Friday, March 24, 2017

Dirty Little Secrets (of Law Review Publishing)

The vast majority of law review articles are written by law professors and professor-wannabes.  And among this group, prestige is the most important thing when placing an article.  Many professors admit that few people will ever read their writing, but their colleagues will read their CVs.  Therefore, a publication in the Duke Law Journal means an article is really good, the Washington Law Review means it's okay, the Hastings Law Journal means it barely earns a passing grade, and anything below that, well, many professors believe their work is better left unpublished than to associate it with journals of schools ranked below 60 in the US News & World Report.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Remaking a Murderer (by Bill Lueders)

Fans of Making a Murderer should be sure to read Bill Lueders new article in the Isthmus, Remaking a Murderer.  In it he discusses the four books on the subject, including my soon-to-be-released Convicting Avery (Prometheus Books, April 4, 2017).  For other reviews of my book see Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.  And stay tuned for my forthcoming guest blog post on the Criminal Element blog, as well as one more Avery-related column at the Wisconsin Law Journal.  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Convictions Based on Character: An Empirical Test of Other-Acts Evidence (forthcoming, Florida L. Rev.)

When it comes to the state using other-acts evidence at a defendant’s trial, the words of Henry Fool ring true: “So my word is not enough; my promise worthless; the fact that I have served my time nothing but the emblem of my continuing guilt.”  In other words, despite the courts’ assurances that “we try cases, rather than persons,” a defendant never really gets a fresh start; he is always haunted by his past.  And the other-acts evidence doesn’t have to be in the form of a prior conviction.  Even a decades-old, uncharged allegation can be used against a defendant.  And even if the defendant went to trial and beat the prior case, the other acts might still be used against him.  (Here, prosecutors abandon their “trials are about truth” mantra and instead argue that a prior acquittal only means that the other acts weren't proved beyond a reasonable doubt.)

But don’t worry for the defendant who must fight not only a current allegation but also age-old unproven, or even disproved, allegations.  The trial judge will give a cautionary instruction which is presumed to wipe all prejudice from the jury’s mind.  So in our most recent controlled-study-turned-law-review-article, my coauthor Lawrence White and I tested this claim.  In so doing, we found that cautionary instructions are not effective and jurors will use other-acts evidence for impermissible purposes, including the forbidden character inference.  To learn more, including some possible approaches to countering other-acts evidence on behalf of your clients, see the pre-publication draft of our article, forthcoming in the Florida Law Review, titled Convictions Based on Character: An Empirical Test of Other-Acts Evidence.