By Martin Horn
Criminal sentencing in New York State is opaque and confusing. It is the result of years of ad hoc and piecemeal amendments that have contributed to a sentencing structure in which sentences for violent crimes, sex offenses and drug crimes are determinate, that is, fixed by the judge at sentencing; while those for non-violent offenses are indeterminate, with the date of the inmate’s release determined by the Parole Board.
By William D. Burrell
Research has called into question the effectiveness of other aspects of Megan’s Law, including registration and notification, residence restrictions, enhanced sentences, and revised parole polices. (But as is so often the case, the evidence or lack thereof for the efficacy of a particular public policy has little impact on the longevity of that policy.
One popular policy is lifetime supervision with GPS monitoring. There is some indication that the Supreme Court may join the debate on this issue. The Court recently sent a request for appeal back to the North Carolina Supreme Court with instructions for further consideration and development of a detailed legal record about the case and the issues raised.
By James Doyle
We desperately need jury trials: Their absence is one of an array of developments that has convinced the public—and especially urban minorities—that criminal justice is something that is done to it, not with it, and certainly not for it. The situation in the local justice systems is reminiscent of the situation at NASA in the 1990s that Sidney Dekker describes in his book Safety Differently: Human Factors for a New Era. It explains both how the pressure of caseloads got us to where we are and where that pressure is taking us.
By W. Marvin Dulaney
Most Americans do not know that American police departments have a dual heritage. Most police academies teach new recruits that American police forces drew their inspiration and organizational model from the “London Metropolitan Police,” developed by Sir Robert Peel in Great Britain in 1829. The “bobbies,” as they are still called, were Great Britain’s answer to recurrent labor strikes and urban civil disorders carried out in Great Britain’s urban areas by the working classes. The bobbies were an unarmed police force (as they still are), and they were recruited from members of that nation’s working classes as a way of ensuring that they did not become an elite force that oppressed the lower classes.
By Irene M. Keeley
In the following months, thousands more inmates will be released. The vast majority will require supervision by a federal probation officer. And this is not a short term concern: The average term of supervision for drug trafficking offenders is nearly four and a half years. The President’s clemency initiative, although off to a slow start, may very well accelerate in the coming months, and congressional proposals to release lower-risk inmates from custody, if enacted, will send thousands more offenders back into the community.
By Erin Thompson
This year, the 25th anniversary of the Boston Heist theft, brought renewed public attention to missing art. In April, the FBI arrested, on unrelated weapons charges, a man associated with local organized crime groups who they claim was involved in the theft. According to authorities, he boasted to an undercover agent that he could sell him some of the missing art. This information revived the hopes of those who believe that the artworks are still hidden away, perhaps as a sort of retirement plan or insurance policy for the thieves, who could cash in on them or offer to trade information about their location in return for leniency if convicted of another crime.
By C. Jama Adams
This is an age of uncertainty but also one of opportunity. Daily, we are presented with evidence that traditional models of policing and adjudicating unacceptable behaviors are flawed in important ways. We are uncomfortable about some of these practices, but for complex reasons are reluctant to adopt new approaches that make sense—lacking the political will to do so.
We are becoming more risk-averse. That has the paradoxical effect of increasing the risk that we will be harmed. So when a politician says she is going to be tough on crime it usually means she is going to incarcerate more people who are poorly educated, chronically unemployed, are embedded in inadequately-resourced support networks, abuse substances, and have mental health problems.
By Norman L. Reimer
In July 2013, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project (IP) signed an historic agreement with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review thousands of criminal cases in which the FBI conducted microscopic hair analysis of crime scene evidence.
Two major developments created the impetus for this groundbreaking review.
First, in a 2009 report on forensic science, the National Academy of Sciences specifically identified microscopic hair-comparison evidence as problematic. The second and more directly triggering event was the exoneration of three men between 2009 and 2012 who had served lengthy prison sentences, and whose convictions were tainted by microscopic hair comparison evidence that exceeded the limits of science.
By James M. Doyle
Criminal justice journalists need the public’s trust as much as the criminal justice system operators they cover. And both can jeopardize that trust, in the same way, by yielding to the same temptations.
That is among the lessons of the analysis published by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism (CGSJ) of Rolling Stone’s disastrous and eventually retracted story of an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity party. Rolling Stone has published the full report. The CGSJ analysis is a review of a wrongful conviction—even though it is a media conviction, not a courtroom conviction, the crime may never have occurred, and the convicted “defendants” may not even exist.
By William G. Otis
Having been both a career attorney in the Justice Department and a political appointee, and at one point a presidential aide, I offer a number of suggestions in the form of a memo about how Loretta Lynch might approach her job.