Season 2


BONUS: 2016 recap + 2017 preview


As the Criminal Injustice team takes a break for the holidays, we take a moment to look back at some of our favorite episodes of the year and preview what's coming up in Season 3.

New episodes return in January, but keep checking in over the next few weeks as we repost some of the best episodes of 2016.




The NAACP used the legal system to overcome separate but equal, desegregate schools and public facilities, and bring some measure of equal justice to African Americans living under Jim Crow laws in the U.S. What role does this legendary organization have now in the era of Black Lives Matter, and how would Thurgood Marshall interpret it all?

Christina Swarns is Director of Litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She tells us what the organization does in the modern era and how its litigators work to solve problems still plaguing racial minorities in a flawed criminal justice system.

Want to know more about the late, great Thurgood Marshall? Start with Gilbert King's "Devil in the Grove."

Learn more about the "decidedly lopsided argument" presented in defense of Texas death row inmate Duane Buck that Swarns represented to the U.S. Supreme Court last month. 




More than ten years ago, states began passing Stand Your Ground Laws: the laws said people defending themselves could use force, even deadly force, in any public place where they had a right to be.  Proponents said we’d be safer from crime and especially violence and murder.  

More than a decade later, we ask Dr. John Roman, a senior researcher at NORC-University of Chicago to tell us what we the facts actually show.  Do these laws really make us safer?  Dr. Roman has spent years engaged in research on all aspects of the justice system, and has studied the racial impacts of Stand Your Ground laws.  He was also a member of the American Bar Association’s National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws.  


BONUS: stop & frisk in the time of trump


Can President Donald Trump order local law enforcement to practice stop-and-frisk policing?




Do the legal rules for using deadly force, set by the Supreme Court in the 1980s, still make sense? Do they protect the officer and the public, or is it time to change how police make the decision to take a life?

Author, expert and former officer Dr. David Klinger talks police-involved shootings, cell phone video and best practices for deescalation. He's studied police use of force for 25 years and published a book on the topic, Into the Kill Zone.

Klinger spoke on these issues on NPR's All Things Considered and with the New York Times.

I think there is nothing more important for the government to track than the numbers of times that government agents try to kill people.
— Dr. David Klinger

BONUS: what does the trump presidency mean for criminal injustice?


What will the U.S. Department of Justice look like under President Trump? And how will its role in overseeing local law enforcement change? We unpack a few of the possible scenarios.




When a sexual assault occurs, police encourage the victim to complete a “rape kit” – a standardized procedure to collect evidence needed to find and prosecute the assailant.  But instead of rapid usage of this evidence, tens of thousands of the completed kits still sit in police warehouses – untested and waiting.  

Dr. Kelly Walsh, forensic scientist at the Urban Institute, helps us understand what behind the huge failure that is the rape kit backlog, and she helps us understand what to do about it.


BONUS: race, criminal justice, and the Supreme Court


Analysis of recent SCOTUS cases that grapple with the role of race in criminal justice.




When police officers get in trouble, we think their law enforcement careers end. But some resign before they’re canned and move on to serve – creating new and bigger problems  in other police departments. Is this legal? What about background checks? Does anyone track this?

Professor Roger Goldman of St. Louis University has been the top expert on the issue for years. Goldman tells us about police licensing and gives us his ideas for a national database to stop this problem.

Read more on the crux of the issue, and where castout officers often land.


BONUS: All Apologies


The International Association of Chiefs of Police recently issued an apology for "historical injustices" against people of color by law enforcement officers. How significant is this statement, and how likely is it to influence police-community relations?




What would innovation in probation look like? For years, it’s meant reporting to your agent, obeying conditions set by the court, drug testing – and eventually, you screw up and go back to jail. The only constants were huge caseloads and high failure rates.

Wayne McKenzie, General Counsel to the New York City Department of Probation, says change is here in the form of Neighborhood Opportunity Networks and their growing cohort of city partnerships

New thinking, borrowed from progressive policing and social justice programs, has made probation a genuine launching pad for a second chance and public safety.




DNA exonerations have proven that some people confess to serious crimes they didn’t commit, even without physical abuse or mental illness. Why would anyone do this? Do police cause this, intentionally or not, because of the questioning techniques they use? And what can we do to make sure this doesn’t occur? 

Richard Leo is one of the world’s experts on police interrogation and false confessions. He’s done trailblazing work on confessions and how police tactics produce them for decades, building a substantial body of work. 

His book Police Interrogation and American Justice (2008) won multiple awards; The Wrong Guys: Murder, False Confessions, and the Norfolk Four (2008), written for a general audience with journalist Tom Wells, is one of the most compelling stories you’ll ever come across on the incredible power of false confessions. View a sampling of his substantial body of academic work here.

PBS Frontline produced a documentary on the Norfolk Four case called “The Confessions” in 2010.

(Reid & Associates) have this belief, which is completely contradicted by the science — it’s really a delusion — that they can train investigators to tell whether you’re lying or whether you’re telling the truth based on your body language... The process is designed for people who are believed to be guilty. There’s no out for people who are innocent.
— Richard Leo

Bonus: did donald trump's recorded comments describe a sexual assault? 


We can't know definitively whether Donald Trump's taped remarks about groping women refer to events that actually took place as described. But if they did... did the GOP presidential nominee commit sexual assault? The answer, under New York law, is unequivocally 'yes.'

[Note: this episode quotes directly from the Trump tape, and therefore includes language that may not be suitable for children]




Since the mid 1980s, mandatory minimum drug sentences have served as the driving force behind the explosion in the federal prison population, and also the vast racial disproportionality in that population.  

A new documentary, Incarcerarting US, released in September of 2016, tells the story of how this happened, and the film features our guest, Eric Sterling.  In 1986, Sterling was then a lawyer on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee, and it fell to him to draft the language that became law and resulted in mandatory prison sentences for many thousands of people for possession of relatively small amounts of drugs, primarily crack cocaine.  

Sterling has spent the last 27 years attempting to correct these mistakes. He is the Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, and also helped found Families Against Mandatory Minimums. He testifies regularly in Congress on drug laws and other matters of criminal justice policy.



BONUS: eroding faith in body cams 


The fallout from recent police shootings has some questioning the value of body cameras as a check on improper use of force. But the technology can only be as good as the policy governing its use.




The Serial podcast, and its host Sarah Koenig, pulled off two amazing feats. Serial broke podcasting open: it was the first podcast to see 5 million downloads and now has well over 80 million. But it also pointed the lens of a full, in-depth journalistic examination on just one murder case.  

Our vast criminal justice system forces us to think about big issues like fairness and safety, but what can we learn from a deep examination of a single case, in which we dive as far as we can to learn every detail? 

Serial host and co-producer Sarah Koenig answers these questions and more. She's also a regular contributor to This American Life.


BONUS: what the presidential debate got wrong about stop & frisk


There was a lot of talk about New York's controversial stop-and-frisk policy in Monday's presidential debate -- much of it incorrect. Donald Trump was called out for spreading misinformation, but he wasn't the only one who got something wrong. 

courtesy Pittsburgh Public Safety Dept.

courtesy Pittsburgh Public Safety Dept.



Police departments in the U.S. are under scrutiny like never before. Calls for change are the only constant.  So how does a police chief lead a department in this climate?  And what’s most important as we look forward, two years after Ferguson?

Chief Cameron McLay is the Chief of Pittsburgh’s Police Bureau. He came to the job in 2014 with 30 years of experience in law enforcement and in training police for leadership roles, and he talks with us about the challenges of one of the toughest jobs imaginable: building and leading a 21st century police department.  

Music: "Finally Home (Before Dawn Cypher Beat)" by Ryan Little




A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice projects an uptick in U.S. murder rates by the end of 2016. But, as David cautions, the data paint an incomplete picture of a complicated situation.




We see it over and over: police officers confront a person in the throes of mental illness. Some of these people may be dangerous; most are not violent, but they are confused, disturbed, and not acting rationally. Police officers are trained for a different job: detecting and preventing crime and disorder, and too often, things go terribly wrong, resulting in violence and even the death of a person with a mental illness. 

There’s a new way to deal with this chronic problem: training for police officers using the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) approach. CIT training helps police officers understand and recognize the symptoms of mental illness, and it gives them tools to defuse and deescalate situations with mentally ill persons so they can be stabilized and they and the public can be safe.

Master Police Officer Patricia Poloka of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police teaches the model in Pittsburgh.

The Washington Post found in August 2016 that 20 percent of Baltimore's use of force incidents included persons with mental illness, even when they posed no threat.

The CIT approach was founded at the University of Memphis and piloted by the Memphis Police Department. Read their research here

PBS did a deep dive on the model in 2015. Check it out here.




The prosecutor sits in a powerful position in the American criminal justice system, deciding who to charge and with what, and wielding significant discretion.  Some prosecutors use this power to focus narrowly on crime but George Gascon, District Attorney in San Francisco, CA, uses his office to attempt to better the system, to increase public safety, and to make his city a stronger community.  

From the “Neighborhood Courts” restorative justice program to the creation of a “Behavioral Health Justice Center” model for handling mentally ill people in the justice system, District Attorney Gascon stands out for both innovation and compassion.

Angela Erickson



The U.S. is the land of due process and constitutional rights. So how do police get the right to seize the property of citizens without criminal convictions, often without even criminal charges? The answer is civil asset forfeiture: an old tool designed to take away the ill-gotten gains of big-time criminals, but it’s morphed into a way for police departments to seize money and property from regular people and keep it to fund their own operations.

Guest Angela Erickson is with the Institute for Justice, a non-profit organization that has worked to expose the injustice of civil asset forfeiture. The Institute’s special report, “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” shines a powerful light on how we got here and why civil asset forfeiture must go.

Check out the Washington Post series “Stop and Seize" here.


BONUS: can you force prosecutorial reform at the ballot box?

george soros thinks so.


An addendum to our recent episode on elected prosecutors and the political entanglements they face: David shares news of a $3 million campaign funded by financier George Soros to unseat district attorneys in six states. 




In our state legal systems, elected county prosecutors decide who gets tried and on what charges.  With this great power, are there any limits? With controversy surrounding the investigation of police misconduct in so many cities, should local prosecutors be the ones deciding whether to charge police officers?

Stephen Zappala now serves as the elected district attorney of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania which includes the city of Pittsburgh and over one hundred other municipalities.  He has served as District Attorney since 1998, and was elected to his fifth four-year term in 2015.  Mr. Zappala has created prosecution units focusing on such crimes as child abuse, domestic violence, insurance fraud, and most recently, elder abuse. He’s also been on the forefront of efforts to begin innovation and change in criminal justice in Pennsylvania, working with the statewide prosecutors association and police groups.  


BONUS: getting tough on "america's toughest sheriff"


Less than a month after addressing the Republican National Convention, the man who calls himself America's toughest sheriff -- Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona -- could be facing criminal contempt charges in federal court.

David spoke with reporter Jude Joffe-Block of Phoenix public radio station KJZZ, who covered the story for NPR this week. On this bonus episode, we follow up that report with further analysis of an extraordinarily unusual situation




To get released before trial, most American courts require defendants to post bail money. For people too poor to raise even the lowest amounts, this means staying in jail while waiting for trial to begin. Regardless of guilt, those with means can walk free to prepare from afar. Staying in jail awaiting trial damages both lives and legal cases: people in custody lose jobs, housing, and property, and statistics show that they end up with longer sentences if they’re found guilty. And all of this costs taxpayers billions. But there's a better way.

Judge Truman Morrison of the District of Columbia Superior Court told the Washington Post, “We’ve proven it can work without money, but the whole country continues as if in a trance to do what we know does not work,” and he's a man of his word. D.C. courts can’t hold people before trial just because they can’t raise bail money. Courts use a combination of non-financial conditions to make sure defendants show up for court and don’t get re-arrested while awaiting trial. And guess what? It works.

The U.S. Department of Justice just announced it would support a challenge to the constitutionality of bail "schedules" used by Georgia and other states, arguing that these set schedules for bail payments discriminate against the poor. Read up here.

There is no evidence you need money to get people back to court. It’s irrational, ineffective, unsafe and profoundly unfair.
— Superior Court Judge Truman Morrison, District of Columbia



Pimps and sex traffickers have long been part of the dark side of the economy, but they now use the internet for their ugly business.  And some of this involves trafficking underage girls for sex.  Our guest has pioneered an approach to meeting this challenge with a distinctively 21st-century solution: using algorithmic analysis on big data to identify and catch sex traffickers who operate online. 

Cara Jones is the chief operating officer of Marinus Analytics.  At Marinus, she and co-founder Emily Kennedy have brought Traffic Jam, their analytic software, to law enforcement agencies, resulting in the arrests of internet pimps and traffickers, and the rescue of many young women.


Episode 18


The tattered system for supplying criminal defense services to the poor is a shambles. More than 50 years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared that persons charged with crimes must be provided with a defense lawyer if they are too poor to afford one, that promise has been broken. In countless places around the U.S., governments simply do not provide the resources for poor people charged with crimes to have a real defense. The result: defense lawyers with impossible caseloads struggling to meet the constitutional minimum standards for defense. It’s a national scandal, and yet year after year, state and local governments do too little – or nothing – to fix it.

Jonathan Rapping has an answer. Rapping, a lawyer, law professor and 2014 McArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellow, is the founder and president of Gideon’s Promise, a national organization that trains public defense lawyers from throughout the country.

Rapping and his group were also profiled in Essence Magazine. Find more here.

All across the country public defenders have been stymied in their attempts to stand up and say ‘We don’t have enough money. We can predict with certainty our clients will fall through the cracks.’ And the courts have been saying, ‘Well let’s wait until they fall through the cracks. You can then bring that to our attention one case at a time.’
— Jon Rapping, Gideon's Promise



In the second part of our look at what things might look at after the War on Drugs, we turn to Portugal. This country, a member of the European Union, decriminalized the possession of all drugs in amounts sufficient for personal use. You read that right: Portugal decriminalized all drugs – heroin, cocaine, you name it – and turned completely toward a public health outlook, and away from a law enforcement model.

It’s unfortunate that it [had to] get to this point for our opinions to start changing. But at the same time, if this is the moment to change, we need to seize the oportunity.
— Kellen Russoniello

How does the system work? Has it reduced the toll of drug use and the criminal justice costs associated with it? We talk with Kellen Russoniello, Staff Attorney for Health and Drug Policy at the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. Russoniello is the author of “The Devil (and Drugs) in the Details: Portugal's Focus on Public Health as a Model for Decriminalization of Drugs in Mexico,” published in the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law and Ethics.




More than four decades after President Richard Nixon first declared the War on Drugs, the U.S. is at a crossroads. We can’t arrest and jail our way out of the problem, and a small but growing number of jurisdictions are decriminalizing cannabis. So what is the next step? 

In the first of a two-part series, David looks at Colorado two years after the decriminalization of the sale, possession and use of cannabis-based drugs with Professor Sam Kamin of the University of Denver, Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy. 

Have the predictions come true, and what can other states glean from the canary in the coal mine?




With every shooting incident, study, and official statement, one demand always appears: better training for police.  It’s easy to say and a no brainer to support, but what does that actually mean? 

In this episode, we hear from Deputy Commissioner Tracie Keesee, the person in charge of making these changes in the New York Police Department – the big dog of American law enforcement.  She tells us what she has in mind, and what it’s been like to be a woman of color going from a rookie in the Denver Police Department to the top of the NYPD.  Deputy Commissioner Keesee was also one of the founders of the Center for Policing Equity.


BONUS: Thoughts on a violent week


One week after the killings of Philando Castile in Minnesota, Alton Sterling in Louisiana, and five police officers in Texas, David Harris reflects on the deepening crisis in U.S. law enforcement.




Big Data has come to policing. Departments nationwide with lots of data and robust analysis capability say they can predict where crime may occur, and maybe even who will be involved as perpetrator or victim. Does this help police fight crime? And if it does, what are the downsides for citizens and civil liberties?

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson is a Professor of Law at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia.

Want more on predictive policing? Check out Ferguson's full 2014 article here. He published on a similar topic in the Emory Law Journal in 2012. Read that here.

He's also the author of Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen's Guide To Constitutional Matters.

The Fourth Amendment requires ‘reasonable suspicion’ to seize a suspect ... based on ‘small data’ – discrete facts involving limited information and little knowledge about the suspect. But what if this small data is replaced by ‘big data’? What if police can ‘know’ about the suspect through new networked information sources? Or, what if predictive analytics can forecast who will be the likely troublemakers in a community?
— Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, "Big Data and Predictive Reasonable Suspicion"



Walt Pavlo had a good job, a family, a nice home. He never planned on going to prison. Now that he's out, he has a new job: counseling others who are about to enter the system.

Pavlo is the founder of, the blogger behind 500 Pearl Street, and the author of Stolen Without A Gun: Confessions from Inside History's Biggest Accounting Fraud.


Bonus episode!


David breaks down this week's news from the U.S. Supreme Court on 90.5 WESA's Essential Pittsburgh.

The high court ended its 2016-2016 term Tuesday with major rulings on abortion, affirmative action, government corruption and more.




In each of 93 federal districts in America, the United States Attorney is the chief federal prosecutor and law enforcement officer. The U.S. Attorney has immense responsibilities and great power, deciding what cases to pursue, who to charge, and what priorities to set. At least as important, the U.S. Attorney decides who not to charge and when to drop cases for lack of evidence. The job isn’t just to get convictions; it’s to do justice.

David Hickton is the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.




With hundreds of exonerations of the wrongfully convicted, it’s easy to think that the law and lawyers making use of DNA have made all the difference. But investigative journalists have made huge contributions: exposing shoddy forensics, showing the public how eyewitness testimony goes wrong and how false confessions get made, and confronting police wrongdoing and lack of accountability. Without the untiring efforts of reporters, much of the injustice in the criminal system would stay hidden.

Maurice Possley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and was a four-time Pulitzer finalist during his 25 years with the Chicago Tribune. He is currently a writer and researcher for the National Registry of Exonerations.

Check out Possley's Tribune series on criminal justice and the death penalty here.




With the public discussion of police misconduct and lack of trust at a fever pitch, the loudest voices often dominate. We need the insight of a person with the experience of a police officer, with deep knowledge of the law and social science, and with the oral and verbal skills of a great public communicator. Enter this week's guest.

Seth Stoughton is a former police officer and a current Assistant Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

You could probably figure out how many radishes were imported into the United States last year, but you can’t figure out how many times officers pulled their triggers. That’s really embarrassing.
— Seth Stoughton

Stoughton spoke to NPR about data initiatives that would force better police transparency and said it's "misleading" to compare the number of police officers killed year over year. More on the latter here.

He also told the New York Times that body cameras could increase transparency but argued a camera's point of view is almost as vital as the footage it takes. Check out his videos here.

And #spoileralert: This week's "Lawyers Behaving Badly" nods its cap to the Orange County Register and... wait for it... Dr. Phil.




The federal judge sits astride the American justice system; few positions accord a person such responsibility, power and respect. But if it's really a plum gig, what would make a federal judge walk away? How does a judge cope with an unjust system?

Robert Cindrich is a former U.S. District Court judge and former United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. He is now of counsel to the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal and Lewis.