Latest Issue: Volume 113, Issue 1

Symposium March 16: Reflections on the Future of American Criminal Law

Inviting Submissions to JCLC Online, Our New Feature

Judicial Resistance to New York’s 2020 Criminal Legal Reforms

By: Petrigh, Angelo | April 3, 2023

This Article seeks to examine judicial opposition to New York’s 2020 criminal justice reforms in the context of existing scholarship on judicial organizational culture to understand why judicial obstruction occurs and how it can be addressed. New York’s 2020 criminal legal reforms sought to reduce pretrial detention and to provide greater access to discovery for the defense by curtailing judicial discretion to set bail and judicial power to excuse prosecutorial discovery delays. But judges opposed the law both surreptitiously and openly through defiant opinions, administrative adjustments, and routine court actions that undercut the reforms’ intended effects. Scholars such as Malcolm Feeley, Brian Ostrom, and Roger Hanson have written about how the informal organizational culture of a court system can be an impediment to reforms. Their analysis applies to New York’s 2020 reforms and provides insight into why this specific resistance occurred and how it can be addressed. The judiciary was included in planning and discussing the 2020 reforms and the reforms sought to remove judicial discretion in the matters of bail and discovery. Yet when it came time to implement the change, judges used other powers to avoid releasing individuals and to avoid sanctioning prosecutors. This is at least partially due to New York’s judicial appointment scheme which makes the judiciary sensitive to structural narratives concerning public safety and court leniency. Although these reforms were democratic and popular, judges were not sufficiently incentivized to properly implement the changes. If reforms are to succeed, the popular and political will to pass the reforms must extend beyond the passage of the law and must also create mechanisms to scrutinize, guide, and support the judiciary’s implementation of the law.

Public Records Aren’t Public: Systemic Barriers to Measuring Court Functioning & Equity

By: Albrecht, Kat,Filip, Kaitlyn | April 3, 2023

In a new era of computational legal scholarship, computational tools exist with the capacity to quickly and efficiently reveal hidden inequalities in the criminal legal system. Technically, laws exist that legally entitle the public to the requisite court records. However, the opaque bureaucracy of courts prevents us from connecting the public to documents they have a right to access. We exemplify this legal ethical problem by investigating areas of law where codified protections against inequalities exist and where computational tools could help us understand if those protections are being enforced. In general, the computational requirements of such projects needn’t be complex, making them even more attractive as solutions for auditing legal system processes. Using the backdrop of a national audit of public records policies to retrieve criminal jury trial transcripts, we establish the impossibility of securing the public records needed to quantify the illegal use of racially motivated peremptory strikes. We argue that the lack of opacity or availability of these policies serve as a bottleneck to the relatively simple computational process of quantifying previously unknown language and events in criminal jury trials. This Article considers the ethical implications of the lack of access to records that are legally public and considers how this lack of access to records becomes an access to justice problem.

Criminalizing ESG: A Framework to Hold Corporations Accountable for Incorrect ESG Disclosures

By: Anderson, Sierra | April 3, 2023

Investors are increasingly interested in corporate environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) data, so the SEC has faced pressure to create a mandated ESG disclosure regime. The Commission has begun exploring ESG disclosures, including creating a dedicated task force and opening a public comment process. But, if the SEC wants to require corporations to provide investors with meaningful ESG data, it must be able to hold corporations civilly and criminally liable for providing false information—which hinges on ESG statements being material. This Comment analyzes what types of ESG data would likely be found material under current laws. After applying this information, this Comment concludes with various ways the SEC could utilize the materiality analysis to create a functional, standardized disclosure regime. This recommended framework would benefit investors by providing key ESG information while ensuring that the SEC and DOJ could attach liability to any incorrect and fraudulent data.