This Article presents evidence that some state prosecutors use their discretion to reduce racial disparities in criminal sentences. This finding challenges the prevailing view that prosecutors compound disparities. Given prosecutors’ positions as mediators in a sequential system, this Article analyzes how prosecutors respond to disparities they inherit from the past—and interprets their impacts in light of the accumulated disparities that already exist when they first open their case files. Specifically, I estimate how the sentencing penalty for prior convictions differs by defendant race using North Carolina state court records from 2010 to 2019. I find that the increase in the likelihood of a prison sentence for an additional prior conviction was 25% higher for white than Black defendants with similar arrests and criminal records. While Black and white defendants without criminal records were incarcerated at similar rates, white defendants with records were incarcerated at significantly higher rates. And the longer the record, the greater the divergence. To understand this finding, I link an original survey of 203 prosecutors to their real-world cases. This survey-to-case linkage helps reveal how prosecutors’ beliefs about past racial bias influence their decision-making. I find that the subset of prosecutors who attribute racial disparities in the criminal legal system to racial bias have lower prison rates for Black defendants with criminal records than facially similar white defendants, thereby offsetting past disparities. In concrete terms, racial disparities in North Carolina prison rates in 2019 would have increased by 20% had the state mandated equal treatment of defendants with similar case files. These findings should lead reformers to exercise caution when considering calls to limit or eliminate prosecutorial discretion. Blinding prosecutors to defendant race—a policy that jurisdictions are increasingly implementing—may inadvertently increase disparities by neutralizing the offsetting effects of some prosecutors. While race-blind charging ensures that prosecutors do not introduce new bias, it also ensures that any past bias is passed through to current (and future) decisions.
In the 1990s, Congress passed the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) to decrease frivolous prisoner litigation. One PLRA provision that was aimed at accomplishing that goal is § 1997e(e), which states that no prisoner can bring a federal civil action for mental or emotional injury without a showing of an accompanying physical injury. This provision has created a circuit split over whether prisoners who suffer a violation of their Free Exercise rights under the First Amendment can recover compensatory damages. If the split is left unresolved, it will lead to a troubling lack of uniformity in the law for federal prisoners, who are a group of uniquely vulnerable litigants given their lack of access to resources. This Comment argues that to achieve uniformity and avoid the complications of the First Amendment circuit split, federal prisoners should bring their claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) instead. In Tanzin v. Tanvir, the Supreme Court explicitly ruled that monetary damages are available as a form of “appropriate relief” under RFRA. This Comment asserts that “appropriate relief” should include compensatory damages for prisoners for a number of reasons. These reasons include RFRA’s “super statute” status, the imperfect fit of other noncompensatory remedies such as injunctive relief and nominal damages when religious freedom rights are violated, the failure to serve PLRA’s stated purpose of decreasing frivolous prisoner litigation by barring recovery of compensatory damages, and consistency with the Supreme Court’s separation of powers doctrine. Therefore, federal prisoners should be able to recover compensatory damages under RFRA when their religious freedom rights are violated.
In many parts of the rural western United States, the land is divided into rectangular parcels that alternate between private and public ownership, so as to resemble a checkerboard. Some of those public parcels are “corner-locked,” meaning that they meet other public parcels only at a corner. It is technically not possible to access corner-locked parcels without at least briefly hovering over a private parcel, which constitutes trespass on the private parcel under the ad coelum doctrine. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for outdoor tourism, more people have been endeavoring to reach the public parcels by “corner-crossing” from one public parcel to the other. Private landowners have taken issue with the intrusions over their land that result. The corner-crossing is a trespass by the letter of state trespass law, but corner-crossers argue that the Unlawful Inclosures Act of 1885 immunizes them from trespass liability. This Comment explores the extent to which the Unlawful Inclosures Act does so. It examines the relevant case law and concludes, based on the text and historical backdrop of the Act, that landowners may not sue corner-crossers for the momentary trespasses they effect. It argues that this reading follows from the open-range doctrine in effect in the rural West when the Act was passed.
When partisan politics completely frustrate the efforts of a state to redistrict after a census, federal district courts are tasked with the “unwelcome obligation” of imposing court-ordered electoral maps that meet the federal constitutional one-person, one-vote requirement. This Comment terms these cases “intrastate redistricting stalemates,” novelly distinguishing them from other Equal Protection one-person, one-vote cases. In the wake of Moore v. Harper, federal courts may be remediating more intrastate redistricting stalemates than ever if state courts are stripped of their power to impose remedial congressional maps as outside the scope of “ordinary judicial review” permitted under the Elections Clause. Remediating intrastate redistricting stalemates is trickier for federal courts than remediating other Equal Protection one-person, one-vote cases. In crafting or selecting remedial maps, the U.S. Supreme Court has instructed federal courts that they must defer to states’ policies and plans. To inadequately do so is reversible error. But when is a state policy or plan owed deference? The answer is clear in cases where a state has recently redistricted but a federal court has struck down the state’s new maps for failure to meet federal constitutional or statutory requirements: the state’s policies as expressed in its recently enacted, post-census reapportionment plan are owed deference to the extent they do not violate federal requirements. But when a state fails to redistrict post-census due to an intrastate stalemate, this Comment argues that there is no recently enacted reapportionment plan owed deference. This Comment argues this holds true whether the intrastate stalemate presents as (1) an intralegislative conflict, due to one or both legislative branches failing to agree on a map or to garner sufficient votes to pass a map; (2) a conflict between the state’s legislative branch and the executive branch via the governor vetoing a legislatively passed map; or (3) a conflict between the state judiciary and the mapmaking body over the state constitutionality of the reapportionment plan. Instead, this Comment argues that the controlling source of state policy owed deference when remediating an intrastate redistricting stalemate must be the state’s constitution over other conflicting sources of state policy.