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May 5, 2019

Assembling criminal justice questions for the 2020 Prez field

Writing in the Washington Post, the Radley Balko is playing a great game of 20 questions in the form of this commentary headlined "Here are 20 criminal-justice and civil liberties questions for the 2020 contenders." I recommend the piece in full, in part because he lists a lot more than 20 questions (as my partial imprint reveals).  Here is part of its lead-in and a few of my favorite questions:

The 2020 campaign will likely present voters with the sharpest contrast on criminal-justice and civil-liberties policy in recent memory.  Most of the announced candidates for the Democratic nomination are pro-immigration and gun regulation and anti-death penalty and mass incarceration — all stances that put them at odds with President Trump. Many also have said they believe there is racial bias in the criminal-justice system and have expressed sympathy for police critics such as Black Lives Matter, again in sharp contrast to Trump.

So here’s a list of the questions I would pose to the Democratic field as a whole. (I’ll posit individualized questions based on the candidates’ records at a later date, when the field narrows down a bit.)  Feel free to leave your own questions in the comments....

5. Almost all of you favor the legalization of marijuana. Would you consider pardoning everyone who has been convicted in federal court on charges exclusively related to possession, sale or transport of marijuana?  What is your more general opinion of the pardon power?  Should it be used more often, less often?  Should it be used to grant mercy and redemption on guilty people, or as a check against injustices against potentially innocent people?...

10.  Numerous surveys and studies have shown that for much of the country, public defenders are underfunded, understaffed and overworked.  Some would argue that this imperils the Sixth Amendment rights of criminal defendants, and that under the Fourteenth Amendment, the federal government is obligated to step in to protect those rights. Do you agree?  If so, what should the federal government do to guarantee an adequate defense for indigent defendants?...

14.  Most of you say you are against the death penalty.  As president, you will have the power to commute sentences. For those of you who are against the death penalty, will you commit to commuting the sentences of everyone on federal death row? Will you vow that your administration will not seek any new death sentences?....

18.  Nearly all of you say you support reforming the criminal-justice system and ending mass incarceration. The criminologist John Pfaff, among others, has shown that to truly end mass incarceration, we’ll need to not just release nonviolent offenders but also rethink how we treat violent offenders.  We now know that from about the age of 25 on, the probability of recidivism among violent offenders drops significantly.  Would you support a policy that allows for the release of or shorter sentences for some violent offenders?

19.  There hasn’t been a justice on the Supreme Court with criminal defense experience since Thurgood Marshall retired.  Only a few justices since Marshall have had any criminal law experience at all. Do you think this is a problem? Would you consider appointing someone to the court with a significant criminal defense background?

I have a lot more questions in mind for the 2020 field with much more of a sentencing focus, but it still feels a bit too early for getting them all revved up. But readers should not feel shy about chiming in now.

May 5, 2019 at 07:57 AM | Permalink

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