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Posts from the ‘Criminal Justice’ Category

“Taken”: The Use and Abuse of Civil Forfeiture

Under civil forfeiture, Americans who haven’t been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes. Is that all we’re losing? Check out my feature in the Aug. 12 issue of The New Yorker to learn more — and to consider the stories of families impacted by abuses of a poorly-understood policy.  Photos by Ashley Gilbertson.


What can journos learn from lawyers, and vice versa?

Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 5.37.40 PMI’m looking forward to being part of a public conversation at Penn Law School this coming Monday, for a whole slew of reasons:

1. The talk came about at the invitation of Prof. Louis Rulli, the school’s Director of Clinical Programs who is also a particularly creative thinker in the realm of public interest law.  In my recent story on police abuses of civil asset forfeiture laws, I highlighted the work of Rulli’s civil practice clinic in defending Philadelphia families who’ve had their homes seized without much due process.  Some of the cases his students have worked on are pretty jaw-dropping. I’m eager to learn about the other sorts of issues they’re tackling, within and beyond civil forfeiture.

2. I like the question Prof. Rulli has posed for the occasion, which, to put it loosely, goes something like: “What are we to make of the relationship between public interest lawyers and journalists?” What insights can journos glean from lawyers — what methodological tricks of the trade, what concrete knowledge about where systems of governance are working and where they aren’t, etc.? And what can public interest lawyers take away from feature reporters — about the powers of narrative, for instance, and its impact on public perceptions of a given policy or set of facts? There are interesting sub-questions, too, about how to preserve fairness, objectivity, and complex independent thinking when working as a reporter in tandem with litigators who have a different set of professional  imperatives.

3. It’s going to be a conversation, rather than just a talk. And I like that, a lot, because there’s plenty I’m eager to hear and learn from professors and students — down to the nitty-gritty of how they chose their cases, how/whether they think about legal complaints through a narrative lens, etc.

4. They made a really nice poster.  To sum up, the event is Monday, Nov. 4th, from 4:30 – 6:30 PM, in Silverman Hall, Rm. 240A.

The Throwaways

Police enlist young offenders as confidential informants.  But the work is high risk, largely unregulated, and sometimes fatal.  In the Sept. 3rd, 2012 issue of The New Yorker, I tell the stories of four young people who were killed working as informants — Rachel Hoffman, Shelly Hilliard, LeBron Gaither, and Jeremy McLean — and follow their families’ pursuit of accountability.  Read the article here.

Photo by Peter Van Agtmael.

Nancy Grace, Policymaker

Today, The Nation is running a story they commissioned from me a while back on “Nancy Grace, Policymaker.”  I’m uploading the 1914 New York Times piece I reference briefly in the story — some crazy stuff.  Check it out below if you’re interested.

NYT Southern Menace

Amanda Knox, Troy Davis, and Accountability in a Digital Age

Today I have a blog post up on about the Amanda Knox murder trial, and where it fits within a long-standing American news tradition of hawking tales of pretty white female perpetrators and victims.

In the last graph, I pose a question that remains up for grabs: does Knox’s acquittal in Italian appeals court portend that accountability in well-publicized trials is now, more than ever, susceptible to global intervention – not just by lawyers and mainstream journalists, but also by social media users, citizen journalists and, as the New York Times intriguingly reports today, public relations firms? Read more