Professor Liu and Capital Punishment

goodwin-liuAs noted in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, a group of district attorneys from California is opposing Goodwin Liu’s nomination. Their letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee asserts that Professor Liu “would vote to reverse nearly every death sentence.”

The district attorneys are acting in concert with the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (CJLF), which similarly claims that Professor Liu is “intensely hostile to capital punishment,” “will vote for the murderer on every remotely debatable point,” and “is ready, willing, and able to seize on every excuse to reverse a capital sentence and to brush aside every reason to affirm one.”These critics have manufactured their claims out of whole cloth.

Professor Liu has never written an academic paper on capital punishment (indeed, on any area of criminal law).  Nor has he ever suggested that he disagrees with the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence upholding the death penalty as constitutional under the Eighth Amendment. The sole source for both the district attorneys and the CJLF is a fourteen page “issue brief” that Professor Liu and a co-author wrote for the American Constitution Society analyzing then-Judge Samuel Alito’s record in capital punishment cases.

The issue brief does not express an opinion on the propriety of the death penalty as a constitutional or a policy matter.  Rather, it critiques Judge Alito for his “disturbing tendency to tolerate serious errors in capital proceedings” and his “unbroken pattern of diluting norms of basic fairness.”In other words, Professor Liu’s position on the death penalty boils down to this: “[C]apital cases require judges to exercise utmost care and vigilance in ensuring due process of law.”

Especially in an era when over 250 convicted inmates have been exonerated by DNA evidence, does that viewpoint make Professor Liu an “extreme outlier”?  Hardly.  Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a conservative jurist who frequently voted to uphold death sentences on the Supreme Court, has made essentially the same argument.  In a highly-publicized speech in 2001, she “questioned the fairness of the death penalty and raised the possibility that innocent people had been executed.”

Also, it is noteworthy that Professor Liu has the support of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union for the state’s prison guards.  That group says that Professor Liu would “further the cause of justice and follow the law and Constitution for all parties . . . including crime victims and peace officers.”

Critics of Goodwin Liu have made the baseless accusation that he is “intensely hostile to capital punishment” and an “extreme outlier” on the issue.  As noted earlier, their only basis for this claim is a misreading of an issue brief, coauthored by Professor Liu, which critiques then-Judge Samuel Alito’s record in capital punishment cases.

The issue brief demonstrates that, if anyone is an outlier, it is Alito – not Professor Liu. In several cases closely examined by Professor Liu, Alito’s position to uphold a death sentence was at odds with the Supreme Court or his own colleagues on the circuit court (including several former prosecutors appointed by Republican presidents).  Specifically:

  •        In Rompilla v. Horn, the Supreme Court reversed Judge Alito’s decision rejecting a defendant’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court (including Justice Sandra Day O’Connor) held Judge Alito’s position to be “objectively unreasonable” under “clearly established law.”
  •        In Riley v. Taylor, the Third Circuit reversed Judge Alito’s decision rejecting a claim of racial discrimination in the selection of a defendant’s jury.  Notably, the en banc court – a majority that included three Republican appointees – criticized Judge Alito for “minimizing the history of discrimination against prospective black jurors and black defendants.”
  • ·       In Smith v. Horn, Judge Alito dissented from a ruling by two of his colleagues, each a former prosecutor nominated by President Reagan, that the trial court’s jury instructions were improper.  Judge Alito called the majority’s decision “shocking,” “dangerous,” and “an injustice,” even while conceding that aspects of the jury instructions were “inadvisible” and “ambiguous.”  He also relied on an argument not raised by the government, an approach which the majority feared would “subtly transform our adversarial system into an inquisitorial one.”
  • ·       Even when Judge Alito’s position prevailed – in the en banc ruling Flamer v. Delaware – there was a substantial dissent by four of his colleagues, including two former prosecutors appointed by Presidents Reagan and Bush.Moreover, Professor Liu’s characterization of Justice Alito’s jurisprudence has proven accurate following Alito’s elevation to the Supreme Court.

In all but one case involving a divided panel of the Court, Justice Alito has sided with the government and has minimized procedural safeguards for defendants in capital cases.  For example, in Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman, Panetti v. Quarterman, and Kennedy v. Louisiana, he dissented from rulings of the Court supported by conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy.

In short, Professor Liu can hardly be tagged an extremist based on his criticism of Justice Alito’s record in capital cases.  It is not an extreme position to require that the government impose the death penalty consistent with basic constitutional safeguards, such as due process of law and the right to counsel.  Indeed, it is a position embraced by conservative Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy.

legal aspects of operating a drone

Owning Potentially Crime-Solving Technology – the Boundaries of the Law

Quadcopter law: Is it legal?

The short answer is that it depends on where you intend to fly your drone. There are lots of countries that specifically banned drones of any kind that have cameras attached to them because they are considered to be an intrusion on the private life of the regular citizen. Still many countries did not regulate this field yet but you may be surprised that regular people may feel irritated if you fly a drone above their head depending on what country you are. But more on that you can find below where I developed this topic in more detail. Remember that I specified some stricter regulations that can be found in some European Union countries and in some US states, but you may simply live in a state where no regulations whatsoever exist on this topic, so don’t take everything as granted.

GoPro FlyerBefore we begin, if you do not already own a quadcopter you may want to check out this article that gives a synopsis of the top quad drones on the market.

Drone/Quadcopter law:

If you’re holding your first Quadcopter in your hands, you’re probably longing for one thing: immediately take one off to the skies. As you spend more time with your quadcopter in the skies, you will find that a few people feel irritated or intrigued when some sort of device with a camera flies over their head or even more controversial, over their house. Then the question arises, what limitations do I have with my drone and on which law I can argue if I get asked about what I am doing. I pointed out some facts that are very important for every person that plans to fly any kind of quadcopter.

What rights do I have as a Quadcopter pilot?

The nice thing about quadcopters is that everybody can fulfill their dream of flying and capture footage that in the past was impossible to take. Now there is an important distinction about who can fly a drone without a permit and in what circumstances. Generally there is a limit of 5kg of added weight to the quadcopter, so if you do not pass this limit you do not need any kind of permit no matter what your age is. But if the weight exceeds 5kg your quadcopter will be considered to be used for professional film capturing, and you will require a permit from your local authorities. Then a so-called ascent permit with the competent supervision of air must be applied for that. This can vary from country to country but in general these terms apply.

As a private person, you may launch your drone on an open area or land, without getting into legal trouble. Also the separated lands belong to the permitted flight region just be sure that you are not flying your quadcopter over someone’s private land, as this can easily get you in front of a judge if the land owner is very strict about stuff like this.

Summarized in the overview below it means that you can (without commercial background):

  • Fly a drone in each age group
  • Fly in cordoned or peculiar areas
  • Fly on open fields, without obstacles

What rules must I follow, if I fly with my Quadcopter?

There are a few duties which you must adhere to in order to respect the laws for flying a Quadcopter. So, flights above 1500 meters around airports are absolutely forbidden, because collisions with an aircraft can have devastating consequences, as demonstrated by incidents in the United States.

Further regulations stipulate that Quadcopter pilots must control their drone not over densely populated urban areas (E.g. Berlin) and the flying over crowds is not allowed. Also places like populated beaches, concerts etc. are not suitable with flying a quadcopter. Because as you may already know quadcopters are not that stable and when it comes to crashes, people may be injured by the propeller and the body of the quadcopter.

Probably something that you already thought about is that private plots of land and “spying” the neighbors is a punishable offence. General rules say that no close-ups may be made on individuals, if they were not informed in advance and they have given their permission. If there is a crash, you must provide responsible compensations even if you have correctly controlled the drone.

Once again, this means brought us to the point that you must…

  • Fly 1500 meters away from airports (also sailing airports)
  • Be sure that your quadcopter does not exceed 5 kg in total weight
  • Avoid densely populated areas of the city and crowds
  • Avoid private land

Controversial media articles report that the drones often have a negative impact and that is why people seem to be scared of drones. In the media they are often connected to incidents in conjunction with a negative story. It is true that drones are not just toys, but also with their fast-moving rotor blades can be dangerous. There is however no reason to name multicopters in general as dangerous and uncontrollable flight models, because most of the time not the technology, but the pilot failed.