13 June 2014

CSI and Juries

Much has been written about the so-called CSI effect on juries. Wikipedia defines the CSI effect as:
any of several ways in which the exaggerated portrayal of forensic science on crime television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation influences public perception. The term most often refers to the belief that jurors have come to demand more forensic evidence in criminal trials, thereby raising the effective standard of proof for prosecutors.
But recently Slate Magazine had an article casting the CSI effect in a different light:
How could forensic evidence, widely seen as factual and unbiased, nearly send an innocent person to his death? The answer is profoundly disturbing—and suggests that for every Earl Washington freed, untold more are sent to their deaths. Far from an infallible science, forensics is a decades-long experiment in which undertrained lab workers jettison the scientific method in favor of speedy results that fit prosecutors’ hunches. No one knows exactly how many people have been wrongly imprisoned—or executed—due to flawed forensics.
Anyone interested in how shows like CSI might influence jury trials in America should read the rest of this article.

09 June 2014

If You Think Today's Congress Is A Hostile Place, Think Again

The National Constitution Center has a great history piece on how violent things in the Congress leading up the American Civil War:
On May 22, 1856, Representative Preston Brooks attacked Senator Charles Sumner with a metal-tipped cane, leaving Sumner seriously injured. Brooks received a $300 fine. The incident started when Senator Sumner, an abolitionist from Massachusetts, went on a two-day rant on the Senate floor after an incident in Kansas. Sumner made fun of Brooks’ relative, Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, who had suffered from a stroke, and he used language that compared the South’s use of slavery to prostitution.

03 June 2014

Supreme Court Under Attack

The Supreme Court has recently come under attack by several academics for reasons ranging from its unwillingness to televise its hearings to the life time terms (this link will take you to interesting piece arguing for term limits of the Justices) that the Justices serve. But in a recent blog post Prof. Geoffrey Stone asks the enticing question: "Do we need the Supreme Court?"

Stone sets forth 20 of the more controversial/landmark decisions and then asks:
How many of these 20 decisions do you think reflect good policy for the nation? Do you agree with the Supreme Court that on such matters the People should not be permitted through their elected representatives to act contrary to these decisions? What do you think led you to think that some decisions were "good" while others were "bad? Can you discern any principle that leads you to judge some decisions as "good" and others as "bad"? Or is it just a matter of opinion? When all is said and done, has the Supreme Court's exercise of the power of judicial review been good or bad for the nation? Do we need the Supreme Court?
His point obviously is whether nine judges should be determining important questions of law or whether elected representatives should be.  

Jealous Wife Cannot Be Charged Under International Treaty

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that jealous wife who used a mixture of chemical toxins to harm her husband's lover could not be charged with a violation of the Chemical Weapons Treaty signed by the U.S. and incorporated into federal criminal law. The case provides us with an opportunity to review some of the concepts we have been discussing in American Constitutional Law. Specifically, the article raises questions about the role of the 10th Amendment in this case, and whether treaties can trump trample on state authority.