its report on the working of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the independent governmental body that reviews claims of miscarriages of justice and refers them to the court of appeal. It's an amazing report. The Committee essentially found that the CCRC was performing "reasonably well." But it had many significant recommendations. First, the standard of referral by the CCRC -- the "real possibility" of a different decision on appeal -- has been under tremendous criticism as compromising the CCRC's independence from the court. While the committee did not recommend changing the test, it did note that such a change would require a change in the court of appeal's jurisdiction to grant relief where there is no new evidence or argument but only a concern about the accuracy of the result. Accordingly, the report recommends that the Law Commission evaluate the court of appeal's grounds for relief where there is "serious doubt about the verdict" even without fresh evidence or argument. meanwhile, it recommended that the CCRC be "less cautious" in its approach to the real possibility test. The report also recommends extending the CCRC's subpoena power to private bodies (a power its sister commission, the Scottish CCRC already has), and that time limits and sanctions be imposed for failure of public bodies to comply with its subpoenas. This will certainly improve the CCRC's investigatory powers. The report also called for giving the CCRC discretion to refuse to investigate cases decided summarily (the less important criminal cases, decided without juries), for additional funding, and for steps by the CCRC to ensure consistently thorough screening among Case Review Managers. Finally, the report recommended that a system be developed for feedback from the CCRC to the relevant players in the criminal justice system about the factors that continue to cause miscarriages of justice. The report can be found here.

If these recommendations are followed, wide ranging changes will make real and tangible improvements in the relief available to those in the UK who claim to be victims of miscarriages of justice, whether on direct appeal or later in the process. It will also help the CCRC get

April 2, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Call for Participation: Internat'l & Comparative Urban Law Conference

The Fordham Urban Law Center and the Sorbonne Center for Study and Research on Environmental, Development, Urban and Tourism Law (SERDEAUT) are pleased to announce a call for participation for the 2nd Annual International & Comparative Urban Law Conference, which will be held on June 29, 2015 at the Sorbonne Law School. Potential participants in panels and workshops at the Conference should submit a one-page proposal to Nisha Mistry (, Director, Fordham Urban Law Center, by April 20, 2015.
The Conference will provide a dynamic forum for legal and other scholars to engage and generate diverse international, comparative and interdisciplinary perspectives in the burgeoning field of urban law. The Conference will explore overlapping themes, tensions and opportunities for deeper scholarly investigation and practice with a comparative perspective across the following urban law topics, among others: – Structure and workings of local authority and autonomy – Urban governance – Environmental sustainability – Economic and community development – Criminal justice – Urban public health – Affordable housing – Municipal finance – Local government consumer protection – Family law and urban planning

March 22, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Comparative Wrongful Convictions: The Irish Innocence Project Film Festival - June 2015

Conviction of the innocent is an international issue, and there are innocent projects doing important work all over the world.   The Irish Innocence Project, in Dublin,  is hosting its annual conference in June 2015.  Part of the conference is a film festival devoted to the subject - internationally - of wrongful convictions, exonerations, and exonerees.  For a schedule of the conference, please click on the following link.


For a schedule and complete listing of the films to be presented, please click on the following link.


March 19, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Looking at Collateral Consequences of Conviction

As we continue to think about the larger social impact of extremely long sentences and supermax detention, we should include consideration of the social impact of collateral consequences of conviction. What are the pros and cons of imposing collateral consequences on those who have been convicted and served their punishments?  As all criminal law professors know and teach our students, one of the purposes of an actual sentence is rehabilitation and certainly one of the purposes is retribution.  The other purposes are isolation and deterrence.  So what are the purposes served by collateral consequences?   Permanently disenfranching post-sentence  - is that part of punishment?  Is depriving someone of housing benefits or requiring perpetual reporting of convictions part of punishment or is some other purpose served?  Given a growing political and social impact, particularly in the United States, we need to think more clearly about this.

A new statute in the United Kingdom seeks to protect those who have served their sentences from having to report past criminal convictions on a job application.  Until recently, those sentenced to four years or less in prison who do not offend again do not have to disclose their criminal records.  There is a schedule about when those prior sentences are deemed too old to require reporting.  Realizing that “finding a job can be a crucial step in the rehabilitation process,” a recent amendment to the Data Protection Act – a new Section 56 -   imposes criminal liability on potential employers who require a job applicant to authorize a data search that would fully reveal past information.   For additional information about this new law click here:

New Law Means Job Applicants Cannot Be Forced to Reveal Spent Convictions.

In the United States, the ABA has created and launched an extremely helpful NICCC database (National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Convictions) that collects the law on collateral consequences in the Federal system and each of the fifty states. For review of the database, click here.

To track changes in the United States, and for more information on the debate, please see the readings below.

Related Readings:



Governmental Publication


March 13, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

An Interesting & Thought-Provoking New Article

Ronald Allen, Northwestern University Law School, has recently posted an article entitled "The Perils of Comparative Law Research," on SSRN.

From the abstract:

This article is part of a festschrift in honor of Michele Taruffo’s remarkable career, and the astonishing erudition reflected in his wide ranging and significant corpus. One criticism is advanced, to-wit that he has too readily accepted as true the persistent rhetoric to the effect that the American adversarial system does not pursue accuracy in adjudication and is dominated by a sporting model in which the stronger and smarter wins regardless of truth and that Continental legal systems are much more geared toward truth determination. This rhetoric is examined and found to rest on striking mischaracterizations of both approaches to litigation. A more accurate, although quite general, description of both approaches is provided that suggests the rhetoric has it exactly backwards. Suggestive data concerning American and Continental legal systems are presented that directly conflict with the rhetoric. In addition, the obvious prediction is that accurate and efficient legal systems should lead to economic growth and innovation. Some suggestive data is presented, which shows that since 1980 the United States has dominated France, Germany, Spain, and Italy in both regards, tending to disconfirm the comparative effectiveness of the European legal systems. Compounding variables are mentioned, and hence the title, “The Perils of Comparative Law Research.”

Allen, Ronald J., The Perils of Comparative Law Research (March 3, 2015).
Available at SSRN:

March 8, 2015 | Permalink | Comments (0)