"The criminal law stands to the passion for revenge in much the same relation as marriage to the sexual appetite." (James Stephen, General View of the Criminal Law of England, p. 99.)

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Perils of Plea Bargaining

“Justice and liberty are not the subjects of bargaining and barter.”  (Shelton v. United Staes (5th Cir. 1957) 246 F.2d 571, 579.)  This noble statement is simply not true: 90% of all convictions in the United States are obtained by plea bargain, rather than by trial.  The system of plea bargaining, therefore, has almost overwhelmed the... Continue Reading →

What’s At Stake

Whatever view one holds about the penal law, no one will question its importance in society. This is the law on which men place their ultimate reliance for protection against all the deepest injuries that human conduct can inflict on individuals and institutions. By the same token, penal law governs the strongest force we permit... Continue Reading →

Safety is the First Human Right

On 10 December 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Article 3 of this Declaration states, "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person."  The right to security of person, therefore, was elevated to the most fundamental of all rights protected by... Continue Reading →

Foster v. Chatman

On the morning of August 28, 1986, police found Queen Madge White dead on the floor of her home in Rome, Georgia. White, a 79-year-old widow, had been beaten, sexually assaulted, and strangled to death. Her home had been burglarized. Timothy Foster subsequently confessed to killing White, and White’s possessions were recovered from Foster’s home... Continue Reading →

Losing and Releasing

Lawyers talk a lot about wanting to win cases and not wanting to lose them.  It's something that seems pretty standard for anyone involved in trial work.  "Did you win your case?" is a common question in both social settings and at the office.  But the wording around this issue isn't great.  As we are told ad... Continue Reading →

Go Ahead And Threaten Me

Defense lawyers are often extremely interested in whether the prosecution has all their witnesses.  They will often base their legal strategy around whether they believe the witnesses will cooperate.  For example, in a domestic violence prosecution, the two sides may confer at the beginning of the hearing.  “What do you want to do?” the prosecutor... Continue Reading →

Longer Sentences Reduce Recidivism

At a courthouse in Seattle, Washington, defendants who plead guilty prior to trial are randomly assigned to a different sentencing judges.  These judges, as you would expect, have a range of ideas about sentencing.  Some are more likely to hand down prison time than others.  The luck of the draw can have a great effect... Continue Reading →

“That’s Not A Courtesy I Extend”

I had a hearing set in a robbery.  The victim arrived in the courtroom after I left to handle another matter in another courtroom.  When I was gone, the public defender approached the victim and asked to interview her, which she did.  The investigating officer arrived and noticed the two of them in an interview... Continue Reading →

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