Adversaries (Paradigms of Criminal Law Part 2)

prosecution and defense 2

Judith Mizner describes her argument before the Supreme Court. She and her client won, assuring that police cannot search your smartphone without a warrant even if you are arrested.

“A person is not the worst thing they have ever done,” said Judith Mizner, the Chief of the Appeals Unit in the Federal Public Defenders Office.

Another defense attorney jumped in. “Exactly! Prosecutors don’t see past a defendant’s crime. They don’t see who they are as a human being.” Some first year students shifted uncomfortably; others enjoyed the sincerity of the lawyers sitting in front of us.

“But defense attorneys have the luxury of caring only about their clients,” a prosecutor quipped back.

“We have to think about what is right for the defendant, for the victims, and for the rest of the community. I do think about the defendant’s life and who they are when I am deciding between plea bargains and charges, but I also have to face the victims,” she said. Continue reading

Tinker Bell or Prison Time? (Paradigms of Criminal Law Part One)

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sujatha baliga, Restorative Justice Project and Associate Director, NCCD, speaking at the Rebellious Lawyering Conference at Yale Law School, Feb. 21, 2015 (photo taken by me)

“What do crime victims actually want?”

That is a question that sujatha baliga is asked quite frequently as a facilitator in restorative justice programs that focus on making a victim whole after a crime rather than punishing the person who committed the crime. “You can never really predict what will make a victim whole. Sometimes, it’s Tinker Bell,” balinga said. Continue reading

Passion Killing and Mercy

Finding one’s wife in the act of committing adultery, flying into a rage, and killing her or her lover is probably not a murder. At least that is the way American law has treated that scenario. Passion killing is an old term that used to designate small set of circumstances, like finding your wife with another man, in which intentional killing did not amount to murder. These circumstances, including such chivalrous acts as ‘mutual combat’ and ‘resisting illegal arrest’ were fixed, and they could drastically reduce your sentence.

The distinctions that structure our law are often also the distinctions that structure our shared values, and sometimes in the middle of a criminal law class, you can get an insight into those values.  Continue reading

Helplessness: Why this philosopher needs a law degree

Do you think the world is basically just? Do people get what they deserve most of the time? Provoked by an article in The Guardian entitled “Believing that Life is Fair Makes You a Terrible Person,” I discussed this question with one of my best law school friends on a ride home from school. Neither of us could square the idea of fairness with the world in front of us, and I think that is why we are both in law school.

The article discusses a theory– the just-world hypothesis– based on a number of studies. The theory suggests that people just can’t handle being helpless in the face of great injustice. So they find ways of imagining that the injustice is deserved. They imagine that this poor family is lazy, that black man was a criminal, or this woman was asking for it.  On the other hand, the same studies suggest that when terrible things happen and there is a concrete way to help, people tend to sympathize with the sufferer rather than blaming her.

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Racial Justice, Law, and Doing More

Die In

Photo of the student organized BLACK LIVES MATTER – A Demonstration of Solidarity @ BC Law Event. Photo by Laura Partamian

Her voice was quivering, but she was still shouting. That’s what I remember most about the young woman in front of me. I could almost feel the sting of disrespect as she described her face being shoved against a brick wall by a police officer. I couldn’t help but relate to her — a graduate student in her 20s, pulling off the hipster look much better than I can. The difference between us was that she is black and I am not. That difference meant that she had spent her life in fear of law enforcement, treated like a criminal when she wasn’t one.

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