The Political Constitution of Criminal Justice
91 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2005
Date Written: December 2005
The politics of crime is widely seen as punitive, racist, and inattentive to the interests of criminal suspects and defendants. Constitutional law is widely seen as a (partial) remedy for those ills. But the cure may be causing the disease. At the margin, constitutional law pushes legislative attention - and budget dollars - away from policing and criminal adjudication and toward punishment. The law also widens the gap between the cost of investigating and prosecuting poor defendants and the cost of pursuing rich ones. Overcriminalization, overpunishment, discriminatory policing and prosecution, overfunding of prison construction and underfunding of everything else - these familiar political problems are more the consequences of constitutional regulation than justifications for it.
Solving these problems requires radical constitutional reform. The article explains why, and then offers brief sketches of what that reform might look like in five areas: policing, crime definition, adjudication, punishment, and federalism. It closes by explaining how reform could happen, and why it probably won't.
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