Criminal Law Scholarship Essay Contest

The Appeals Law Group is conducting an essay contest for current law students concerning a criminal law topic.  The prize for the top essay is a small scholarship.  Please see the below information if you are interested.





Orlando, Florida: Appeals Law Group will be holding its annual Winter Essay Writing Competition, open to all current full-time and part-time matriculated students in an ABA accredited law school.  This $500.00 scholarship will be awarded to the law student who presents a 1000 word or less essay on the following topic:


Whether a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for non-violent marijuana trafficking under Federal law violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment?


All essays must be submitted via email to and must be in Word or PDF format.  The deadline for submission isFebruary 1, 2016 at 11:59 p.m.  The winner will be announced on February 4, 2016.

President Obama discusses criminal justice reform with Law Enforcement officials

President Obama recently conducted a panel discussion with law enforcement officials in which he spoke about his administration’s push for criminal justice reform, particularly in the areas of incarceration and sentencing law reform.  This discussion was moderated by The Marshall Project.

You can watch a video of the discussion at .

Bureau of Prisons set to release 6,000 federal inmates

The federal Bureau of Prisons will begin to grant early release to approximately 6,000 inmates later this month.  This is the largest release in federal prison history.  This move is designed to reduce overcrowding in federal prisons and comes after the United States Sentencing Commission made reductions in drug offender sentencing retroactive.  There is a potential that tens of thousands of other inmates may soon be eligible for early release under this new approach.  This move does come as murder rates have surged in several cities across the nation.

For further information, please see .

Experts debate mass incarceration in America

The recent national discussion on  mass incarceration has led to a fervent debate over the causes and solutions to this issue.  David Brooks writes in the New York Times that statistical analysis of this problem demonstrates that solving it may not be as simply as releasing low-level drug offenders.  He argues that they only make up a relatively small portion of the prison population and any program that desires to seriously reduce the prison population may have to look at releasing violent offenders as well as changing mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which he sees as a more complex problem than is being portrayed in the media.  Professor Douglas Berman of Ohio State University responds to his argument by saying that Brooks is giving too little weight to the impact of more punitive drug laws on the prison population.  He does agree however that the solution is more complex than simply reducing drug sentences.

For the entirety of the Brooks article, it is located at

To read Professor Berman’s response, it is located at

Police departments begin implementing Predictive Policing procedures

Police in several major cities have begun implementing a new policing procedure, known as predictive policing, that focuses on those most likely to commit crimes.  This is achieved by collecting information on previous criminal history, crime statistics for the area, and data gathered from social media that indicates who these individuals affiliate with.  This data is being used to pinpoint those most likely to become involved in future criminal activity and targets them for more attention.  This new tactic has gathered both praise and criticism for its more individual, tailored approach to identifying suspects.

For the full article on this practice, please see .

President Obama tours federal prison

President Barack Obama visited the El Reno Correctional Institution, a federal prison in Oklahoma, on July 16th.  Included in this tour was a sit-down conversation with six inmates held at the facility. President Obama is the first sitting president to visit a federal prison.  This tour comes as part of his broader campaign arguing for reform of the criminal justice system, particularly the sentencing of drug offenders.

For more information, please see .

Nebraska Death Penalty Repeal Halted by Petition Drive

The Nebraska Secretary of State announced that enough signatures have been gathered by a petition drive to suspend the repeal of the death penalty, which the Nebraska legislature passed over the veto of Governor Pete Ricketts in May 2015.  This petition drive started after the repeal was instituted by a margin of one vote.  Nebraska was the first traditionally conservative state to abolish the death penalty in nearly forty years.  The votes gathered by the petition drive not only suspend the implementation of this legislation but also place the issue on the November 2016 ballot for Nebraska voters to consider.

For the full story, please see

21st Century Policing Task Force Teleconference

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing is holding a public teleconference as it deliberates. The Task Force is began deliberating yesterday and is continuing deliberations today, February 25 and will continue as needed through the rest of the week.

The deliberations will be held by teleconference only. To access the conference line, please call 1-866-906-7447 and, when prompted, enter access code 8072024#. For disability access please call 1-800-888-8888 (TTY users call via Relay).

“American Denial” Screening and Panel 2/18/15 @ 7pm

There will be a screening of “American Denial” at Winston-Salem State University on February 18, 2015 @ 7 pm. Following the screening, there will be a panel discussion including our very own Mark Rabil. Come

AMERICAN DENIAL tells the story of race in the 30s & 40s in the US via a study conducted by Gunnar Myrdal, a Swedish researcher (he won Nobel Prize for economics) and commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation. The study, “The American Dilemma,” was cited by the US Supreme Court in the Brown vs Board decision.  The film also gets into the New Jim Crow, mass incarceration, the latest testing on implicit bias, framing, etc.  The film is a good opening for a discussion on our reticence in discussing the issue of race in America.

SCOTUS’ Criminal Law Gap

In an article in the Washington Post on January 2, 2015, Radley Balko discusses the lack of real word criminal law experience on the Supreme Court and says that it is because the path from law school to the Supreme Court does not often include stops as a criminal attorney. Balko argues that the lack of real world, local level, criminal justice experience means that the Justices are ill informed on some of the most important issues that they are deciding while on the highest bench in the United States. This is leading to impractical or unrealistic decisions and reasoning. He says:

“Of our current Supreme Court lineup, only two justices — Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor — have significant experience with criminal law. Both are former prosecutors. Alito spent time as an assistant U.S. attorney and a U.S. attorney. But even that misses a huge percentage of the criminal justice system: The overwhelming percentage of criminal cases in America are at the state and local level. Only Sotomayor has real experience with a local, day-to-day criminal justice system, and even that experience isn’t all that overwhelming: She spent four and a half years as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, thirty years ago.”


“It’s telling that in her time on the bench, the only justice with real-world criminal justice experience —Justice Sotomayor — has in her time on the court been the justice most skeptical of police and prosecutors. She has also been the justice most willing to look at how the court’s ruling might play out in the real world… [T]he argument here isn’t that we need a court full of defense attorneys. It’s that we’re asking the court to decide some of the most profound and important issues we face as a free society, but we’re then filling it with people who have no experience with, no appreciation for, and no concept of how those issues play out in the real world. They’re making landmark pronouncements on rights and powers with no understanding of how incentives operate in the criminal justice system, often based on false narratives about police and prosecutors.”

Read the full article here.