Hip Hop Justice

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor, professor of Law at George Washington University, and author of Let’s Get Free: A Hip Hop Theory of Justice talks about how to fix a broken criminal justice system.


Paul Butler

Comments [19]

Tricia from Brooklyn

How interesting that a professor of law seeks to undermine the trial process itself rather than encourage people to work for legislative change, which is how the US legal system is set up. What Professor Butler failed to mention or account for in his presentation are the rules of evidence. Because of the rules of evidence, which are designed to help jurors focus on the elements of the crimes alleged and to prevent undue prejudice to the defendant, juries are required to make their decisions based on admissible evidence. As a result, juries are typically not informed of the defendant's criminal record or, sometimes, of the attendant circumstances, including violence surrounding the crimes, or the fact that weapons were present at a drug sale, etc. For example, in a drug sale case, a defendant might be going to trial because he has a lengthy criminal history and, thus is unable to secure what he considers to be an acceptable plea bargain. So what may look like a simple drug possession case may be just the latest criminal incident in a career criminal's history. Yet, Professor Butler would have the jury throw the case out without knowing this.

There is a time and place for jury nullification, to be sure, but the examples Professor Butler cites are absurd, and jury nullification should be reserved for the rarest of cases, when to follow the letter of the law would violate the spirit of the law or when a conviction would be a profound miscarriage of justice. His argument for systematic jury nullification of drug possession cases undermines the rule of law and encourages individuals to act as they were legislators, without any accountability to the public.

May. 27 2009 08:47 PM
Alan from Manhattan

A presentation of the history of jury nullification and questions related to it can be found at .

May. 27 2009 01:31 PM
Seth from Upper West Side

What an idiotic book title. A hip-hop theory of anything is suspect. Look at the record on women and violence in the hip-hop "community". Yeah, great ideas flo' from this font. And I LOVE hip-hop, but it's a music genre.

May. 27 2009 11:45 AM
DAT from Nathan Straus Projects

"A provocative case can be made that US drug policy contributes effectively to the control of an ethnically distinct and economically deprived underclass at home and servces US economic and security interests abroad,"
Noam Chomsky.

From his book Hegemony or Survival.

May. 27 2009 11:10 AM

May. 27 2009 11:07 AM
Alan from Manhattan

Jurors may not believe a fellow juror who, in the jury room, explains jury nullification and claims that it has been consistently upheld. What, then, tends to be the response from judges when juries ask them for help with that principle? Do they answer that juries have the right to nullify or do they tend to keep the jurors in the dark? How often do incorrect instructions on this point result in reprimand from courts of appeal?

May. 27 2009 11:06 AM
the truth from bkny

Still not an explanation. Any one else?

WHITE Latina? What is this phrase?

May. 27 2009 11:05 AM

re WHITE Latina -- funny phrase I admit...

But certainly makes no less sense than calling somebody who has a Spanish last name and speaks Spanish, due to an unfortunate turn in their Central and South American country's history, "Spanish."

May. 27 2009 11:04 AM
the truth from bkny

We need to start penalzing those at the border and at customs who are not catching the drug smugglers, NOT the sellers and the buyer/addict and imprisoning them once the drugs are here.

WHO wants to take responsiblity for why the drugs are here in the first place and NO ONE better say Pres. Obama!

May. 27 2009 11:03 AM
Cory Einbinder from brooklyn

When I was called to jury duty I told the judge I didn't believe we should put a person in prison for buying drugs. They quickly excused me from serving on the jury. How can the jury nullify the law if this opinion won't be heard by the judge as an option?

May. 27 2009 11:02 AM

What an interesting and provocative idea! Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

(Unfortunately for the logic of the professor's idea, the most reasonable, and conservative, argument for strengthening the barrier between prison violence and communities isn't keeping people OUT of jails -- but simply keeping them IN jails and tossing the keys).

May. 27 2009 11:01 AM
the truth from bkny

WHITE Latina? What is this phrase??

May. 27 2009 10:59 AM
hjs from 11211

thanks to bush there is no viable right wing thus there is more room on the left.

May. 27 2009 10:58 AM

This guy is great. I 100% support this.

May. 27 2009 10:58 AM
SteveR from Manhattan

Hard to believe these bleeding heart types still exist is this day and age.

May. 27 2009 10:54 AM
Tony from San Jose, CA

But then, 9 people can go around the will of the entire state. Also, don't we risk some unfairness because one jury may be lenient and the other harsh?

Or do you advocate for some leeway in how a jury can use the context to apply the law.

Now, if the drugs law are stupid, shouldn't we change them?

May. 27 2009 10:53 AM
bernard joseph from brooklyn

the brilliant geniuses that are jurors should determine who goes to jail and who doesn't by interpreting their own version of how the law SHOULD be? is this guy serious?
well, that's what the OJ jury did, right?
forget the law, i like this guy!!

May. 27 2009 10:52 AM
EllenJ from NYC

My understanding is that Judges can also overide poor Jury decisions, thereby nullifying jury nullification! Is this true?

May. 27 2009 10:51 AM
Gabrielle from Brooklyn

Is Paul Butler able to speak about racial segregation today in regards to home ownership (blacks unable to buy homes in predominantly white neighborhoods) and in our school system stemming from this discrimination? Does this add to the disproportionate number of blacks in the prison system as compared to whites?

Also, Jim Webb has come out on prison reform and has been praised by the Left. What is Prof. Butler's take on Senator Webb's ideas and what more needs to be done? thanks!

May. 27 2009 09:33 AM

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