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A New Day in the City of Brotherly Love

If you haven’t heard, the new district attorney of Philadelphia is a lifelong defense lawyer who used to sue the government for violating people’s civil rights. He even ran on a campaign against overcriminalization. It’s a pretty amazing thing. Now the city’s top prosecutor has put his money where his mouth was during the campaign. Read More

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Judge Regrets Sentencing Teen to Life Without Parole

Speaking of harsh penalties, how’s 241 years in prison for a 16-year-old boy? Well, it happened to this boy twenty years ago. The judge who sentenced him told him he’d die in prison. She told him he wouldn’t even be eligible for parole until 2091, when no one he knew would be alive, anyway. One can Read More

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They May Be Intelligent, But Are They Wise?

Speaking of fair shakes, here is a wise word of caution about the emerging, expanding use of computer programs to evaluate people in the justice system, whether at bail hearings, sentencings, or elsewhere. The author is a former software engineer at Facebook who’s now studying law at Harvard. Her point isn’t that we shouldn’t use or consult these programs, but Read More

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No Correlation Between Drug War and Use

According to an independent, well-regarded think tank, there is statistically no reason to think that we can reduce drug abuse by locking more people up. The nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts spelled it out in a letter this summer to a federal commission that’s looking at ways to combat the widespread problem of opioid abuse. Its study, which drew on data Read More

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A Model Penal Code for the 21st Century

Charging decisions, which we wrote about last week, matter for many reasons. They drive plea bargains, and they affect sentencing. You file a felony, for example, so that the guy will plead to a misdemeanor without giving you much trouble. It happens all the time. Bad charging decisions, though, don’t just cause wrongful convictions or unjust sentences. They cause other consequences that Read More

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New California Criminal Laws in 2017

Let’s get right to it. We already covered three of them in prior posts. One was Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana. Another was Proposition 57, which expanded parole eligibility for nonviolent felons and cut back on prosecuting kids as adults. A third was Assembly Bill 1909, which made it a felony for prosecutors to commit Brady violations in bad Read More

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Reduce Your California Felony Conviction to a Misdemeanor

Can you do that? Yes, you can. Look up Penal Code Section 17(b) if you don’t believe us. You can also reduce certain felonies to misdemeanors under Proposition 47, and we wrote about that previously here. Under Section 17(b), you can even reduce your felony to a misdemeanor long after you’ve served out your sentence. If Read More

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A Penny For Your Thoughts, Judge

Thank God we live in a country whose leaders speak like this. What if they didn’t, or couldn’t? In this case, maybe it’s because the speaker, Alex Kozinski, a prominent federal judge, was an immigrant born behind the Iron Curtain, the son of two Holocaust survivors who came here when he was twelve. Maybe we value the rule of law Read More

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Why Soak the Rich When We Can Punk the Poor?

Speaking of probation, it’s supposed to be that you don’t go to jail for being poor. Thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a court couldn’t revoke your probation and imprison you for not paying a fine or restitution unless the court found, after inquiry, that you somehow could pay the fine or restitution, or even Read More

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Out of the Mouths (or Lives) of Babes

If you’re on probation, can the court require you to surrender your passwords to your electronic devices and social-media accounts, so they can be searched at any time? California has been weighing that question lately, and one month ago, the Court of Appeal issued decisions in two separate juvenile cases—one with a girl and one with a boy—that help Read More

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