Menu Close

Washington and Lee Law Review - Developments

Development

by Scott R. Thomas & Mystica M. Alexander

In an effort to address gun violence, activists and victims’ families have filed lawsuits against the firearms industry seeking damage awards for violence committed by third party unrelated actors. Although Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) in 2005 intending to foreclose such lawsuits, since the time of the law’s passage, plaintiffs have brought claims against the firearms industry seeking refuge in an exception embedded in the statute. In a March, 2019 decision, Soto v. Bushmaster Firearms International, LLC, the Connecticut Supreme Court found that the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act fell within an exception to the PLCAA. In that case, families of the victims of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting sought to hold those in the chain of distribution of the weapon used in the attack accountable for the harm that resulted from their “unethical, oppressive, immoral, and unscrupulous” marketing of that product. The court allowed this case to proceed on its merits.

This Essay addresses the court’s decision and its implications for lawsuits in other jurisdictions. More specifically, the authors believe that the court wrongly interpreted the PLCAA’s legislative history, reached an incorrect conclusion, and lit a path to the courthouse steps for other plaintiffs with similar claims in certain other jurisdictions.

Development

by Daniel M. Coble

At the age of 17, Donte Lamar Jones shot and killed a store clerk as she laid down on the floor during a robbery. He was spared the death penalty by agreeing instead to die in prison at the end of his life.

Two years later in Virginia, 12 individuals were murdered for doing nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those individuals were killed by Lee Malvo and John Muhammad, better known as the “D.C. Snipers.” While John Muhammad was given the death penalty for his heinous crimes, Lee Malvo, who was 17 during the murder spree, was given a life sentence. What these two cases have in common is one issue: as juveniles they were both condemned to die in prison. What separates their cases is their legal challenges and how two different courts have ruled—one federal, one state. While the facts of their cases might be different, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cases across the United States that reflect similar legal proceedings, and until the Supreme Court clarifies its position, more state and federal courts will reach different conclusions.

Development

by Bridget J. Crawford

The word “trust” has multiple meanings. In everyday speech, it refers to a feeling of confidence associated with integrity, such as trusting that a friend will keep a secret. In the financial context, some law students, lawyers and lucky individuals also understand that a trust is a near-magical device that splits legal and equitable title. A trustee holds formal legal title to property for the benefit of a beneficiary simply because the grantor declares it to be so. By turning the spotlight on “trust,” in both senses of the word, one can discern fault lines in contemporary U.S. political and legal structures. These are made even plainer when examined through the lens of ongoing litigation involving human embryos created by actress Sofia Vergara and her former fiancé.

Just as termites can enter homes through foundational cracks or wood brought from the outside, interpersonal, community or structural confidence may erode in the face of hostility, indifference or inequality. Similarly, as termites can slowly damage a home over a period of years before the harm becomes visible, the beneficial form of ownership known as a trust gradually–and then suddenly– has morphed almost beyond recognition over the last twenty-five years. Eaten away are the traditional limitations on trust duration, trust modification and the type of property that can be held in trust. In some states, irrevocable trusts can last forever, be decanted to another trust with entirely different terms, or even hold legal “title” to human embryos. These changes to centuries of trust law reveal changing attitudes about wealth, property ownership, and personal autonomy. If society truly values equal opportunity for all people, then trust–and trusts–need attention.

Development

by Kristine L. Bowman

Ongoing education reform litigation arising out of Detroit, Michigan presents an innovative claim: Children have an unenumerated federal constitutional right of access to literacy. On June 29, 2018, the district court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss. The case is now on appeal to the Sixth Circuit and is expected to be argued in the first half of 2019. This litigation has already broken new ground and, regardless of the ultimate outcome, it is valuable because it invites us to revisit fundamental questions about rights, remedies, and the role of courts in education reform.

Development

by Margaret Ryznar

Recently, legislative efforts have taken aim at sexual harassment in the workplace. Among these may be a surprising but effective approach—disallowing tax deductions for sexual harassment settlements subject to non-disclosure agreements. This Essay analyzes such a 2017 tax reform provision.

Development

by Julian Redmond Murphy

In recent years body-worn cameras have been championed by community groups, scholars, and the courts as a potential check on police misconduct. Such has been the enthusiasm for body-worn cameras that, in a relatively short time, they have been rolled out to police departments across the country. Perhaps because of the optimism surrounding these devices there has been little consideration of the Fourth Amendment issues they pose, especially when they are coupled with facial recognition technology (FRT). There is one particular context in which police use of FRT equipped body-worn cameras is especially concerning: public protests. This Comment constitutes the first scholarly treatment of this issue. Far from a purely academic exercise, the police use of FRT equipped body-worn cameras at public protests is sure to confront the courts soon. Many police departments have, or will soon have, body-worn cameras equipped with real time FRT and a number of police departments do not prohibit their members from recording public protests. Although primarily descriptive—exploring the state of current Fourth Amendment doctrine by predicting its application to a hypothetical scenario—this Comment has a normative subtext; namely, suggesting that First Amendment values can strengthen the Fourth Amendment’s protections against the tide of technologically enhanced mass surveillance.

Development

by Rene Reyes

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) recently declared that the Commonwealth’s statutory ban on stun guns violates the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The SJC had previously upheld the statute against constitutional challenge in Commonwealth v. Caetano, but the reasoning behind this holding was rejected in a brief per curium opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. However, the guidance given by the Supreme Court in the Caetano litigation was far from unambiguous: it faulted the SJC’s reasoning without opining on the ultimate question of the ban’s constitutionality, thus leaving open the possibility that the statute could pass constitutional muster under an alternative analytic approach. This essay discusses what such an alternative approach might have looked like. Specifically, I suggest that the SJC could have upheld the statutory ban by emphasizing the relative rarity of stun guns as a preferred means of self-defense not only as a matter of founding era history, but also as a matter of contemporary reality. This sort of analysis would have allowed the SJC to distinguish stun guns from other weapons that have received constitutional protection in other cases, and would have been fully consistent with both the scope and limitations of the right to bear arms under the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment jurisprudence.

Development

by Carl Tobias

President Donald Trump constantly reminds United States citizens about the myriad circuit and district court appointments that his White House is making to the federal judiciary. Last September, Trump proposed the seventh “wave,” which included three people of color among sixteen judicial nominees. This wave permitted the administration to triple the number of ethnic minority picks whom it had selected, which means that the Executive Branch has proffered ten persons of color in 113 appeals court and district court submissions, yet none is a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) individual. Nevertheless, a problematic pattern, which implicates a stunning lack of ethnic-minority, LGBT, and female nominees rather swiftly arose, even though the administration is relatively nascent. Because when Trump captured the White House he pledged to serve as the President of all U.S. citizens, because diversity has great significance, and because the 140 current lower court vacancies provide an exceptionally rare opportunity, the striking paucity of minority representation in Trump’s federal court nominees deserves evaluation.
The initial section of this piece surveys why increased diversity is essential, detecting that improved minority representation enhances the quality of court opinions, confines ethnic, sexual-preference, and gender biases which undermine justice and expands public confidence in the judiciary. The segment also reviews how modern Presidents have addressed diversity when nominating and confirming jurists. The second part considers the record which the Trump White House has assembled, finding that it compiled the weakest one since President Ronald Reagan served when substantially fewer people of color, LGBT individuals or women were practicing lawyers. The third section analyzes the record’s consequences. Because the Trump presidency only commenced in 2017 and the executive has considerable time for treating this dearth, the final segment provides recommendations which might help place numerous minority, LGBT, and female jurists on the federal courts.

Development

by Thomas M. DiBiagio

A fundamental principle of criminal law is that to hold a defendant accountable, the prosecution must prove that he culpably participated in the criminal activity. To prove culpable participation, the government can prove a defendant’s direct knowledge of and active participation in the criminal conduct. However, because of the nature of financial crimes and corporate misconduct, culpable targets often are able to insulate themselves from the underlying criminal conduct and thereby, frustrate the prosecution’s ability to meet this evidentiary standard. The resulting impunity undermines the public’s trust and confidence in the fundamental fairness of the enforcement of the criminal laws.

This Article asserts that the facilitation theory of prosecution can be used to extend the limits of the mail and wire fraud statute to capture culpable targets for financial crimes and corporate corruption. Under the facilitation theory, a defendant culpably participates in criminal conduct when he knowingly acts to influence, enable, further, or conceal the criminal conduct.

Although there are no legal barriers to bringing financial crimes and corporate corruption in full view, it is acknowledged that there are substantial factual challenges. These cases often involve complex fact patterns and shifting narratives. Nevertheless, the interest of justice compel a persistent effort by prosecutors to establish real consequences for facilitating corporate criminal conduct.

Development

by Benjamin M. Flowers

The constitutional-doubt canon instructs that statutes should be interpreted in a way that avoids placing their constitutionality in doubt. This canon is often said to rest on the presumption that Congress does not intend to exceed its constitutional authority. That presumption, however, is inconsistent with the notion that government actors tend to exceed their lawful authority—a notion that motivates our constitutional structure, and in particular the series of checks and balances that the Constitution creates. This tension between the constitutional-doubt canon and the Constitution’s structure would be acceptable if the canon accurately reflected the manner in which the public understands legislative enactments. But it doesn’t. Thus, the only possible justification for the constitutional-doubt canon is stare decisis.

css.php