How can one be expected to demonstrate something they are incapable of, and what if that something meant the difference between freedom and remaining in prison? Thousands of inmates in California face this issue, and many are kept incarcerated for life without any recognition of their cognitive capabilities.
Take Maria’s story, for example; she is a client I became familiar with as a student working in the University of Southern California Gould School of Law’s (“USC”) Post-Conviction Justice Project (“PCJP”). Maria had extensive cognitive impairments that went undiscovered while incarcerated in a California prison for nearly three decades. Because of this, Maria was denied parole an astounding six times with the parole board citing lack of “insight” each time. Maria’s continued denials persisted despite state-issued psychological evaluations concluding that her intellectual functioning was minimal.
Unfortunately, Maria’s predicament is not uncommon. There are several similarly situated inmates who are unable to effectively advocate for themselves due to their cognitive impairments, yet they are not provided with necessary accommodations. As a result, individuals are denied parole even though they do not pose a current danger to society. This culminates in the gravest deprivation of liberty without due process—denial of their freedom.
Bobby James Moore was twenty years old when he “fatally shot a store clerk” while robbing a grocery store in April 1980. On paper, this is a tragic felony murder, but behind the scenes lies a different story. Bobby was not a typical twenty-year-old; he did not understand “the days of the week, the months of the year, [or] the seasons.” Bobby could barely tell time, and he could not understand standard measurements or that subtraction is the opposite of addition. Bobby suffered an “abuse-filled childhood.” Bobby dropped out of high school due to “his limited ability to read and write,” and he lived on the streets after being kicked out of his home for being “stupid.” Bobby is intellectually disabled, and despite the evidence put forth demonstrating his disability, he was sentenced to death pursuant to a set of factors used by a Texas court; these factors are largely based on stereotypes and caricatures from literature. As the United States Supreme Court decided in 2017, this was a gross violation of the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment to rely on “wholly nonclinical” factors rather than the “medical community’s diagnostic framework.”
Just before two o’clock in the afternoon on October 22, 1991, two high school students, Chedell Williams and Zahra Howard, ascended the steps of the Fern Rock train station in North Philadelphia, planning to take a train back to their homes. Seemingly out of nowhere, two men appeared, blocked the girls’ way up to the station, and demanded Chedell’s earrings. Terrified, the girls bolted in opposite directions. The two men followed Chedell. They soon caught her and tore out her earrings. Then “[o]ne of the men grabbed her, held a silver handgun to her neck, and shot her.” The perpetrators fled. Chedell was pronounced dead within the hour.
Police soon focused their investigation on James Dennis, who lived relatively close to the train station in the Abbotsford Homes projects. Detectives would later explain that they heard rumors that Dennis was involved in the shooting, though they were at that time “unable to identify the source of the rumors.” The detectives obtained preliminary descriptions of the perpetrators from three eyewitnesses. These initial descriptions did not align well with Dennis’s actual appearance. Nonetheless, a few eyewitnesses identified Dennis during subsequent photo lineups, live lineups, and the trial. In presenting the government’s case, the prosecution relied heavily on these eyewitness identifications. Dennis was found guilty of “first-degree murder, robbery, carrying a firearm without a license, criminal conspiracy, and possession of an instrument of a crime.” He was sentenced to death.
This Note seeks to address how the sprawl of GPS technology in our lives has permeated into the courts and affected the rights of criminal defendants. The first Part provides general background about the technology and its broader role in the court system, while the second Part examines GPS and the law. The second Part will look at the rules of evidence and the hurdles––however minimal––that GPS evidence may need to overcome when admitted at trial. Because GPS technology, while common, is still subject to errors and tampering, the evidence should be required to be properly authenticated. A GPS record can be––and has been––viewed as a kind of a statement, reporting where a particular person was at a particular time. For this reason, courts have considered the evidence through hearsay analysis and admitted it through the business records exception. Additionally, the second Part discusses the constitutional issues that arise with the introduction of GPS evidence. Specifically, the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to cross-examine the person who makes a report submitted at trial. GPS data can be considered a statement against a criminal defendant, about where the defendant was at a particular time––e.g., when a crime was being committed. The issue becomes whether a criminal defendant is entitled to “confront” the makers of these statements. Finally, the third Part of this Note concludes with concerns of how to properly deal with GPS tracking technology, considering how far it can reach, in light of the general public’s seeming non-concern with the level of government use of it. The fact that most of us carry GPS-enabled smartphones in our pockets every day gives rise to questions about the government’s ability to track us and what procedural safeguards should be maintained when evidence from these devices is admitted against an individual at trial.
Business is booming for criminal justice monitoring technology: these days “ankle bracelet” refers as often to an electronic monitor as to jewelry. Indeed, the explosive growth of electronic monitoring (“EM”) for criminal justice purposes—a phenomenon which this Article terms “mass monitoring”—is among the most overlooked features of the otherwise well-known phenomenon of mass incarceration.
This Article addresses the fundamental question of whether EM is punishment. It finds that the origins and history of EM as a progressive alternative to incarceration—a punitive sanction—support characterization of EM as punitive, and that EM comports with the goals of dominant punishment theories. Yet new uses of EM have complicated this narrative. The Article draws attention to the expansion of EM both as a substitute for incarceration and as an added sanction, highlighting the analytic importance of what it terms the “substitution/addition distinction.” The Article argues that, as a punitive sanction, EM can be justified when used as a substitute for incarceration, but that its use as an added sanction may result in excessive punishment and raises significant constitutional and policy concerns.
This Note examines the experiences of children in the juvenile and criminal justice system with the purpose of finding an alternative to keeping Geyser and Weier in the criminal system. Part I provides a summary of Geyser and Weier’s pending case, which has been pieced together from various news outlets. Part II looks at the development of the juvenile justice system and the transfer system, with an in-depth analysis of the three primary waiver mechanisms. Part II also examines the Wisconsin laws that Geyser and Weier are subject to, and the primary ways in which the juvenile justice system differs from the criminal justice system. Part III describes how the current justice system in America has failed to meet the needs of juvenile offenders. Part IV discusses the reasoning involved in U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have treated juvenile offenders differently than adult offenders. Part IV also presents studies that explain why the development of children’s brains provides support for this differential treatment. Part V analyzes various alternatives to the prevailing regime which keeps juvenile offenders in the juvenile justice system or transfers them to the criminal justice system. Lastly, Part V also proposes that blended sentencing, while still an imperfect solution, is the best alternative to automatically subjecting juveniles who commit violent offenses to the criminal justice system. With respect to Anissa Weier, blended sentencing would be the best alternative, because her situation could be reevaluated once she reaches the upper age limit of juvenile court jurisdiction. In the case of Morgan Geyser, under a blended sentencing regime, she could be transferred to the mental health courts and placed in a mental health facility within a designated children’s ward to receive treatment for schizophrenia, as both the juvenile and criminal justice systems are ill-equipped to house juvenile offenders with serious mental illnesses.
In Georgia, Shawntrail Lee was convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon, —a crime that warranted a sentence of roughly three to four years in prison under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. However, Lee’s prescribed sentencing range increased to a minimum of fifteen years under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) because his criminal history included three other crimes that the district court classified as “violent felon[ies].” Lee appealed his sentence, arguing that his predicate conviction of conspiracy to commit armed robbery did not constitute a “violent felony,” and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, vacating his sentence.
Conversely, in North Carolina, Demontrell White was convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that his prior conviction of conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon was a “violent felony” under the ACCA.
Part I of this Note provides a brief background regarding the history of the Supreme Court’s treatment of eyewitness identification, the current standard of admissibility of eyewitness identification testimony at both the federal and state levels, and the status of scientific research into eyewitness identifications today. Part II describes the changes that two states, New Jersey and Oregon, have made to their judicial frameworks to reflect the current state of empirical research into the dangers of eyewitness misidentification. This Part will also highlight how these new tests differ from the Manson framework set forth by the Supreme Court in the 1970s, which is the prevailing test for admissibility of eyewitness evidence, on which California’s existing framework is modeled. Part III will examine the pros and cons of New Jersey and Oregon’s approaches, especially in light of their underlying goals of deterring improper police conduct and obtaining reliable verdicts. Part IV describes the history of eyewitness identification reform in California and suggests that in states like California, where attempts to pass legislation modifying police eyewitness identification procedures have been unsuccessful, judicial reform similar to that of Oregon’s Lawson framework is necessary to ensure the integrity of the criminal justice system.
The Supreme Court’s conceptualization of the Eighth Amendment over the past decade has focused on narrow exceptions to the ability of the states to punish criminal offenders, excising particular punishments based on characteristics of the offender or crime. What is missing, however, is a set of broader guiding principles delineating the line between acceptable and impermissible punishments. The Court itself, in Kennedy v. Louisiana, acknowledged as much, describing the case law as “still in search of a unifying principle.” In light of this vacuum, this Article proposes a new approach to the application of the Eighth Amendment.
The absence of regulation of excessive and disproportionate punishments by state legislatures over the past two decades has resulted in the largest prison population in the history of the human race. Instead of merely being a tool that removes a few types of offenses and offenders from the purview of state legislatures, the Eighth Amendment should also serve as a more robust guide to shape state and federal penal practices.
To that end, this Article argues for the development of a series of Eighth Amendment presumptions—guiding principles that would govern the punishment practices of legislatures without excluding them from the conversation. Currently, the Eighth Amendment serves to identify the constitutional “exceptions” to the “rules” promulgated by legislatures. This Article’s approach would reverse that status quo, with the Court articulating general rules and legislatures then developing (and justifying through careful study) the exceptions to those rules. Indeed, a careful examination of the Court’s Eighth Amendment cases suggests that this “presumptive” sentiment is already implicit in much of the thinking of the Court.
While undercover operations by the police are familiar, the harm they can impose on third parties is not. When government agents impersonate criminals, they can impose personal, physical, financial, and reputational harms on victims wholly unrelated to their criminal investigation. A sham drug deal can lead to gunfire and an injured bystander. The mere existence of a government-run fencing operation can lead to increased property theft.
In a number of recent financial fraud investigations, FBI agents have conducted stings that they knew could harm unwitting investors. These stings targeted fraudulent price manipulation of “penny stocks”: low-priced stocks marketed and sold directly to the public rather than through stock exchanges. Typically, an undercover FBI agent offers to help a suspect inflate the price of a penny stock by purchasing a large number of shares for manipulative purposes in exchange for a kickback. Not only does the tactic result in an arrest, it can also harm innocent investors who purchase stock at a price that was misleadingly inflated—by the government itself.
How should the law address third-party harms attributable to such undercover operations?