SEason 3


Bonus: Why the Joe Arpaio Pardon Spells Trouble


The presidential pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio was a message to Donald Trump's supporters: if you defy a federal court order, I've got your back. David explains how the notorious Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff was convicted of contempt of court, and why his pardon sets a dangerous precedent.

Bonus: Trump to cops: "please don't be too nice"


There's been a vocal response to President Trump's remarks before an audience of police officers last week where he seemed to encourage "roughing up" suspects during the course of an arrest. The president's defenders say it was a joke, but many law enforcement professionals aren't laughing.

bonus: What Happened to Justine Damond?


Details are still sparse in the fatal shooting of 40-year-old Justine Damond, an Australian national, by Minneapolis police on July 15. But what we do know points to a serious problem with the relationship between police and the people who rely on them for protection and safety.


Episode 60


The federal government doesn't record anything when police shoot civilians, and there's no official national database to tell us how big or complex the problem is.

One newspaper journalist says he learned a lot requesting documents from more than 400 jurisdictions in his home state alone. In six years and more than 800 shootings, not one incident resulted in criminal charges.

Ben Montgomery is an award-winning reporter for the Tampa Bay Times whose piece “Why Cops Shoot” was published earlier this year. He's also the author of "Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail.”

Check out unofficial national databases about police-involved shootings from The Washington Post and The Guardian U.S.

You’re more likely to be charged as police officer in the state of Florida if you shoot and miss than if you shoot and hit your target.
— Ben Montgomery, on Criminal Injustice

Bonus: another mistrial in the police-involved shooting of sam dubose


Ohio prosecutors have declined to seek a third trial against a white University of Cincinnati police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man during a 2015 traffic stop. 


Episode 59


James Comey wasn’t the nation’s embattled former FBI Director in 2002; he was the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan. It was around then that he gave a speech to a group of fellow attorneys -- men and women with impeccable courtroom records. He had a few... harsh words.

Some of the biggest banks and financial institutions had a big part in the 2008 crash. Millions lost homes, jobs and savings – yet no one at the top went to jail.

Our guest says it’s because federal prosecutors have lost the will, the skill and the need to prosecute the executives who did the damage.

Jesse Eisinger, senior reporter at ProPublica, is the author of “The Chickenshit Club: Why the Department of Justice Fails to Prosecute Executives” just published by Simon & Schuster.

Can't get enough? Check out Eisinger's radio-friendly conversation with NPR's Terry Gross on Fresh Air here.


Bonus: Did Donald Trump Jr. Commit Treason?


The latest bombshell development in the Trump-Russia affair -- news of Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer he hoped would provide him with incriminating information on Hillary Clinton -- has prompted some pretty intense rhetoric. Intimations of "treason," for instance. But does the concept apply here? We examine the legal definition of treason in the context of Trump and Russia. 

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Episode 58


We hear it all the time: law enforcement needs to change for the 21st century. But what does "21st century policing" actually mean, and how would that police department be different than what we have now?

Ronald Davis, principal consultant with 21st Century Policing LLC and former head of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, helped write the blueprint under President Obama. He’ll tell us where policing is now, and where it needs to go.

Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing here.


Episode 57


In the last 25 years, DNA has become a tool of unparalleled power, solving the coldest cases and overturning guilty verdicts based on faulty forensics, false confessions, and bad eyewitness identification. But a new process for analyzing DNA using computers means that now, DNA can be even more powerful, faster and more accurate.

How are the organizations and individuals who use traditional DNA analysis taking this? Our guest is Dr. Mark Perlin, Chief Executive and Chief Scientific Officer of Cybergenetics, Inc. He’ll explain why we need a better method, how it works, and where criminal justice officials have welcomed his work – and where they have fought it.

Read how Cybergenetics solved a cold case in Schenectady, NY, resulting in a conviction here.


Bonus: When Video Evidence Isn't Enough


The Minnesota police officer who killed Philando Castile has been acquitted, despite video evidence of the shooting seen by the jury. How did this happen? 

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Episode 56


A chief of police has to lead officers toward a strong relationship with the communities they serve, but in the past, the same department may have participated in or enforced racial discrimination and injustice.

That history can prevent healing and can make police reform a nonstarter.

One police chief decided he needed to apologize for an incident 77 years ago: a lynching in his small Georgia town in 1940.

LaGrange Police Chief Louis Dekmar explains why he apologized for a crime that occurred years before he was born and why it should still matter to residents today.


Bonus: What Happens After a Mistrial?


The rape trial of Bill Cosby has ended in a mistrial. What happens next?


Episode 55


Being a federal judge is a lawyer’s dream job – lifetime tenure, sophisticated cases and a good salary, too. So why did a well-respected federal trial judge in Tennessee give it all up just six years in?

Kevin Sharp explains what was so troubling about Jeff Sessions' endorsement of mandatory minimum prison sentences last month. Critics argue minimums disproportionately affect minorities and are part of the failed war on drugs

Sharp said they're also pushing experienced judges like himself to step down.


Bonus: What is Obstruction of Justice, Anyway?


Three words you may have been hearing a lot lately: "obstruction of justice." What's the legal definition of obstruction? How is it prosecuted? And could a charge like that ever apply to President Donald Trump? David has answers.


episode 54


Automatic license plate readers – those cameras on police cars and light poles that capture plate numbers – have been in widespread use since the 1990s. But some argue regulations for how and how long police can use and store that information hasn’t kept up with the technology.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Nathan Freed Wessler with the Speech, Privacy & Technology Project says automatic plate readers are great for spotting stolen cars or wanted drivers, but they’re also watching the rest of us.


bonus: sCOTUS and Cell Phone Surveillance


The Supreme Court will hear Carpenter vs. United States, a case with major implications for police use of location data from cellular networks. David reviews what's at stake.


Episode 53


Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of federal efforts to fix forensic science in April, but not because the problems were solved. Why shut down the National Commission on Forensic Science now, just as better scientific standards were emerging? And what will it mean for wrongful convictions?

John Hollway, associate dean and executive director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, explains.

David wrote a book that touches on this and other topics. Check it out: Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science.

Every test has an error rate. There is no perfection in the universe. ... All we can really say is, ‘I believe this is a match.’
— John Hollway, on the Criminal Injustice podcast

Episode 52


The Trump administration has promised a return to "tough on crime" criminal justice policies, including a recent memo that instructs federal prosecutors to reverse Obama era reforms meant to curb mandatory minimum sentences.

But there’s a growing group of organized, well-funded reformers on the right who don’t agree.

R Street policy director Arthur Rizer says there’s a strong conservative argument for leniency and transparency.

It really boils down to the very nut of what conservatism stands for, which is a limited government. The worst thing the government can do to you, besides kill you, is to put you in jail.
— Arthur Rizer, on the Criminal Injustice podcast



With a jury now seated for the sexual assault trial of Bill Cosby, we preview some of the arguments prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to make.


Episode 51


Drone aircraft were developed as weapons of war, but now they have begun to find their way into domestic police work as well. Drones can help officers trace suspects or missing persons and could assess threats like toxic spills. But they pose a threat to privacy and criminal justice standards, too.

Cato Institute policy analyst Matthew Feeney says those those technological toys come with some serious privacy concerns.

Check out Governing Magazine’s 2013 map of law enforcement drone use here.

They’ll be able to see what kind of car you’re driving or perhaps even, given some technology, what you’re cooking on the grill on your porch.
— Matthew Feeney on Criminal Injustice



Analysis of Attorney General Jeff Sessions's May 10 memo directing federal prosecutors to pursue the strictest charges and the harshest sentences that "the evidence supports."


Episode 50


The exposure of wrongful convictions began in 1989, and it upended the idea that guilty verdicts were always trustworthy. When there’s a wrongful conviction, what has to happen to get a court to exonerate someone?

Marissa Boyers Bluestine is the Litigation Director for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, and she tells us what it’s really like, on the ground, working to establish innocence – after a guilty verdict.

Find more about the national arm of the Innocence Project here.


Bonus: What You Need to Know About the firing of james Comey


President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey has serious implications for the relationship between the FBI and the White House. What should we keep in mind as the story unfolds?




The last few years have exposed problems in policing: use of force, high-tech surveillance, and a lack of transparency. Our guest argues that the fault for this lies not just with the police, or the courts – it’s on us.

Barry Friedman is a Professor of Law and director of the Policing Project at New York University Law School. He says America systematically created a norm of undemocratic policing, and he has powerful arguments about how this hurts us as citizens and as a country. He’s also ready with sharp suggestions for how we can begin to fix things.

Check out his new book, "Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission" here


Bonus: What we mean when we talk about lethal injections


Arkansas is rushing to carry out eight executions in just two weeks. Why the hurry? The lethal injection drugs used by the state are nearing their expiration date.




Stingray cell phone simulators can capture personal data from your phone calls – who you’re talking to, your phone number and the contents of the call.

You won’t know it’s happening, and the Cato Institute’s Adam Bates says the FBI requires they stay a secret, "not just to the public, but also to courts, to legislators, even to defense attorneys. So there's so much that we still don't know about what police are doing with this technology.”

Read more about Stingrays with Bates' policy paper here, and check out who has one with this handy map from the ACLU.




High-speed chases down busy highways have become a news staple, as police attempt to arrest alleged criminals. But the people most often hurt by these scenes are the innocent civilians. Thousand have been injured or killed over the past few decades.

On this week’s episode of 90.5 WESA’s Criminal Injustice podcast, law professor and host David Harris talked to Dr. Geoff Alpert of the University of Carolina about whether these high-speed chases are really worth the cost.


Episode 46


Americans who live in high-crime neighborhoods often get portrayed as anti-police, but an Urban Institute study released in February shows something different: strong respect for the law and a willingness to help with public safety.

Pittsburgh-based journalist Brentin Mock says the U.S. Justice Department has it all wrong about black citizens’ willingness to help.

"What Police and Poor Communities Really Think of Each Other," CityLab, Feb. 23, 2017

Mock also cites a recent Pew Research study that found one in five police officers frequently feel angry and frustrated on the job.

To summarize (Black Lives Matter) as anti-police bias is simplifying it. I believe that the people who engage in these marches, most of them, are marching specifically against the actions of rogue police, against overly aggressive police, overzealous police, you know, violent police. Specifically, police who are violent against people in black communities. It’s not an anti-police bias, it’s an anti-rogue police bias.
— Brentin Mock, speaking to 90.5 WESA

Episode 45


American juries are composed of 12 ordinary citizens tasked with bringing justice to the downtrodden and common sense to the law – no easy job. But who actually gets to serve? Research out of North Carolina shows some people get removed from jury pools much more often than others.

Ron Wright is the Needham Yancey Gulley Professor of Criminal Law at Wake Forest School of Law. 


Episode 44


Racial reconciliation – an attempt to speak plainly about racial strife between police and citizens of color – is a necessary step toward comprehensive police reform. It’s important, and no doubt difficult – but what does it actually look and feel like on the ground?

Aseante Hylick builds these conversations across the U.S.


Bonus: The trouble with ice detainers


Attorney General Jeff Sessions is warning local law enforcement agencies to comply with requests from federal immigration authorities to assist them in detaining people suspected of being in the country illegally -- or face consequences. But as David explains, there could also be serious consequences for communities that do comply.


Episode 43


Efforts to oversee police several decades ago resulted in hundreds of complaint review boards that investigate individual complaints. But a new type of oversight is gaining traction – one in which appointed civilians look at whole departments and how they do their jobs.

Independent police auditor Walter Katz of San Jose, California, says a police organization's investigative process is as important as its findings.

Find more about the National Association for Citizen Oversight of Law Enforcement here.

We are not an advocate for the police department and nor are we an advocate for a certain outcome, which may be favored by the public.
— Walter Katz, Independent Police Auditor, San Jose, Calif.

Bonus: What Do We Know About neil gorsuch?


David follows up on this week's Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.


Episode 42


When a group of people is given great power to watch over the rest of us, how do we make sure they use that power correctly?

Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board was created in 1997 to do just that. Its investigators weigh in on individual complaints and issue findings independent of city leadership and department administrators.

Executive Director Elizabeth Pittinger, one of the longest-serving police oversight officials in the country, said that independence gives the CPRB some insulation from political interference and public opinion.


Episode 41


President Donald Trump has called for a return to “law and order” policing and shown support for stop and frisk and heavy use of force. Many modern police leaders aren’t buying in.

One non-member, nonpartisan organization conducts field studies with real cops to find more nuanced, data-driven ways to reduce crime. Police Foundation President Jim Bueermann says scientific evidence should be the criminal justice system’s first and only guide.

Check out their 2017 report, Reducing Violent Crime in America’s Cities: An Opportunity to Lead -- co-authored with the Major Cities Chiefs Association -- here.


Bonus: march 2017 SCOTUS UPDATE

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered rulings last week on two cases involving race and jury proceedings. We break down the decisions and get analysis on their implications.

Bonus: How Wiretaps actually work

David assesses President Donald Trump's claim that his predecessor wiretapped him during the campaign. What's the legal procedure for a wiretap? Can a sitting President order one? And -- IF it actually happened -- what could we infer from a judge's decision to allow a wiretap at Trump Tower?


Episode 40


American cities all have crime and violence in some neighborhoods. People in these communities, and the police who work there, all want less crime and greater safety. So why do police and communities find themselves mistrusting each and unable to work together? How can we break out of this cycle?

Guest David Kennedy talks about the painful path to reconciliation.

You can find David’s book, Don’t Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America (2012), here.

And while you're at it, check out Issue Brief: Reconciliation, by the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, and Zoe Mentel, U.S. Dept. of Justice and Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Racial Reconciliation, Truth Telling, and Police Legitimacy.


Episode 39


We hear a lot about crime trends, almost always involving homicides or felonies. But the vast majority of criminal offenses are misdemeanors. These convictions can have a major impact on employment, education, you name it - yet they are hardly studied at all.

Dr. Preeti Chauhan leads the Misdemeanor Justice Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She joins us to talk about the importance of misdemeanors in our system as a whole, and how her project will fill in the gaps in what we know and how we can improve the system. Read more about the project here.


Bonus: SCOTUS and racial justice

An update on the NAACP's Christina Swarns, of Episode 34, who just won a key victory with this week's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Davis.


Episode 38


From Obama-era task forces to widespread protests, the idea of community policing has become part of our national conversation. But even if you wanted to make a difference, where would you start?

Sheriff Jerry Clayton represents 400 officers in Washtenaw County, Mich. Now in his third term, he says he started overhauling the department eight years ago with service and sustainability in mind.

You can’t arrest your way to a safer community. You can’t arrest and enforce your way to a higher quality of life in a community. You do that by working in partnership and in concert with the people that you are serving. And sometimes (police) have to be humble enough to step back, be quiet and listen to what (the community) says.
— Sheriff Jerry Clayton on Criminal Injustice

Bonus: Myths and Facts About Sanctuary Cities & Law Enforcement

President Trump says self-styled "sanctuary cities" are breaking the law. But are cities under any actual obligation to enforce federal immigration law? And is there any evidence for Trump's claim that sanctuary status is linked with higher incidence of crime? David answers these questions and explains why many local law enforcement agencies want nothing to do with immigration enforcement.




We know that the current system for police interrogation, the Reid Technique, can lead to false confessions. It’s been taught to hundreds of thousands of police officers for decades. But now there’s another way to question suspects: the PEACE method. Developed in the United Kingdom in response to terrible false confession cases there, it’s revolutionizing police questioning across the world. Will it work in the U.S. too?

Jonathan Davison works for FIS Solutions and is a Former Detective Constable in the UK and New Zealand. He says PEACE teaches police to push suspects for facts, not confessions.




Facial recognition technology is being used by police all over the U.S. using images of millions of innocent Americans. It’s a lot less accurate than what we see on TV, and it may be pointing police at a disproportionate number of minority citizens.

We explore the pluses and the dangers of facial recognition technology with Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center for Privacy and Technology at  Georgetown University Law School.

He co-authored a report on the topic, The Perpetual Lineup, in October 2016. Read more about it in the New York Times here.

This has really never happened before. By tapping into all of these driver’s license photos what the FBI is doing right now is creating a national biometric network that is primarily made up of law abiding Americans. That’s a fundamental shift, and we think a problematic one.
— Alvaro Bedoya on Criminal Injustice



The largest provider of services to the mentally ill in America is not a health care provider – it is the criminal justice system. And on any given day, Chicago's Cook County Jail is actually the largest mental health institution in the entire country.

With a steady population of incarcerated persons in need of mental health services, how does one of the biggest jails in the U.S. cope? We talk to Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County. He runs the Cook County jail, and for more than five years, he has fundamentally changed how the justice system in Chicago treats the mentally ill.

Sheriff Tom Dart runs the facility, and he's radically changed how the system in Chicago treats the mentally ill.

Get a peek inside the Cook County Jail in 2013  with 60 Minutes here.

AVID Prison Project’s report, “Locked Down and Locked Up: Segregation of Inmates with Mental Illness," found that the common prison practice of isolating an inmate -- usually referred to as "seg" -- does not decrease violence or make prisons safer. Mentally ill persons are especially vulnerable. Between 80,000 to 100,000 inmates are currently placed in small single person cells for 22 to 24 hours per day, for days, if not months or years at a time. 

In the United States, there are at least three times more seriously mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in hospitals, according to the Treatment and Advocacy Center’s 2014 report, “More Mentally Ill Persons Are in Jails and Prisons Than Hospitals: A Survey of the States.” They used previously unpublished data from 2004-2005.

The ABA Journal profiled Sheriff Dart and his part in revolutionizing Cook County Jail in December 2016, citing the facility's photography, drumming and art classes.

“He’s the type of guy that gets ideas when he is brushing his teeth.” -Warden Nneka Jones Tapia