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December 18, 2012

The Crime Report lists "Ten Most Significant Criminal Justice Stories of 2012"

I always enjoy end-of-the-year Top 10 lists, especially when they deal with matters of crime and punishment.  Consequently, I was both excited and intrigued by this lengthy new piece at The Crime Report titled "The Ten Most Significant Criminal Justice Stories of 2012." Here is the set-up to the list, followed by the Top 10 (click through to see discussion of each item on the list):

Even in a year marked by heart-wrenching tragedy, we believe it’s important not to lose sight of  developments in criminal justice that promise to improve the lives of millions of Americans — and even make us safer — as we enter 2013.

For our second annual ”Top Ten” list, The Crime Report asked readers, contributors  and columnists to join us in nominating the stories and issues they believe have had the most significant impact during 2012 — and will bear watching over the next year.

We won’t pretend the list is definitive.  And perhaps, in a reflection of the kind of year it has been, not all the choices represent “positive” impacts. 

But as we’ve also noted this year, criminal justice appears to be one of the few areas of our national life where there is broad bipartisan agreement on the shape of an agenda for change.

That’s worth celebrating in 2012.

Later this week, we’ll be running the second part of our annual feature: the top policymakers or newsmakers in criminal justice during 2012....


1. Supreme Court LWOP decision in Miller v Alabama: progress on Juvenile Justice...

2. Passage of Marijuana Legislation in Washington and Colorado...

3. The Connecticut School Shootings and Mass Gun Violence...

4. Trayvon Martin and the intensifying conflict over gun control... 

5. Social Impact Bonds and DOJ’s “Investment in Innovation”...

6. Three Strikes Reform in California...

7. Camden (NJ) fires its cops...

8. Connecticut and Capital Punishment... 

9. Prison-to-College Pipeline...

10. Pro Bono Requirement for New York Bar...

I personally think #2 on this list is a MUCH bigger deal than anything else on this list. Also, I think the rejection by Californian voters of the effort to repeal the state's death penalty via ballot initiative should be high on this list. And I would love to hear from readers their views on what they think is wrong (or right) about this Top 10 list (which may inform my own end-of-year sentencing law and policy list in the weeks ahead).

December 18, 2012 at 09:53 AM | Permalink


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"I think the rejection by Californian voters of the effort to repeal the state's death penalty via ballot initiative should be high on this list."


One has to wonder why it was not on the list. We keep hearing about how the death penalty is on the ropes, but it's just not true, and this story is Exhibit A. The repeal lost after outspending the retentionist side by 20-1. It had the support of all manner of big name Hollywoood figures. It was on the ballot in a very blue, socially liberal state in a good year (in that state and elsewhere) for liberals and Democrats. It took full advantage of the mantra that the DP is very expensive (which it is), and is thoroughly dysfunctional (which it also is, at least in California, although not elsewhere). But it still flopped.

If a repeal bill can't make it in that environment, it can't make it at all. And this was before the horrific school massacre in Connecticut, a crime for which, had the killer been captured, only the DP seems even remotely adequate.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 18, 2012 10:14:20 AM

death penalty has got a little dirty secret: it kills only a few marginal persons.

Posted by: Claudio GiustiI | Dec 18, 2012 11:46:21 AM

I would put Laffler/Frye and Maples/Martinez on the list, maybe even at the top. Both are likely to have a major impact on the actual practice of law in the state criminal justice system. Miller will only impact one or two cases in a state per year, maybe even less once all the legislatures enact a Miller fix.

Posted by: tmm | Dec 18, 2012 4:06:34 PM

Doug, I'm curious why you think California's vote on Prop 34 deserves its own mention on the list, especially given #8 (Connecticut and Capital Punishment). It's true that California voters rejected the initiative to replace the death penalty, but by a small margin. The real news about Prop 34 is the fact that support for the death penalty dropped by twenty percentage points between 1978 (when voters were last given an opportunity to repeal it) and 2012. And as you note elsewhere, there are other indications that the death penalty is on its way out (36% fewer states carried out executions in 2012 than in 2011; 29 states either do not have the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in five years; 23 states have been without executions in ten years; and North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina all closed out 2012 without a single death sentence). You also correctly note elsewhere that there were 2 more death sentences imposed in 2012 than in 2011 (78 this year, 76 last year), but that's still 25% fewer death sentences than in 2010 and 65% fewer than in 2000. I think adding this data to the point about Connecticut's decision to abolish the death penalty might provide useful context, but I don't necessarily think that the vote on Prop 34 deserves its own spot on the top 10 list, unless the point you want to make is California's plummeting support for the death penalty.

FWIW, I agree with the commenter who said that Laffler/Frye should be on the list. And I don't agree with the decision to include Social Impact Bonds on the list. An interesting development to be sure, but hardly one of the most significant criminal justice stories of 2012.

Posted by: Kara Dansky | Dec 27, 2012 2:59:17 PM

I think the points that Bill Otis raised above provides my primary reasons for thinking the rejection of Prop 34 is huge news. In what is arguably the most liberal state in the Union, after what seemed like a very well-run and well-funded repeal campaign in a banner year for turning out abolitionists and criminal justice reformers (and during an election in which three-stikes reform got nearly 70% of the vote), DP repeal still failed via popular vote 52/48. That is, of course, a huge shift from 1978, but not a huge enough shift to think that national abolition (or even state abolition via popular vote) is likely anytime soon absent new/major DP administration scandals.

Put more simply, if Prop 34 passed, the huge headline of 2012 would (properly) be that the death penalty may perhaps be only a few years from extinction in the US. Because Prop 34 failed, the headline of 2012 should be that the death penalty may perhaps have perhaps decades of life left in the US. In my view, that's also a huge headline, and at least as big a deal as Camden firing its cops.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 28, 2012 3:52:54 PM

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