Expert Witness

Amanda Knox: The Case for E-carceration

…at least, for now. For years, my view of the outside world was reduced to what I could see out of one barred window: the barren stretches between prison buildings, the walls topped with barbed wire, and beyond, a line of cypress trees on a remote hill. One of my few joys was the rare sight of a wild rabbit scurrying through the grass in springtime ― a reminder that out there, life carried on, even if I couldn’t be a part of it. 

Trump, Jussie Smollett and “Embarrassment to our Nation”

Last week President Donald Trump spoke in Chicago at the annual convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Trump used the occasion to call out the actor Jussie Smollett, who had been accused of filing a false police report claiming that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime. Trump said that Smollett had perpetrated a scam, and that Congress’ impeachment investigation was a scam too.  Earlier in the year it appeared that Donald Trump and Jussie Smollett had some things in common. Each was the...

Jamal’s Story

On a hot summer day in 2012, Jamal Smith* and two friends robbed three different groups of people at gunpoint. Some were white and some were black. Some were old, and some young. They had nothing in common except that they were each undoubtedly terrified to have a gun in their face, and they cooperated with his demands. But he was scared also. As he says now, “I hated it. I was scared that they might have a gun, or I might use mine. I knew I was making them scared too.” But he was desperate. Desperate to earn for the gang he...

Amanda Knox: Conviction and Apology

A D.A., a Judge, and an Alford Plea In January 2006, 60-year-old Malcolm Burrows was lured from his home in Tracy City, Tennessee by a man who claimed he was having car trouble. The man beat Burrows to death, then returned to Burrows's home and attacked his sister, Becky Hill. She survived the assault only because her son, Kirk Braden, intervened and fought the man off. Hill and Braden reported to police that their attacker was a boyish, red-haired man driving a gold-colored vehicle. Investigators honed in...

Felicity Huffman’s Smarter Choices (Updated with Huffman Sentencing)

Update: Just before publication of this story, actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in jail and was fined $30,000 for her role in the college admissions cheating scandal. Last week, federal prosecutors asked United States District Judge Indira Talwani to impose a one-month jail sentence on actress Felicity Huffman, who pleaded guilty to mail fraud last May in “Operation Varsity Blues,” the bribery investigation that rendered Americans even more cynical about college admissions. It’s a light sentence for a hefty nationwide scandal, and she probably won’t even serve it. Huffman...

Amanda Knox: Expressions of Guilt

Emotion Recognition in the Criminal Justice System A young man is on trial for murder. His defense says he’s being railroaded. The prosecution paints him as a deceiving psychopath. Is he lying when he says he wasn’t there that night? We don’t have to look into his eyes to figure that out; the Emotion Recognition System does that for us. With dozens of cameras; thermal, pulse, and respiration measurements; sophisticated facial expression recognition algorithms, with billions of hours of human observation as background data; and thousands of hours of...

Ugly Politics is Feeding the Power of MS-13

It was broad daylight in East Boston when a 16-year-old homeboy for MS-13, a high school freshman nicknamed Animal, spotted a 15-year-old boy in a red shirt. He smirked, pulled out a knife, and began running down Princeton Street, oblivious to the children and families all around him. The victim, Irvin DePaz, felt Animal at his back and began darting through the crowded sidewalks trying to get away. He didn’t run fast enough. Animal caught up, the knife glistening at his side, and pounced on his slightly built adversary. Without hesitation Animal...

First Days: Tragedy and Transformation in Juvenile Justice

We watch the video footage. These are the moments leading up to the discovery of the boy’s suicide. The grainy, black-and-white images show a staff member looking in the boy’s cell, calling for help, opening the cell door, and, with the assistance of some other residents, pulling the boy's limp body out onto the floor of the dayroom.  After watching the video, members of the Attorney General’s office and my staff jump into a conversation about the ongoing internal investigation into his death. I stop them mid-sentence and ask those present to tell me about...

Amanda Knox reads: The Injustice of Nancy Grace

In Oxygen’s Injustice with Nancy Grace, Grace promises to investigate “cases that inspire other victims to believe it ain’t over yet. Somebody still cares.” In other words, Grace is reprising her self-appointed role of “voice of the victim,” and presumably ― Grace says the show will focus on wrongful accusations and botched investigations ― she’s finally including wrongly convicted people within that definition. If so, it’s a big step for Grace, who historically has treated people like me as monsters. I first learned of Grace’s new show when Ryan Ferguson,...

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