Violations Without Vindication: How the Supreme Court’s Decision in Nieves v. Bartlett Permits Retaliatory Arrests and Threatens to Undermine the Fight For Racial Equality

(Source) In May 2019, the Supreme Court handed down its decisions in Nieves v. Bartlett. For the most part, the decision flew under the radar, garnering little media attention (with some exceptions). However, this seemingly innocuous Supreme Court decision now threatens to undermine what has been described as “a defining moment in the future of American politics” and a “turning point against police brutality”—the George Floyd protests. As a general matter, the Constitution prevents the government from retaliating against an individual for exercising her constitutional rights. As a recent example, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was released from prison after a judge determined Cohen’s house arrest was revoked as punishment for writing a tell-all book about Trump. Since Cohen had a First Amendment right to write a book about Trump, the government could not retaliate against him for writing it. Likewise, a police officer violates the First Amendment when she arrests an individual because she dislikes his speech—known as a retaliatory arrest. But what does it matter if the officer violates the First Amendment when there are no consequences? One incredibly important remedy is to sue the officer under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 allows victims of [read more]

“Nothing About Us, Without Us” Means Police Reform, Too

(Source)   Being Black and disabled is not a crime. We need to stop treating it like one. Thanks to Evita Nwosu-Sylvester for sources and further reading, and to Amanda Cirillo for review.  Disability remains the “missing word in media coverage of police violence.” Far from anecdotal episodes, the connection between disability and policing harm is undeniable.  More than one half of Black Americans with disabilities will be arrested by the time they reach their late twenties. According to a 2016 report by the Ruderman Family Foundation, up to half of all people killed by police have a disability. If you have an undiagnosed mental illness, you are 16 times more likely to be killed in a police encounter. If you are a juvenile or young adult with a disability, you are 13% more likely to be arrested than those without. Other data indicate that approximately a quarter of those killed by police are in a mental health crisis or were known by police to have a mental illness, in spite of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requiring reasonable modifications to policing where a disability is recognized. This is not just tragic; it is systemic. As reforms addressing police [read more]

The Machinery of Death: The Federal Death Penalty’s Reinstatement is Arbitrary, Capricious, Illegal, and Cruel

(Source)   Introduction In the early hours of July 14th, 2020, while most people were asleep or just starting their days, the Federal Government executed Daniel Lee Lewis, jumpstarting the return of federal executions. The federal government executed Mr. Lee despite myriad procedural and legal deficiencies. Mr. Lee was executed without a new warrant allowing the execution to occur on July 14th. His warrant listed July 13, 2020 as the execution date. Mr. Lee was strapped to the gurney for over four hours as last-minute legal issues were resolved but was pronounced dead less than an hour after his final legal issue was resolved. The loved ones of the victims publicly opposed his execution and were disregarded in their efforts to witness the execution without compromising their health in the midst of a global pandemic.  In many regards, Mr. Lee was a typical capital defendant. Prior to his conviction, his life was riddled with trauma, mental illness, and interactions with the juvenile detention centers. There was widespread consensus that his co-defendant was more culpable and Mr. Lee maintained his innocence in the murders through his last words. His trial had sentencing problems and concerns about ineffective assistance of counsel. When [read more]

How Reparations Could Have Ebbed The Disproportionate COVID-19 Deaths of Black People in Detroit

(Source)   Reparations are a form of compensatory justice that governments have instituted when aiming to make amends for prior wrongs. Historically, in order for a group to receive reparations from the government, an affected party must show harm, must prove that the government is the cause of that harm, and must show that the recipient is a direct victim or one’s descendent. Reparations can be symbolic in nature, representing the depths of regret that the nation has for its role in the institutionalized oppression of a people. Paying reparations for historical wrongs is not a novel concept. The United States granted reparations in 1988 for the harm inflicted on Japanese Americans from wrongful internment during World War II and to former owners of enslaved persons after emancipation. Additionally, West Germany paid reparations in 1952 to make amends for the Holocaust. Interestingly, these reparations were not paid with widespread public support—most Germans did not believe that the nation owed Jewish people any redress. In the United States, the most abhorrent act the nation inflicted on its people was the institution of slavery. Subsequent to this historical atrocity, the government continued to discriminate against Black people. For instance, immediately after those [read more]

Policing Property

  (Source) I. Property and Criminality In the first week after Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, the New York City Police Department arrested more than two thousand protesters in New York City. At least a quarter of those arrested were charged with burglary. Mayor Bill de Blasio distinguished between protesters and perceived opportunists, “doing things like looting for pure financial gain, pure criminal gain, nothing to do with protests whatsoever.”  The specter of the looter—lying in wait for the opportunity to take advantage of social upheaval—is connected to ideas about the latent criminality of unpropertied people. It has been used to justify the extensive surveillance of nonwhite communities, and protest movements calling account to injustice. “Law and order” has roots in the protection of property and in white supremacy. The conflation of Blackness and criminality is inextricably tied to the relationship between property and policing, distinguishing criminals from non-criminals. Racial categories emerge from the governance of property relative to those who have historically had none, who we therefore imagine “harbor criminal disregard for the propertied order.” Whiteness is a property, valuable insofar as categorically excluding Black people maintains it.  Maintaining property interests has always been central to the modern [read more]

Diagnostic Methods as a Category of Patent-Ineligible Subject Matter

(Source) The authority to grant to patents arises from Article Eight of the United States Constitution. Specifically, Clause Eight grants Congress the power to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Through this clause, Congress is empowered by the Constitution to grant copyrights and patents. Under this authority, Congress has enacted and promulgated various statutes in furtherance of promoting the progress of science and the useful arts. One such statute is 35 U.S.C. § 101, whose interpretation has been embroiled in controversy over the past decade. The statute delineates the types of subject matter that are patentable. Section 101 renders patentable “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” Laws of nature and natural phenomena are prima facie unpatentable. Additionally, a mathematical formula is unpatentable because it “is merely a statement of a law of nature.” Similarly, medical diagnostic processes should be deemed as a category of patent-ineligible subject matter for numerous reasons. First, courts have repeatedly struck down patent claims to medical diagnostic processes unless they include a step of [read more]

Separating Federal Immigration Enforcement from Community-Oriented Policing: How the COPS Grant Program Misses the Mark

(Source) Combating illegal immigration has become a cornerstone of the Trump administration’s agenda. President Trump has frequently touted the allegedly threatening impact of immigration on crime and the economy to justify ramping up federal immigration enforcement efforts. However, many jurisdictions have adopted an implicit policy of obstructing such efforts by refusing to disclose information on suspected undocumented or illegal immigrants. These “sanctuary cities” have been embroiled in numerous legal battles with the Trump administration. Cases involving the denial of federal grant funding to sanctuary cities have proven especially controversial and continue to play out today. The COPS Grant Program Created under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (“the Act”) and under the supervision of the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Program aims to “advance community policing in all jurisdictions across the United States” by awarding grants to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies. Congress initially funded the program to hire more street-level law enforcement officers, also known as beat cops, during the Clinton administration. The COPS Program issues competitive grants, as opposed to formula grants, meaning that state, local, and tribal governments must apply for access to a limited pool [read more]

COVID-19 and the Criminal Justice System: How Prisons and Prisoners are Impacted

  (Source)   “The closest thing I can equate it with is…when you’re locked in a cell in a giant, old, deteriorating jailhouse, is the fear that there will be a fire and no one will come in and unlock your cell. What caught my attention about this virus is that it really feels like there’s a fire in this prison.” An inmate at Washington State describes the inevitability of COVID-19 and the powerlessness he feels at remaining incarcerated as the virus rapidly spreads. When prisoners routinely lack access to soap, and when hand sanitizer is considered contraband in prisons, it is easy to imagine the rapid proliferation of the infection. Lack of access to sanitation is only part of the conditions that make prisoners particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Close quarters, frequently used communal spaces, and lack of adequate medical care are just a few other factors that make prisons and jails petri dishes for the spread of disease. Indeed, these factors have caused a huge spike in the number of COVID-19 cases over the past months. As the number of cases rise in the general United States population, the number of cases in prison skyrockets. Though New York City [read more]

Unauthorized Disclosure: Judicial Violation of Mental Health Privacy

(Source) Brandon Sharp managed a gas company in East Texas. Healthy, in his thirties, Sharp rarely saw a doctor. And yet he owed thousands of dollars in medical bills. Sharp was the target of medical identity theft, which victimizes tens of thousands of people each year. Thieves steal patient information, including names, Social Security numbers, addresses, and medical histories, and then submit fraudulent insurance claims for surgery and prescriptions. Victims, like Sharp, face more than inconvenience: sometimes police arrest them instead of the thief for insurance fraud, or their information is conflated with the thief’s, leading to misdiagnosis. Contrary to popular opinion, the most common mode of theft is not computer hacking or breaking and entering but unauthorized disclosure by providers. Section 33.13 of New York’s Mental Hygiene Law aims to prevent unauthorized disclosure. It prohibits providers from releasing patient information, specifically mental health records, absent an exception. A mental health record includes “all pertinent documents relating to the patient” about legal status, examination, care, and treatment. However, New York state courts routinely violate Section 33.13. Claimants often sue New York when a patient in a state hospital injures them. In these cases, New York courts have ordered hospitals to [read more]

“Smile! You’re on Camera” – The Implications of the Use of Facial Recognition Technology

(Source) What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase ‘facial recognition technology’? Is it a TV show or movie scene where law enforcement is staring at computer monitors as faces in a database cycle through as a software program looks for a match to an image of a suspect, victim, or witness in the case? Many associate the phrase ‘facial recognition technology’ with the government and law enforcement; an association which is reinforced by the way in which numerous procedural TV shows (such as FBI, Hawaii Five-0, Blue Bloods, and Law and Order: SVU) display facial recognition in their episodes. For many Americans, those TV and movie scenes are their primary exposure to facial recognition, resulting in the stronger association of facial recognition as a law enforcement aid. While facial recognition technology (also known as facial recognition or FRT) is certainly a tool used by government and law enforcement officials, its uses and capabilities span far beyond what is depicted by the entertainment industry. The concept of facial recognition originally began in the 1960s with a semi-automated system, which required an administrator to select facial features on a photograph before the software calculated and [read more]
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