CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Serial Rapist Continues Because of DNA Computer Glitch

A serial rapist was able to continue his streak of rapes in Colorado because an FBI contractor failed to enter DNA from his first victim's crime scene into the state DNA database.  Had the contractor done so, he would have learned the identity of the rapist, Brent Brents, whose DNA was in the database from prior convictions.  Then, of course, the police would have been able to arrest Brents before he committed several more rapes.  Full story here.  [Mark Godsey]

February 22, 2005 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

New Article Spotlight: Gender and Racial Disparities in Sentencing

SchanzmaMax Schanzenbach of Northwestern Law has posted Racial and Gender Disparities in Prison Sentences:  The Effect of District-Level Judicial Demographics on SSRN. Here's the abstract:

Studies of federal prison sentences consistently find unexplained racial and gender disparities in the length of sentence and in the probability of receiving jail time and departures from the Sentencing Guidelines. These disparities disfavor blacks, Hispanics, and men. A problem with interpreting these studies is that the source of the disparities remains unidentified. The gravest concern is that sentencing disparities are the result of prejudice, but other explanations have not been ruled out. For example, wealth and quality of legal counsel are poorly controlled for and are undoubtedly correlated with race. This paper uses the political, racial, and gender composition of the district court bench to estimate the effect of judicial demographics on sentencing and on observed racial and gender disparities. The evidence presented here suggests that judicial demographics have little influence on prison sentences in general, but do impact racial and gender disparities. The findings regarding gender in the case of serious offenses are quite striking: the greater the proportion of female judges in a district, the lower the gender disparity for that district. I interpret this as evidence of a paternalistic bias among male judges that favors women. The racial composition of the bench has mixed effects that are open to different interpretations. The race and gender results suggest, however, that a judge's background affects his or her sentencing decisions. Finally, there is little evidence that the political composition of the district affects sentencing disparities.

To obtain a copy of the paper, click here.  [Mark Godsey]

February 22, 2005 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Breaking News: New Supreme Court Decision Today

From  "The U.S. Supreme Court today decided one case related to the criminal justice system. In Smith v. Massachusetts, No. 03-8661, the court held that a trial judge who ruled at the close of the prosecution's case that the defendant was not guilty on one of the several charges he faced due to insufficient evidence violated the Double Jeopardy Clause by resurrecting and submitting that charge to the jury after the defense had presented its case on the remaining charges."

Apparently what happened is that the state's evidence was insufficient on one charge when it ended its case, and the judge dimissed that charge.  After the defendants presented their case, the prosecution moved the court to reconsider its prior ruling dismissing the charge in light of some new precedent the prosecution was able to come up with in the interim, and the judge granted the motion.  The Supreme Court held that this process violates the double jeopardy clause.

Decision here (if link doesn't work, the westlaw cite is 2005 WL 405476).  [Mark Godsey]

February 22, 2005 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

U Houston Criminal Justice Institite

Here's some background on the University of Houston Law Center's Criminal Justice Institute:

In order to enhance the strengths of the UH Law Center's criminal justice program, the faculty created the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) in the spring of 2003. CJI's goal is to create the best program of its kind in the nation by promoting scholarship, engaging in research, and offering legal training. At the moment, CJI is organizing a symposium to be held at the UH in November of 2005. The symposium is organized in conjunction with the Houston Law Review and will address the Federal Sentencing Guidelines after Booker. Authors will include Nancy King, Frank Bowman, Doug Berman, and Ron Wright. Also participating as commentators are Marc Miller and Kevin Reitz, as well as representatives of the federal bench and bar.

Established programs encompassed within CJI are: The Texas Innocence Network, the Southwest Regional Juvenile Defender Center , the National Institute of Trial Advocacy Death Penalty Training Program, Clinical Programs such as the Criminal Defense Clinic, Juvenile Defense Clinic, and Criminal Prosecution Clinic, as well as a Criminal Trial Advocacy Program. In addition, CJI administers a J.D./Ph.D. in Criminology dual degree program in affiliation with Sam Houston State University. CJI also draws on the expertise of a Board of Advisors which includes representatives from every sector of the criminal justice legal community, including federal and state judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys. In collaboration with our advisory board, CJI now participates in organizing CLE programs for criminal practitioners, conferences and symposia, and a lecture series.

February 22, 2005 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Stories of Interest on NPR

NPR has posted two new stories of interest to CrimProfs:

Police Lineups Get a Second Look:  Twenty-five years of research by professor Gary Wells of Iowa State University is exposing the unreliability of witnesses asked to ID criminals in police lineups. Many local police departments are beginning to change the way they conduct lineups. Wells describes a new technique: the sequential lineup.  Listen to story here

Former Felons Seek to Regain Voting Rights:  A national movement is under way to give people convicted of felonies a better chance to regain their right to vote. A recent report shows that many states are still resistant to streamlining the process. And as the 2000 election in Florida demonstrated, there are political implications.  Listen to story here.  [Mark Godsey]

February 22, 2005 in Eyewitness Identification | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New Article Spotlight: Provocation Defense

Faculty_garvey_1 CrimProf Stephen Garvey of Cornell has posted Passion's Puzzle, forthcoming in the Iowa Law Review, on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

The puzzle of the provocation defense, otherwise known as the "heat of passion" defense, is to figure out how, if at all, each of the basic elements of the doctrine can be explained in a coherent and normatively attractive fashion. None of the prevailing theories of provocation succeeds in solving this puzzle. These theories either fail to explain one or more of the basic elements of the doctrine, or else end up committing the state to a decidedly illiberal course of action: punishing citizens not only for what they do (for their actions), but for who they are (for their characters).

I offer an alternative theory, called provocation as akrasia, which I suggest can solve the puzzle. According to this theory, the basic elements of the defense work in concert to achieve the normatively attractive goal of sorting actors who kill in defiance of the law (and who should therefore be convicted of murder) from those who kill in a moment of culpable ignorance of law or weakness of will (and who should therefore be convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter). Insofar as this theory justifies and so defends the basic contours of existing provocation doctrine, it challenges those who view the doctrine, in some or all of its formulations, as a pernicious presence in the criminal law.

To obtain a copy of the paper, click here.  [Mark Godsey]

February 22, 2005 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Criminal Records and Employment in Canada

The Globe and Mail reports that 1 in 10 Canadians has a criminal record, and offers advice on getting employment in spite of a sheet. [Jack Chin]

February 22, 2005 in Civil Rights | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Border Fingerprint Program Nets Felons

30,000 of the almost 700,000 undocumented noncitizens who were stopped at the border were determined to be felons based on a new computerized fingerprint check.  Those with outstanding warrants are taken into custody, those with serious felony records may be charged under federal law as illegal reentrants; most with clean records are simply sent back. [Jack Chin]

February 22, 2005 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 21, 2005


Crime & Federalism has a post on the relative merits of public defenders versus appointed private counsel. CrimLaw offers to post blurbs about crimlaw related law review articles. GritsforBreakfast has a post on the legislative backlash against tickets-by-videocamera. TalkLeft reports that soldiers suffering from combat stress may receive ecstacy from military physicians.  [Jack Chin]

February 21, 2005 in Blog Watch | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Interesting New Cases

Elstad Rule Applies to Sixth Amendment

The Eighth Circuit held last week in U.S. v. Fellers, 01-2045, that a violation of the Sixth Amendment in an initial interrogation does not preclude the admissibility of a second confession taken during a subsequent interrogation after Miranda warnings were provided and waived.  The Court stated:  "The similarities between the Sixth Amendment context at issue in Fellers's case and the Fifth Amendment context at issue in Elstad support our conclusion that the Elstad rule applies when a suspect makes incriminating statements after a knowing and voluntary waiver of his right to counsel, notwithstanding earlier police questioning in violation of the Sixth Amendment. Although the Supreme Court has never explicitly stated that the Elstad rationale is applicable to Sixth Amendment violations, it has emphasized the similarity between pre-indictment suspects subjected to custodial interrogation and post-indictment defendants subjected to questioning."

Death Row Inmate Entitled to Hearing on Mental Retardation

The Fourth Circuit held last week in Walker v. True, 04-16, that the district court erred when it dismissed plaintiff-death row inmate's successive federal habeas petition before holding an evidentiary hearing on whether he is mentally retarded under Virginia law.  [Mark Godsey]

February 21, 2005 in Confessions and Interrogation | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Top 5 Crim Paper Downloads

Ssrnlogo100 Each Monday, we will list the top 5 criminal law/procedure paper downloads on SSRN. This week's top papers are:

1 Differentiating Between Arthur Andersen and the Surviving Big Four on the Basis of Auditor Quality: An Empirical Investigation of the Decision to Criminally Prosecute Arthur Andersen
Ross D. Fuerman,
Suffolk University - Department of Accounting,
Date posted to database: January 3, 2005
Last Revised: February 6, 2005
2 On Law Enforcement with Boundedly Rational Actors
Christine Jolls,
Harvard University - Harvard Law School,
Date posted to database: December 7, 2004
Last Revised: January 11, 2005
3 Rethinking the Involuntary Confession Rule: Toward a Workable Test for Identifying Compelled Self-Incrimination
Mark Godsey,
University of Cincinnati - College of Law,
Date posted to database: November 19, 2004
Last Revised: November 30, 2004
4 Law and the Emotions: The Problems of Affective Forecasting
Jeremy A. Blumenthal,
Seton Hall University - School of Law,
Date posted to database: December 13, 2004
Last Revised: February 14, 2005
5 The Blakely Earthquake Exposes the Procedure/Substance Fault Line
Stephanos Bibas,
University of Iowa - College of Law,
Date posted to database: January 21, 2005
Last Revised: February 4, 2005

February 21, 2005 in Weekly Top 5 SSRN Crim Downloads | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Mexico Holds First Criminal Trial Open to Public

From  "In a quiet courtroom in northern Mexico, a drunk driving case is making history: 19-year-old Alejandro Santana is before a judge, fighting charges he was drunk and crashed his car, killing a passenger and leaving another person a quadriplegic.  The case, which was nearing an end Friday, is the nation's first U.S.-style public trial, replacing a slow and secretive judicial process conducted on paper and moving Mexico a step closer toward reforms President Vicente Fox is seeking nationwide.  So-called oral trials represent a dramatic departure from the current Mexican justice system in which defense lawyers and prosecutors investigate cases, interview witnesses, gather evidence and pass their findings in writing to judges, who review the bulky files before issuing a written verdict. Information is often kept secret, and corruption thrives.  In June, state lawmakers in Nuevo Leon approved oral trials, requiring both sides to argue their cases publicly in all crimes involving property damage or where the defendant is accused of battery or manslaughter.  They hope to eventually expand the program to all trials, and other Mexican states are looking at adopting similar practices."  Full story here.  [Mark Godsey]

February 21, 2005 in International | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Susan Estrich on Women having Sex with Boys

Oped on Mary Kay Letorneau and other cases here. [Jack Chin]

February 21, 2005 in Sex | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sexual Assaults by Cops on Female Motorists

We blogged about crimes committed by criminals disguised as cops; there is also a trickle of crimes committed by criminals who ARE cops--one story in this vein is sexual assaults by on-duty cops on female detainees.  A California Highway Patrol officer was arrested and fired when he allegedly tried to rape a woman he stopped for a traffic offense; three former Texas officers are under investigation for sexual conduct with a minor they stopped.  Other cases come from Fort Worth, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and South Carolina. Here are deputy/inmate cases from Louisiana and Virginia.   Here are older cases from California, Las Vegas, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington State. [Jack Chin]

February 21, 2005 in Sex | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Documentary "Countdown to Execution" to Premiere at Northwestern Law

The Center on Wrongful Convictions will host the Chicago premiere of a new A&E documentary about the capital case of Darnell Williams, "Countdown to an Execution," at 3 p.m. Wednesday, March 2, at the Northwestern University School of Law.  After the screening, former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan will discuss his concerns about the way the state administers the death penalty and reviews capital cases. Following his talk, a panel discussion will feature Juliet Yackel, who has been working on Williams' case since she graduated from law school and at the eleventh hour came to the Center on Wrongful for Convictions for assistance in saving her client's life. The panel will also feature lead prosecutor Thomas Vanes and Northwestern University law students who helped save Williams' life. The special screening of American Justice's "Countdown to an Execution" is free and open to the public and will take place at the School of Law's Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago Ave.  More details here.  [Mark Godsey]

February 21, 2005 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

African American Soldier Posthumously Pardoned

We've covered posthumous pardons before; here's another one, of an African American soldier whose descendants claimed his court martial was biased. [Jack Chin]

February 20, 2005 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New Illinois Law to Seal Non-violent Criminal Records

A new Illinois law, to take effect in June, will allow ex-offenders to seal their records of nonviolent felonies.  Law enforcement and employers required by law to do background checks, such as school districts, still would have access to the records.  More than 15 other states have similar laws, which aim to reduce recidivism by giving former offenders a better chance of getting hired, reintegrating into society, and keeping out of trouble.  As could be expected, the new law is the target of mixed reviews.  Republican State Senator Peter Roskam believes the law is "inherently unfair to employers," opening the doors to lawsuits against employers that inadvertantly hire an ex-con who commits another offense on the job.  But Chicago Democrat Rep. Connie Howard hopes that eventually more nonviolent crimes will sealed.  She said, "The most important thing to me is that an individual is able to get a job and reduce the possibility of being a recidivism statistic . . .  If you don't get a job you might as well just dig a hole and lay in it." reports: "The rate of ex-convicts who return to Illinois prisons within three years is at a high of 54 percent, compared with a national recidivism rate of about 50 percent, according to the Department of Justice.  Of the 77,600 felons now in the state's correctional system, more than a quarter could qualify to have their records sealed under the new law." More... [Mark Godsey]

February 20, 2005 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

The "Grand Theft Auto" Murder Theory

"Repeatedly playing violent video games" is the latest theory for explaining murders at the hands of juvenile killers.  Devin Thompson, now 18, was charged with the murders of two police officers and a dispatcher in 2003, after he allegedly grabbed one of the police officer's guns, shot the three men, and fled in the police car after being brought into a Fayette, AL police station on suspicion of driving a stolen car.  Now a suit has been filed in Alabama seeking damages from Wal-Mart Stores and Gamestop, the two stores where Thompson bought two "Grand Theft Auto," video games, along with Take-Two Interactive Software, the manufacturer of the "Grand Theft Auto" video games series, and Sony Computer Entertainment, the maker of the PlayStation 2.  The "Grand Theft Auto" video game series depicts police killings among other violent acts, and is supposed to be sold only to people 17 years of age or older because of the game's "M" for "Mature" rating.  But Thompson bought the games when he was under 17.  Jack Thompson, attorney for two of the victims' families, said that these companies essentially "trained" Thompson to commit these murders.  When he was arrested, Thompson said, "Life is a video game. You've got to die sometime."  More... [Mark Godsey]

February 20, 2005 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)