- Professor Shima Baradaran, Utah Law
Is it within a federal court's authority to order local police officers to wear video cameras in an effort to create an "objective record" of police activity, as occurred last summer in New York City? What is the basis and is it advisable for the Department of Justice to impose reforms on local police activity via consent decrees or other means (see here and here)? What should we make of lawsuits, such as the one filed by police officers rejecting such oversight in Seattle? Are they attempts to vindicate the sovereignty of their own policing, or do they gloss over the serious problems in law enforcement that would go otherwise unchecked without federal involvement? Our experts answered these and other questions.
Prof. Orin Kerr previews the upcoming Supreme Court case, Heien v. North Carolina, that looks at whether a traffic stop based on a police officer’s mistaken understanding of the traffic laws violate the Fourth Amendment.
In 2005, Washington, D.C. resident Antwuan Ball was indicted for a massive drug conspiracy and associated murders. Following a lengthy jury trial he was acquitted on all the counts, except for one crack distribution count. At sentencing, District Judge Richard Roberts found “clear evidence of [Ball's leadership in] a drug conspiracy” and sentenced Ball to a 225-month prison sentence for the drug distribution — far in excess of the recommended guideline sentence for the single drug distribution charge. The D.C. Circuit upheld this sentence in a decision on March 14. Was the D.C. Circuit Court correct? Our experts discussed the opinion and answered questions from our call-in audience.
Numerous proposals in Congress, the Justice Department, and the Sentencing Commission would bring down the sentences now given to those convicted of federal drug offenses. Probably the most prominent of these is the proposed Smarter Sentencing Act, which was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with the support of all its Democratic members and several Republicans. The act would, among other things, reduce the mandatory minimum sentences judges must now give certain classes of drug offenders and would expand the existing Safety Valve that has enabled some defendants to avoid the mandatory minimum.
Proponents of the Smarter Sentencing Act say that our prisons are overcrowded and that the pendulum has swung too far in terms of mandatory minimum penalties for non-violent drug offenders. Opponents say that stern mandatory sentencing has helped bring down crime, reined in irrational disparities from one courtroom to the next, insured at least a rock-bottom sentence for socially destructive behavior, and has been more than worth the expense through the savings reduced crime has brought about.