Author: Corey Yung


Constitutional Communication

In 2005, before I was an academic, I started working on an article, now titled Constitutional Communication, about constitutional interpretation. I still have drafts of it dating back to 2006. I have even presented it a couple times over the last decade. I have worked on it throughout that time period, but was never satisfied with it. I’m happy (and relieved) to say that I finally have a completed draft that I have made publicly available. I welcome feedback. Here is the abstract:

Scholars from various normative and positive perspectives endorse the notion that the Constitution is communicative of its meaning. However, there has been little discussion as to what “communication” means in the constitutional context. This Article addresses the communication gap by introducing and applying communication-based concepts and models to constitutional theory. The results of the integration of communication theory into debates about constitutional interpretation are twofold. First, the account in this Article offers a richer framework and vocabulary for ongoing debates about interpretative theory and constitutional meaning. Second, the addition of communication concepts and norms into the debate about constitutional meaning points toward a new approach to interpretation: constitutional contextualism. This flexible approach contends that the constitutional provision being interpreted, and not a pre-selected universal theory, dictates the tools that should be used to analyze it. Significantly, this approach does not seek to negate the dominant theories of constitutional interpretation. In fact, the insights of various originalist and living constitutionalist theories are essential for selecting or synthesizing which interpretive methods are preferable in specific situations. By adopting a flexible, contextual, communication-based approach to identifying the best constitutional meaning in particular cases, we can end the growing fetishization of global interpretive theories and better adapt to the real-world needs of constitutional readers.


Affirmative Consent and Burden Shifting

Tamara Rice Lave has a thoughtful post at Prawfsblawg about affirmative consent standards in sexual assault cases. She contends that application of such standards amount to a burden shift to the defendant. From her post:

The case I am referring to is Mock v University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and it was decided on August 4. Corey Mock was alleged to have had non-consensual sex with a female student. At the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge found that UTC had not carried its burden of proof and dismissed the charges. The complainant then spoke with the Chancellor, who petitioned for reconsideration. Although the ALJ did not change any findings of fact, she changed her overall conclusion. Mock appealed to the Chancellor who upheld the order and expelled Mock. Mock then appealed to the Chancery Court.

In her opinion, Chancellor Carol L. McCoy wrote, “Under the ALJ’s Revised Initial Order, a person accused of violating SOC7 must overcome the presumption inherent in the charge that the violation has been established. Mere denial of the accusation is insufficient. The accused must prove the converse of what is taken as true and credible, i.e., the complainant’s statement that no consent was given. He must come forward with poof of an affirmative verbal response that is credible in an environment in which there are seldom, if any, witnesses to any activity which requires exposing each party’s most private body parts. Absent the tape recording of a verbal consent or other independent means to demonstrate that consent was given, the ability of an accused to prove the complaining party’s consent strains credulity and is illusory.”

After finding that the UTC Chancellor “improperly shifted the burden of proof and imposed an untenable standard upon Mr. Mock to disprove the accusation that he forcibly assaulted Ms. Morris,” Chancellor McCoy reinstated the original order of the ALJ and reversed the decision of the UTC Chancellor.

I applaud Chancellor McCoy’s decision and hope that other judges will also see the problem with affirmative consent.

Although have my (policy) doubts about affirmative consent standards, I’m not persuaded by the argument that affirmative consent standards switch the burden of proof to the defendant.

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Jonathan Chait, Don’t be an Asshole

In today’s New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait has published a tone-deaf article against liberal efforts to call people out for saying or writing offensive things. Chait uses every empty, meaningless phrase it takes to write such an article: “political correctness,” “language police,” “censorship,” and “thought-criminal.” Of course he discusses Charlie Hebdo because you have to talk about Charlie Hebdo and surrendering to terrorists if you want to talk about “political correctness” these days.

After learning from discussions with many people holding views similar to Chait, I have had some success in distilling the problems of offensive speech to simpler terms. I call it the “don’t be an asshole” rule. It lacks nuance, I admit.

The applications of “don’t be an asshole” are many. Here are just a few:

Don’t yell “fuck” in the middle of a wedding ceremony or funeral.
Don’t fart in someone’s face.
Don’t post your ex-girlfriend’s nude pictures online.
Don’t name your sports team an offensive ethnic slur.
Don’t call women “sluts” even if you believe in your heart-of-hearts that you also call promiscuous men “sluts.”
Don’t use ethnic, religious, homophobic, racial, sexist slurs.
Recognize that you might be racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted and not know it.
Listen charitably.

And if someone calls you are a racist, sexist, bigot, etc., the “don’t be an asshole” rule even has a course of action to take:

Step one: Apologize.
Step two (optional): Thank the person for letting you know (assuming you don’t want to be an asshole in the future).
Step three: Don’t be an asshole again.

It’s really not that hard. If you follow these basic, limited steps, you don’t have to worry about the “politically correct” “thought police” “censoring” your thoughts and letting the terrorists win.

For an exhibit of what to do when you say something offensive, see Benedict Cumberbatch yesterday. Cumberbatch recently used the outdated phrase “colored people” in an interview. For Brits like Cumberbatch, the phrase doesn’t carry, from my understanding, the same baggage that it does in the states. Did Cumberbatch, thus, fight back and say that listeners had it all wrong because they didn’t understand his intent and/or cultural background? No. Did the “thought police” do horrible, horrible things to him? No. This is what Cumberbatch said after being called out for his language: “I’m devastated to have caused offense by using this outmoded terminology. I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done.” That’s it. Problem solved. Benedict Cumberbatch is not an asshole. Jonathan Chait, don’t be an asshole.


Jeannie Suk on Teaching Rape

In this week’s New Yorker, Jeannie Suk laments what she perceives as the increasing difficulty in teaching rape to today’s law students. I was a bit surprised in reading Suk’s article because her descriptive account of today’s law school classroom environment regarding rape is at completely at odds with my own. A few years ago, I attended SEALS where there was a panel discussing teaching rape in the classroom. I asked the panelists whether the reluctance to teach rape, most famously described in James Tomkovicz‘s 1992 Yale Law Journal article on the subject, was simply outdated. Almost everyone else was teaching rape and students were reacting positively to that choice. And that is why Suk’s article struck me as particularly strange – teaching rape has become the majority rule in 1L Criminal Law.

Of course, the reluctance to teach rape articulated by Tomkovicz was somewhat different than the one now described by Suk. Tomkovicz was primarily focused on classroom controversy, potential professional consequences, and students being marginalized because of classroom discussions. In contrast, Suk focuses on trauma of rape victims in the classroom. She is concerned that students seem to want trigger warnings or no discussion of rape in the classroom.

I don’t want to entirely discount Suk’s assessment of modern criminal law teaching, but my experience has been radically different.  Since I started teaching in the Fall of 2007, I have taught twelve sections of Criminal Law and seven semesters of a Sex Crimes elective I have designed. I have probably taught 750 1L students in Criminal Law  and about 150 in Sex Crimes. In Criminal Law, I have never had a single complaint from a rape victim or person otherwise affected by sexual violence. In fact, I have received numerous anonymous reviews, emails, and comments in person from students thanking me for teaching about rape. This has been true at Kansas, in Chicago at John Marshall, and during my semester visiting at Iowa. After class discussions, students have often come to my office to share their personal experiences with sexual violence. Sometimes, they tell me stories that have just happened in the past couple of months. I am certain that if I didn’t teach rape in the classroom, those students wouldn’t feel comfortable coming to talk to me in private. A major theme of my classroom discussions of rape is that the dysfunction of America’s sex crime laws is due our failure to discuss the subject. And while I do my best to create a healthy learning environment, we do not shy away from the tough legal and social dimensions of sexual violence.

In my experience, it has been a net positive learning and personal experience for victims I have spoken with to have rape as part of the 1L Criminal Law curriculum. It has been beneficial much like when I had a student in a class who had experienced unfathomable trauma with a family murder. A few years previous to being in my 1L Criminal Law class, this student’s mother had killed his father. She was found guilty and sentenced to lengthy period of incarceration. He came and talked to me about it after we started our section on homicide, became my best RA, and I still keep in touch with him. I can’t speak with certainty as to Harvard students, but my experience has been that 1L Criminal Law has helped traumatized students deal with the violence and difficulty in their past. And, in doing so, many have found greater purpose and direction in their law studies. Some have harnessed that purpose to dedicate their legal careers to addressing the social ill that had previously plagued their lives. If Suk’s concern is with the victims of sexual violence, I hope she doesn’t give up teaching about it.

Of course, my experience might be atypical or I might be overstating the positives that have come from my classes. So, I welcome comments from other professors and will forward this post to some KU students to see if they want to chime in anonymously.


Worst Modern Court Opinion in Criminal Rape Case?

For the coming semester, I have decided to try teaching without a casebook. Instead, I have been putting together materials with an emphasis on more recent cases embodying prominent issues in substantive criminal law. Regarding rape and sexual assault, in particular, I feel that the cases used in the major casebooks are too dated and less relevant to students today. So, in my search for new cases, I stumbled across an appellate court opinion out of Louisiana in 2005, State v. Wilbert Touchet, Jr., 897 So. 2d 900 (La. Ct. App. 2005). I think this is has to be the worst reasoned opinion regarding rape I have seen by an American court in the last thirty years. The basic facts, as described by the appellate court were: “The State of Louisiana alleges that the Defendant struck the victim with his fists, forced her to remove her clothing at knife point, and had sexual intercourse with the victim against her will.” Yet, despite a guilty verdict at a bench trial, the appellate court reversed the aggravated rape conviction and found insufficient evidence for the lesser included offense of forcible rape (The court’s reasoning after the jump).

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Police Killing Unarmed Minority Men on Video with Impunity is not New

The grand jury’s decision to not indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner despite video of the incident, in the wake of the failure to indict Darren Wilson, further illustrates the apparent immunity of police officers in cases where officers have killed ethnic minority Americans. The Garner case is a reminder that the interpretation of (crime) videos is filtered through pre-existing cultural lenses, but it also speaks to a more fundamental problem. The case provides more evidence that video has not been a panacea in addressing lethal violence by police officers, a fact which is relevant in discussing the likely efficacy of cop cams. I have posted other similar disturbing videos of lethal force being used against unarmed ethnic minority men (after the jump) wherein there has been no accountability in the criminal justice system for the officers involved.

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California’s College Rape Rule is Probably a Bad Idea (but not for the Reasons the Critics Say)

Jonathan Chait has joined the chorus of critics of the new affirmative consent rule in California for college campuses. Like others, he contends that the new rule effectively criminalizes ordinary sexual activity among college students. For three reasons, I think the claim is not well supported.

First, consent standards probably do not matter. Dan Kahan did the best study on this issue and the results are pretty clear. No matter what you tell people examining a rape case, they end up applying their own notions of consent. To the degree that any instruction of the law matters the effect size is small. I think this finding will hold true in adjudications under the California affirmative consent rule.

Second, stories of the alleged rapist and victim almost never match rendering legal standards as side issues and putting credibility as the central problem of rape cases. There are normally significant discrepancies between the accounts of alleged rapes. For the people willing to intentionally lie (either way), the new rule just indicates the content of their lie must change. For example, instead of saying, “she never objected,” a defendant would say “she said ‘yes.'” Even for those cases where the discrepancies are based upon cognitive biases or other unconscious factors, it is likely, if history is a guide, that the differences will align around the legal rule in place.

Third, the drunken sex cases that the critics are focused on are almost never resolved based upon the consent standard. The cases instead rely on incapacity. Whether a negative or affirmative consent standard applies is simply irrelevant in a case where the victim was too intoxicated to consent. The affirmative consent standard is a red herring in the primary scenario identified for overpunishment on campuses.

Even with all of those reasons to doubt its effectiveness in changing case outcomes, the California rule might simply be innocuous. However, there is a real danger that rule changes like this feed into a very dangerous cultural myth about rape law. Stephen Schulhofer probably said it best in his book Unwanted Sex: “Opponents of rape reform have managed to convince a wide audience that standards of permissible conduct are now dictated by ‘hypersensitive’ young women and by ‘radical’ feminists committed to a highly restrictive, Victorian conception of sexual propriety…. The reality is far different. The claim that legal rules, campus behavior codes, and company policies enshrine radically overprotective, puritanical rules of conduct is a myth.” In roughly half the states in America, having sex with someone who is highly intoxicated, but still conscious, is not rape. Many jurisdictions still apply a resistance or corroboration requirement in charging decisions despite such rules having long since been removed from statutes.  The list of problems with the application of modern rape law is extensive. Unfortunately, the backlash against the California affirmative consent rule has already helped spread the myth of radical change. And because the gains of the rule are likely to be minimal, the net effect for rape victims and justice will likely be negative. I hope I’m wrong.


Concealing Campus Sexual Assault: An Empirical Examination

On October 1 of every year, higher education institutions across the country are required to publish reports containing crime data for the previous calender year. So, it seemed appropriate today that I would post a draft of my article about whether universities are giving accurate information in those reports regarding sexual assault. The draft is available here and this is the abstract:

This study tests whether there is substantial undercounting of sexual assault by universities. It compares the sexual assault data submitted by universities while being audited for Clery Act violations with the data from years before and after such audits. If schools report higher rates of sexual assault during times of higher regulatory scrutiny (audits), then that result would support the conclusion that universities are failing to accurately tally incidents of sexual assault during other time periods. The study finds that university reports of sexual assault increase by approximately 44% during the audit period. However, after the audit is completed, the reported sexual assault rates drop to levels statistically indistinguishable from the pre-audit time frame. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that the ordinary practice of universities is to undercount incidents of rape. Only during periods in which schools are audited do they appear to offer a more complete picture of sexual assault levels on campus. Further, the data indicate that the audits have no long-term effect on the reported levels of sexual assault as those crime rates return to previous levels after the audit is completed. This last finding is supported even in instances when fines are issued for non-compliance. The results of the study point toward two broader conclusions directly relevant to policymaking in this area. First, greater financial and personnel resources should be allocated commensurate with the severity of the problem and not based solely on university reports of sexual assault levels. Second, the frequency of auditing should be increased and statutorily-capped fines should be raised in order to deter transgressors from continuing to undercount sexual violence. The Campus Accountability and Safety Act, presently before Congress, provides an important step in that direction.

I will be continuing to post about sexual assault at universities and the findings of the study over the next week or two.


Is there a Sexual Assault Crisis on College Campuses? Yes and No.

No matter what position you take in discussing rape and sexual assault policy, you can point to some statistic(s) to support your argument. That is largely due to the low quality and/or limited utility of a lot of data about sexual violence. If you do not have any interest in the truth, you can simply pick the statistic you prefer over the ones contrary to your narrative. If, on the other hand, you want a better sense of what is actually happening, you have to put the pieces of data in their proper context. Take, for example, the rate of sexual assault at large universities in the Figure below (based upon Clery Act reports) compared with the rate of forcible rape anywhere in the United States (based upon Uniform Crime Reports).

Figure 1

Taken at face value, you might conclude that sexual assault at large universities has rapidly increased since 2009 and forcible rape has been on a steady decline since 2001. Yet, I think the stronger evidence is that both of those claims are false. The reason that the data is likely misleading is that it relies on reports from institutions under different sets of incentives. As I wrote in my study about the UCR data, police have, based upon my analysis, increasingly been undercounting rape, in part, to meet unrealistic public pressure to continually, repeatedly decrease crime rates. As a result, there has likely been little to no decline (and a possible increase) in the rate of rape since rape rates began falling in the early 90’s.

Why wouldn’t universities have the same incentives to limit reporting of sexual assault incidents to assuage fears of potential applicants, avoid Title IX suits, and maintain a positive public image? I think the best answer is that they still have all of those reasons to undercount, but during the last couple of years another concern has trumped those incentives for a certain segment of large universities. The year 2011 is particularly important because that is when the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke. The figure below shows what happened to sexual assault reports at Penn State.

Penn State

Since 2010, according to Penn State’s Clery Act submissions, sexual assault has increased by an unbelievable 1389%. Is that because sexual assault has been increasing on campus? Almost certainly not. As part of the fallout from the Sandusky scandal and the issuance of the Freeh report, Penn State had its lax Clery Act compliance exposed. Similar spikes have happened at other large universities which account for entire increase during the last two reporting cycles. Big 10 schools, of which Penn State is one, have had the change in their collective rates of rape outpace the national average increase by nearly three times. What seems to be happening since 2011 (when the largest increase in sexual assault occurred) is that increased reporting at some schools has led to a significant spike in reported crimes. Other factors during that time frame such as increased Clery Act audits and Title IX lawsuits might have played a role as well.

So, based upon that assessment, is there a sexual assault crisis on campuses? It depends. If by “crisis” you mean an escalating problem based upon increasing rates of sexual assault, then I don’t think so. However, if by “crisis” you mean a serious ongoing problem with significant ramifications, then the best evidence supports that conclusion.




Why Campus Sexual Assault Tribunals are Needed

Since the Obama administration increased its focus on campus sexual assault in January 2014, there has been a steady flow of articles criticizing university sexual assault proceedings. Authors have decried innocent men being railroaded through a system with limited procedural protections and a low burden of proof. Based upon those sources, one would think that prosecution, expulsion, and punishment of innocent men was the norm. Meanwhile, case after case surfaces where the university either failed to act or acted in a woefully inadequate manner.

Consider the case of Yale. After numerous findings of wrongdoing in Title IX and Clery Act audit investigations were made, Yale had the opportunity to start fresh in handling complaints of sexual violence on campus. The critics of campus tribunals cite schools like Yale as embodying the liberal politically correct ethos they associate with rigged campus tribunals. So what happened after the federal regulators left Yale? Yale has issued three semi-annual reports covering the period of January 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014 during which I count 20 resolved complaints of sexual assault (non-consensual sex) between Yale students. In 10 cases, the university found inadequate evidence or the victim decided not to pursue the complaint further. In the other 10, the university assessed some sanction/punishment as follows: 3 received a 2-semester suspension, 2 received a 1-semester suspension, 3 received a written reprimand, and 2 were expelled. Yale should be applauded for making their handling of cases transparent so that this analysis is even possible. Most schools offer little information beyond what the Clery Act requires. In the end, the numbers at Yale are hardly consistent with an off-the-rails tribunal system.

Meanwhile, at Columbia, Emma Sulkowicz is facing the far more common scenario. Most victims are left on campus with their rapist. Emma has decided to protest Columbia’s indifference to her rape complaint by turning it into her senior honors visual arts project. She will be carrying her dorm mattress with her everywhere she goes until her alleged rapist is kicked off campus.

At my home institution, the University of Kansas, the Huffington Post is reporting today that the university decided that community service was too punitive for a student who “would later admit to campus police that he continued to have sex with the woman even after she said ‘no,’ ‘stop’ and ‘I can’t do this.'” Instead, he received a ban from university housing and probation.

We live in a world where police and prosecutors do not regularly pursue rape complaints and convictions are a rarity. If an attempted murderer was left on campus with his or her intended victim, we would be horrified. If a student brutally assaulted another, we would want the university to take action to protect the victim. Even in the non-criminal cases of sexual harassment at universities, defendants are separated from victims without waiting for a civil suit to be completed in the plaintiff’s favor. As a matter of simple humanity, universities need to protect rape victims by having a mechanism to remove/punish rapists.

Does this mean universities have designed effective and fair sexual assault tribunals? Absolutely not. I have been critical of the uneven protections and ad hoc processes often used. However, simply letting the criminal justice system resolve the matter, as many have proposed, is unrealistic and wrong. We should treat alleged rapists on campus as we would alleged murderers, brawlers, burglars, and other violent criminals. That means an internal university process needs to assess the available evidence to protect victims of sexual assault.