Monday, June 2, 2014

Comparative Analysis of Access to Personal Data

Last week Ira Rubinstein (NYU), Gregory Nojeim (Center for Democracy & Technology), and Ronald D. Lee (Arnold & Porter) posted a timely article on SSRN entitled "Systematic Government Access to Personal Data: A Comparative Analysis."

From the abstract:

    There has been a recent increase worldwide in government demands for data held by the private sector, including an expansion in government requests for (i) direct access by the government to private-sector databases or networks, or (ii) government access, whether direct or mediated by the company that maintains the database or network, to large volumes of data.
    Documents describing programs involving large-scale government access to telephony and Internet metadata have been declassified in response to disclosures of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
    Relying on analysis of the law and practices in 13 countries, this Article develops both a descriptive framework for comparing national laws on surveillance and government access to data held by the private sector, and a normative framework based on factors derived from constitutional and human rights law.
    In most, if not all countries studied, the law provides an inadequate foundation for systematic access, both from a human rights perspective and at a practical level. Systematic surveillance programs are often not transparent and based on secret governmental interpretations of the law, and there is often inconsistency between published law and government practice.
The article calls for a robust, global debate on the standards for government surveillance premised on greater transparency about current practices; international human rights law provides a useful framework for that debate.

June 2, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Extradition: A New Perspective on the US Plea Bargaining Process

A recent extradition battle in the United Kingdom brings a new perspective to the unique plea bargaining process in the United States.  Paul and Sandra Dunham have been charged in Maryland with an alleged fraud to the tune of $1 million. They are UK citizens awaiting extradition who recently attempted suicide by taking an overdose of drugs rather than be extradited to the United States. 

The Dunhams’ extradition is sought under the 2003 Extradition Treaty between the US and the UK.   That Treaty has been criticized in the UK as one sided for several reasons, including the right to extradite UK citizens for offenses committed against US law, even if those offenses were committed in the UK, for which there is no reciprocal right, and a reduction in the proof required in some cases from prima facie evidence to reasonable suspicion.  There is also a concern that UK citizens extradited to the US will lose their entitled to legal aid that would otherwise be available if they were prosecuted in the UK. 

But, according to counsel for the Dunhams, extradition is being resisted on the ground that the UK is “forcibly sending them to American to face trail in a justice system where plea agreements are effectively forced upon people.”  The argument seems to be twofold:  1) that because of the way plea bargaining takes place in the United States, and the fact that 98% of cases result in guilty pleas, the Dunhams will effectively be required to admit their guilt rather than assert their innocence; and 2) the plea bargaining process produces unjust outcomes in the form of excessive prison sentences.  It should be noted that the Dunhams are in their 50s and vehemently deny their guilt.    

Interestingly, a similar claim was made by David McIntyre, an ex-soldier who was accused of overcharging a US peace group for a security contract.  He claimed he was afraid he would not be able to clear his name if he were extradited because, “In the American judicial system you’ve got a plea bargain system and they’ll sit a piece of paper in front of me and tell me I can either do 20 years hard time in the penitentiary or cough to it and do three years soft time.”   As of this writing, McIntyre has been granted a new appeal based on medical evidence that he suffers from PTSD, and has not been extradited. 

This week, the European Court of Human Rights dismissed their application. 

Yes, the kinds of “we can’t get a fair trial if extradited” claims that routinely are made in extradition proceedings focus on court proceedings  in less-evolved judicial systems in other countries and to the very real potential for  interference with an accused’s right to a fair trial.   But the Dunhams’ claim raises troubling issues about the US plea bargaining process.   Compared to the UK, prosecutors in the US have virtually unfettered and unguided discretion in the plea bargaining process. They also have access to a huge array of potential charges and significantly longer permissible sentences, including harsh mandatory minimum sentences.   If aggregated, the sentence Mr. Dunham faces on the thirteen counts of his indictment would subject him to 390 years’ imprisonment, and for Ms. Dunham’s eight counts her sentence could be 240 years.   While of course the sentence they would receive after a conviction by plea or verdict would not be anywhere near those lengths, those numbers do drive home the point.  And very significantly, in contrast to the strict rules and relatively low sentences that govern sentence reductions for guilty pleas in the UK, the sentencing differentials in the US between pleading guilty or going to trial are enormous.   These arguments have been made and rejected in the United States, but perhaps the international awareness, which is recurrent and compelling, will begin to resonate in extradition proceedings.  As noted in an earlier post, the Europeans have become much more vocal in their criticism of the US death penalty process.    Maybe we will start to hear some international discourse about the unfairnesses in our guilty plea system.   


Human Rights Joint Committee (22 June 2011), “The UK’s bilateral extradition treaties: US-UK Extradition Treaty 2003.”

David Barrett, Paul and Sandra Dunham Face Extradition After Strasbourg Refuses to Intervene, The Telegraph, 5/29/14,

David Brown, British Suicide Pact Couple Fear Plea Bargain as They Face Extradition to the US, The Times of London, 5/27/14,

Felicity A. Morse, David McIntyre, Ex-Soldier, Says he Will Kill Himself if Extradited to the US, The Huffington Post, 4/27/13,

Lissa Griffin, International Spotlight on the Death Penalty, Comparative Law Prof Blog (May 1, 2014),



May 29, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Duty to Warn

The recent “day of retribution” in California which left six individuals dead and more than a dozen more injured has again brought to the forefront our society’s inability to identify and prevent mass shootings. Despite the fact that the shooter’s mother voiced concerns about her son’s behavior with his therapist and the therapist contacted authorities, law enforcement officials found insufficient grounds to justify an involuntary commitment.  Apparently, the officers who visited the suspect never bothered to even search his apartment.  Had they done so, they would have found his arsenal as well as his writings and plans of the attack. Ironically, California is one of 27 states where therapists are bound by a mandatory duty to warn third parties of threats to their safety.

The United States has some of the most robust “duty to warn” laws among Western European countries.  Although there is a recognized common law exception in the U.K. to the duty of confidentiality, the law has stopped short of imposing a duty to warn the public of a potentially dangerous patient. In the aftermath of the highly publicized case, W. vs. Egdell, in 1990, the U.K.’s General Medical Council issued this policy statement: 

‘If you remain of the view that disclosure is necessary to protect a third party from death or serious harm, you should disclose information promptly to an appropriate person or authority. Such situations arise, for example, where disclosure may assist in the prevention, detection, or prosecution of a serious crime, especially crimes against the person, such as abuse of children’.

Other countries however impose less robust duties on mental health professionals. For example, in New Zealand, psychiatrists possess no formal duty to warn the public of potential dangers posed by their patients. At the same time, the lack of a formal duty is not an absolute license to protect patient confidentiality at all costs as both psychiatrists and institutions do possess a duty to safeguard potential victims from foreseeable harm. In France, as well, practitioners possess no legal duty to warn the family and relatives of a patient’s potential dangerous. In addition, although French law does permit individuals to be held involuntarily against their will for mental health reasons, there is a robust procedural process in place which is designed to protect the patient’s confidentiality and freedom.

The first reaction of the media to mass killings seems to focus on finding some person or law that is at fault for the carnage. In this area of the law, the United States appears to be out in front in trying to set up a legal framework to head off a castrophe. The solution likely lies in the direction of more efficient data sharing. But if authorities were able to improve their ability to collect this type of data, it might not only raise privacy issues, but resource issues as well. In our tax-phobic environment, there is currently little political will to fund an expansion of mental health resources. 


Adam Nagourney & Erica Goode, “Limits to Law and Information Sharing, Despite Gunman’s Danger Signs,” New York Times, May 26, 2014.

Associated Press, “Elliot Rodger’s Family Tried to Intervene Before Deadly Rampage,” FOX NEWS, May 27, 2014.

Alan R. Felthous, Roy O'Shaughnessy, Jay Kuten, Irène François-Pursell, Juan Medrano, “The Clinician's Duty to Warn or Protect: In the United States, England, Canada, New Zealand, France and Spain,”  The International Handbook of Psychopathic Disorders and the Law: Laws and Policies, Volume II, pp. 75–94, 2008.

Colin Gavaghan, “Dangerous Patients and Duties to Warn: A European Human Rights Perspective,”14 Eur. J. Health L. 113 (2007).

May 27, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

In the News: the Mental Disease or Defect Defense


The mental examination of Oscar Pistorius and the continued news of mass shootings in the United States focus attention on the defense of mental disease or defect.    In a previous blog we noted the procedural complications of referring a defendant for a thirty-day psychiatric examination during trial.  Can this all be the consequence of his expert’s claim at trial that he suffered a generalized anxiety disorder following the amputation of his lower legs and a difficult childhood?  Even the defense expert testified that this disorder did not mean he could not distinguish between right and wrong.  Why is the question of his ability to understand the difference between right and wrong and to conform his conduct even being pursued?  At some point, we are likely to be treated to headlines that say something like “Pistorius knew what he was doing!” or “Pistorius flunks insanity test,” or something equally misleading, irrelevant, and prejudicial.  Alternatively, if the doctors find that he did not pass the test, will the defense now seek to disprove that to avoid indefinite commitment in a mental institution?

Another interesting development is a report of research from the University of Glasgow about serial or mass murderers.    That study concluded that 28% of such killers suffered from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), 21% of such killers suffered a head injury in the past, and of those with ASD or head injury, 55% had experienced some psychosocial stressors in the past.  To be sure, this is important research.   We will have to watch to see if or how it makes its way into court in the context of criminal responsibility, criminal procedure, and sentencing.


May 22, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Stealth Authoritarianism

Ozan Varol of the Lewis & Clark Law School has posted "Stealth Authoritarianism" on SSRN. The abstract reads:

     "Authoritarianism is undergoing a metamorphosis. Historically, authoritarians openly repressed opponents by violence and harassment and subverted the rule of law to perpetuate their rule. The post-Cold War crackdown on these transparently authoritarian practices provided significant incentives to avoid them. Instead, the new generation of authoritarians learned to perpetuate their power through the same legal mechanisms that exist in democratic regimes. In so doing, they cloak repressive practices under the mask of law, imbue them with the veneer of legitimacy, and render anti-democratic practices much more difficult to detect and eliminate.

     This Article identifies and offers the first comprehensive cross-regional account of that phenomenon, which I term stealth authoritarianism. Drawing on rational-choice theory, the Article explains the expansion of stealth authoritarianism across different case studies. The Article fills a significant void in the literature, which has left undertheorized the authoritarian learning that occurred after the Cold War and the emerging reliance on legal, particularly sub-constitutional, mechanisms to perpetuate political power. Although stealth authoritarian practices are more prevalent in nondemocracies, the Article illustrates that they can also surface in regimes with favorable democratic credentials, including the United States. In so doing, the Article informs important questions in legal theory by demonstrating the limits of democratic processes and their vulnerability to abuse.

     The Article concludes by discussing the implications of stealth authoritarianism for scholars and policymakers. The existing democracy-promotion mechanisms in the United States and elsewhere are of limited use in detecting stealth authoritarian tactics. Paradoxically, these mechanisms, which have narrowly focused on eliminating transparent democratic deficiencies, have provided legal and political cover to stealth authoritarian practices and created the very conditions in which these practices thrive. In addition, stealth authoritarianism can ultimately make authoritarian governance more durable by concealing anti-democratic practices under the mask of law. At the same time, however, stealth authoritarianism is less insidious than its traditional, more repressive alternative and can, under some circumstances, produce the conditions by which democracy can expand and mature, in a two-steps-forward-one-step-backward dynamic."
The article may be accessed via this link:



May 18, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Capital Punishment Redux: Recent Executions and International Norms

In a recent article in The Diplomat, Professor Margaret K. Lewis, of Seton Hall Law School, evaluates whether recent executions in the United States and Taiwan satisfy prevailing international norms.  Specifically, Prof. Lewis looks at the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which encourages abolition, and The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), whose special rapporteur recently  concluded that "states cannot guarantee that therere is a pain-free method of execution."

While the botched execution of  Clayton Lockett gained headlines in the United States, five executions carried out in Taiwan last week - the first in over a year - raise questions about Taiwan's position vis a vis the death penalty.  When, in 2009, Taiwan incorporated the ICCPR into domestic law, an international group of experts who reviewed implementation recommended a moratorium on executions as a move toward abolition of capital punishment.  Their additional recommendation to adhere to CAT has not been addressed by the Taiwanese government to date. 

To read Prof. Lewis's article, click this link.

May 15, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Our Struggle against Islamic Fundamentalism

Since 9/11, various levels of the American government have sought, not only to prevent another attack by Islamic fundamentalists on U.S. soil, but also to combat the inroads made by Islamic law overseas. In today’s news, three stories highlight different frontlines of this battle, as well as the limits and miscalculations of American power and influence to undercut the influence of Islamic fundamentalism.

First up to the plate is the report by Joseph Goldstein in the New York Times that NYPD detectives make regular trips to the city’s jails, not to investigate crime, but rather to recruit Muslim informants. Mr. Goldstein reports that detectives routinely question numerous individuals, who were incarcerated for mostly minor criminal offenses, in an effort to spy on mosques throughout the city. According to the article, the Citywide Debriefing Team “interviewed” some 220 suspects in the first quarter of 2014. Although city officials claim that the program is modeled on other programs to recruit informants to investigate crimes such as drug trafficking, the program raises several red flags on both the individual and societal level. On the individual level, the program intrudes on the suspect’s liberty and privacy interests. First, because the potential informants are often held for a longer period of time, if only a few hours, until a member of the debriefing unit arrives, the program interferes with the suspect’s liberty interests. Second, because the detectives gather information on the suspect’s family, religious practices, and immigrant communities, the program is yet one more example of how the state has extended its reach into our private lives. Finally, in some respects, the program is more coercive than plea bargaining, as some informants may feel pressured into surrendering their privacy and information about their family lives, in exchange for the dismissal of petty charges.

On the societal level, a report by NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, points to several problems with law enforcement’s use of Muslim informants. First, this policy assumes that most Muslims living in the U.S. have some ties to terrorism. Using similarly flawed logic, these policies assume that the U.S. faces a real threat from homegrown Muslim terrorists. Perhaps, most disturbingly, because the policies are based on a preventative, rather than a reactive, model of policing, they threaten to create crime through police entrapment with little oversight or accountability.

The second story of interest involves the boycott by movie industry executives of the famous Beverly Hills Hotel.  The primary motivation for the boycott is the fact that the hotel is owned by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei who recently adopted a harsh form of Islamic law.  The “new” laws, which went into effect on May 1st, calls for gays and adulterers to be stoned and thieves to be punished by having their limbs amputated. Both the International Commission of Jurists and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have condemned the new laws.  Brunei is not alone in embracing Sharia law as it continues to influence legal norms in 12 other countries throughout the world including Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although boycotts can be an effective way of publicizing an issue, the small scale of this boycott is unlikely to provoke Brunei to rewrite its legal codes.

The final article highlights one of the side effects of our country’s recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq-the human cost of battle. Barry Meier’s article, “A Soldier’s War on Pain,” we are reminded of the human cost of war.  Four years ago, Sgt. Shane Savage was seriously injured in Afghanistan when his armored truck was blown apart by a roadside bomb. After battling chronic pain for several years after the blast, the Sgt. has found a way to handle his pain without the use of narcotics. The lifetime of pain that the Sgt. must likely endure is one reminder of the long-lasting costs of our misguided and largely counter-productive military adventures.  One subtext of the article is the fact that Sgt. Savage found his path to healing through an innovative, but not widespread, multi-disciplinary pain treatment program developed by the VA hospital in Tampa, Florida. While many members of Congress quickly voiced support for our war efforts, upgrading our veteran’s medical care is not a top political goal of either party.

These three articles underscore our country’s continued concern with Islamic fundamentalism and the threat that fundamentalism poses to human rights. At the same time, they also highlight the limits and human costs of the use of American power. Most disturbingly, they shine the light on the fact that our policies reflect our overconfidence in the use of power and leverage on our own soil-most notably exploiting our criminal justice system’s most glaring systemic weakness-the exploitation of the rights of our most powerless residents.


Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, “Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the Homegrown Threat in the United States,” (2011). Available online at:

Michael Ciepely, “Brunei Ownership Casts a Shadow on a Beverly Hills Hotel, New York Times, May 9, 2014.

Joseph Goldstein, “New York Police Recruit Muslims to be Informers,” New York Times, May 11, 2014.

Luke Hunt, “Brunei Imposes Sharia Law,” May 2, 2014, The Diplomat-Blog. Available online at: 

Barry Meier, “A Soldier’s War on Pain,” New York Times, May 10, 2014.

May 11, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bringing Plea Bargaining to Brazil

I was lucky to have Rafael Wolff, a Federal Judge in Brazil and an SJD Candidate here at Pace Law School, as a student in my Comparative Criminal Procedure seminar this semester.  Judge Wolff has written a fascinating paper analyzing new legislation – additions to the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure in Brazil -- that would authorize plea bargaining in Brazil for the first time.  The bills would allow a judge, after finding sufficient evidence to support the charge, to allow for immediate imposition of sanctions if there is a 1) total or partial confession about the facts; 2) a request for imposition of the minimum statutory sentence; and 3) an express agreement that the prosecution of evidence is not necessary.  Presently, the only type of “bargain” that can be struck is a non-prosecution agreement, which is used most widely in the prosecution of misdemeanors.

These proposals have been met with opposition in Brazil, based largely on a concern that defendants will plead guilty involuntarily, and innocent people may be convicted. Some opponents also fear that the negotiating process would alter the truth seeking process, and hamper the ability of officials to carry out an investigation into the facts of the case.  United States District Court Judge Peter J. Messitte noted that the Brazilian judicial system has generally remained committed to the traditions of an inquisitorial system, resulting in “compulsory prosecution[s], which is to say all cases must go to trial.” He explained  that “[t]he idea of negotiating and bargaining a plea traditionally has [simply] not existed within [Brazil’s] inquisitorial system primarily by reason of the principle that the real truth can never be negotiated.”

But several aspects of Brazilian criminal procedure make the dim scenarios proposed by opponents unlikely to occur. First, a guilty plea may not be accepted unless a judge has already “accepted” the charges, meaning a judge has found sufficient evidence to support the charge.  While this is a low threshold, as it is in the United States, judges in Brazil have full access to the dossier and should theoretically be able to spot weaknesses in the prosecution’s proof that could signal a not guilty defendant. Moreover, as Judge Rafael Wolff explains “not all crimes are complex,” and the likelihood of a miscarriage of justice occurring as a result of a negotiated plea may be largely minimal in such cases.

In addition, the sentence discount available to a pleading defendant is the statutory minimum sentence; unlike the United States prosecutors, who have tremendous discretion in negotiating a plea, the prosecution cannot offer a larger discount that might encourage an innocent defendant to plead guilty.   Notably, prosecutors in Brazil are civil servants, who have no professional stake in a conviction.  Finally, there is no evidence that judges put pressure on prosecutors to enter into non-prosecution agreements under the current regime.

We are all aware of the pros and cons of plea bargaining.  It will be interesting to see if this rather modest, well-regulated proposal – compared to US plea bargaining – is adopted.

Related References:

May 8, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Arranged Marriages in Afghanistan and the Limits of Rule of Law Reforms

Despite the fact that the United States has poured over $900 million  in “rule-of-law” funding into Afghanistan to “modernize” the country’s civil codes and to institutionalize more robust rights for women, many Afghan women face lives defined by arranged marriages. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the legal basis for these marriages is not enshrined in the state’s updated civil code, but rather it is embedded in unwritten customary law developed through the state’s tribal culture.  Prior to the coalition effort to topple the Taliban from power, the ruling Taliban government imposed a strict version of Sharia law which barred women from receiving an education and ordered them to completely obey their husbands and male family member. While the coalition forces voiced public support for improving the lives of women, mere changes in the law have only made limited inroads in improving women’s rights. While the Karzai government has improved the plight of women in Kabul, outside the capital, the tribal warlords have expressed little support for women’s rights.

A key problem with the rule of law programs lies in the fact that ultimately the mindsets of the judges themselves, infused with dominant cultural norms, determine which “law” is applied. The plight of women throughout much of Afghanistan is difficult to reconcile from a Western perspective. According to the Times article, unmarried women found unaccompanied by a relative outside the home, are “routinely subjected to a virginity test.” Women who abscond from arrange marriages, face death at the hands of their own family members.

A family’s commitment to enforcing customary norms may not dim even when they emigrate to the West.  Two years ago, a Canadian man enlisted his son and his wife to kill three of his teenage daughters. The family had left Afghanistan in 1992 finally settling in Canada in 2007. Canadian authorities stated that the killers believed that the victims had brought shame to the family because of their dress, dating, and use of the internet.

The limits of legal reform in Afghanistan were foreseeable. For at least a decade, law and society scholars have highlighted the link between law and culture. As one example, Lawrence Rosen’s book, Law as Culture (2006), highlights the inseparability of law and culture as well as the fact that one should not view the impact of culture on the law as a mere afterthought.


Associated Press, “Honour Killings: Canadian Authorities Finds Afghan Family Guilty of Honour Killings,” The Guardian, January 29, 2012.

Heather Barr, “Women’s Rights in Afghanistan Must be Steadfastly Respected,” JURIST-Hotline, March 5, 2014.

Paul Schiff Berman, “The Enduring Connections Between Law and Culture: Reviewing Lawrence Rosen, Law as Culture, and Oscar Chase, Law, Culture, and Ritual”, 57 Am. J. Comp. L. 101 (2009)

Blog Post, N. Lukanovich, “Women in Afghanistan-Before and After the Taliban,”   November 7, 2008. Available online at:

Clifford Geertz, “Local Knowledge: Fact and Law in Comparative Perspective,” in LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: FURTHER ESSAYS IN INTERPRETIVE ANTHROPOLOGY (1983). 

Rod Nordland, “In Spite of Law, Afghan ‘Honor Killings’ Continue, New York Times, May 3, 2014


May 6, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

International Spotlight on the Death Penalty

It doesn’t seem right to let the execution debacle in Oklahoma go un-remarked on this blog.  While this domestic tragedy might not be appropriate for a comparative law blog under normal circumstances, the fact that France, Spain and England have publically commented on it raises a comparativists interests, as does the mass death sentence of almost 700 people this week in Egypt.

Usually, our European colleagues hold their noses but remain quiet about the outlaw justice that the U.S. death penalty represents to them.   Uncharacteristically, however, the botched execution, which resulted in an excruciating death – “cruel and unsual” as a Times editorial called it - spurred our allies to public comment.

The death penalty is banned in the European Union, with Belarus the only European country that still carries out legal executions.  The UK banned the death penalty long ago, and France banned it in 1981.  The immorality of this sentence is old news to Europeans.  What is interesting however, is that the EU has also moved to ban the export to the United States of the kinds of drugs used for lethal injections and, as a result, one company has stopped making them and others, fearing sanctions, have sought to prevent their use in executions.  It is not surprising, then, that US jurisdictions, like Oklahoma, have had trouble getting the kinds of lethal drugs they need to carry out their executions properly and have resorted to unknown and unnamed sources of supply for unnamed and undisclosed drugs.  The botched execution appears to be the result of that misguided practice.

As reported in the New York Times, France, Spain, and the UK all issued official statements condemning the execution in Oklahoma and urging the abolition of the death penalty worldwide as a matter of “human dignity,” “principle,” and its lack of demonstrated “deterrent value.”

According to Amnesty International, twenty-two countries conducted 778 executions in 2013.  These figures do not include executions in China, where death penalty statistics are considered a state secret and are unavailable.  Amnesty International reports that China executed more people than all of the other countries in the world combined.   The US is the only country in the Americas to have carried out any executions in 2013, with 41% taking place in Texas. 

Suffice it to say we are not in good company.   This has been recognized in the Supreme Court’s controversial juvenile death penalty cases, where Justice Anthony Kennedy, in particular, has pointed out our ignoble place in the developed world on juvenile executions in particular.  In Roper v. Simons, Justice Kennedy explained that “[i]t does not lessen our fidelity to the Constitution or our pride in its origins to acknowledge that the express affirmation of certain fundamental rights by other nations and peoples simply underscores the centrality of those same rights within our own heritage of freedom.”

To be sure, the White House also condemned the barbarity of yesterday’s execution.  White House Press Secretary Jay Carney commented “that we have a fundamental standard in this country that even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out humanely. And I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of that standard.”

Politically, of course, the Left has been opposed to the death penalty for years, and the Right has joined the bandwagon in some instances as part of its austerity and anti-big government agenda.  Is it possible that market forces will ultimately determine this important moral issue?  If pharmaceutical companies have a financial disincentive to produce the correct drugs and the public continues to be treated to medieval, town-square executions like yesterday’s, maybe enough will be enough.  It will not be the first or last time that money talks. 

Related Readings


May 1, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

South Korea’s Prime Minister Resigns over Ferry Disaster

According to today’s New York Times, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won has resigned in response to the country’s recent ferry disaster.   To date, prosecutors have identified several factors as the reason why the ship capsized and sank. Most notably, the addition of cabins in the ship’s upper deck made the ship top-heavy undermined the ship’s ability to right itself after the navigator attempted to make a sharp turn in a strong current. In addition, the ship’s crew failed to secure the ship's cargo properly, impairing the ship’s ability to right itself.  Given the nature of these findings, it is unsurprising that prosecutors have arrested the ship’s captain as well as the ship’s navigation officers.  Making matters worse, many members of the crew evacuated the ship first leaving passengers to fend for themselves.  There are also indications that the coast guard radio dispatchers did not respond quickly enough to the disaster.

Culpability for the over 300 deaths caused by the mishap is unlikely to stop there however. Indeed, investigators have identified a number of lax safety measures and weak regulatory oversight as additional reasons why the ship sank. In an indication that prosecutors may be ordering further arrests in the case, prosecutors have barred several officials from a maritime inspection agency from leaving the country.

What makes this case interesting from a comparative law and culture perspective is that, from a legal standpoint, the Prime Minister is not responsible for the deaths of the passengers.  However, the disaster occurred just as the public has become increasingly frustrated over the country’s lax regulatory measures.  The number of disasters caused by ineffective regulations is so high that the country is known as “the land of disasters.” While the country’s current President, Park Geun-hye, has sharply criticized the crew and the regulatory system’s shortcomings, the media has called on her to make good on her campaign promise to become the “administration of safety.”

That disconnect between the Administration’s campaign promise and the role that government regulators played in the disaster created a unique pressure point. In the United States, the finger-pointing would have most likely led a lower ranking government official to resign in an attempt to deflect the criticism from the President. Of course, our more recent political history suggests that an official on the hot seat may wait to resign until the disaster has abated so that they can point to other reasons for resigning.  When an elected politician is involved in a character-related “incident,” members of their party may attempt to pressure them to resign so that the issue does not tarnish the party’s reputation.  Still, the concept of character in the U.S. is more fluid than in other countries around the globe. There are many examples in American politics where a disgraced politician has rehabilitated their reputation.

While criminal culpability for the incident may be limited to those directly involved in the disaster, from a societal perspective, the responsibility for the accident extends beyond those immediately responsible up to the top layers of government. Underlying the prime minister’s resignation is the sense of honor and responsibility that undergirds South Korean society. As the number two person in an administration that had pledged itself to improving the safety of South Korean citizens, the prime minister’s resignation was a politically symbolic way for the government to save face.  

Another causality of the disaster, Kang Min Khu, was the Vice Principal of the school where many of the students on the ship hailed from.  Though Khu survived the disaster, he committed suicide two days later.  In the disaster’s aftermath, many of the students’ family members had chastised him as the field trip was his idea and he had not ensured the students’ safety.  Committing suicide in an Asian society is one way that individuals attempt to save face and to atone for their public disgrace.

Several individuals on board did act honorably. Most notably, one female crew member, Jee Young, handed out life jackets and helped several passengers escape the ship.  Unfortunately, the 22 year old woman, perished as the ship sank.


Madison Park and Stella Kim, “As Sewel Crew is scorned, young worker hailed as heroine,“ CNN, April 23, 2014.

 Choe Sang-Hun, “Inquiry in Ferry Disaster Shifts to Safety Certification, “New York Times, April 25, 2014.

Choe Sang-Hun, “Korea Confronts Tendency to Overlook Safety as Toll in Ferry Sinking Grows, April 22, 2014.

Choe Sang-Hun, “South Korean Prime Minister Offers to Resign Over Deadly Ferry Disaster,” April 26, 2014.

April 27, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Global Bribery: The UK’s GlaxoSmithKline Prosecution


The UK’s Bribery Act 2010  represents a bold step toward leveling the commercial playing field for UK companies doing business worldwide and for foreign companies doing business in the UK.  It has been called the “toughest anti-corruption legislation in the world,” due mostly to four important provisions.  First, the Act is broadly extraterritorial, applicable to companies anywhere where those companies have any “close connection” with the UK.   It applies to payment of as well as receipt of a bribe to obtain or retain business or to secure a business advantage.   Second, it contains a new corporate strict liability provision for failing to prevent bribery by any ‘associated person’ in connection with its business.  A person will be ‘associated with’ the company where that person performs services for the company, whether as employee, subsidiary, intermediary, or supplier.   The only defense against this strict liability crime requires proof that a company maintained “adequate procedures.”  Third, the Act provides for Deferred Prosecution Agreements as an alternative to prosecution, something that is not widely available in typical UK criminal prosecutions.  Finally, the level of fines under the UK’s sentencing guidelines are intended to result in punishments that are “substantial enough to have real economic impact.”  Individuals are subject to sentences of up to ten years and both individuals and companies are subject to unlimited fines.  

For US readers, the differences between the UK’s Bribery Act and the US’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act should be apparent.  First, the FCPA applies only to bribery of foreign public officials, not to payments made to private individuals.  In addition, there is no criminal culpability for receipt of a bribe.   Second, it does not have the same kind of broad extraterritorial applicability: it applies to acts by US issuers, concerns and their agents and employees outside of the US, and to acts by US citizens or residents anywhere. .   Third, there is no strict liability offense for failing to prevent bribery by any individual. Fourth, there is no liability for receipt of a bribe.    Finally, sentences of imprisonment are limited to up to five years.  Corporations and other business entities may be fined up to $2 million per violation and officers, directors, stockholders, employees and agents up to $250,000 per violation.  Under the Alternative Fines Act, a fine may be up to twice the benefit that the defendant sought. 

Does the UK’s Bribery Act have teeth?  In the absence of a major prosecution to date, observers are watching the pending GlaxoSmithKline prosecution.  Already under investigation in China and in Iraq, GSK is now being investigated by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office for allegedly bribing doctors to prescribe its medicines in Poland.     GSK has asserted an Adequate Procedures defense to the strict liability charges.   How this will play out – or whether it will play out - in a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, given this initial non-cooperation – remains to be seen.   

Whether or not the GSK prosecution results in a significant penalty by deferred prosecution agreement or through a full prosecution, international companies may still be subject to the US’s FCPA.    Thus, on several levels, the GSK case will provide substantial information about corporate responsibility for corruption worldwide.  

Related Readings

April 25, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The New French Marriage in an International and Comparative Law Perspectives

Angelique Devaux, who is a French licensed attorney with an L.L.M. from Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law, recently posted this forthcoming article on SSRN. The abstract reads:

“Drinking, eating, sleeping together is marriage it seems to me” already wrote Antoine Loysel, Jurisconsult, into Institutes Coutumières at the beginning of the 16th century.

After several failed attempts and the creation of a civil partnership designed as a semi-loophole to a heated debate and timely subject, it took France more than twelve years after the Netherlands to finally join the family of countries authorizing marriage of homosexual couples.

Equality is the key word of the French reform: Equality in duties and rights that allows an identical access for legal protection to marriage like for opposite-sex couples, inspired from The Declaration of Human and Civic Rights of 26 August 1789.

To perfect the equality to an international level, the Act of 17 May 2013 included language which states that marriages performed in a foreign jurisdiction satisfy the legal requirements of marriages in France. The new bill also confirms France’s traditional choice of law rule according to
which the law of the nationality of each spouse applies to the substantive validity of marriage. In order to be effective, the statute adopts a new conflict of law rule providing that same-sex marriage would still be allowed when the national law, or the law of the residence, or the law of the domicile
of one of the spouses allows it. Intended to translate an extensive and cosmopolitan access to same-sex marriage, the new rules of conflict of laws suffer in reality from imperfection and do not provide an equal access to marriage for all, in particular due to historical international conventions that
superseded the law.

The difficulties for both gay and lesbian spouses occupy an even more prominent place in today's globalized world where more and more couples live outside their country of origin. As soon as cross-border elements come, the new definition of French marriage faces a multitude of challenges related to immigration, benefits, adoption, international wealth management, matrimonial property regime, divorce, and succession.

What are the surrounding practical consequences when same-sex married couples decide
to move abroad, and how to solve or to anticipate all the dormant problems?

In this paper, I am examining some of the potential issues related to same-sex marriage and conflict of laws in a comparative law perspective, and I suggest a new approach to deal with these coming questions in accordance with the international and European tools that may serve individuals from countries that already have opened marriage to same-sex couples, and those who want to join the international family

April 23, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Should Hate Speech Be Protected? Group Defamation, Party Bans, Holocaust Denial and the Divide between (France) Europe and the United States.

Ioanna Tourkochoriti, a Wertheim Fellow at Harvard Law School,  has posted a new article on SSRN. From the abstract:
Abstract: The 2011 legislative proposal by the French Government to criminalize denial of the Armenian Genocide — and the legislation’s invalidation by the French Constitutional Council on rule of law grounds without seriously addressing the free speech concerns underlying the case — raised once more the question of the limits of hate speech protection and of political tolerance in a democratic society. Is it legitimate for the state to intervene in order to protect its citizens from offensive speech or from the danger of arriving at erroneous opinions? Hate speech manifests itself today in various forms, but in general, European law is more restrictive of hate speech than U.S. law. This Article presents the different legal responses in Europe and the United States and evaluates them. Whereas most analysts take an "all or nothing" approach to these issues — believing that, if limits are placed on hate speech, then those limits should apply broadly to hate speech in all of its manifestations — the analysis in this Article shows why we should distinguish between different types of hate speech for philosophical reasons grounded within liberalism. The Article proposes a philosophical approach that justifies the punishment of group defamation while opposing bans of certain political parties and the criminalization of the contestation of historical facts.

April 19, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 14, 2014

YCC Workshop on Comparative Business and Financial Law

 The Younger Comparativists Committee (YCC) of the American Society of Comparative Law (ASCL) is pleased to invite submissions for a workshop on comparative business and financial law to be held on November 7-8, 2014 at UC Davis School of Law in Davis, California. The purpose of the workshop is to highlight, develop, and promote the scholarship of new and younger comparativists in accounting, banking, bankruptcy, corporations, commercial law, economics, finance, and securities.

Up to thirty papers will be chosen from those submitted for presentation at the workshop pursuant to this Call for Papers. The workshop audience will include invited young scholars, faculty from UC Davis School of Law and Graduate School of Management, faculty from other institutions, and invited guests.

Submissions will be accepted from scholars who have held a full-time academic appointment for no more than ten years as of June 30, 2014.

Submission Instructions

To submit an entry, scholars should email an attachment in Microsoft Word or PDF containing an abstract of no more than 1000 words before July 1, 2014, to the following address: Please title the email "YCC Business Law Workshop – [Name]." Abstracts should reflect original research that will not yet have been published, though may have been accepted for publication, by the time of the workshop. Abstracts should include a cover page with the author’s name, title of the paper, institutional affiliation, contact information, as well as the author’s certification that she/he qualifies as a younger scholar.


April 14, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

South Africa: Reflections on the Pistorius Trial

The Oscar Pistorius trial continues in what feels like full view of the entire world.  It feels almost mandatory to make some comparativist contribution about a trial that everyone is watching. 

For me, the most striking observation has come from seeing the picture of the judge and the defendant in the same frame.  On the bench sits a distinguished, diminuitive Black woman in judicial robes and finery, Judge Thokozile Masipa, who has been chosen, apparently at random, to judge a White,  South African man.  I was alive during apartheid and thus this image ranks, for me, in the same moving category as pictures of Barak Obama being elected President of the United States.

The same image, however, causes me to catch my breath when I realize that the choice between  Pistorius’s version of what happened the night of the shooting of his girlfriend or the prosecution’s version of that same night belongs not to a jury, as it would in the United States, but to this single judge and her two expert assessors.  In this case, as in South Africa generally, there is no lay jury.  In the Pretorius case, Judge Masipa appointed  two “assessors” who will sit with her to decide whether Pistorius reasonably believed he was protecting himself and his girlfriend during a home invasion.  As far as it appears, the appointment of “assessors” contemplates that they will have some expertise, for example, that they are lawyers, retired magistrates, or law professors, or that they have some special expertise, for example, in forensics or otherwise, that is relevant to the case.   The reason the two assessors was chosen has not been addressed in the press.  In any event, the right to a lay jury trial in South Africa was gradually whittled down and then ultimately abolished in 1969.  Certainly, it would feel more comfortable to leave this up to three experts were the issue not one so perfectly intended for the deliberation of twelve jurors:  what did the defendant intend?  In the United States, of course, this is a classic jury question. See e.g., Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 274 (1952) (“Where intent of the accused is an ingredient of the crime charged, its existence is a question of fact which must be submitted to the jury.”); People v. Fernandez, 64 A.D.3d 307, 310 (1st Dept. 2009) (“What is true of the specific mens rea of criminal intent is true of mens rea generally: it is quintessentially a question for the jury.”); People v. Flack, 125 N.Y. 324, 334 (1891)) (“[T]o constitute guilt there must not only be a wrongful act, but a criminal intention. Under our system, (unless in exceptional cases,) both must be found by the jury to justify a conviction for crime.”).

One safeguard under South African law is that whatever a majority of the three fact finders decide will become the verdict.    As in other circumstances and jurisdictions, where there is a mixture of judicial fact finders, the non-judicial jurors can decide contrary to the judicial fact finder and determine the verdict.   Questions of law, and of sentence, remain with the single judge.

One wonders about the reason for and impact of all of the extremely gory forensic evidence that the prosecutors have presented and the impact of Pistorius’s extreme emotionality in the courtroom.  It seems fair to say that this sort of evidence and behavior would not be allowed in a US jury trial, for example, the comparison between the melon Pistorius apparently shot at in target practice and the victim’s head and Pistorius’s retching in the courtroom.  A mistrial would certainly have to be declared.   For us in the United States, this raises the differences between a bench trial and a jury trial.  Presumably, a judge sitting as fact finder can put gruesome or otherwise prejudicial evidence or behavior out of mind and arrive at an unaffected verdict.    In this case, that task would not be easy for anyone.  One hopes that the judges will see their way clear to a just verdict.

Related Readings


April 10, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Drone Justice and the Threat to Privacy

Last week, a Federal District Court Judge dismissed a suit filed by relatives of two individuals killed in U.S. drone attacks- Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both individuals were killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011 that was designed to kill Awlaki. Khan was apparently collateral damage. A second drone strike, two weeks later, killed Awlaki’s sixteen year old son as well several other individuals. The suit alleged that U.S. government officials violated the victims’ fundamental right to due process and the right to be free from an unreasonable seizure. It is important to note that the killing of the militant cleric was no accident. In fact, according to New York Times reporter Charlie Savage, a legal memo penned by members of the Obama Administration’s Office of Legal Counsel had made the case for killing Alwaki. While there are good reasons to believe that Alwaki posed a significant threat to Americans, the decision to kill an American sets a dangerous legal precedent. It also underscores once again the latitude taken by both the Bush and Obama Administrations as a result of Congress’s decision to authorize the use of military force against al Qaeda in 2001.

     There are other legal issues as well related to the escalated use of drones both by the United States and by other countries.Since 9/11, drones have become an integral component of the American arsenal in our effort to combat terrorism. Although drones reduce the economic costs of waging war and enable the U.S. to eliminate individuals who represent a security threat, the use of the drones has as led to numerous civilian casualties. Reports by the New America Foundation, Amnesty International, and several scholars estimate that the number of civilian casualties ranges from hundreds to thousands. According to Human Rights Watch estimates, “the US has carried out at least 400 drone strikes since Obama took office, reportedly killing upwards of 2,600 people.”

      The United States is not alone in developing drone technology for war time purposes. While the Washington Post   reported in 2010 that 50 countries were attempting to develop drone technology, more recent estimates have come close to doubling that number. Even the United Nations has gotten into the act deploying drones to observe armed conflict from a safe distance.  Despite the lack of debate within the European Parliament on the matter, a report by Statewatch disclosed that a secret budget line within new EU legislation on air traffic control contained a 70 million Euro expense to develop drones for European police forces, border guards, and security services.

     Unfortunately, the development of drone technology has occurred without much public debate about their proper use. Given the degree of militarization that has occurred in U.S. domestic police forces during the last thirty years, one might expect that police forces around the country will soon be clamoring to deploy the technology on U.S. soil. Given the extent to which the development of  computing technology has eroded our privacy rights, the future of privacy in an age of domestic drone deployment gives us little reason to hope that those rights will not be further eroded.


Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (2013)

BBC News, 3 December 2013, “UN Starts Drone Surveillance in DR Congo.”

Charlie Savage, “Secret U.S. Memo Made Legal Case to Kill a Citizen,” 11 October 2011. New York Times.

Bruno Waterfield, 12 February 2014, “EU 'spent £320 million on surveillance drone development'.” The Telegraph.

April 7, 2014 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Japan: Retrial Granted in 1966 Capital Case

Iwao Hakamada, 78, the world’s longest serving death row inmate, was convicted of killing his employer and his employer’s wife and two children in 1966.  He has been on Japan’s death row since that time.    And on Japan’s death row, a definite execution date is never set, so that each day can be the inmate’s last.  In granting a retrial, the judge relied on the possible fabrication of evidence by prosecutors in the form of blood stained clothes that came to light a year after the crime.  These clothes did not fit the defendant, were covered with stains too vivid for their age, and, when tested revealed no DNA link to Hakamada.

Like over 90 percent of defendants in Japan, Hakemada had confessed to the crime, and it was this confession that formed the real basis for his conviction.  He did so after being brutally interrogated, quickly recanted his confession, and has maintained his innocence throughout the past forty-eight years.  Confessions are the linchpin to Japan’s 99 percent conviction rate.  Japanese law allows detention for up to three days, during the first day of which the prosecution may request an extension of detention for a ten day period, which may itself be extended by ten days.  Judges regularly grant these requests and, as a result, it is routine for detention to last a full 23 days with no limits to the length of interrogation.  There also are strict limits on the right to counsel for detainees.

Although nominally an adversary system since post-World War II, several aspects of Japanese criminal justice make it vulnerable to wrongful convictions based on coerced and unreliable confessions.  First, a cultural value is placed on expressing remorse and accepting responsibility.  Second, prosecutors are under pressure to bring only slam-dunk cases which, without conclusive forensic proof, will usually require a confession.  Third, until recent reforms, there was virtually no pretrial disclosure by the prosecution to the defense.  Fourth, as noted above, the law allows for extended, unsupervised, uncounseled interrogation and judges routinely accede to the prosecutor’s discretion and control of the investigation.  Finally, extraordinary judicial deference is paid to prosecutorial discretion.

A country like Japan, whose justice system is largely controlled by its inquisitorial investigative process, needs to get to the root of the problem by requiring counsel to be present during interrogations and by requiring the recording of any interrogations by the police.   In 2004 there was legislative reform requiring counsel during investigative interrogation, but a bill requiring the recording of interrogations did not pass.  Since then, the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s office has instituted reforms that include partial videotaping of some interrogations, internal supervision and review procedures, written reports of interrogations, a list of specific techniques that may not be used, and a prohibition against interrogations from 10-5 am.  In addition, interrogations may not last more than eight hours without prior permission from the head of the police office.

 These changes are to be commended and reflect some of the changes brought about by law enforcement in the United States and the United Kingdom.  To the extent that these are voluntary reforms, however, their success will remain to be seen.  Particularly problematic is the decision to partially videotape interrogations, which can be extremely misleading.    And, of course, few law enforcement reforms can make a real difference in the face of strong judicial deference to the prosecution.    Nevertheless, the grant of a retrial in this very visible, historic, case is a good sign of what is, hopefully, Japan’s continuing criminal justice evolution. 






April 3, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Using Simulations in Comparative National Security Law

This Friday, I will be joining a group of innovative law professors from around the country to participate in LegalEd's inagural conference entittled "Igniting Law Teaching." The conference, which will be held at American University's Washington College of Law, is a TEDx-Styled conference and will feature short presentations by more than three dozen innovative legal educators. Following the TEDex format, each professor will give an eight minute talk to introduce their  teaching innovation. The event may be viewed live. In addition, the folks at LegalED will be recording the presentations and uploading them on to the LegalEd website in an effort to spread the word on these innovative teaching pedagogies.

During my presentation, I will be giving viewers advice and insight on how to plan and execute a crisis simulation as part of a course in national security law. Since I teach national security law from a comparative perspective, students are charged with learning how culture, history, and the law frames a particular state's response to terrorism.  While that is a tall order, the most challenging part of my course is a four hour crisis simulation exercise in which students play the roles of government officials from around the world and respond in role to a series of crisis events. This challenging event tests students' ability to apply the law learned in the classroom in a crisis situation.

When I first began teaching my course, I borrowed ideas and advice from Amos Guiora, who has planned ground-breaking simulations at Utah's S. J. Quinney College of Law. While I don't claim to have matched Utah's track record, our simulations at IU-McKinney have proven to be highly successful. Our first simulation was featured in a public television documentary entitled "Tough Decisions"  which won an Emmy Award for the Great Lakes Region. At the LegalEd event, I intend to share the multiple lessons that I've learned from planning these simulations in Indianapolis so that other professors may incorporate simulations into their national security courses.

The numerous other presentations scheduled for this Friday are organized around the themes of:

1.  Flipping the Law School Classroom

2.  Using the Classroom for Active Learning

3.  Applying Learning Theory to Legal Education

4. The Craft of Law Teaching

5.  Simulations, Feedback & Assessment

6.  Beyond Traditional Law Subjects

7.  Teaching for the 21st Century

The link for the LegalEd website may be found at: If you are interested in watching the event live this coming Friday, April 4th, the link is:

Watch the Live Webcast

March 31, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Can “Real” Corroboration Requirements Prevent Wrongful Convictions?

The statistics coming out of the New York-based Innocence Project based on a review of post-conviction DNA exonerations  - cases in which the defendants were indisputably innocent - show that 75 percent of those convictions involved mistaken identification testimony, 25 percent involved false confessions, and 15 percent involved the testimony of informants or snitches who stood to benefit from testifying against the defendants. It would seem appropriate to acknowledge these figures in constructing safeguards against the admission of unreliable evidence, at least in the United States.   Requiring that these demonstrably, potentially unreliable kinds of proof be corroborated is one way to protect against wrongful convictions.

In the United States, of course, corroboration requirements are few and far between.  In the federal system, there is no corroboration requirement generally.  However; the U.S. Supreme Court has held that a defendant may not be convicted solely on a confession unless it is corroborated by evidence showing that the crime was committed by the defendant. Opper v. United States, 348 U.S. 84 (1954); Smith v. United States, 348 U.S. 147, 152 (1954) (“[A]n accused may not be convicted on his own uncorroborated confession.”). Nevertheless, this is a very low evidentiary threshold, and does little to address the fallibility of a conviction that rests significantly on a confession itself.  Indeed, recent science shows that many factors -including mental health issues and aggressive law enforcement tactics- can themselves yield false confessions that contain corroborating details.  

According to Dr. Richard A. Leo, who conducted comprehensive empirical research on the causes and correlates of false confessions, there are three sequential errors, which occur during a police-elicited false confession, that lead to a wrongful conviction –none of which are protectable against under the scant corroboration requirement imposed by federal courts. He observed that “[i]nvestigators first misclassify an innocent person as guilty; they next subject him to a guilt-presumptive, accusatory interrogation that invariably involves lies about evidence and often the repeated use of implicit and explicit promises and threats as well. Once they have elicited a false admission, they pressure the suspect to provide a post-admission narrative that they jointly shape, often supplying the innocent suspect with the (public and nonpublic) facts of the crime.”

There is currently no federal corroboration requirement for accomplice testimony, snitches, or one-witness identification – also demonstrably vulnerable proof in support of one’s guilt.  See, e.g.,  United States v. Florez, 447 F.3d 145, 155 (2nd Cir. 2006) (“[A] federal conviction may be supported ‘by the uncorroborated testimony’ of even a single accomplice witness.”). Furthermore, Congress has also  abolished the long-standing rule requiring corroboration in perjury prosecutions that exists in virtually every common law jurisdiction. See 18 U.S.C. 1623(e) (“It shall not be necessary that such proof be made by any particular number of witnesses or by documentary or other type of evidence”); United States v. Diggs, 560 F.2d 266, 269 (7th Cir. 1977) (“Although the two-witness rule is “deeply rooted in past centuries, it is not of constitutional dimensions. Indeed, Congress has seen fit to abolish it in cases involving false declarations under oath before a grand jury or courts which are prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. s 1623.”)(internal citations omitted).

New York State has slightly stricter corroboration requirements.  In addition to retaining the two-witness rule in perjury prosecutions, N.Y. PEN. LAW § 210.50, New York requires corroboration of a confession, NY CPL  § 60.50,  much like the federal rule.   It also requires corroboration of accomplices, NY CPL § 60.22 (1),  of unsworn child witnesses, N.Y. CPL. LAW § 60.20 (2) & (3),  and of sexual abuse crime victims whose lack of consent is based on mental infirmity. N.Y. PEN. LAW § 130.16.  But it does not require corroboration of jail house snitches or of single identifying witnesses.

Although New York’s corroboration rule may appear more expansive, it requires very little.  For example, the New York Court of Appeals held in People v. Reome that the “corroborative evidence” required by NY CPL 60.22 (1) “need not be powerful in itself.” Id. at 191. The Court explained that “the corroborative evidence need not show the commission of the crime; it need not show that defendant was connected with the commission of the crime. It is enough if it tends to connect the defendant with the commission of the crime in such a way as may reasonably satisfy the jury that the accomplice is telling the truth.” Id. at 192.

Looking abroad, the courts of England and Wales also have no general corroboration requirement, but do retain the requirement in perjury prosecutions. R v Peach, (1990) 2 WLR 976.  In an interesting development, Scotland has  recently abolished its long-standing, unique corroboration requirement, but has appointed a commission to study what safeguards should be imposed in light of this.   

If corroboration requirements are going to have an impact in preventing wrongful convictions, it is worth thinking about how they might be most effective.  Rules requiring corroboration generally require that a trial jury be instructed to acquit in the absence of the required corroboration.   Given the small number of cases that actually get tried in the United States, it might be more effective to impose a corroboration requirement at the charging stage – prohibiting prosecution in the absence of two sources of proof.   And with the U.S. prosecutors’ unreviewable and extensive discretion over which of many statutory charges to bring in the course of plea negotiations, a corroboration requirement at the charging stage might have an impact on the fairness and accuracy of both guilty pleas and verdicts. 

Related Readings

March 28, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)