December 22, 2007
CrimProf Spotlight: Frank Bowman
Professor Bowman joins the faculty from the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, where he served as the M. Dale Palmer Professor of Law. Following his graduation from Harvard Law School in 1979, Professor Bowman entered the U.S. Department of Justice as part of the Honor Graduate Program.
He spent three years as a trial attorney in the Criminal Division in Washington, D.C. From 1983 until 1986, he was a deputy district attorney for Denver, Colo. He also spent three years in private practice in Colorado.
In 1989, Professor Bowman joined the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida, where he was Deputy Chief of the Southern Criminal Division and specialized in complex white-collar crimes. In 1995 and 1996, he served as Special Counsel to the U.S. Sentencing Commission in Washington, D.C. From 1998 to 2001, he served as academic advisor to the Criminal Law Committee of the United States Judicial Conference. [Mark Godsey]
New Article Spotlight: Ron Wright and Marc Miller on Innocence and Prosecutorial Discretion
Crimprofs Ron Wright (Wake Forest) and Marc Miller (Arizona) have written the paper Dead Wrong, forthcoming as part of an innocence symposium at the Utah Law Review. The abstract: "DNA-driven exonerations offer many
lessons for police, for prosecutors, and for legislatures. Many
scholars have focused on novel procedures to identify and remedy
wrongful convictions after they occur. Scholars have also concluded
that in our administrative criminal justice system we need prosecutors
who are driven less by testosterone and more by a balanced search for
In our view, the most enduring changes to the work of prosecutors will focus not on softening their adversarial perspective, but on enhancing and staying true to the traditional core of their work on the front end of the process¿the charging decisions.
In our view, accuracy and honesty in criminal systems face mortal danger when a prosecutor decides what charges to file based on his or her individual assessment of the moral worth of criminal defendants or victims. We believe that errors flourish when the prosecutors' sentencing recommendations aim above all to reach a deal with the defendant to avoid trial, rather than pricing the specific crime that the evidence might prove.
To flesh out these assertions about prosecutors and outcomes we turn to a case study: two stories from Dallas, Texas. The first episode involves the work of the current District Attorney in Dallas to cooperate with the efforts of Innocence Projects as a remedy for an especially high rate of DNA exonerations from the office in recent years. We describe his efforts and explore the limits of after-the-fact remedies.
The second episode from Dallas came to light in a remarkable set of articles from the Dallas Morning News. These reports indicate that prosecutors in Dallas go forward with murder cases in too many cases that deserve lesser charges or no criminal charges at all. At the same time, the office requests probation as the sentence for a murder conviction far more often than other jurisdictions in Texas. In short, the charges and sentences in murder cases in Dallas appear to be both too high and too low. This pattern of outcomes in homicide cases is dead wrong.
We believe that unreliable charging is intimately related to the sort of injustice that drives the innocence movement. Put another way, the two episodes from Dallas are connected. The high level of DNA exonerations we find in Dallas grows out of a fixation on guilty pleas and an indifference to consistent and accurate application of the criminal code. We glimpse the same forces at work in the pattern of original charges and sentences in murder cases."
Paper available here.
December 21, 2007
Federal Hearing to Look into CIA Tape Destruction
From washingtonpost.com: Lawyers for suspected enemy fighters imprisoned at a U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay urged a federal judge this morning to investigate whether the Bush administration has destroyed evidence about their clients citing the CIA's recent acknowledgement that it destroyed videotapes of interrogations of two other prisoners.
U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy scheduled the hearing this morning saying he would consider the lawyers' request for an urgent court inquiry into whether the destruction of the CIA tapes may have violated Kennedy's June 2005 order requiring the government to preserve any evidence related to mistreatment of Guantanamo detainees. The Guantanamo detainees, some held for as long as six years without charges, have challenged their imprisonment and claimed their U.S. captors have tortured and abused them. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
December 19, 2007
Number of No-Knock Searches Skyrockets
St. Paul Pioneer Press: A Minneapolis man escaped serious injury after he grabbed his hunting shotgun Sunday and reportedly fired through his bedroom door at a swarm of heavily armed strangers who burst through the back door of his home while he, his wife and his six kids - ages 3 to 15 - were sleeping, says the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Two cops - part of a SWAT-style team that raided the wrong home - returned fire but were struck by shotgun blasts. Police tried to couch the mistake as a rare or isolated incident, one in which officers were fed "bum" information from a confidential informant.
"Police justify these 'no-knock' tactics as to make it safer for everyone,'' says Radley Balko, author of "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America." "I think that's absurd,'' said Balko. "Whenever you enter someone's home, you are creating confrontation as well as the potential for violence.'' He believes such paramilitary tactics should be reserved for cases where hostages need to be rescued or violent fugitives apprehended. A study by Eastern Kentucky University criminologist Peter Kraska estimates "no-knock'' warrants soared from 3,000 in 1981 to more than 50,000 last year, the overwhelming majority triggered by anti-drug- trafficking crackdowns. Balko, a senior editor with Reason magazine, says that at least 40 people have died after such botched raids "since SWAT teams began proliferating in the late 1980s."
December 18, 2007
CrimProf Made Dean at Hofstra
Giving Crime Victims More of Their Say
From U.S News & World Report: W. Patrick Kenna felt cheated. In 2000, he invested $20,000 with a currency trading company, hoping to earn enough to start a new business. Instead, he lost nearly the entire sum, defrauded along with dozens of other investors. A Los Angeles businessman, Kenna took some comfort in knowing that the two men responsible—father-and-son owners of the company—would spend significant time behind bars, but he wanted to make sure the judge knew just how much trouble they had caused.
Kenna made his anger clear during the father's 2005 sentencing, but when the son's day in court arrived three months later, the federal judge denied Kenna's request to speak. "I listened to the victims the last time," Judge John Walter said. "There just isn't anything else that could possibly be said." Kenna was furious. "We didn't feel that the judge was taking into consideration the victims in the case," he says. So he turned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ordered the judge to let Kenna speak at a new hearing.
The reversal in Kenna's case reflects the growing influence of crime victims since the passage in 2004 of landmark federal legislation granting them new and expanded rights. Three years later, the changes are beginning to have an impact, shifting the balance of a legal system that historically has been solely a two-party affair. One result is tension between legal parties and concern among defense attorneys who fear that a greater role for victims conflicts with the right of defendants to a fair trial.
Historically, the adversarial legal system has carved out roles in criminal cases only for the prosecutor and the accused. Victims have been relegated to the sidelines unless they were testifying. Although the interests of prosecutors usually align with those of victims, they are not always the same: for instance, when victims want tougher sentences than prosecutors do. Victims' rights advocates hope the changes are just the start and are pushing to put victims on an equal footing with defendants and prosecutors. "What our goal should be is to put the victim back into the position as if no crime had been committed," says Paul Cassell, a former federal judge who resigned this year to advocate for victims.
Crime victims began winning rights at the state level decades ago, but the 2004 legislation brought the protections to the federal level for the first time. Victims now must be notified about court developments. They must be allowed to speak during bail and sentencing hearings. And most important, the law gives them the ability to appeal rulings when they think their rights are being violated, as Kenna did. The Justice Department is even funding three legal clinics, in Maryland, Arizona, and South Carolina, to help victims assert these rights in court.