US Law

US Law

The Psychological Effects of Solitary Confinement: An Evolving Legal Interpretation

October 14, 2017 William Tong 0

By William Tong | October 14, 2017 While it is true that prisoners must be punished, justice and humanity necessitate that they be punished within the limits of the Constitution and accepted standards of human decency. But in contemporary American society, many prisoners are punished in the form of solitary confinement, where they have little access to external stimuli such as books or television, maintain no meaningful social interaction with others, and spend over twenty-two hours a day in barren solitude. In such a sterile environment, inmates can develop “serious psychological” issues ranging from “insomnia and confusion to hallucinations and outright insanity.”   Yet when the mental ramifications of solitary confinement are measured against the constitutional limits of punishment embodied in the Eighth Amendment, courts have consistently failed to find a violation. Although the issue of solitary confinement has been examined by many scholars, the existing academic dialogue surrounding the […]

US Law

The Pandora’s Box of the Criminal Justice System

September 25, 2017 Jenny Jiao 0

By Jenny Jiao |  09/25/17 In 2013, Eric Loomis pled guilty to two charges related to a drive-by shooting in La Crosse, Wisconsin, “attempting to flee a traffic officer and operating a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent.” At his sentencing hearing, the judge relied, in part, on Loomis’s score on a risk assessment algorithm called COMPAS, which deemed him at high risk for recidivism (the tendency for a criminal to reoffend). He was unable to contest the assessment’s result because the inputs and weighting of said inputs were kept secret. Since COMPAS was privately developed by Northpointe Inc., the methodology is considered a proprietary trade secret and therefore is inaccessible to all parties in the court system. Loomis was sentenced to six years in prison and five years of extended supervision. Loomis appealed, arguing that because the assessment’s methodology was kept secret, its usage violated his due process rights to […]

US Law

Redefining Contemporary Community Standards in an Evolving Sociopolitical Climate

September 20, 2017 Rachel Sereix 0

In an evolving sociopolitical climate, the law should further define “contemporary community standards” first prescribed in Roth v. United States. This article will employ the United States v. Pacifica Foundation decision for the purposes of scrutinizing the current Federal Communications Commission regulatory practices while still upholding First Amendment protections. Addressing the broadcasting of George Carlin’s “Filthy Words” monologue, Justice John Paul Stevens found that broadcasting speech which is “patently offensive” yet not necessarily obscene may be subject to restrictions and does not fall under First Amendment protections. Unlike obscenity, speech does not have to appeal to a prurient interest in order to be characterized as indecent. However, it is essential to recognize that the media market has evolved considerably since the Pacifica decision in 1978. One could now argue that what constituted indecent moral standards in 1978 are not considered indecent in 2017. In this advisement report, I recommend that […]

US Law

Running Out of Excuses: The All Too Familiar Narrative of Police Shootings

August 5, 2017 Aanan Henderson 1

On June 16, in St. Paul, Minnesota, a decision was handed down in the trial of Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile in the summer of 2016. The facts of the case were hardly in dispute: after pulling Mr. Castile over, Officer Yanez asked to see his driver’s license. To avoid any confusion, Castile then told the officer that he was armed and was carrying a gun in his pants pocket. However, when Castile complied with the officer’s command and reached for his I.D., he was summarily shot seven times in front of his fiancée and four-year-old daughter. The immediate aftermath of this was captured on Facebook Live by Castile’s fiancée, sparking a national outcry in a political climate that was already rife with similar incidents. What was even more stunning about this incident was Mr. Castile’s compliance with what most law enforcement would say is […]

US Law

The Hero Republicans Needed: A Reflection on the Nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch

May 11, 2017 Aanan Henderson 0

On a particularly chilly Monday morning in March, the Senate Judiciary Committee began confirmation hearings for the Trump administration’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. The hearings came at a perfect time for the Republican Party. After a failed healthcare bill, a series of blocked executive orders, and a highly contentious standstill on the federal budget, Gorsuch’s confirmation promised to be a win for a party that had so far struggled to make the tangible changes that the president promised during his 2016 campaign. During the confirmation, Senate Democrats did everything in their power to derail Gorsuch’s confirmation. But, as the hearings proceeded, the inevitability of confirmation became increasingly clear. During his hearing, Judge Gorsuch distanced himself from the president’s more controversial policies, insisting that he would not be a puppet of the Trump administration if placed on the Court. Prior to the hearings, Judge Gorsuch publicly criticized the president’s derision […]

US Law

Tweeting Away Trust: Trump’s Wiretapping Allegation and its Implications for the Intelligence Community

April 12, 2017 Isabelle Jensen 0

During an early-morning tweet session on March 4, President Trump shared that he “Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory” and asked, “is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire-tapping’ a race for president prior to an election?” The answer to Mr. Trump’s question is a definitive “no.” Without showing a warrant, the President does not have the unilateral authority to order a wiretap unless it is directed against non-Americans or purely overseas communications. If a sitting President were to order a wiretap of an opposing nominees’ headquarters during the height of their Presidential campaign, it could easily provoke the largest political scandal in recent memory. The very fact that President Trump would make such a claim is deeply troubling. The media was quick to question Mr. Trump’s tweet. The president gave no evidence to back up his claims. […]

US Law

Democracy for the Dissidents: The Legality of Flag Burning

April 10, 2017 Fiona Xin 0

The 1st Amendment is one of the staples of a functioning, free democracy. Yet, under the current administration, we have seen multiple attempts to undermine the freedoms of speech, expression, press, and religion enshrined in the 1st Amendment. In November 2016, a tweet by then-President-Elect Donald Trump attacking flag burners sparked controversy related to the tension between the freedom of speech and the legality of flag desecration. A quick review of the history of flag desecration in American history clearly illustrates the complex and contentious nature of the topic. Throughout the Vietnam war, antiwar activists often desecrated the American flag as a form of expressive, social protest. The ambiguity surrounding whether such an act was protected by the 1st Amendment lasted three decades; in the meanwhile, law enforcement and the lower courts held much of the discretionary power regarding each of the cases. The constitutional protection of flag desecration was finally addressed by […]

US Law

Re-Coloring Justice: Segregation in the Jury System

April 6, 2017 Cameron Beach 0

In 1875, African Americans were given the right to serve as jurors. Now, nearly 150 years later, people of color are still grossly underrepresented on jury panels across the country. In 2012, almost every criminal trial in Houston, Alabama (a county composed of nearly 30% African Americans) was heard by an all-white jury. How did this disparity between the ideal — a diverse, qualified jury — and the reality begin? The story starts with a man named James Batson, a Kentuckian accused of burglary in 1986. While the case, the crime, and even the man himself were unremarkable, the proceedings of Batson’s trial have revolutionized the way juries are created. During Batson’s voir dire, (jury selection process) all four potential African American jurors were struck from service. Batson, an African American man, was tried and convicted by an all-white jury. Resentful of the seemingly racialized treatment his jury had received, Batson appealed the decision […]