Where Should Defendants Stand Trial for Harming Massive Numbers of Victims?

Technological and social changes over the past century have made it easier for people hurt each other, whether it is physically, economically, or emotionally.  As a result, a new kind of crime has emerged.

Most crimes harm just a few victims – a theft from a single business, the murder of one or two people, etc.  In today’s interconnected world, however, prosecutors also occasionally charge crimes that involve hundreds, or even thousands, of victims.

The most obvious example are mass casualty attacks, which seem to be a growing phenomenon due to communications advances and global instability.  In the business world, too, increasing economic integration means that high-level financial fraud and workplace-safety violations can harm huge numbers of investors or employees.  Even one-on-one criminal offenses may take on a social dimension when they are filmed, shared, and discussed over the internet.

This phenomenon of “mass victimization” poses several problems for the criminal law.  One particular challenge is deciding who has the right to determine the location of the trial: the individual defendant, or the victimized community?

So far, courts seem to have come down on the side of the community.  But this approach also risks violating the defendant’s constitutional right to an impartial jury.

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The “Candy-Flavored Drugs Act” is Pointless, Dangerous, and Draconian.

jelly-beans-2201219_1920This spring, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced the “Protecting Kids from Candy-Flavored Drugs Act of 2017.”  The Act defines a new category of drug crime – selling candy-flavored drugs to children – and imposes a harsh punishment for it.   Critics of the bill have questioned whether candy-flavored drugs are really a national menace requiring federal legislation.

Beyond the Act’s risible purpose, the language of the bill itself is also deeply flawed.  Senators Feinstein and Grassley have drafted legislation that uses overly broad terms to impose excessively harsh sentences.  The law is thus not only pointless; it also both dangerous and draconian.

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House Votes to Punish Parents of Kids Who Sext

Last week, the House of Representatives voted to impose a 15-year, mandatory-minimum prison sentence on parents who know their teenage children are sexting but fail to prevent them from doing so.

The law is called the “Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017.”   A number of commentators have criticized the broad language of section 2(a) of the bill, which prohibits anyone from participating in the transmission of a sexually explicit image of a minor.  Because over half of teenagers reportedly engage in this kind of behavior, Dan Savage observes, the Act is “basically a license to toss every other teenager in the country in jail.”

Yet Section 2(b) of the bill, which targets parents, is arguably worse.  Although our representatives may have intended to punish parents who exploit their children, they have instead passed a law that criminalizes legitimate – even advisable – parenting decisions.

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Underwear Searches Violate the Fourth Amendment

Philly.com reports on a disturbing police practice in Philadelphia:

Stories of having pants undone and lowered and underwear being rifled through come from black men from various parts of the city. Their stories are strikingly similar. Sometimes drugs are found; sometimes, not.

Such searches, conducted in public places, are strictly prohibited by police department policy and state law. The department keeps no statistics on how often these searches occur, a department spokesman said. Commissioner Richard Ross says he has no knowledge of the practice.

But five men who have had their underwear searched on public streets say the experiences left them scarred.

Call it Stop-and-Fondle.

The article goes on to describe the racist and humiliating nature of these searches, but does not dig into their legality.   Underwear searches should be prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, particularly because they are so personal.

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