February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

It's been a busy week, with little time for blogging. So, without further ado, I present a few highlights from the news media and blogosphere:

Of apes and jurors

You may have heard about this new study; researcher Jennifer Eberhardt and colleagues were shocked to find people subconsciously associated black faces with apes. (It's in the current issue of the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology.) Jury consultant Anne Reed (of the Deliberations blog) has some astute thoughts on how this unconscious bias factors into jury deliberations, and what can be done to combat it. She's also collected some additional resources on the topic; see also my earlier posts and resources on race and juries, here and here.

Trolls evicted

I wrote awhile back about the sex offenders in Florida who had set up an exile community under a freeway overpass because they weren't allowed to live anywhere else. Now, those men are being evicted from their open-air tents. Some men evicted from under another overpass have set up camp in the remote Everglades; maybe the latest evictees will join them.

Religion and child custody

Remember the circumcision battle I blogged about a few months ago, in which one parent characterized the Judaic practice as religious freedom and the other called it sexual abuse? In recent decades, child custody disputes pitting different faiths and religious practices are on the rise due to an increase in interfaith marriages and a broader rise in custody conflicts. Although family court judges try to avoid rulings that favor one faith over another, it doesn't always work. New York Times reporter Neela Banerjee chronicled the complex dilemma yesterday in "Religion Joins Custody Cases, to Judges' Unease."

Bounty hunting: A corrupt American institution

Speaking of religion, have you heard of "Dog the Bounty Hunter"? I happened to catch it on cable TV when I was channel-surfing at a hotel recently. The show glorifies born-again Christian bail bondsman Duane "Dog" Chapman, a foul-mouthed religious convert who brags of capturing 6,000 runaway felons.

But from another perspective, Adam Liptak of the New York Times has written an expose on the bail bonds industry which, as it turns out, is a corrupt and uniquely U.S. institution. "In England, Canada and other countries, agreeing to pay a defendant's bond in exchange for money is a crime akin to witness tampering or bribing a juror - a form of obstruction of justice. Courts in Australia, India and South Africa [have] disciplined lawyers for professional misconduct for setting up commercial bail arrangements," writes Liptak in "American Exception: Illegal Globally, Bail for Profit Remains in U.S."

As Liptak chronicles, bounty hunters have enormous extrajudicial power. In many states, they can legally break into people's homes without warrants, temporarily imprison them, and force them across state lines without an extradition process.

"Most of the legal establishment, including the American Bar Association and the National District Attorneys Association, hates the bail bond business, saying it discriminates against poor and middle-class defendants, does nothing for public safety, and usurps decisions that ought to be made by the justice system," writes Liptak.

The full story is here, along with a short video.

Yet another call for juvenile justice reform

Last but not least, An Illinois group has called for an end of life-without-parole sentences of juveniles, based on interviews with 100-plus prisoners who received such sentences when they were ages 14 to 17. The oldest of the men is now 47. The report, entitled "Categorically less culpable: Children sentenced to life without possibility of parole in Illinois," is here. A press release is here, and The Northwestern Law School website has more resources.