Tagged: legal research

Hall of Justice: Find Criminal Justice Statistics in One Convenient Place

HallOfJusticeWe all were in the situation when we are looking for criminal justice related statistics without knowing where to look or where to even begin. No more. Hall of Justice, a project of the Sunlight Foundations, is trying to change that. Although not comprehensive, it contains nearly 10,000 datasets and research documents from all 50 jurisdictions, DC, US territories, and federal government. Its newly launched website offers searchable inventory of publicly available criminal justice statistics and documents in one convenient place, thereby improving transparency.

The project explains its methodology in how and which datasets are included. You can learn more about the Sunlight Foundation criminal justice work here and the spreadsheet of datasets is available here.

Users may search for available datasets and then narrow by state, groups, sectors (government, non-profit, private, etc.), and access type (not machine readable, open, restricted, closed, etc.). The results display in a table listing the state/location, category, dataset title, group issuing the dataset, years included, and the direct link to access it. The major categories include: Corrections, Courts, Crime, Financial, Juvenile Justice, Law Enforcement, Victims, and Miscellaneous. All categories are further divided into subcategories.

NY JJD results

For example, the result page looks as follows (look to the left) when looking for Juvenile Justice – Delinquents datasets for the state of NY, listing 5 results with live links where the listed statistics can be accessed.


Sunshine on the Parole Process

A Columbia County Supreme Court Judge has ordered a new parole hearing for a defendant convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years to life imprisonment who has already served 32 years in prison. The defendant had sought to produce the minutes of his original sentence, which he claimed contained a sentencing recommendation and showed that the sentencing court had decided to impose a 20 year minimum and rejected the maximum of 25 years to life. The district attorney’s office claimed that despite numerous attempts to locate the original sentencing minutes they could not be found.

The judge’s chambers undertook its own search and found the minutes within approximately 30 minutes.

The court expressed concern about the district attorney’s conduct and characterized it as either lack of diligence or deliberate indifference. It expressed concern that the conduct was routine, and declined to wait until it could be determined if that conduct was sanctionable.

A tip to practitioners: the court’s search had uncovered a 2008 letter from the chief court reporter for Nassau County that indicated  the minutes were not unavailable. The court noted, however, that under 22 NYCRR §800.9(b)(5), sentencing minutes are required to be part of the record on appeal from a conviction and are archived by the State Library.

The court also took the parole board to task for considering materials, including victim impact statements,  that contained “unfounded assertions” and were “emotional,” “extremely inflammatory.” It also criticized the parole board for failing to comply with N.Y. Executive Law §259-i(2)(a), which requires that the board’s recommendation against parole directly address comments before the board.

Related Reading:

New York State Commission on Correction Proposal to Limit Right of Access to the Courts

Pace Law School Professor and an expert on rights of prisoners, Michael B. Mushlin, weighs in on a proposed New York regulation, I.D. No. CMC-14-13-00010-P regarding inmate access to legal reference materials. The notice of the proposed regulation was published on April 3, 2013 and is available here starting on page 5. Public comment will be received until 45 days after publication of the notice.


In a society that operates under the rule of law access to the courts is the most basic right.  Without the accountability that courts provide, rights that exist on paper can easily become only that. This is especially true for incarcerated persons for whom the right of access to the courts is the “foundation of every other right an inmate has.”  Michael B. Mushlin, Rights of Prisoners, §12:1 (4th ed. 2010).  It has long been recognized that an important way to implement the right is to provide access to legal materials contained in law libraries.  Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977).  See also, Lewis v. Casey, 518 US. 343 (1996) (inmates who lose claims or defenses that they might win if they had access to legal materials have been deprived of a constitutional right of access to the courts).  The New York State Commission on Corrections has implemented the right of access to the courts by requiring all jails in the state to maintain small collections of essential legal materials governing New York State criminal law and some basic information about the constitutional rights of incarcerated people. The Commission is empowered under New York law to set standards for New York’s many jails holding pretrial detainees and persons serving misdemeanor sentences,

Now, however, the Commission proposes to abandon this simple requirement by amending its rule to eliminate the requirement that these legal materials be on site. Under the proposed amendments people who are held in these local facilities that choose to eliminate these small libraries will be limited to submitting written requests for material from other libraries with no guarantee the material will be delivered until the passage of three days following the request. (Alternatively, and less harshly, jails could establish computer terminals with online access but this would be limited only to New York state case law digests).  To make matters worse in a little noticed addition to the proposal, the Commission seeks to eliminate the obligation that inmates be given access to typewriters on which to prepare legal papers. In its place the Commission would only require that inmates be given access to “black ink pens” with which to write their legal submissions.  It is obvious, however, that typed or printed papers are more accessible to the judiciary than are handwritten document.  See, e.g. United States ex rel. Wolfish v. Levi, 439 F. Supp. 114 (S.D.N.Y. 1977) (noting that typed papers “leap more vividly than handwritten ones to the watery judicial eye.”). These limitations on essential rights of incarcerated persons are imposed to achieve a small savings of a mere $5,000 per year per jail. The price tag for deprivation of constitutional rights has rarely been set so low. One can only hope that the Commission will on reflection abandon this proposal to limit the right of access to the courts.

Canine Searches: Fourth Amendment Issues

A recent article addresses the complicated fourth amendment and privacy issues raised by canine searches and collects the relevant cases, law reviews, reports, ALRs, and other related articles. See Canine Assisted Investigation in the Borderlands of Privacy by Ken Strutin.