CrimProf Blog

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

Monday, March 16, 2009

Heller "Firing Blanks?"

About nine months ago, the Supreme Court breathed new life into the Second Amendment, ruling for the first time that it protects an individual right to own guns. Since then, lower federal courts have decided more than 80 cases interpreting the decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, and it is now possible to make a preliminary assessment of its impact.

So far, Heller is firing blanks.

Continue reading

March 16, 2009 in Civil Rights, Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (3)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

DOJ Maintains State Secrets Position from Bush Administration

In the first major national security case of the Obama administration, lawyers representing the government took the exact same position as the Bush administration. Government attorneys asked a judge to throw out a torture case, citing the need to preserve state secrets. Some human rights activists now say they feel betrayed by an administration that had promised greater openness and transparency.

Continue reading

February 10, 2009 in Civil Rights, Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, DOJ News, Homeland Security | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Judge Permits Flag-Desecration Prosecution in Nebraska

A Sarpy County judge has denied a challenge to Nebraska’s flag desecration statute raised by a Kansas woman who argued it violates her right to free speech.

Judge Todd Hutton ruled Tuesday that prosecutors can proceed with their case against Shirley Phelps-Roper. She is a member of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., whose members believe that U.S. troop deaths are punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality. The group has protested at military funerals nationwide.

Authorities say Phelps-Roper let her 10-year-old son stand on an American flag at the funeral of a National Guardsman in June 2007 in Bellevue. They also say she wore a flag as a skirt that dragged on the ground.

Continue reading

February 4, 2009 in Civil Rights, Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Intelligence Court Affirms Wiretapping Powers

A federal intelligence court, in a rare public opinion, issued a major ruling validating the power of the president and Congress to wiretap international phone calls and intercept e-mail messages without a specific court order, even when Americans’ private communications may be involved.

The court decision, made in August 2008 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, came in an unclassified, redacted form.

The decision marks the first time since the disclosure of the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program three years ago that an appellate court has addressed the constitutionality of the federal government’s wiretapping powers. In validating the government’s wide authority to collect foreign intelligence, it may offer legal credence to the Bush administration’s repeated assertions that the president has the power to act without specific court approval in ordering national security eavesdropping that may involve Americans.

Continue reading

January 15, 2009 in Civil Rights, Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, Homeland Security, Search and Seizure | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Pa. public-records law changing

Pennsylvania state, county and local governments will be operating under a new set of rules in 2009 when a new Right-To-Know Law goes into effect.

“The big difference is the burden of proving a record is not public is on the agency, rather than on the members of the public,” said Chambersburg Borough Secretary Tanya Mickey, who has been named the borough’s open records officer.

That will be another difference, with governments designating to whom those records should go, Mickey said. The borough’s updated policy and a form to request information soon will be available on Chambersburg’s Web site (, she said.

Continue reading

December 29, 2008 in Civil Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

States putting criminal records online

Worried your daughter's new boyfriend might have a nefarious past? Want to know whether the job applicant in front of you has a rap sheet?

Finding out can be a mouse click away, thanks to the growing crop of searchable online databases run directly by states. Vermont launched its service Monday, and now about 20 states have some form of them.

The Web sites provide a valuable and time-saving service to employers and businesses by allowing them to look up criminal convictions without having to submit written requests and wait for the responses. And they're popular: Last month alone, Florida's site performed 38,755 record checks

Continue reading

December 23, 2008 in Civil Rights | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Louisiana Court of Appeals Trashed 2,500 Habeas Patitions

A 2007 suicide note by a clerk of the Louisiana Court of Appeals who killed himself at the courthouse revealed that 2500 prisoner petitions had been summarily rejected over a period of 13 years without having been read.  According to a reporter, "Although every criminal writ application is supposed to be reviewed by three judges, he was deputed to winnow out any that had been filed pro se and arrange for their automatic rejection."  The Louisiana Supreme Court ordered that the petitions be considered by judges not involved in the improper rejection. (Opinion here) However, some, including Supreme Court Justice Weimer, objected to allowing judges from the same circuit decide the petitions, because all of the judges knew about the improper practices for at least several onths before taking any steps to remedy it.  In addition, it is not clear that all of the judges cooperated fully with the police investigation of the suicide. According to the Times-Picayune, "In one investigative report, a detective wrote that Chief Judge Edward Dufresne Jr. was being evasive when asked some questions about problems with [the clerk's] employment, and withheld a suicide note from police for several hours after Peterson's death, until after officers had left the building."  [Jack Chin]  Thanks to Ted Schneyer for the tip.

October 27, 2008 in Civil Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

California prisons prepare for gay weddings

No prisoners so far have sought to arrange weddings with same-sex partners since the state Supreme Court granted same-sex couples the right to wed as of mid-June, according to Michele Kane, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Nonetheless, department lawyers are drafting guidelines to bring the state's 33 adult prisons into compliance with the court's ruling that same-sex couples must be treated the same as opposite-sex couples under the California Constitution, Kane said.

Continue reading

August 31, 2008 in Civil Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Will Some Felons Be Permitted To Own Guns After Heller?

N.Y. The Supreme Court's historic decision on the Second Amendment could make millions of felons eligible to own guns.

Under current federal law, the vast majority of felons are prohibited from so much as touching a gun or ammunition, on pain of punishment of up to 10 years in prison.

Some legal experts now say that the constitutionality of that law, known as the "felon in possession" law, was deeply undermined by the Supreme Court's decision Thursday in District of Columbia v. Heller.

Continue reading

June 30, 2008 in Civil Rights, Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, Law Enforcement | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

NRA Targets Gun Bans after Heller Decision Five cities and suburbs are facing lawsuits challenging their bans on handguns. When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark June 26 decision, rejecting Washington, D.C.'s ban on handguns, gun-rights lawyers swung into action.

As a result, the legal landscape for gun laws could face dramatic changes.

Continue reading

June 30, 2008 in Civil Rights, Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, Law Enforcement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 16, 2008

ACLU Challenges Texas Juvenile Inmate Conditions

From Jurist (with links): The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class action lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] Thursday against the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) [official website], alleging that five girls imprisoned at the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex [official website] were subjected to punitive solitary confinement, physical abuse and invasive strip searches. The ACLU alleged that the treatment violated the girls' rights under the US Constitution and international law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child [text]. TYC officials responded [press release] that the agency is working to address the issues raised in the lawsuit. AP has more.

Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]

June 16, 2008 in Civil Rights, Criminal Justice Policy, Criminal Law, Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Federal Defender Publishes YouTube Video to Aide Guantanamo Detainee

William Teesdale, an attorney with the Federal Public Defender's Office in Portland, Oregon has been seeking the release of a Guantanamo Bay detainee and has turned to YouTube to get the message out about his client. Here's the description of Teesdale's Guantanamo Unclassified video, from Legal Pad:

Teesdale has released a short documentary video in which, on a beach in Guantanamo bay, he explains that hospital worker and teacher Adel Hamad has been held for years in detention and denied release even after a member of the military tribunal reviewing his case called his incarceration “unconscionable.” The video includes interviews with Hamad’s coworkers from Afghanistan, where he’d worked for a hospital supported by a charity that the CIA seems to think might have counter-American ideals. Watch the video here. . . [Michele Berry]

January 19, 2007 in Civil Rights, Due Process, Homeland Security | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Secret "FISA" Court to Monitor Domestic Spying Program

Yesterday, the Justice Department announced that a secret independent panel of judges, known as the FISA Court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) has been given authority to monitor the government's contentious domestic spying program.  FISA has already has approved one request for monitoring the communications of a person believed to be linked to al-Qaida or an associated terror group. 

The FISA court was established in the late 1970s to review requests for warrants to conduct surveillance inside the United States. The Bush administration initially resisted giving the court final approval over the Terrorist Surveillance Program (the program allowing the phone calls or emails of Americans suspected of ties to terrorism to be monitored without any oversight from a judge), even when communications involved someone inside the country. A federal judge in Detroit last August declared the program unconstitutional, saying it violates the rights to free speech and privacy and the separation of powers. In October, a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that the administration could keep the program in place while it appeals the Detroit decision. Story from CBS/AP. . . [Michele Berry]

January 18, 2007 in Civil Rights, DOJ News, Search and Seizure | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Kevorkian Will Be Paroled

in June, after he agreed to no longer perform assisted suicides.  story

December 15, 2006 in Civil Rights | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Flying Foreign Flag = Crime...

Unless an American flag is flying above it. Scofflaws face criminal penalties: a $50 fine and 30 hours of community service. From This is where we've arrived in this country: You have the constitutional right to burn an American flag, but you can get into trouble for simply flying a foreign one.  At least you can in the 30,000-person town of Pahrump, Nevada, which is close to Las Vegas and even closer to stepping over the line with an idiotic, intolerant and insulting ban on foreign (read: Mexican) flags. The town council voted last week, 3-2, to approve an ordinance that makes it illegal to display a foreign flag -- unless an American flag is flown above it. Pahrump resident Michael Miraglia proposed the ban because, he said, he got upset when he saw immigrant activists marching through U.S. cities last spring, waving Mexican flags. Mr. Miraglia told USA Today that he was especially miffed that "we had Mexican restaurants closed that day...For the record, I don't think people should wave flags of countries they left behind or celebrate one country while demanding rights from another. But just because you'd like to see a given outcome -- i.e., immigrants putting foreign flags in mothballs -- doesn't mean you should use the coercive power of government to bring it about. The end does not justify the means." More Commentary from . . . [Michele Berry]

November 20, 2006 in Civil Rights | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (1)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sex Offender Residency Restriction Laws, Ripe for Supreme Court?

California's Proposition 83, or "Jessica's Law," is like other sex offender restriction laws.  It includes stiffer punishment, longer parole terms and tighter monitoring for future sex criminals, and a controversial residency restriction, prohibiting anyone required to register as a sex offender from "living within 2,000 feet of any public or private school or park where children regularly gather."  If California voters pass Jessica's Law this November, California will be the 18th state to pass residency restrictions on sex offenders.  Lessons learned from the previous 17 states have shed light on the legislation's key causes for concern among legal scholars and critics, including:

Whether Prop. 83 would apply to already convicted sex offenders -- the thousands now behind bars, on probation or parole, or even the tens of thousands who have been free of the criminal justice system for years, living in the community, some of them homeowners.

That it would too broadly restrict where all registered offenders can live, including those whose convictions were for sex crimes against adults.

That it would cross a constitutional line into public banishment if registered offenders could find nowhere to live in most of the state's population centers -- as maps produced by the state Senate suggest.

Sex offenders could argue that Jessica's Law would strip them of protected liberties.  But a challenge of that nature to overturn the Iowa law restricting sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools and day care centers, failed.  The Eighth Circuit ruled that there is no right to live where you want to live if the state has compelling reasons otherwise.

Several scholars have said the strongest legal attack is the "ex post facto" angle.  If a city tried to apply Jessica's Law to sex offendes who were convicted before the law took effect, the sex offender could challenge the eviction on the basis of the constitutional ban on ex post facto laws.  That's what has happened in Ohio.  The Ohio Justice & Policiy Center, under David Singleton, has about a dozen cases pending, but they're yet to stop an eviction. 

That probably has something to do with the fact that the constitutional ban on "ex post facto" laws only applies to punitive laws, not civil regulations with a clear public policy rationale.  As UCLA CrimProf Eugene Volokh points out, a government takings claim probably won't work either.  "If the person is a tenant, there's no property being taken...Even if he owns the property, it's not that the person is being barred from or denied the right to own the property. He can resell it, rent it out. He could make money off it." 

As more and more states pass these laws, the key question is whether the courts view the 2,000 foot rule (or in the case of Ohio, 1,000) as punishment for past crimes, rather than a civil law intended to protect the public.  That's the only way the ex post facto attack could work, but the Supreme Court has set a high bar for proving that a civil law has crossed the line to punishment, insisting on "only the clearest proof."

While some legal scholars say the residency restrictions will invariably pass constitutional muster, other say the 2003 SCOTUS case challenging Meghan's law left the door open for a successful challenge to Jessica's law and others like it.  But through all the debate, the concensus is, as more of these laws pass, the stronger the likelihood that the Supreme Court will have to step in and give an opinion on the constitutionality of these state laws.

Read the full story from with opinions from several legal scholars including William & Mary CrimProf Wayne Logan; UC Hastings LawProf and director of the Center for State and Local Government David Jung, Stanford LawProf and executive director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center Derek Shaffer, David Singleton of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, and UCLA CrimProf Eugene Volokh.  [Michele Berry]

October 18, 2006 in Civil Rights, Criminal Justice Policy, CrimProfs, Sex | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 16, 2006

FBI Releases Hate Crime Statistics for 2005

From The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has released their 2005 statistics on hate crimes. Statistical data indicates a total of 7,163 criminal incidents. These incidents involved 8,380 reported offenses reported in 2005, resulting from a bias toward a particular race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/national origin, or physical or mental disability...Racial bias topped the list as motivation for the 2005 hate crimes at 54.7 percent. Thereafter, smaller percentages were reported for motivations of religious bias at 17.1 percent, sexual-orientation bias at 14.2 percent, ethnicity/national origin bias at 13.2 and disability bias of 0.7 percent.  The "Hate Crime Statistics, 2005," is published by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program. The data includes details on reported hate crimes from city, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies across the country. More statistics. . . and more information from the FBI about these statistics here. . . [Michele Berry]

October 16, 2006 in Civil Rights, DOJ News, Race | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Nebraska: KKK-Trooper Probed by Crime Commission

From The Lincoln Police Department will investigate Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers' request that a former state trooper lose his law enforcement certificate. Chambers had filed a complaint with the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice against former trooper Robert Henderson. The police department was tapped to act for the state crime commission in conducting the investigation. Henderson was fired in March for "conduct unbecoming an officer" after an investigation revealed he was a member of the Knights Party, a group with ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Henderson appealed his dismissal, saying among other reasons that the firing violated his First Amendment rights. Last month, an arbitrator ordered Henderson's reinstatement and payment of back wages. The state is appealing the decision. More. . . [Michele Berry]

September 20, 2006 in Civil Rights, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Packed Prisons, Solution-Stalement: Is the Eighth Amendment the Answer?

Stanford CrimProf Robert Weisberg, director of Stanford Law's Criminal Justice Center says "there's a general sense of caution on anything involving crime and prisons" in California.  Three months ago, Gov. Schwarzenegger urged legislators to take action to resolve California's prison overpopulation and "deplorable inmate healthcare."  But at the end of August, lawmakers adjourned for the year without addressing the system's myriad of problems. And while the legislators have gone home, prison officials warn they will run out of beds by June. Already inmates are stacked on double and triple-bunks in gymnasiums and day centers.

Steve Fama of the Prison Law Office is considering a federal lawsuit contending that overcrowding conditions amount to "cruel and unusual punishment.'' If successful, the case could cap prison populations.  If prison populations were capped, of course more facilities would be necessary.  Schwarzenegger has indicated that he may declare a state of emergency in the prisons, allowing him to impose measures, such as shipping inmates to other states or re-opening mothballed prison facilities. Story from . . [Michele Berry]

September 18, 2006 in Civil Rights, Cost of Crime, CrimProfs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Surveillance Cameras Watch Ideologies Clash

UPDATED: Here's another perspective from the SanFrancisco Chronicle: "Community, Not Just Technology, Needed in Crime Prevention"


San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced last week that the city will install 50 surveillance cameras in high-crime public housing projects around the city in attempts to to reduce the recent influx of violence. But in a society where surveillance cameras seem to have become ubiquitous, and in a major city that lags far behind other cities of its size in terms of camera presence, the Mayor's announcement has generated staunch criticism. 

This column criticizes the critics. Here's an excerpt:  "Several public officials have decried the use of the security devices as an infringement on civil liberties — no matter how many criminals they help catch. And those people with thick rap sheets aren't happy about them either.  I have always been against more government interference in personal privacy, but that is hardly a big issue here. Nor is the use of surveillance cameras in general. They are not being installed in living rooms — just in the places where a lot of innocent people are terrorized.

San Francisco, reputedly one of the nation’s most technologically advanced towns, lags well behind big cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles in using the electronic eyes as a crime deterrent. Those cities have had success in reducing crime — which is why they have put cameras in hot spots. Some San Francisco officials have their knickers in a twist over a desire to install less than 100. Supervisor Jake McGoldrick called the installation of surveillance cameras a “case of mistaken strategy...The mayor says he’s doing 50 other [things] to fight crime and I think he should focus on the other 49,” McGoldrick said.

And while I can applaud his unshakeable ideological stance, it flies in the face of reason. Surveillance cameras are so ubiquitous in our daily lives, we’ve come to take them for granted. There is hardly a place where anyone can go today where they aren’t electronically monitored — department stores, supermarkets, ATMs, elevators. In a post-9/11 world, is anyone really objecting that cameras have become a security staple on transportation lines, including BART and Muni?" More from The Examiner. . . [Michele Berry]

September 13, 2006 in Civil Rights, Law Enforcement, Search and Seizure, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)