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The Problem With Assumptions: Revisiting “The Dark Figure Of Sexual Recidivism”, Tamara Rice Lave, Jj Prescott, Grady Bridges Jun 2021

The Problem With Assumptions: Revisiting “The Dark Figure Of Sexual Recidivism”, Tamara Rice Lave, Jj Prescott, Grady Bridges

Articles

What is the actual rate of sexual recidivism given the well‐ known fact that many crimes go unreported? This is a difficult and important problem, and in “The dark figure of sexual recidivism,” Nicholas Scurich and Richard S. John (2019) attempt to make progress on it by “estimat[ing] actual recidivism rates . . . given observed rates of reoffending” (p. 171). In this article, we show that the math in their probabilistic model is flawed, but more importantly, we demonstrate that their conclusions follow ineluctably from their empirical assumptions and the unrepresentative empirical research they cite to benchmark their calculations. Scurich and ...


The Moral Ambiguity Of Public Prosecution, Gabriel S. Mendlow Mar 2021

The Moral Ambiguity Of Public Prosecution, Gabriel S. Mendlow

Articles

Classic crimes like theft and assault are in the first instance wrongs against individuals, not against the state or the polity that it represents. Yet our legal system denies crime victims the right to initiate or intervene in the criminal process, relegating them to the roles of witness or bystander—even as the system treats prosecution as an institutional analog of the interpersonal processes of moral blame and accountability, which give pride of place to those most directly wronged. Public prosecution reigns supreme, with the state claiming primary and exclusive moral standing to call offenders to account for their wrongs ...


May The State Punish What It May Not Prevent?, Gabriel S. Mendlow Jul 2020

May The State Punish What It May Not Prevent?, Gabriel S. Mendlow

Articles

In Why Is It Wrong To Punish Thought? I defended an overlooked principle of criminalization that I called the Enforceability Constraint. The Enforceability Constraint holds that the state may punish transgressions of a given type only if the state in principle may forcibly disrupt such transgressions on the ground that they are criminal wrongs. As I argued in the essay, the reason why the state is forbidden from punishing thought is that the state is forbidden from forcibly disrupting a person’s mental states on the ground that they are criminally wrongful (as opposed to, say, on the ground that ...


Expungement Of Criminal Convictions: An Empirical Study, J.J. Prescott, Sonja B. Starr May 2020

Expungement Of Criminal Convictions: An Empirical Study, J.J. Prescott, Sonja B. Starr

Articles

Laws permitting the expungement of criminal convictions are a key component of modern criminal justice reform efforts and have been the subject of a recent upsurge in legislative activity. This debate has been almost entirely devoid of evidence about the laws’ effects, in part because the necessary data (such as sealed records themselves) have been unavailable. We were able to obtain access to de-identified data that overcome that problem, and we use it to carry out a comprehensive statewide study of expungement recipients and comparable nonrecipients in Michigan. We offer three key sets of empirical findings. First, among those legally ...


Understanding Violent-Crime Recidivism, J.J. Prescott, Benjamin Pyle, Sonja B. Starr May 2020

Understanding Violent-Crime Recidivism, J.J. Prescott, Benjamin Pyle, Sonja B. Starr

Articles

People convicted of violent crimes constitute a majority of the imprisoned population but are generally ignored by existing policies aimed at reducing mass incarceration. Serious efforts to shrink the large footprint of the prison system will need to recognize this fact. This point is especially pressing at the time of this writing, as states and the federal system consider large-scale prison releases motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those convicted of violent crimes constitute a large majority of older prisoners, who are extremely vulnerable to the spread of the virus behind bars. Excluding them from protective measures will deeply undermine those ...


The Elusive Object Of Punishment, Gabriel S. Mendlow Jun 2019

The Elusive Object Of Punishment, Gabriel S. Mendlow

Articles

All observers of our legal system recognize that criminal statutes can be complex and obscure. But statutory obscurity often takes a particular form that most observers have overlooked: uncertainty about the identity of the wrong a statute aims to punish. It is not uncommon for parties to disagree about the identity of the underlying wrong even as they agree on the statute’s elements. Hidden in plain sight, these unexamined disagreements underlie or exacerbate an assortment of familiar disputes—about venue, vagueness, and mens rea; about DUI and statutory rape; about hate crimes, child pornography, and counterterrorism laws; about proportionality ...


Equitable Gateways: Toward Expanded Federal Habeas Corpus Review Of State Court Criminal Convictions, Eve Brensike Primus Apr 2019

Equitable Gateways: Toward Expanded Federal Habeas Corpus Review Of State Court Criminal Convictions, Eve Brensike Primus

Articles

State prisoners who file federal habeas corpus petitions face a maze of procedural and substantive restrictions that effectively prevent almost all prisoners from obtaining meaningful review of their convictions. But it is a mistake to think that habeas litigation is just a Kafkaesque nightmare with no constructive potential. Federal courts do sometimes cut through the doctrinal morass to consider state prisoners’ claims, relying on what this Articleterms "equitable gateways" to federal habeas relief. Litigants and courts generally underestimate the potential these gateways offer, with the result that habeas litigation does not focus on them as often as it should. Here ...


Reckless Juveniles, Kimberly Thomas Feb 2019

Reckless Juveniles, Kimberly Thomas

Articles

Modern doctrine and scholarship largely take it for granted that offenders should be criminally punished for reckless acts.1 Yet, developments in our understanding of human behavior can shed light on how we define and attribute criminal liability, or at least force us to grapple with the categories that have existed for so long. This Article examines recklessness and related doctrines in light of the shifts in understanding of adolescent behavior and its biological roots, to see what insights we might attain, or what challenges these understandings pose to this foundational mens rea doctrine. Over the past decade, the U ...


Targeting Poverty In The Courts: Improving The Measurement Of Ability To Pay Fines, Meghan M. O'Neil, J.J. Prescott Jan 2019

Targeting Poverty In The Courts: Improving The Measurement Of Ability To Pay Fines, Meghan M. O'Neil, J.J. Prescott

Articles

Ability-to-pay determinations are essential when governments use money-based alternative sanctions, like fines, to enforce laws. One longstanding difficulty in the U.S. has been the extreme lack of guidance on how courts are to determine a litigant’s ability to pay. The result has been a seat-of-the-pants approach that is inefficient and inaccurate, and, as a consequence, very socially costly. Fortunately, online platform technology presents a promising avenue for reform. In particular, platform technology offers the potential to increase litigant access, reduce costs, and ensure consistent and fair treatment—all of which should lead to more accurate sanctions. We use ...


Divine Justice And The Library Of Babel: Or, Was Al Capone Really Punished For Tax Evasion?, Gabriel Mendlow Oct 2018

Divine Justice And The Library Of Babel: Or, Was Al Capone Really Punished For Tax Evasion?, Gabriel Mendlow

Articles

A criminal defendant enjoys an array of legal rights. These include the right not to be punished for an offense unless charged, tried, and proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; the right not to be punished disproportionately; and the right not to be punished for the same offense more than once. I contend that the design of our criminal legal system imperils these rights in ways few observers appreciate. Because criminal codes describe misconduct imprecisely and prohibit more misconduct than any legislature actually aspires to punish, prosecutors decide which violations of the code merit punishment, and judges decide how much ...


Why Is It Wrong To Punish Thought?, Gabriel S. Mendlow Jun 2018

Why Is It Wrong To Punish Thought?, Gabriel S. Mendlow

Articles

It’s a venerable maxim of criminal jurisprudence that the state must never punish people for their mere thoughts—for their beliefs, desires, fantasies, and unexecuted intentions. This maxim is all but unquestioned, yet its true justification is something of a mystery. In this Essay, I argue that each of the prevailing justifications is deficient, and I conclude by proposing a novel one. The proposed justification captures the widely shared intuition that punishing a person for her mere thoughts isn’t simply disfavored by the balance of reasons but is morally wrongful in itself, an intrinsic (i.e., consequence-independent) injustice ...


Errors In Misdemeanor Adjudication, Samuel R. Gross May 2018

Errors In Misdemeanor Adjudication, Samuel R. Gross

Articles

Millions of defendants are convicted of misdemeanors in the United States each year but almost none obtain exonerations, primarily because ordinarily exoneration is far too costly and time consuming to pursue for anything less than years of imprisonment. The National Registry of Exonerations lists all known exonerations in the United States since 1989 — 2,145 cases, as of the end of 2017; only 85 are misdemeanors, 4%. In all but one of these misdemeanor exonerations the defendants were convicted of crimes that never happened; by comparison, more than three-quarters of felony exonerees were convicted of actual crimes that other people ...


From Grace To Grids: Rethinking Due Process Protections For Parole., Kimberly A. Thomas, Paul D. Reingold May 2017

From Grace To Grids: Rethinking Due Process Protections For Parole., Kimberly A. Thomas, Paul D. Reingold

Articles

Current due process law gives little protection to prisoners at the point of parole, even though the parole decision, like sentencing, determines whether or not a person will serve more time or will go free. The doctrine regarding parole, which developed mostly in the late 1970s, was based on a judicial understanding of parole as an experimental, subjective, and largely standardless art—rooted in assessing the individual “character” of the potential parolee. In this Article we examine the foundations of the doctrine, and conclude that the due process inquiry at the point of parole should take into account the stark ...


Random If Not "Rare"? The Eighth Amendment Weaknesses Of Post-Miller Legislation, Kimberly Thomas Mar 2017

Random If Not "Rare"? The Eighth Amendment Weaknesses Of Post-Miller Legislation, Kimberly Thomas

Articles

First, this Article surveys the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to analogize life without parole for juveniles to the death penalty for adults, and discusses the Eighth Amendment law regarding the parameters around death penalty statutory schemes. Second, this Article examines the state legislative response to Miller, and scrutinizes it with the Court's Eighth Amendment death penalty law-and the states' responses to this case law-in mind. This Article highlights the failure of juvenile homicide sentencing provisions to: 1) narrow offenses that are eligible for life without parole sentences; 2) further limit, once a guilty finding is made, the ...


What We Think, What We Know And What We Think We Know About False Convictions, Samuel Gross Jan 2017

What We Think, What We Know And What We Think We Know About False Convictions, Samuel Gross

Articles

False convictions are notoriously difficult to study because they can neither be observed when they occur nor identified after the fact by any plausible research strategy. Our best shot is to collect data on those that come to light in legal proceedings that result in the exoneration of the convicted defendants. In May 2012, the National Registry of Exonerations released its first report, covering 873 exonerations from January 1989 through February 2012. By October 15, 2016, we had added 1,027 cases: 599 exonerations since March 1, 2012, and 428 that had already happened when we issued our initial report ...


The Pendulum Swings: Reconsidering Corporate Criminal Prosecution, David M. Uhlmann Jan 2016

The Pendulum Swings: Reconsidering Corporate Criminal Prosecution, David M. Uhlmann

Articles

Corporate crime continues to occur at an alarming rate, yet disagreement persists among scholars and practitioners about the role of corporate criminal prosecution. Some argue that corporations should face criminal prosecution for their misconduct, while others would reserve criminal prosecution for individual corporate officials. Perhaps as a result of this conflict, there has been a dramatic increase over the last decade in the use of deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements for some corporate crimes, even as the government continues to bring criminal charges for other corporate crimes. To move beyond our erratic approach to corporate crime, we need a better ...


Portmanteau Ascendant: Post-Release Regulations And Sex Offender Recidivism, J. J. Prescott Jan 2016

Portmanteau Ascendant: Post-Release Regulations And Sex Offender Recidivism, J. J. Prescott

Articles

The purported purpose of sex offender post-release regulations (e.g., community notification and residency restrictions) is the reduction of sex offender recidivism. On their face, these laws seem well-designed and likely to be effective. A simple economic framework of offender behavior can be used to formalize these basic intuitions: in essence, post-release regulations either increase the probability of detection or increase the immediate cost of engaging in the prohibited activity (or both), and so should reduce the likelihood of criminal behavior. These laws aim to incapacitate people outside of prison. Yet, empirical researchers to date have found essentially no reliable ...


Process Costs And Police Discretion, Charlie Gerstein, J. J. Prescott Apr 2015

Process Costs And Police Discretion, Charlie Gerstein, J. J. Prescott

Articles

Cities across the country are debating police discretion. Much of this debate centers on “public order” offenses. These minor offenses are unusual in that the actual sentence violators receive when convicted — usually time already served in detention — is beside the point. Rather, public order offenses are enforced prior to any conviction by subjecting accused individuals to arrest, detention, and other legal process. These “process costs” are significant; they distort plea bargaining to the point that the substantive law behind the bargained-for conviction is largely irrelevant. But the ongoing debate about police discretion has ignored the centrality of these process costs ...


The Jury And Criminal Responsibility In Anglo-American History, Thomas A. Green Jan 2015

The Jury And Criminal Responsibility In Anglo-American History, Thomas A. Green

Articles

Anglo-American theories of criminal responsibility require scholars to grapple with, inter alia, the relationship between the formal rule of law and the powers of the lay jury as well as two inherent ideas of freedom: freedom of the will and political liberty. Here, by way of canvassing my past work and prefiguring future work, I sketch some elements of the history of the Anglo-American jury and offer some glimpses of commentary on the interplay between the jury—particularly its application of conventional morality to criminal judgments—and the formal rule of law of the state. My central intent is to ...


Prosecutorial Discretion And Environmental Crime, David M. Uhlmann Jan 2015

Prosecutorial Discretion And Environmental Crime, David M. Uhlmann

Articles

In January 1991, just four weeks after joining the Justice Department’sEnvironmental Crimes Section as an entry-level attorney, I traveled to NewOrleans to attend an environmental enforcement conference. The conferencewas attended by hundreds of criminal prosecutors and civil attorneys from theJustice Department, as well as enforcement officials from the EnvironmentalProtection Agency (“EPA”). It was a propitious time for environmental protec-tion efforts in the United States. Less than two months earlier, President GeorgeH. W. Bush had signed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, culminating aremarkable twenty-year period that created the modern environmental law sys-tem in the United States. My new ...


Reflections On Freedom And Criminal Responsibility In Late Twentieth Century American Legal Thought, Thomas A. Green, Merrill Catharine Hodnefield Jan 2015

Reflections On Freedom And Criminal Responsibility In Late Twentieth Century American Legal Thought, Thomas A. Green, Merrill Catharine Hodnefield

Articles

It is now a commonplace among historians that American criminal jurisprudence underwent a dramatic change something like two-thirds to three-quarters into the last century. Roughly, this development is understood as a shift (or drift) from a more-or-less pure consequentialism to a "mixed theory" wherein retributivism played a major-at times, dominant-role. As the new paradigm remains intact, now approaching a half-century, the development qualifies as a significant historical fact. The fact applies not only to the history of justification for punishment but also to conceptions of the underlying principle of (basis for) responsibility. The two are rightly distinguished: for many scholars ...


Racial Disparity In Federal Criminal Sentences, M. Marit Rehavi, Sonja B. Starr Dec 2014

Racial Disparity In Federal Criminal Sentences, M. Marit Rehavi, Sonja B. Starr

Articles

Using rich data linking federal cases from arrest through to sentencing, we find that initial case and defendant characteristics, including arrest offense and criminal history, can explain most of the large raw racial disparity in federal sentences, but significant gaps remain. Across the distribution, blacks receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than those of comparable whites arrested for the same crimes. Most of this disparity can be explained by prosecutors’ initial charging decisions, particularly the filing of charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences. Ceteris paribus, the odds of black arrestees facing such a charge are 1.75 times higher ...


Sex Offender Law And The Geography Of Victimization, Amanda Y. Agan, J. J. Prescott Dec 2014

Sex Offender Law And The Geography Of Victimization, Amanda Y. Agan, J. J. Prescott

Articles

Sex offender laws that target recidivism (e.g., community notification and residency restriction regimes) are premised—at least in part—on the idea that sex offender proximity and victimization risk are positively correlated. We examine this relationship by combining past and current address information of registered sex offenders (RSOs) with crime data from Baltimore County, Maryland, to study how crime rates vary across neighborhoods with different concentrations of resident RSOs. Contrary to the assumptions of policymakers and the public, we find that, all else equal, reported sex offense victimization risk is generally (although not uniformly) lower in neighborhoods where more ...


Rate Of False Conviction Of Criminal Defendants Who Are Sentenced To Death, Samuel R. Gross, Barbara O'Brien, Chen Hu, Edward H. Kennedy Jan 2014

Rate Of False Conviction Of Criminal Defendants Who Are Sentenced To Death, Samuel R. Gross, Barbara O'Brien, Chen Hu, Edward H. Kennedy

Articles

The rate of erroneous conviction of innocent criminal defendants is often described as not merely unknown but unknowable. There is no systematic method to determine the accuracy of a criminal conviction; if there were, these errors would not occur in the first place. As a result, very few false convictions are ever discovered, and those that are discovered are not representative of the group as a whole. In the United States, however, a high proportion of false convictions that do come to light and produce exonerations are concentrated among the tiny minority of cases in which defendants are sentenced to ...


Evidence-Based Sentencing And The Scientific Rationalization Of Discrimination, Sonja B. Starr Jan 2014

Evidence-Based Sentencing And The Scientific Rationalization Of Discrimination, Sonja B. Starr

Articles

This Article critiques, on legal and empirical grounds, the growing trend of basing criminal sentences on actuarial recidivism risk prediction instruments that include demographic and socioeconomic variables. I argue that this practice violates the Equal Protection Clause and is bad policy: an explicit embrace of otherwise- condemned discrimination, sanitized by scientific language. To demonstrate that this practice raises serious constitutional concerns, I comprehensively review the relevant case law, much of which has been ignored by existing literature. To demonstrate that the policy is not justified by countervailing state interests, I review the empirical evidence underlying the instruments. I show that ...


Prosecutorial Discretion And Environmental Crime, David M. Uhlmann Jan 2014

Prosecutorial Discretion And Environmental Crime, David M. Uhlmann

Articles

Prosecutorial discretion exists throughout the criminal justice system but plays a particularly significant role for environmental crime. Congress made few distinctions under the environmental laws between acts that could result in criminal, civil, or administrative enforcement. As a result, there has been uncertainty about which environmental violations will result in criminal enforcement and persistent claims about the overcriminalization of environmental violations. To address these concerns — and to delineate an appropriate role for criminal enforcement in the environmental regulatory scheme — I have proposed that prosecutors should reserve criminal enforcement for violations that involve one or more of the following aggravating factors ...


Interpersonal Power In The Criminal System, Kimberly A. Thomas Jan 2013

Interpersonal Power In The Criminal System, Kimberly A. Thomas

Articles

This Article identifies the workings of interpersonal power in the criminal system and considers the effect of these cases on criminal theory and practice. By uncovering this phenomenon, this Article hopes to spark a legal academic dialogue and inquiry that has, until now, been unspoken. This Article has roots in my former work as a Philadelphia public defender and in my current work as a clinical professor with students who appear in criminal and juvenile court. As an advocate for the poor in a busy courthouse, one of a lawyer's tasks is to discover the multiple "real" stories behind ...


Deferred Prosecution And Non-Prosecution Agreements And The Erosion Of Corporate Criminal Liability, David M. Uhlmann Jan 2013

Deferred Prosecution And Non-Prosecution Agreements And The Erosion Of Corporate Criminal Liability, David M. Uhlmann

Articles

On April 5, 2010, a massive explosion killed twenty-nine miners at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine near Montcoal, West Virginia. Following the explosion, President Barack Obama vowed that the U.S. Department of Labor would conduct "the most thorough and comprehensive investigation possible" and work with the U.S. Department of Justice ("Justice Department" or the "Department") to address any criminal violations. Later in the month, the President and Vice President flew to West Virginia to eulogize the victims and comfort their families. It was the nation's worst coal mining disaster in forty years. The tragic loss ...


On Estimating Disparity And Inferring Causation: Sur-Reply To The U.S. Sentencing Commission Staff, Sonja B. Starr, M. Marit Rehavi Jan 2013

On Estimating Disparity And Inferring Causation: Sur-Reply To The U.S. Sentencing Commission Staff, Sonja B. Starr, M. Marit Rehavi

Articles

In this Essay, Professors Starr and Rehavi respond to the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s empirical staff’s criticisms of their recent article, which found, contrary to the Commission’s prior work, no evidence that racial disparity in sentences increased in response to United States v. Booker. As Starr and Rehavi suggest, their differences with the Commission perhaps relate to differing objectives. The Commission staff’s reply expresses a lack of interest in identifying Booker’s causal effects; in contrast, that is Starr and Rehavi’s central objective. In addition, Starr and Rehavi’s approach also accounts for disparities arising ...


Mandatory Sentencing And Racial Disparity, Assessing The Role Of Prosecutors And The Effects Of Booker, Sonja B. Starr, M. Marit Rehavi Jan 2013

Mandatory Sentencing And Racial Disparity, Assessing The Role Of Prosecutors And The Effects Of Booker, Sonja B. Starr, M. Marit Rehavi

Articles

This Article presents new empirical evidence concerning the effects of United States v. Booker, which loosened the formerly mandatory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, on racial disparities in federal criminal cases. Two serious limitations pervade existing empirical literature on sentencing disparities. First, studies focus on sentencing in isolation, controlling for the “presumptive sentence” or similar measures that themselves result from discretionary charging, plea-bargaining, and fact-finding processes. Any disparities in these earlier processes are excluded from the resulting sentence-disparity estimates. Our research has shown that this exclusion matters: pre-sentencing decision-making can have substantial sentence-disparity consequences. Second, existing studies have used loose causal ...