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Friday, September 19, 2014

Handout #2 with mens rea exercises

With apologies for not having enough copies in class, I can now provide below for download an electronic copy of the mens rea handout that I passed around on Friday.

Download 2014 Handout #2

We will discus the exercises in this handout in class on Monday and Wednesday.

September 19, 2014 in Course materials and schedule | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Statistical support for the need to use criminal law to reduce rain-related traffic accidents

Because I surmised too little support for my proposed driving-in-the-rain criminal liability statute, I thought it would be useful to highlight some key statistics drawn from this webpage of the U.S. Department of Transportation (with my emphasis added):  

On average, there are over 5,870,000 vehicle crashes each year.  Twenty-three percent (23%) of these crashes — nearly 1,312,000 — are weather-related.  Weather-related crashes are defined as those crashes that occur in adverse weather (i.e., rain, sleet, snow, fog, severe crosswinds, or blowing snow/sand/debris) or on slick pavement (i.e., wet pavement, snowy/slushy pavement, or icy pavement).  On average, 6,250 people are killed and over 480,000 people are injured in weather-related crashes each year.

The vast majority of most weather-related crashes happen on wet pavement and during rainfall: Seventy-four percent (74%) on wet pavement and forty-six percent (46%) during rainfall.  A much smaller percentage of weather-related crashes occur during winter conditions: Seventeen percent (17%) of during snow or sleet, twelve percent (12%) occur on icy pavement and fourteen percent (14%) of weather-related crashes take place on snowy or slushy pavement.  Only three percent (3%) happen in the presence of fog.

I realize that my proposed driving-in-the-rain criminal law will not prevent most weather-related crashes (just like I know that existing drunk driving and texting-while-driving criminal laws do not prevent lots of other crashes). But if this proposed new criminal law just reduced the number of weather-related crashes by even just 10%, it would likely save dozen of innocent lives and reduce by hundreds the number of Oliwood citizens injured on the roadways each year.

If you remain disinclined to support my proposed driving-in-the-rain criminal liability statute — which, to be clear, does not call for punishing people for driving in the rain, but only for crashing in the rain — I hope you will be able to explain in some detail why you do not share my interest in using the criminal law this way to help achieving an important public safety mission.

September 17, 2014 in Class reflections, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

High-profile cases in which nuances of mens rea make all the difference

As we get back into action this week, we will be transitioning away from our relatively brief discussions of rare and unusual cases in which the act requirement (also called actus reus) is at issue.  We will move to relatively lengthy discussions of common and usual cases in which the act requirement is indisputably satisfied but criminal charges and guilt turn on an actor's mental state (also called culpability or mens rea).  

Examples of such cases are in the news every day, and sports fans should realize that the fate and future of two high-profile sports stars will turn on mens rea determinations.  There is, I believe, no dispute that NFL running back Adrian Peterson engaged in the act of whipping his son.  Likewise, there is no dispute that renown racecar driver Tony Stewart caused the death of another driver.  At issue in both cases for the applicability of the criminal law is these stars' mental states when committing these acts.

In order to test your developing legal research skills, I encourage everyone to try to find the applicable criminal statutes in Texas (for Peterson) and in New York (for Stewart) that set forth the mens rea that a prosecutor will need to prove for a criminal conviction in these cases.  (As an incentive, for the rest of September I will not call on whomever is first to identify and provide a link to the applicable state statutes in these high-profile cases.) 

September 17, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

While I am away, on Monday go lunch event in Saxbe at 12noon

Especially since I know you have finished all your Crim Law reading for the coming week, you should make sure to go to this big event on Monday in Saxbe Auditorium (even if you have not registered!):

Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law, the topic of race relations remains at the forefront of our cultural conversation. From debates over affirmative action to the recent events that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, it’s as crucial as ever to discuss what the Civil Rights Act meant in 1964 — and what it means today.

On September 15, from 12-1:30 p.m., a panel of experts will address the history, legacy, and future of the Civil Rights Act — including the challenges that lie ahead in achieving its promise of racial equality. Panelists include:

Martha Chamallas, Robert J. Lynn Chair in Law at Moritz. Chamallas is a leading scholar in employment discrimination law and legal issues affecting women.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries, an Associate Professor of History at Ohio State. Jeffries specializes in 20th century African American history and has an expertise in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.

Molly J. Moran, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice (invited). Moran is leading the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division on an acting basis, and recently traveled to Ferguson, MO with Attorney General Eric Holder.

Carter Stewart, the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Ohio. Stewart was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio in 2009.

Lunch will be provided to those who register.  A reception will be held in Lou's Cafe following the event.

September 14, 2014 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

An interesting real indictment in a sad high-profile (omission?) homicide case

Though probably not of central concern to our in-class discussions until we reach the homicide materials next month, I could not resist posting via this link here an indictment issued today in Georgia v. Justin Ross Harris, No. 143124 (Cobb Superior Court, Georgia).  This CNN report, headlined "Dad indicted on murder charges in son's hot car death," provides these details about this high-profile case:

Whether the prosecution will seek the death penalty in Justin Ross Harris hot-car death case will be decided in two to three weeks, Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said Thursday. Reynolds' statement came hours after the Georgia father was indicted by a grand jury on eight counts, including malice murder and two counts of felony murder.

"We're pleased with the pace and thoroughness of this investigation, which continues on today," Reynolds said. "The evidence in this case has led us to this point today. Whether it leads us to anyone else remains to be answered."

The next step will be to put Harris' case on Superior Court Judge Mary Staley's arraignment calendar, which should happen within three weeks, the prosecutor said. Motions will then be filed before the case goes to a trial calendar. Reynolds declined to take questions or comment further, saying, "This case will be tried in a court of law," and not in the media.

If Reynolds seeks the death penalty, it will be for the malice murder charge, which alleges that Harris, who has claimed his son's death was an accident, premeditated the child's killing....

The other five charges are: first-degree cruelty to children, second-degree cruelty to children, criminal attempt to commit a felony (sexual exploitation of a minor) and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to minors.

According to the indictment, the grand jury found that on June 18, Harris "did unlawfully, and with malice aforethought, cause the death of Cooper Harris ... by placing said Cooper Harris into a child car seat and leaving him alone in a hot motor vehicle."

The two felony murder charges allege that Harris killed his 22-month-old son while committing the felonies of first- and second-degree cruelty to children. One count states he killed Cooper "maliciously," while the other felony murder count says Harris killed him "with criminal negligence."

Harris faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted on any of the murder charges. By leaving Cooper in the car, Harris caused the boy "cruel and excessive physical pain," the cruelty to children charges allege.

The criminal attempt to commit a felony and dissemination of harmful materials charges are not related directly to Cooper's death. They involve allegations that Harris requested a nude photo of a minor's genitalia and sent the same minor descriptions of "sexual excitement and sexual conduct," according to the indictment.

A Cobb County detective testified at an earlier probable cause hearing that while Cooper was in the car at his father's workplace, Harris was sexting with numerous women and sent one of them, who was underage, a photo of his erect penis....

Harris pleaded not guilty to murder and child cruelty charges in June. Cobb County Chief Magistrate Frank Cox signed off on the charges, stating Harris would've had to notice that "the stench in the car was overwhelming" when he got in it as he left work and "drove it for some instance" before stopping to check on the boy. Charges filed in an indictment supersede the previous charges. Harris has been held without bond since Cooper's death this summer.

Authorities have painted Harris as a terrible father who, after admittedly looking up online how hot a car needed to be to kill a child, purposely strapped his son into his sweltering SUV to die. His motivation? The prosecutor has characterized Harris as an unfaithful husband who wanted a childless life.

[Harris' attorney, H. Maddox] Kilgore has argued his client tragically forgot his child in the car. Friends described Harris as a doting dad, not a malicious one, who loved to show off his blond, bright-eyed boy and talked about him incessantly.

September 4, 2014 in Notable real cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Details/follow-up on some of the real cases discussed in class today...

via links from my Sentencing Law & Policy Blog:




I would be eager to discuss any of these sentencing issues with anyone at any time, via comments here or during happy hour or anywhere else we can find the time/place. 

September 3, 2014 in Notable real cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Women, opioids, and Ohio problems with (hidden?) punishment theory at issue

With luck, our class discussion last week of recent Supreme Court cases and AG Eric Holder's speeches provided everyone with perspectives on how punishment theories, both expressly and implicitly, play a role in constitutional jurisprudence and national criminal justice policy conversations.  This weekend, I noticed this recent Toledo Blade editorial, headlined "Women in prison: A big increase in female inmates should prompt changes in how Ohio’s courts deal with addiction," which provides a more localize discussion of some recent criminal justice developments and concerns that implicate punishment theories in various ways.  

I encourage everyone to read the Blade editorial in full to see how, expressly and implicitly, one prominent paper is incorporating punishment theory into its call for reforms focused on a particular demographic.  Here is an excerpt from the editorial (which perhaps can stimulate some discussion of punishment theory or the fairness of a gendered call for reform in the comments):

A stunning rise in the number of women entering Ohio prisons should encourage elected officials to seek better ways of managing the state’s $1.5-billion-a-year prison system.

Driven largely by a growing number of drug-addicted offenders from rural counties, Ohio prisons now hold nearly 4,200 women.  From 2012 to 2013, the number of women coming to state prisons increased by 11 percent, from 2,580 to 2,854 ....  Ohio’s opioid and heroin epidemic is largely to blame for the increase, as more low-level female drug offenders are sent to prison. “That population is very much nonviolent and drug-addicted, often with male co-defendants leading the case,” state prisons Director Gary Mohr said recently.

At the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, which holds more than 2,600 prisoners, the top three offenses for women entering the prison are drug possession, theft, and trafficking, said public information officer Elizabeth Wright.  Moreover, the statewide share of women prisoners coming from rural counties — those with fewer than 100,000 residents — has nearly doubled in the past decade.  Altogether, Ohio’s 28 prisons hold more than 50,000 inmates.

In an interview with The Blade’s editorial page, a 28-year-old drug offender from Hardin County (population 32,000) said heroin and illicit prescription painkillers are easy to get in her rural community.  As with most other opioid addicts in Ohio, she started using prescription painkillers — in her case, Percocet.  She eventually graduated to heroin because of its lower cost and availability.   “The pills swept me off my feet,” she said at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. “It got to the point where I couldn’t even get out of bed without using a pill. I went straight from Percocet to heroin. Everyone was saying: ‘Why don’t you just do heroin? It’s so much cheaper.’”

Mr. Mohr has prudently called for diverting more low-level drug offenders from prison to community-based treatment programs.  To do that, Ohio will need more adult drug courts. Most counties, including Lucas County, still don’t have a drug court.  The state also needs more community programs to serve as effective alternatives to incarceration.

Ohio’s prosecutors and judges also must get better educated on addiction.  Too many of them still don’t understand that chemical addiction is a compulsive disease, not a moral choice. “A big part of the problem is that a number of people, including judges and prosecutors, see addiction as a state in which people have more control than they actually have,” Orman Hall, the director of Gov. John Kasich’s Opiate Action Team, told The Blade’s editorial page. “Opioid and heroin addiction is a compulsive disorder. In the early stages, people have very little ability not to relapse.”

September 1, 2014 in Crime data, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Materials for sentencing role play ... and seeking voluteers to represent the state and the defendants

Below for downloading is a copy of the PreSentencing Report (PSRs) for Rachel Foster and Dan Schayes.  I will also bring a few hard-copy versions for distribution in class on Friday.  

Please use the comments to this post (or send me an e-mail) to volunteer to be prosecutors or defense attorneys in this (fun) exercise.  First-come, first-serve for volunteers for particular positions, and I will assign persons to these roles on

Also available below is a form all judges should use for sentencing Rachel Foster and Dan Schayes (everyone who is not serving as a lawyer in this role play gets to be a judge).  There is no need (or place) to put a name on the form, but I will collect them after our sentencing hearings in class on Wednesday, Sept 3. 

As you will see when you download the form, I wish to encourage judges to develop tentative ideas about what sentence before coming to class to hear the advocates' presentations.  By doing so, judges can get a better sense for whether and how advocacy can have an impact in this kind of setting.

Download 2014 Role Play PSRs

Download 2014 Sentencing Form

UPDATE:  As I mentioned in class on Friday, for purposes of our sentencing role-play exercise on Thursday, both the lawyers and judges of Oliwood should assume that the great state of Oliwood has adopted the first two subsections of US Code, Title 18, Section 3553(a) as a guide for sentencing advocacy and decision-making by Oliwood judges.   (In other words, lawyers and judges should focus on the substantive provisions of 3553(a)(1) and 3553(a)(2), but should not worry about all the subsequent sections of 3553(a).)

August 27, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Interesting prior posts from prior years discussing theories of punishment

To proidve still more proof that a lot of interesting materials (and interesting student commentary) can be found by mining the archives of this blog, I have mined the archives to provide these links to posts from prior years discussing the theories of punishment we are (too) quickly reviewing this week:

From 2010:

From 2013:

I realize that I have now already provided two links to the same post asking if the US Constitution favors any particular theory of punishment, but that perhaps is a fitting way to help us getting a running start on our coming discussion of Graham v. Florida.  

August 25, 2014 in Class reflections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Welcome to the Moritz, Criminal Law with Berman, and version 5.0 of this class blog

As some of you may already know, I am a big fan of law blogs and I now make a pretty regular habit of use blogs to support and supplement my instruction in law school classes.  Sometimes class blogs serve my purposes and goals well; other times, not so much.  Undaunted, I remain convinced (but not entirely confident) that the blog technology (rather than a propriety law-school-support technology like TWEN) provides the best on-line tool for supporting and supplement law school courses.

I will continue my bloggy ways in the Fall 2014 semester at the Moritz College of Law through this blog to supplement our first-semester 1L small-section Crim Law course.  And, as the version 5.0 label highlights, I have built this "new" blog directly atop the blog I used when teaching this very same course thrice before (in Fall 2008, Fall 2010 and Fall 2013) and when teaching a Comparative Criminal Procedure course (in Summer 2012).  

I am hopeful that some new 1Ls will benefit from (or at least find reassuring) seeing some of the posts (and comments) that were generated in this forum at other times.   Current users might focus especially on the archives from Aug-Dec 2008, Aug-Dec 2010 and Aug-Dec 2013 to see some of the "action" in this class from the last three times I taught it.  

So, welcome to the latest re-launch of this 1L Crim Law blogging adventure. I am always pleased when this blog helps to promote a distinct type of student engagement, and it also provides an effective means for me to share both required and optional materials and ideas.




P.S.:  To provide proof that mining the blog archives can be useful, here are some items from deep in this blog's archives you might already find interesting or useful.  For example, two prior posts and the student comments thereto (one from Aug 2008 and the other from Aug 2010) might be worthwhile as you gear up for our first week of class discussions:

In addition, in the archives from 2008, one can find these links to another of my favorite law blogs providing lots and lots of (old but still timely) advice for incoming 1Ls:













August 15, 2014 in Course materials and schedule | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Basketball, baseball, brews and professional bonding in the weeks ahead....

Now that March Madness and baseball's spring training are finally in full swing (and golf season and The Masters are on the horizon), I am likely to be grumpy any and every Thursday and Friday afternoons for the next month if/whenever I am in my Moritz office working rather than over at Eddie's watching sports of some sort.  But I always feel guilty (and lame/lonely) if I go over to EG's alone, and thus I mean through this post to encourage/bribe students to rescue me so I can rationalize a trip out of my office as a form of work/professional bonding with whomever comes and gets me.

As some of you know, I always buy the first round for any/everyone who pulls me out of my Moritz office at a convenient/appropriate time on a Thursday or Friday.  Today, for example, in addition to being Pi Day (3.14), I am especially eager to watch the Big Ten tournament (at least when the Buckeyes are playing; tip at 2:30pm).  

In subsequent weeks, there will be the NCAA Tourney, the official start of baseball season, and then The Masters to distract me from other (more productive?) endeavors.  If (when?) I start feeling guilty about too much afternoon time watching sports, I may have to take back this open invitation for professional bonding; until that time; PLEASE feel free to take advantage of my open-door EGs migration policies.

March 14, 2014 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sincere marijuana reform question: exactly what are DEA officials "scared" of?

The question in the title of this post, which I am now posting to all the blogs in which I now participate, is my sincere reaction to this new Washington Post article headlined "DEA operations chief decries legalization of marijuana at state level."  Here is the context:

The chief of operations at the Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday called the legalization of marijuana at the state level “reckless and irresponsible,” warning that the movement to decriminalize the sale of pot in the United States will have severe consequences.

“It scares us,” James L. Capra said, responding to a question from a senator during a hearing focused on drug cultivation in Afghanistan.  “Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again.”

Capra’s comments marked the DEA’s most public and pointed criticism of the movement toward decriminalization in several states, where local officials see it as an opportunity to generate tax revenue and boost tourism....

Capra said agents have watched the early days of legal marijuana sales in Colorado with dismay.  “There are more dispensaries in Denver than there are Starbucks,” he said.  “The idea somehow people in our country have that this is somehow good for us as a nation is wrong.  It’s a bad thing.”

Capra said that senior DEA officials have faced uncomfortable questions from law enforcement partners abroad. During a recent global summit on counter-narcotics in Moscow, he said, he and the head of the DEA were at a loss to explain the loosening drug laws. “Almost everyone looked at us and said: Why are you doing this [while] pointing a finger to us as a source state?” he said. “I don’t have an answer for them.”...

Capra said he worries about the long-term consequences of the national mood on marijuana, which law enforcement experts call a gateway to more dangerous drugs. “This is a bad experiment,” he said.  “It’s going to cost us in terms of social costs.”

Let me begin by saying I respect all those who work in the DEA and other law enforcement agencies dealing with illegal drug issues, and I am certain all those who do this work have much more first-hand knowledge of the myriad harmful social costs of drug use and abuse than I ever will.  But it is for that very reason that I ask this question about exactly what has DEA officials "scared": I sincerely want a much better understanding of what "social costs" of reform are being referenced here so that I can better assess for myself how I think these potential "social costs" of state-level marijuana reform stack up to the existing "social costs" I see due to current pot prohibition laws and norms.

That said, I think I might be able to help DEA officials avoid "being at a loss" to explain loosening drug laws in the US to their international friends in Moscow or elsewhere.  Here is what I suggest DEA officials say: "The United States of American is an exceptional nation that, in President Lincoln's words, was "conceived in Liberty" and its citizens recently have become ever more skeptical about the growth of government's coercive powers and ever more concerned about paying high taxes for government programming perceived to be ineffectual.  Thus, just as the people of America were the first to experiment seriously with a constitutional democracy (which has worked out pretty well), now some of the people of America are eager to experiment seriously with a regime of marijuana regulation rather than blanket prohibition."

This account of why polls show ever greater support for marijuana legalization is my sincere understanding of why so much drug reform activity is going on now in the United States.  The current "Obama era" is defined by a period of relatively tight budgets, relatively low crime, and yet still record-high taxing-and-spending in service to criminal justice programming.  These realities, especially in the wake of the Tea Party movement and other notable libertarian responses to the enormous modern growth of state and federal governments, have more and more Americans thinking we should be open to experimenting with a regime of marijuana legalization and regulation rather than blanket prohibition.

It is quite possible, as the DEA official suggests, that "this is a bad experiment."  But even if it is, the experiment does not "scare" me, in part because I have a hard time fully understanding what potential increased social costs should make me or others truly "scared."  More importantly, I have enormous confidence that, if the social costs of marijuana reform prove to be significant, the American people will realize pot reform is "a bad experiment" and will again change its laws accordingly. Indeed, this is precisely the experiences we have seen with our legal experiments with other drugs throughout American history:

I emphasize these historic examples of American drug experimentation because it is certainly possible to lament the harms produced along the way or the enduring "social costs" of having tobacco and/or alcohol still legal.  But it is also possible to conclude, as I do, that what makes America both great and special — dare I say exceptional — is that we persistently maintained our fundamental commitments to freedom, democratic self-rule and the rule of law throughout these experiments.  Consequently, this modern era's new round of American drug experimentation has me excited and intrigued to watch unfold the next chapter of the American experience, and I am not "scared" by the marijuana reform movement because they it strikes me as a further vindication of our people's fundamental commitments to freedom, democratic self-rule and the rule of law.

But maybe I am just way too high on the idea of American exceptionalism to have a sensible and sober understanding off all the potential harms and "social costs" that are apparently scaring DEA officials. And, as I said above, I readily acknowledge that all those who work on the front lines of the drug war have much more first-hand knowledge of the myriad harmful social costs of drug use and abuse than I ever will.  But, again, that it why the question in the title of this post is sincere: I genuinely and really want to have a much better understanding of what has DEA officials "scared" so that I can sensibly temper my excitement and optimism about modern marijuana reforms.

I fear that responses to this post could become snarky or ad hominen real quickly, but I hope all readers will tap into the spirit of my inquiry and really try to help me understand just what potential social costs of modern marijuana reform could lead those in the know to be "scared" as the quote above suggests. And I am posting this query in all five blogs I work on these days because I am eager to get wide input and as many diverse insights on this question as possible.

January 16, 2014 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Congrats, Crim Law extra credit, and (paid) research break opportunities and topics

Kudos to putting the final exam of the first semester of law school in your rear-view mirror.  Now do whatever you can to forget about exams and enjoy the holiday season with family and friends.

If you have done some of the extra credit tasks (and/or hope to get one last one in), I have two pieces of advice: (1) make sure you send me any not-yet-submitted work ASAP and not later than 5pm on Dec 19, AND (2) before the end of the year, send me an e-mail "reminder" of how many EC documents you completed.  (I think I have good records on who submitted what, but it is valuable to confirm matters, especially if there is some chance a submission ended up in my spam filter.)

Last but not least, I think you are now officially permitted to do paid research for me from now until Jan. 8 when classes start again.  If you are interested in such an opportunity, here are a few tasks that I am eager to have explored over the next few weeks:

1.  Significant lower-court state or federal rulings in the last 3 years in which adult offenders sought a ruling that the Eighth Amendment precluded an extreme prison sentence.

2.  Detailed analysis/summary of the nature and background of the offenders and offenses that have resulted in the 3000+ LWOP sentences discussed in this recent ACLU report.

3.  Significant recent lower-court state or federal rulings in which non-prison sentences imposed on sex offenders were found unconstitutional or unlawful (which special attention to cases in which female sex offenders were bringing the legal challenge).

4.  Any and all lower-court state or federal rulings in which a court justified a lesser or reduced prison sentence at least in part based on the imposition of a significant fine or economic sentence.

If any of these topics interest you, please (a) send me an e-mail indicating your interest in doing research on this topic, and (b) figure out what you need to do to get on my "research payroll," which involves filling out a form with the right person(s) in the Deans' suite of offices.

December 18, 2013 in Starting a career as a lawyer | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Relaxation, celebration and reasons to feel lucky Berman Crim Law 2013 is over

If memory serves, I believe 1Ls finish up their second exam today, and I want to encourage everyone to take a deep breath after the exam and enjoy a well-deserved afternoon of relaxation.  No matter how much you feel you need to do to study for your final exam next week, taking at least a few well-earned hours off to recharge your batteries is always a wise and sensible exam-time strategy.

I will be in my office at Moritz after about 3pm this afternoon, and I would be happy and eager to celebrate (and toast) your achievements so far.  In fact, because I have lots of (non-pressing) work to do, I could be readily lured away from my office to cover a round of celebratory drinks just about anytime late Friday afternoon.

Last but not least, and to have a little fun with a Daft Punk lyric, even if you have been up all night 'til the sun, and up all night to study some, you should feel you've gotten lucky that my exam is already over.  That is because, if my exam was still on tap, I would have a really hard time resisting adding a question concerning some of the amazing real-world crim law stories from this week covered on my other blog in these posts:

Especially because I hear some students are eager to pursue the idea of a Cordle-inspired e-book, the first story linked above provides a sad and useful reminder that issues relating to the the appropriate prosecution and punishment for deadly drunk drivers are sure to be timely for many years to come.

December 13, 2013 in Class reflections, Course materials and schedule, Preparing for the final | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Congrats again on finishing Crim Law version 2013 and keep watching this space...

for announcements about my willingness to continue to accept extra credit submissions (which extends at least until Dec. 18 and maybe longer), and for announcements about possible (poorly paid) research opportunities during the break (which will not start until Dec. 18, at the earliest), and for discussion of whatever other topics might still float my boat.

Thanks again for a wonderful semester (and good luck grabbing all the As in the other exams with the rest of your large section)!

December 10, 2013 in Class reflections, Course materials and schedule | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Final review session at 12 noon on Sunday ... UPDATE: I will now be in closer to 12:30pm or later...

By popular demand, I will come in to Moritz and be in our usual room at noon to go over whatever students want help going over.

UPDATE:  A wife with a bad cold is slowing me down this Sunday morning... I am sick from the OSU game last night, but she is truly sick.  As a result, I probably will not make it in to our usual locale until around 12:30pm or maybe even a bit later.  

Sorry for the slight delay....

December 7, 2013 in Course materials and schedule, Preparing for the final | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My 2010 Crim law exam and links to some of those which came before

As promised, I am now posting here a copy of the last Crim Law exam I gave (from 2010). 

Download 2010 Crim Law final

And you can get all my other old exam via these prior posts:

If you all get through all (lucky?) seven of these prior exams, I can post a few more.  But remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint!

December 4, 2013 in Preparing for the final | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Hypo for wrapping up attempt/conspiracy/complicity discussions

Students interested in thinking  more about attempt liability and related issues should be sure to check out this post (and the toughtful student comments) from the last time I taught the class.  The post lists 20 actions as part of an attempted act of domestic terrorism that I set up this way:

Here list of actions by a (troubled?) young man to get you thinking about where a line should be drawn between "mere preparation" and attempt liability.  The your man in question is Joe McAngryTechieNerd of Columbus, Ohio, who truly believes Microsoft (MS) is the root of all evil and he often tells his techie friends that computers and the whole world would be better off with MS and Bill Gates.  After watching a documentary about Oklahoma City Bombing, Joe McAngryTechieNerd does the following ....

Especially given more recent events, and also in an effort to bring in some complicity and conspiracy concepts, I thought this simplified ten-step hypo could also provide you with a sense of the modern challenges modern attempt and conspiracy liability seeks to mediate:

Jerry McJihadi and Johnny McJihadi, bothers who both truly believe and has long blogged about the US people being responsible for more many deaths than all terrorists combined, have told all their friends that they are really proud of and impressed by the courage of the Boston bombers and that they wish they could someday have the courage to act so boldly based on their beliefs and convictions. And then they:

1.  E-mail family members saying they plans to go to Boston in early 2014 and does not ever expect to see again

2.  Do internet research on date of Boston Marathon and on homemade explosives

3.  Purchase legally all the supplies needed for making backpack explosives

4.  Rent van, drive to Boston in early March 2014 with supplies, rent room.

5.  Weeks before the 2014 Boston marathon, they take turns canvassing the marathon route using tablet computers to take note and to look at YouTube videos showing where and when the largest crowds are assembled.

6.  In week before marathon, they buy fertilizer/gas/timer and other ingredients for making car bomb to go along with the backpack bombs they are planning to build

7.  Day before marathon, start building homemade backpack bombs inside their rented room and the car bomb inside the rented truck

8.  Early morning of marathon, drive around Boston looking for idea parking spot

9.  Parks van, jump out with backpack bombs and car bomb trigger in hand

10.  Drop backpacks and hide in strategic location to watch timed/triggered explosions



When do you think, under common law or the MPC, the brothers are guilty of attempted murder?

When do you think the brothers are involved in a conspiracy to commit murder?



When do you want police to intervene?

When do you think the police legally can intervene?

When do you think the police will intervene?

December 4, 2013 in Course materials and schedule | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Yet another sad case of a (reasonable? unreasonable?) use of deadly force in self defense

With the Michigan case involving Renisha McBride's death now the basis for homicde charges, there is now yet another similarly sad case, now from Georgia, involving a lost person getting shot for showing up on the wrong doorstep.  This local story, headlined "Wandering man with Alzheimer's shot, killed in Walker County," provides these details:

An Ooltewah man who shot and killed what he thought was a middle-of-the-night prowler -- actually a 72-year-old man with advanced Alzheimer's disease -- Wednesday in Walker County, Ga., hasn't been charged but he might be later, authorities said.

The slain man, Ronald Westbrook, had walked about 3 miles to the shooting scene from his home on Carlock Circle, Sheriff Steve Wilson said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. When Westbrook was shot, he was clutching letters he had taken from a mailbox on Marbletop Road, where he had lived previously, the sheriff said. A deputy had stopped and questioned Westbrook at about 2:30 a.m. at the mailbox, Wilson said, but Westbrook said he was getting his mail and lived up the hill.

Westbrook then rang the doorbell and turned the doorknob of a home at 188 Cottage Crest Court at 3:54 a.m., awakening Joe Hendrix, 34, of Ooltewah, and his fiancee. They had rented the home in the new subdivision about two weeks ago, next-door neighbor Brandi Wallace said.

Wilson said Westbrook was lost, confused and possibly exhausted. He had wandered for about four hours in the night with his two dogs, wearing a light jacket and straw hat as the wind-chill temperature hovered around 20 degrees. "This one house at the end of the cul-de-sac had a porch light on," Wilson said. "I tend to think [Westbrook] was drawn to that light."

Hendrix's fiancee, whose name Wilson declined to give, called 911 and stayed on the phone with an emergency dispatcher who sent two sheriff's office patrol cars en route. After a nine- to 10-minute wait -- and before deputies arrived -- Hendrix went outside armed with a .40-caliber handgun and saw the elderly man in silhouette behind the house, the sheriff said....

"[Hendrix] gave several what he described as verbal commands," Wilson said. "[Westbrook] continued walking toward him after he told him to stop." Westbrook was slow to talk, Wilson said, because of his advanced Alzheimer's disease. Fearing for his safety, Hendrix fired four shots, the sheriff said. One bullet hit Westbrook in the chest, killing him....

No charges were filed Wednesday against Hendrix, who drove himself away from the shooting scene around 10:30 a.m. as investigators were wrapping up their evidence gathering. Hendrix and his fiancee were fully cooperative, Wilson said. "Both [their] stories matched completely," the sheriff said.

However, Wilson said that Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin, whom Wilson called to the shooting scene, might bring charges after reviewing all the evidence. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation helped the sheriff's department on-scene with its investigation. "We reserve our options and rights to file charges once the investigation is complete, if we feel like Georgia law warrants charges being filed," Wilson said.

Georgia's 2006 "stand-your-ground" law that allows people to use deadly force to protect themselves "may apply to this case," Wilson said.

The dispatcher who stayed on the phone with Hendrix's fiancee wasn't aware Hendrix went outside the house with a handgun, the sheriff said. "In my personal opinion, I believe that he should have stayed inside the house," Wilson said. "Did he violate any laws by exiting the house? No."

December 1, 2013 in Notable real cases | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Notable discussion of the death penalty in Ohio

I have mentioned my willingness to discuss the death penalty in an extra optional session, and I am happy/eager to do so next week right after our classes and/or just about any other time next week or throughout December.  (Perhaps talking about executions might give you some healthy perspective on how relatively unimportant exam performance is in the grand scheme of things.)

The story of the death penalty in Ohio is especially interesting and dynamic, and could (but need not be) a focal point of any of our discussions.  And if this topic especially interests you, I recommend this new article from the Toledo Blade, which is headlined "Death penalty cases ebb in Lucas County and Ohio: Decline tied to more flexibility in sentencing." Here are a few excerpts:

When John Winfield was sentenced to life in prison last month for the robbery and shooting death of Toledoan Mark Ward in 2011, Lucas County’s last active capital murder case was closed. In what may be the first time since the death penalty was reinstated in Ohio in 1981, no such cases are pending before the court.  Not a single person was indicted in Lucas County on capital charges this year or last.

It’s a situation that reflects a statewide trend toward fewer death penalty prosecutions. Ohio Supreme Court records show that just nine individuals were indicted in the state on capital murder charges through July, and just 36 for all of last year.  That compares to 159 indictments in 1983, 109 in 1993, and 95 in 2003.

A key reason for the decline is that since 2005, judges have had the option of sentencing those convicted of aggravated murder to life in prison without the possibility of parole....

A 20-member task force appointed by Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor expects to make recommendations to the state’s top court for possible changes to the death penalty by March, said Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Linda Jennings, the only local member of the group.  “We’re looking at every single issue to make sure that the death penalty is administered fairly,” Judge Jennings said.

I am also a member of the task force appointed by Chief Justice O’Connor, and I could talk about the work of the task force or any other topics of interest to folks.

I urge anyone eager to have a special (entirely optional) session to talk about any death penalty topic to note their interest in the comments and perhaps suggest an ideal time for such a session.

November 24, 2013 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Duty to retreat is a safeguard"

The title of this post is the headline given to this letter to the editor in our own Columbus Dispatch authored by John Gilchrist, the legislative counsel to the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police.  The whole letter is worth a read, and it starts and ends this way:

The Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police is opposed to the “stand your ground” provision of House Bill 203, which repeals a person's duty to attempt to retreat from danger, if possible, before resorting to deadly force against an attacker.  There is no problem with the current law.  Current law balances societal interests.  There are strong public policies for preserving the sanctity of life on one hand and, on the other hand, for allowing one to protect himself from harm....

[R]epealing the duty to retreat is a recipe for more violence, whereby killings currently considered to be criminal will become justifiable homicides.

Remove the duty to retreat and you remove a legal restraint that will allow pride, passion and ego to prevail over common sense.

November 23, 2013 in Current Affairs, Reflections on class readings | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 22, 2013

"The Case of the Speluncean Explorers" ... as it might be resolved in Ohio

I hope everyone enjoyed Wednesday's role play experience and also learned a lot about the operation of duress and necessity doctrines in Oliwood under the (unique) terms and structure used by the Model Penal Code.  We will be wrapping up discussion of these doctrine in our remaining classes before the Thanksgiving break, but we will not be talking any more about Dudley & Stephens.  Fortunately, if folks remain engaged by the legal and/or philosophical issues raised by the Dudley & Stephens case, there are lots of wonderful additional readings I can recommend.

A "classic" law professor engagement with the issues raised in Dudley & Stephens appeared in a Harvard Law Review article published 65 years ago.  The Case of the Speluncean Explorers by Lon Fuller is one of the most famous law review articles ever written, and the start of this Wikipedia article highlights why it is worth your time and attention:

It largely takes the form of five separate judicial opinions attributed to judges sitting on the fictitious Supreme Court of Newgarth in the year 4300. The hypothetical involves five cave explorers who are caved in following a landslide. They learn via intermittent radio contact that they are likely to starve to death by the time they can be rescued. The cavers subsequently decide to kill and eat one of their number in order to survive. After the four survivors are rescued, they are indicted for the murder of the fifth member. The prescribed penalty is capital punishment. Fuller's article proceeds to examine the case from the perspectives of five different legal principles, with widely varying conclusions as to whether or not the spelunkers should be found guilty and thereby face the death penalty under the law of Newgarth.

Fuller's account has been described as "a classic in jurisprudence" and "a microcosm of [the 20th] century's debates" in legal philosophy, as it allowed a contrast to be drawn between different judicial approaches to resolving controversies of law, including natural law and legal positivism.

Joyfully, for a wonderful, shorter and more recent consideration of these issues, one member of the class had the great initiative to imagine how a modern-day case of this nature might get resolved in Ohio. That student has graciously allowed me to post her analysis, and here is how she sets up the factual context:

Let's imagine a scenario in which four avid hikers, all associated with Ohio’s State Parks, decide to go for a winter hike at Serpent Mound, located in idyllic Adams County, Ohio. The group consists of Hatlen Books, a veteran tour guide, Dursley Dudley and Richard Stephens, members of the Ohio State Parks administration, and Peter Parker, a trainee guide, though noted as a talented climber.  The hike was predicted to be an easy one and take no more than a few hours to complete; it was more-so an excursion to view the aforementioned idyllic landscape.  The hikers deviated from the path because of an intense and unpredicted snowstorm that caught the band off-guard and limited their ability to navigate.  The band happened upon a previously unknown sinkhole that had formed sometime after the last ranger appraisal of the land (which has been some-time ago with state budget cuts).  The group was stranded on a rocky, but stable, covered corner of the hole with only snow for hydration and a 2lb bag of vegan trail mix Stephens brought on the trip.  Despite the group’s reluctance to eat vegan, they subsisted off the mix and an unlucky rabbit for 18 days.

Download Prosecuting Dudley & Stevens in Ohio

November 22, 2013 in Class reflections, Course materials and schedule | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Renisha, race and reasonableness: wrapping up defensive use of force and defense strategies

As noted in the comments to prior posts, on Friday local Michigan prosecutors announced criminal charged against Theodore Paul Wafer for causing the death of Renisha McBride.  This lengthy new AP story, astutely headlined "Renisha McBride Shooting: Homeowner's Legal Case Could Hinge On One Word," provides a reasonable account of how standards and judgments about reasonableness will be at the heart of this case:

The way Renisha Marie McBride's young life ended Nov. 2 is not in dispute: A homeowner in suburban Detroit fatally shot the 19-year-old in the face as she stood on his porch before the sun came up. Almost every other aspect of the case is not as clear-cut.

Did race play a role in the shooting? What exactly happened on that doorstep? Did the homeowner reasonably believe he was acting in self-defense?

Police and prosecutors say Theodore Paul Wafer fired once with a 12-gauge shotgun through his screen door at McBride. The 54-year-old airport maintenance employee, who faces murder and manslaughter charges, is free on bail awaiting a Dec. 18 hearing that will determine if the case should go to trial.

Ron Bretz, a Cooley Law School professor and former criminal defense attorney, says the case may boil down to a single word. "It's got to be reasonable," he said. "The question is: What would a reasonable person do in these circumstances?" That may be the key question in determining Wafer's guilt or innocence, but much else is left unknown about a case that features legal and societal implications.

Under a 2006 Michigan self-defense law, a homeowner has the right to use force during a break-in. Otherwise, a person must show that his or her life was in danger.

Defense lawyers are expected to argue that Wafer feared for his life when a drunken McBride — toxicology reports put her blood-alcohol content at well above the legal limit for driving — came to his door in the middle of the night hours after crashing her car blocks away in Detroit. Those factors contribute to Wafer's "very strong defense," said his lawyer, Mack Carpenter.

Prosecutors and McBride's family, meanwhile, see no justification for the slaying of the recent high school graduate. She was unarmed, they note. Plus, the screen door Wafer fired through was locked. "Where's his reasonable belief that his life was in jeopardy or that he was in jeopardy of great bodily harm?" said lawyer Gerald Thurswell, who represents McBride's family.

It all comes down to what a jury thinks, Bretz said. "You've got a gun. There's an unarmed young woman on your front porch," he said. "Is it reasonable to think that she's a threat to you? That's going to be a toughie. "Is it fair to feel scared when a stranger is pounding on your door at 4 or 5 in the morning? Hell, yeah. ... Don't answer the door," Bretz said....

Bretz said both sides would be wise to stick to a "race-neutral" strategy. "Don't go there. Keep it on the facts," he said. "Who wants to bring race into it? Everybody else. ... The defense doesn't want that. And the prosecution doesn't want to bring it in. I don't think they need to."

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy didn't appear to completely rule it out Friday. "In this case, the charging decision has nothing whatever to do with the race of the parties," she said. "Whether it becomes relevant later on in the case, I don't know. I'm not clairvoyant."...

Bretz said a potential defense argument is that McBride's extreme drunkenness posed a threat. "Was she acting crazy? If so ... this gave (Wafer) a greater right to be afraid," Bretz said.

The toxicology report also indicated McBride's blood tested positive for the active ingredients in marijuana. McBride's family said it doesn't matter, but Bretz said he could see the defense focusing attention on McBride's behavior. "It makes her out not to be an angel. She got drunk and stoned and drove and crashed her car. But that's not a death-penalty offense," he said.

McBride's father, Walter Ray Simmons, referred to the defendant as "Mr. Wafer" when he talked to reporters Friday. He then stopped: "I don't even know why I'm saying 'Mr. Wafer.' This monster who killed my daughter."

Earlier Friday, at his arraignment, Wafer stood in a Dearborn Heights courtroom and listened as Carpenter argued for a lesser bail amount. Carpenter described Wafer as a steadily employed high school graduate who spent a year at Northern Michigan University and whose only run-ins with the law involved a couple of decades-old drunken driving cases. Wafer cares for his 81-year-old mother, Carpenter said.

Fellow defense lawyer Cheryl Carpenter said her client has been affected by the case. "You could see it is weighing on him, and he realizes the extent of what happened that night," she said outside of court. "This is part of the problem with this case. There's been so much prejudgment and so much speculation," Cheryl Carpenter said. "Until we get all the facts out, and we don't even have all of the facts yet."

In addition to encouraging comments about the charges brought in this high-profile case, I suggest students think about what additional "facts" the defense team may be especially eager to get out. (I put "facts" in quotes here because of I think/fear/expect all future "facts" we learn to be interpretations/perceptions as much as pure facts.)  I especially encourage students to consider what "facts" learned by the defense team might lead Wafer's lawyers to consider encouraging Wafer to plead guilty rather than assert his innocence at a trial.

Right away from reading this story, I want to know a lot more about the type of "locked screen door" that Wafer shot through.  I also want to know more about what other door was in the entrance way and the configuration of the porch.  I also want to know when and from where Wafer accessed his shotgun and whether it had already been loaded.  I am not at all sure these "facts" are likely to help the defense's case, but they certainly seem key parts of figuring out whether a jury is likely or unlikely to view Wafer's behavior as reasonable. 

November 17, 2013 in Notable real cases | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

All the raw scores and data analysis from mid-terms in one spreadsheet

Thanks to the wonderful and efficient and spreadsheet savvy Mrs. Berman, I can now post (two days before promised) all the raws scores and other metrics following my review of all your mid-term efforts.  You should give all thanks to my better half for helping me make this information available ASAP in this form, you should give all curses and questions to me about the substantive or procedural particulars.

Download Berman Criminal Law mid-term metrics

November 14, 2013 in Course materials and schedule, Preparing for the final | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sad example from Michigan of an honest but UNreasonable use of deadly force?

As we wrap up our discussion of self-defense doctrines this week, we will give particular attention to how the MPC and Ohio deal with uses of deadly force when a defendant may have honestly but unreasonably believed force was needed for self defense.  Sadly, there is a new case from Michigan involving the death of a young woman that provides a set of (still unclear) facts that may allow us to probe effectively modern doctrines and policy debates.  This USA Today article from last week, headlined "Family wants answers in shooting of woman seeking help," provides these sad details:

Police say a homeowner told investigators his shotgun accidentally discharged, shooting a 19-year-old Detroit woman to death as she stood on the porch of his home early Saturday.

Members of 19-year-old Renisha McBride's family said they believe the African-American woman was racially profiled by the homeowner.  They said McBride, whose cellphone had died, had gone up to the house on Outer Drive seeking help after she was involved in an auto accident early Saturday morning.

"This man's claiming — believed the girl was breaking into the home. And he's also saying the gun discharged accidentally," Lt. James Serwatowski, chief detective, said Thursday.

Police are also countering the family's account that McBride was shot in the back of the head with a shotgun as she turned to leave.  The family said she had gone to the house seeking help after being involved in a car accident several blocks away. "This girl was not shot in the back of the head while leaving the porch," Serwatowski said "I don't know where the family is getting this.  She was shot in the front of the face, near the mouth."

"I know the family is anxious to see this man (the alleged shooter) charged, but the prosecutor's office is telling us they want a lot more information before they make a decision," Serwatowski said.

The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office reiterated Thursday that it is awaiting further investigation by Dearborn Heights police before deciding whether any criminal charges will be authorized in the case.   "I'll confirm that she was in an accident in Detroit and that she left the accident scene, and then some hours transpired" before the shooting, Serwatowski said.

Serwatowski said the shooting occurred about 3:40 a.m. and the accident happened at about 1:30 a.m.  He declined to say what police believe McBride was doing before and after the accident. The homeowner's .12-gauge was seized by police and the Michigan State Police crime lab is analyzing it, Serwatowski said....

"Black life is not valued in America, not worthy, not respected," said Detroit activist Yusef Shaker.... "Here was a woman who was seeking help from potential danger and her life was taken. ... It's a Trayvon Martin case all over again."

"Why didn't he call 911?" asked Bernita Spinks, 48, an aunt of McBride. "That's what I want to know. ... It's racial profiling." In McBride's case, Spinks said: "He could have called the police. She wasn't in the backyard. She was at the front door knocking ... that man had the time to look out his window."

McBride's family said they were told the house was about four blocks away from where the accident occurred. Spinks said McBride had been driving her 2001 white Ford Taurus when she struck another car, parked and walked to find help. "She was disoriented. She was scared. And this is what she got, knocking on a door," Spinks said. "All I want is justice for Renisha. It makes me enraged." The area where the shooting took place is a mix of residential and business.

Grieving family members gathered Wednesday night at the house in northwest Detroit where McBride lived with her grandmother, mother and her 22-year-old sister. Her parents were overcome with grief and unable to speak to a reporter, Spinks said.  But all shared outrage over what happened.

A graduate of Southfield High School, McBride was known as a friendly person who worked hard, Spinks said. McBride recently got a job at the Ford Rouge plant in Dearborn on the inspection line, she said. "She was sweet," Spinks said. "She didn't get into trouble."

In part because of the suggestion that the shooting here was accidental, this case may end up being more about whether and what degree of homicide may be in play as much as it is about use of defense force. But, for class discussion purposes, I plan to try to work through how Ohio and the MPC would handle this case if the shooter/potential-defendant were to readily admit that he purposely shot through the door because he honestly believed that his life was threatened by the noises he heard on the porch in the middle of the night.

To the extent folks are eager to discuss this case before we get to class on Wednesday, perhaps we can/should start by debating in this space some questions that I already have:

1. Why has this case not (yet?) received media attention anywhere comparable to what happened in the Trayvon Martin shooting?

2. Should local prosecutors convene a grand jury to investigate this shooting rather than just rely on the police investigation?

3. Does this kind of cases make you more or less comfortable with the traditional "castle doctrine" which provides that there is never a duty to retreat before using deadly force when one is in his own home?

November 11, 2013 in Class reflections, Course materials and schedule, Notable real cases | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)