Monday, January 26, 2015

Interesting Op-Ed Re "Serial" and Plea Bargaining

Many people have listed to the hit podcast "Serial" by now.  For those who have not, it is an extremely interesting show detailing the prosecution of Adnan Syed for the 1999 murder of his former high school girlfriend.

This weekend, The New York Times published an Op-Ed about the case.  This is not surprising given the recent publicity around the Podcast.  What was surprising, however, was that the Op-Ed dealt less with the evidence against Syed and more with the fact that he did not plead guilty.

From the introduction:

OUR modern criminal justice system is designed to avoid jury trials. Through investigation and considered use of discretion, prosecutors are expected to charge only when there is sufficient evidence to convict. Once charged, defendants are encouraged to plead guilty in part to avoid a “trial penalty” — a longer sentence after a trial, often a much longer one. And 95 percent of them do just that. The Supreme Court acknowledged this reality in 2012 when it described our criminal process as “a system of pleas.”
You can read the entire Op-Ed here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Excellent Opportunity for Doctoral Students and Recent Ph.D. Graduates re Guilty Pleas

Are you interested in researching the processes that generate guilty pleas? Are you currently studying guilty pleas or plea bargaining (e.g., criminal sentencing outcomes)?  The Research Coordination Network (RCN) on Understanding Guilty Pleas is hosting a research workshop June 2-3, 2015, at the University at Albany, in Albany NY. We are seeking doctoral-level graduate students and recent Ph.D. graduates from any discipline interested in participating. This is an excellent opportunity to network with an interdisciplinary group of well-known scholars keenly focused on making groundbreaking progress in this important but under-researched area.

The RCN, funded by the National Science Foundation and led by Professor Shawn Bushway, was created to invigorate interdisciplinary research on guilty pleas and related decision-making processes. The RCN includes three cores focused on prosecutorial, defense, and courtroom workgroup decision-making. More about the RCN and its members can be found at http://www.albany.edu/understanding-guilty-pleas/index.php

The conference will host approximately 40 scholars interested in the empirical study of guilty pleas, representing the fields of economics, criminology/criminal justice, psychology, sociology, law, public policy, political science, etc. There will be plenary presentations of current or recent research on the cutting edge of guilty plea research, a group-networking dinner, and a poster session.

Funding is available for up to 10 doctoral students and individuals who have received their doctorate within the past three years (2012 or later). Funding includes travel to and from the conference, lodging, and a per diem. The workshop is open to both individuals who are interested in getting more involved in this important area of research and to individuals who are actively conducting research in the area of guilty pleas.  Applications from minorities are strongly encouraged.

1) For Individuals Interested in Plea Research. To apply, email the following materials by March 1, 2015 to PleaResearch@albany.edu:
  • A one-to two-page (single-spaced, 12-point font) essay explaining your interest in guilty plea research. Applicants who are able to integrate their past or current research endeavors to plea-relevant research will have a higher chance of success. Applicants with viable research questions/ideas will also have a higher chance of success
  •  Curriculum vitae
  •  Name and contact information (email, phone number) of your graduate advisor or main reference

2) For Individuals Already Conducting Plea Research. To apply, email the following materials by March 1, 2015 to PleaResearch@albany.edu:
  • A 750-word abstract of a current plea-related project.  The project does not need to be finished and can be on any element that affects the process that generates guilty pleas.  If selected, you will present your research as a poster at the workshop poster session
  •  Curriculum vitae
  • Name and contact information (email, phone number) of your graduate advisor or main reference


For questions, please contact Professor Allison Redlich, aredlich@albany.edu, 518-442-4217.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Judge Rakoff on "Why Innocent People Plead Guilty"

Judge Jed Rakoff has published a very interesting piece in The New York Review of Books entitled "Why Innocent People Plead Guilty." I would encourage readers of this blog to take a look at this in-depth analysis of how we came to have a system in which 95%-97% of convictions are the result of a plea of guilt.

The opening paragraphs:

The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes.

To the Founding Fathers, the critical element in the system was the jury trial, which served not only as a truth-seeking mechanism and a means of achieving fairness, but also as a shield against tyranny. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”
...
In 2013, while 8 percent of all federal criminal charges were dismissed (either because of a mistake in fact or law or because the defendant had decided to cooperate), more than 97 percent of the remainder were resolved through plea bargains, and fewer than 3 percent went to trial. The plea bargains largely determined the sentences imposed.
...
It was not always so.
The entire article is available here.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Plea Agreements and Waivers - Awaiting New Policy Announcement

According to the Wall Street Journal, the DOJ will soon announce a major policy shift regarding plea agreements and certain types of waivers.  According to the paper, Attorney General Holder is preparing to announce that the government will no longer request defendants waiver their right to appeal for ineffective assistance of counsel.  
The waivers are used by about one-third of the 94 U.S. attorneys' offices and have come under increased scrutiny by legal ethics authorities in recent years. While federal prosecutors say the waivers pre-empt frivolous litigation and preserve resources, defense lawyers and federal public defenders argue they create a conflict of interest and insulate attorney conduct from judicial review.

The debate has grown in importance now that nearly all charges in federal and state courts are settled with plea bargains. These agreements represented more than 97% of all federal convictions in 2013, said the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

By signing a waiver—usually a paragraph in a plea agreement—a defendant agrees not to challenge her conviction by filing a claim alleging that an attorney provided ineffective assistance. If the defendant were to try anyway, a court could enforce the waiver without considering the merits of the claim.

In a ruling last month, the Kentucky Supreme Court became the first to pronounce such waivers unethical, saying they put defense lawyers in the awkward position of having "to advise a client on the attorney's own conduct."
Along with the Kentucky pronouncement, bar associations in eleven other states currently hold that such waivers are improper.  The entire Wall Street Journal article is here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"A Prisoner of Time" - Winner of the 2014 Hofstra Law School Mystery Short Story Contest

I am pleased to announce that my short story, entitled "A Prisoner of Time," has been selected as the winner of the 2014 Hofstra Law School Mystery Short Story Contest and is now available on the Mulholland Books website.  The competition was judged by Lee Child, New York Times bestselling author of the Jack Reacher series, Marcia Clark, the former OJ Simpson prosecutor and author of the highly-praised Rachel Knight series, and Alafair Burke, best selling author of ten thrillers.

Below are the first few paragraphs of story.
The years passed faithfully, each one much like the last, and yet each distinctive and filled with its own memories.  George Duncan, known simply as Duncan since his first year of school, sat in his large recliner.  Though the chair was old and tattered, the fabric was woven with far too many memories to discard.  Duncan, currently in the eighth decade of his life, had never felt the cold beneath his skin as he did now.  But, somehow, sitting in his chair, gazing through the window, and thinking about the past seemed to warm him as the sun set outside.

Duncan’s mind often wandered over his decades as a feared criminal defense attorney.  On some days he would laugh out loud as images of a floundering witness succumbing to his blazing cross-examination replayed in his mind.  Other days were filled with deep reflection on those few times during his career when mistakes had led to perpetual recollection and regret.  Despite the innumerable and varying memories from which to select, one image drifted uninvited into his mind more than any other during the many days he spent in that timeworn chair, the face of his client Billy Brandon.  As that face flickered in his consciousness once again, Duncan’s hands clenched in anger and anxiety.
“Duncan.  Duncan, dear,” his wife, Martha, called from the kitchen.  “It’s time for dinner.”

“Just a moment,” Duncan responded as he unbound his hands and strained to push himself up from his seat.

Once standing, he paused and gazed out the window for a final second.  Then, turning to face a large bookcase at his side, Duncan reached out and withdrew a massive leather bound edition of a Dostoyevsky classic.  After using both hands to lower the literary masterpiece onto a small library table, Duncan lifted the front cover to reveal the book was actually a safe.  Reaching into the hollow middle, he pushed aside a piece of paper and withdrew a heavy black revolver.  Holding the gun in his hand and spinning the chamber, he took note of the four bullets and two empty shells still lying in the cylinder.

“After these many years,” Duncan said aloud, yet in a whisper, “my representation will finally come to an end.  Until tomorrow, Mr. Billy Brandon.”
Click here to continue reading the rest of "A Prisoner of Time."

The award announcement is available here.