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January 9, 2008

How the media can do better: ask the candidates tough crime and punishment questions

I am quite pleased that the results in the first state primary Tuesday keeps the presidential nomination battles going strong and that, as Lou Dobbs asserts here, political pundits "took one in the teeth last night" and now the media can and should "summon courage to report on issues." 

Of course, the issues I want to see covered a lot more are criminal justice issues.  Here are just a few challenging questions that I would like to see posed to all the candidates:

1.  What is your view on the faith-based prisons movement and will you increase federal funding for, and research on, faith-based prison and reentry programs?

2.  Do you support the (stalled?) federal Second Chance Act and will you make its passage a priority in the first 100 days of your administration?

3.  What is your perspective on the federal death penalty?  Will you instruct your Attorney General to continue, or to reverse, the recent trend of increased federal capital prosecutions?

4.  Do you support federal mandatory minimum sentences and will you make review and of these laws a priority in the first 100 days of your administration?

5.  Are you troubled by the nationwide increase in incarceration levels at both the state and federal levels?  If so, what might you do as President to reverse prison growth trends?

6.  Can you name all of the Commissioners on the US Sentencing Commission?  (This last one is a gotcha question, but I'd like to see how the candidates would deal with having a Cliff Claven Final Jeopardy moment.)

Readers are, of course, encouraged to suggest additional questions for the candidates in the comments.

January 9, 2008 at 10:24 AM | Permalink


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7. Have you ever voted for or supported a law that you suspected violated if not the letter, then the spirit, of your oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States"?

8. Do you support a Victim's Rights amendment to the Constitution? If so, do you think our Founders were ignorant of crime and so didn't take it into consideration?

Posted by: George | Jan 9, 2008 11:38:52 AM

Maybe someone can ask Barack Obama what he meant by the "just-us" system.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 9, 2008 11:52:52 AM

9. Name three sections of the US Code, imposing criminal penalties for conduct, that should not be enforced, because in your belief, such conduct does not harm anyone.

10. Do you support amending Title 26 of the US Code, to revoke all tax exemptions for the Victim’s Rights Industry.

11. Will your administration provide video feeds of all federal executions?

12. If you could violate one person's constitutional rights, who would you choose, which right, and why?

Posted by: S.cotus | Jan 9, 2008 12:22:31 PM

In a typical capital case (one involving no genuine question of identity of the perpetrator) is five years long enough for review, and, if so, what would you do to shorten the review process to that time?

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 9, 2008 1:20:05 PM

What is an acceptable number of convictions based on mistaken identity? What about based on perjured testimony? On defective jury instructions?

What is an acceptable number of coerced confessions introduced into a federal court each year?

What is the ideal percentage of the country that should be in jail?

Does China have the right idea in setting execution busses?

Should the bodies of the dead prisoners be fed to living prisoners? If not, why?

Posted by: S.cotus | Jan 9, 2008 1:34:48 PM

Should your beating of your wife/husband been considered a crime?

(This is just as silly as most of the questions raised above.)

Posted by: Confused | Jan 9, 2008 2:04:21 PM

I imagine that a lot of law professors would like to see presidential candidates challenged on their knowledge of the professor's particular field.



"Are you aware that a plaintiff who can prove a violation of ERISA sec. 510 may be unable to obtain any relief because of the way that the courts have read ERISA sec. 502(a)?"

Posted by: | Jan 9, 2008 2:24:23 PM

And, quite frankly, I think we should ask the candidates as nerdy questions as possible.

I suspect that:

1) Obama appreciates a good nerdy conversation, but has trained long and hard to speak in generalities. Look at where it has gotten him.

2) A younger Hillary could have nerded it up with the best of us. But the Hillary of today sees things as policy issues.

3) Romney, despite being a lawyer, thinks of it as BAD to let people know that you can engage in our kinds of nerdery.

4) Rudy can TRY and nerd it up, but would get irritated when people understand things better or differently than he

Posted by: S.cotus | Jan 9, 2008 2:53:02 PM

What is your philosophy on consensual crimes?

Posted by: William Jockusch | Jan 9, 2008 4:43:16 PM

Do you believe that the Drug War is working? What is the real aim of this decades-long effort, besides controlling urban blight, and does the current system effect such aim? Do we even care any more, now that we have the GWOT? Alternatives to criminalization, even beyond catch-and-release community supervision programs and the wasted resources associated with criminalizing victimless crime?

Posted by: rothmatisseko | Jan 9, 2008 7:58:33 PM

Should someone who is not a threat to public safety be detained in jail because they lack the funds to make bail? In other words what do "excessive bail and fines" as used in the 8th amendment mean?

Posted by: John Neff | Jan 9, 2008 8:50:51 PM

When you were governor of your state how many petitions for pardon came before you? How many did you grant?
How many persons who were convicted of crime in your state during the time that you were gorvernor were later exonerated by DNA or some other evidence?
Are you in favor of legislation to remove the immunity of prosecutors who withhold evidence from defendants in criminal cases?

What is the percentage or parts per thousand of persons incarcerated in your home state? i.e. How many inmates per 100,000 general population?

When you were a state legislator or governor of your state did you favor legislation and policies to boost local economies by building prisons?

Did you boast that as governor you never pardoned one single person?

Under your tenure as governor of your home state how many people did your state kill in the name of justice?

Posted by: | Jan 10, 2008 9:53:51 AM

"Are you in favor of legislation to remove the immunity of prosecutors who withhold evidence from defendants in criminal cases?"

Prosecutors only enjoy absolute immunity for charging decisions. A prosecutor could, under current law be sued under 1983 for a pure Brady violation, asserting only qualified immunity. His employer would probably (but not certainly) indemnify him.

Posted by: S.cotus | Jan 10, 2008 10:41:11 AM

If someone could get it over to these people running for president, that being concerned about non violent people being sent to prison for many years over a marijuana, or other drug charges, is not being "soft on crime" but is being "smart on crime" our country would be a lot better off. I'm sure they all know that we cannot continue to lock people up like we have the past ten years, our prison are overflowing, yet they are afraid of losing a vote - how sad!! Do we not have one soul, just one soul out of the group that has "guts" to do what is right?

Posted by: Rachel Alburtis | Jan 11, 2008 1:58:35 AM

Will you allow the ATF to perform back ground checks on felons who wish to regain their firearm priviledges?

What will be your Pardon policy?

Will you provide new ways to add felons to our society?

Posted by: disenfranchised | Apr 11, 2008 7:01:33 PM

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