Saturday, July 27, 2013

Lower court overturns higher courts so it can affirm conviction

The United States Supreme Court recently held that when government agents attach GPS trackers to our cars to follow our every move, that is a “search” and, if done without a warrant, violates the Fourth Amendment.  It’s amazing that we really needed a Supreme Court case to tell us that, but in this age of constant, mass, shameless government surveillance of its own citizens, well . . .   Worse yet, even in the rare case, like this one, that the Supreme Court actually speaks out against a government spying practice, its words mean nothing.

The limits of empirical studies (updated)

When I write law review articles my arguments are generally rooted in things like “logic,” “consistency,” “analogies,” the admittedly-vague concept of “fairness,” and sometimes even “economic reasoning.”  (Other times, the things I criticize are so absurd that it would be more accurate to say my arguments are rooted in “anti-stupidity.”)  However, sometimes hard data combined with basic statistical techniques—see, for example, here and here—can do wonders for effectively demonstrating a point.  But as a rule, I’m not a fan of empirical studies, and the recent “value of a law degree” debate shows why.

That’s one helluva student-faculty ratio! (Updated)

Law schools are obsessed with rankings, and therefore love to pander to the US News, aka “the surviving rump of an otherwise defunct news magazine[.]” And because US News says that one of the factors used to determine the best law schools is student-faculty ratio—more faculty members per student is betterlaw schools hired faculty at a torrid pace, at least until the recent layoffs and buyouts due to dramatically declining law student applications.  (At some point, economic reality has to kick in.) 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dexter and the Insanity Defense: "I Really Need to Kill Somebody"

[First read the introductory post, Meet Dexter Morgan.]  Several times throughout the series, Dexter finds himself just a hair—or fiber or blood drop—away from getting caught.  In season two, for example, FBI Special Agent Frank Lundy comes close to discovering that Dexter is the Bay Harbor Butcher.  And if the Feds and Miami Metro were able to link all of those dead bodies to Dexter, what defense could he possibly have?  More specifically, could Dexter successfully argue that he was insane and therefore not legally responsible for his multiple homicides?

Dexter, Miami Metro, and the Broken Chain of Custody

[First read the introductory post, Meet Dexter Morgan.]  In “Dex Takes a Holiday,” Dexter uses his three-day mini-vacation away from Rita to target his next victim, Zoey Kruger.  (This, Dexter explains, is a serial killer’s way of recharging his batteries.)  But Zoey isn’t Dexter’s typical victim.  Instead, she’s one of his own: a cop.  Granted, she’s a bad cop—one that killed her husband and child to escape the unbearable suffocation of domesticity—but a cop nonetheless.  Dexter begins, as he usually does, by gathering solid evidence.  While prosecutors like Miguel Prado may go after defendants by filing a criminal complaint first, and then creating evidence later, Dexter is more careful.  He knows that his targets face a stiffer penalty than all but a handful of Miami’s criminal defendants.  So when Zoey puts her house on the market—after all, who needs four bedrooms and a big yard when you’ve just murdered your husband and daughter?—Dexter attends the open house.  While there, he gets what he needs: physical evidence.  He finds a small part of the glove that Zoey wore when she did the deeds.  The glove fragment has the gunshot residue and the blood evidence necessary to link Zoey to the double murder—the proof that Dexter’s moral code requires before he can drug Zoey, immobilize her, stab her, slice her into neat little pieces, and send her to her final home below sea level.

Meet Dexter Morgan

Not all book ideas grow up to be books.  I recently wrote a proposal for a law-related book about Showtime’s Dexter.  As a Miami Metro Police Department blood analyst by day, and a serial killer by night, Dexter Morgan found himself buried in legal issues—a lawyer-writer’s dream.  Although several publishers really liked the proposal, so far they’ve all passed on the project.  It turns out that in publishing, as in much of life, timing is everything.  Because Showtime recently announced that Dexter will end its eight-year run later this year, and because books can take nearly a full calendar year to get to print, the publishers thought that my Dexter-themed book would be too late to the dance.  (I respectfully disagree, as the season eight DVD won't be released until next summer.  Besides, academics are still writing about Buffy the Vampire Slayer a full decade after Sarah Michelle Gellar hung up her stake.)  But blogs, unlike books, are near instantaneous.  And with Dexter’s final season now in full swing, I thought that fans of the show might enjoy the two short chapters that I wrote for the book proposal.  The chapters—one on Dexter and the chain of custody and one on Dexter the insanity defense—are, obviously, about a fictional show, not legal advice, and purely for entertainment purposes (unless, of course, any of you Dexter fans and Legal Watchdog readers are also publishers, in which case you should contact my agent Janet Rosen for a copy of the book proposal).  So enjoy the two chapters that will follow immediately after this post.  Related links:  An earlier post on Dexter, DNA, and Maryland v. King; my first published book; and my second published book.    

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Legal academia shakeup

Nearly one year ago, I wrote a blog post titled Law School Management 101 (or how to deal with your school’s looming fiscal crisis).  In it I reminisced how, by the time I graduated in 1999, law school tuition had risen from about $13,000 per year to nearly $20,000 per year.  Sitting there in my cap and gown with tuition payments behind me, I then wondered, “who would want to go to law school at these prices?”  In that post I conceded that my price-sensitive way of thinking back then was at least ten years premature.  Why?  Because between then and now, tuition continued to rise (eventually into the $40,000-plus range at many private schools), yet the number of applicants rose right along with it.  In other words, applicants were willing to pay those prices and a whole lot more.  But as it turns out, I may not have been ten years ahead of my time after all.  Today, the market for legal education has corrected, and some schools are now lowering tuition back to 1999 levels.