Who’s Really Sentenced to Life Without Parole?: Searching for “Ugly Disproportionalities” in the American Criminal Justice System
Craig S. Lerner
Critics argue that the American criminal justice system is rife with “ugly disproportionalities” and “brutal penalties on the undeserving.” One particularly brutal punishment is the sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). The punishment, conceived decades ago as a substitute for the death penalty, scarcely exists in the rest of the world. Today, while capital punishment wanes in the United States, steadily increasing numbers of defendants are sentenced to LWOP. Furthermore, according to a recent ACLU Report, over 3,000 of the 50,000 inmates serving LWOP were convicted of nonviolent offenses. There is no uglier disproportionality than a defendant, guilty of a minor crime, banished to prison for the remainder of his life.
Courts across the country have concluded that suspects cannot assert their Miranda rights before being subjected to custodial interrogation. This reluctance to credit pre-assertions can be traced to dicta from McNeil v. Wisconsin, in which the Supreme Court noted that “[m]ost rights must be asserted when the government seeks to take the action they protect against.” This Article challenges this notion by drawing an analogy between criminal suspects and patients. In 1990, Congress passed the Patient Self-Determination Act (“PSDA”), the so-called “medical Miranda,” which requires health care providers who accept money from Medicaid or Medicare to inform patients of their rights regarding advance directives and the refusal of medical treatment prior to admission.
The goal of the PSDA is to inform patients of their health care rights prior to admission so that they can assert those rights before being pressed into an unfamiliar environment in which they face possible isolation and coercion. This Article contends that the same principles that led to the passage of the PSDA support the ability of suspects to be able to pre-assert their Miranda rights when custodial interrogation is “imminent.” It also sets up a framework for determining whether a suspect properly pre-asserted his Miranda rights.
For most Americans, “smart” cell phones are an omnipresent fact of life. The technological capabilities of these devices have had a transformative effect on the way we do business, communicate, and socialize with one another. One capability in particular, the ability to track and broadcast a user’s location in real time, presents a danger in the context of the Fourth Amendment: that privacy in one’s location will become a relic of the past. Though the judiciary’s role as to this issue is still being fleshed out, courts should hesitate before discarding privacy in favor of law enforcement efficiency and carefully scrutinize searches that tip the scales too far in either direction. Thus far, however, courts are struggling with how to address law enforcement efforts to access cellular location and real-time GPS information. Though the Supreme Court has provided some guidance, it appears reluctant to clarify the role that the Fourth Amendment plays in limiting access to GPS data.
“I Did Not Hurt Him . . . . This Is a Nightmare”: The Introduction of False, but Not Fabricated, Forensic Evidence in Police Interrogations
Catherine E. White
Bitemark analysis, microscopic hair analysis, handwriting analysis, and other pseudosciences have been deceiving juries for years. Courts and the scientific community once regarded these types of forensic evidence as scientifically sound, but many now dispute their reliability. Almost fifty percent of cases overturned by DNA testing involve pseudoscience. This Comment focuses on a subset of those wrongful convictions: cases in which the pseudoscientific evidence deceived not only the jury but the defendant as well.
This Comment argues that, because a defendant convicted by pseudoscientific evidence and a pseudoscience-induced confession may be factually innocent, these convictions should be overturned, and, if the prosecution believes it still has enough reliable evidence of the defendant’s guilt, the defendant should be given a new trial. This Comment suggests a number of pragmatic methods for courts to overturn questionable convictions and provide defendants with fair retrials in which pseudoscientific and confession evidence is suppressed. Rather than viewing a defendant’s confession as independent evidence of his or her guilt, courts should recognize that the unreliability of the pseudoscience introduced during the interrogation renders the defendant’s confession unreliable as well.