David Harris

Essential Pittsburgh: Evaluating the Supreme Court's Rulings

Jul 1, 2015
Mark Fischer / flickr

The 2014-2015 Supreme Court session has come to a close. Among the issues the justices have weighed in on are historic decisions on health care and same-sex marriage. However, there were also other cases regarding housing discrimination and lethal injections. Our legal contributor Pitt Law Professor David Harris looks at the rulings the justices have made and how they will impact our lives.  Harris explains the ruling of the recent lethal injections case decided by the Supreme Court: 

"This was the argument made by opponents of the use of that drug that it is cruel and unusual because the people being executed are experiencing pain. The Supreme Court says no there is nothing cruel or unusual about using this particular drug cocktail and they legitimized execution this way by all the states that want to do it." -David Harris

Also in the program, Heinz History Center President Andy Masich describes the background of the iconic Rosie the Riveter and to mark the beginning of July, FreeBurgh highlights fun and inexpensive events this month in the Pittsburgh area.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The American Civil Liberties Union and the City of Pittsburgh have reached an agreement on "cutting-edge" improvements to police hiring methods, including strengthening minority hiring procedures. The settlement agreement stems from a federal class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU in August 2012 on behalf of minority applicants who scored high in Pittsburgh Police testing but were passed over for job offers. We'll speak with Ellen Doyle, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

Doyle says that previously, the city of Pittsburgh was being forced to diversify its ranks by hiring an African American and a woman for every four hires, as outlined in a Supreme Court order. She explains that this is no longer the case:

"The city was reporting for a number of years that [the police force] was disproportionately white in terms of the population of the city. But the difference between what happened with the prior federal lawsuit and what happened now is that the Supreme Court has seriously reduced the use of any race-conscious remedy." -Ellen Doyle 

Also on the program, after rioting and chaos in Ferguson and Baltimore, how should police departments adapt? How can departments encourage minorities to join the police force?

Fibonacci Blue / flickr

The six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray have been charged with a number of crimes, including murder and manslaughter. Pitt Law Professor David Harris joins us to explain the details behind the charges and what they mean.

Considering the charges, Harris explains how they figure into the usual categories of homicide charges:

"In the universe of homicide charges, there are different possibilities. One is first-degree murder, one is second-degree murder, then you go to manslaughter and then, maybe, negligent homicide. ... Both of the types of homicide charges involved here do not involve intentional killing. They involve degrees of reckless behavior." -- David Harris

Also in the program, Nazila Fathi talks about her book "The Lonely War," which paints an intense and intricate portrait of post-revolution Iran, and Pittsburgh cartoonist Joe Wos explains Mazetoons, his newly syndicated puzzle/cartoon hybrid.

Scott Davidson / flickr

This week a video was released of an Arizona officer using his police cruiser to intentionally run down a suspect-- the latest event involving a police officer's overt use of force. It comes shortly after the shooting death of Walter Scott, as he was running away, by an officer in South Carolina. Are law enforcement officials using an increasing amount of what is sometimes deadly force? We're posing that question to Pitt Law Professor David Harris.

Harris suggests that while it's unlikely that deadly force on the part of police has actually increased, video footage of it has become more common, and increased accountability has followed:

"I don't know that we have evidence that it's worse. I do think there's a greater awareness, a much greater likelihood that we'll have video proof, and, you know, when you see it, even on only a cellphone camera, it's just different than hearing a report of it afterwards. And that's why I think that this seems to be a kind of watershed moment." -- David Harris

Also in the program, a new book co-edited by Trabian Shorters observes the everyday lives of 40 black men, paining a picture of how black men are "living, leading and succeeding" in modern America.

Essential Pittsburgh: Oil Train Safety with Senator Bob Casey

Mar 19, 2015
Jason Rogers/Wikimedia

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey is pushing legislation that would bring emergency managers and technical experts together to improve training and equipment for emergency responders handling oil train derailments. Recent derailments have caused explosions and fires in recent months. Sen Casey joins us by phone from Washington.

Casey explains that the legislation he is sponsoring -- the Response Act -- would do several things:

"It would examine ... training issues, resource issues, funding levels, access to communication -- all kinds of information and subject areas that [the relevant agencies and technical experts] should review. ... This is particularly important to small communities that don't have the resources, sometimes, that larger communities do."

Also in the program, Pitt law professor David Harris talks about Pittsburgh's selection for a new Justice Department initiative, and travel contributor Elaine Labalme shares her favorite flower shows travel destinations.


The Role of the Attorney General

Feb 4, 2015
The US Department of Justice

Last week Senate confirmation hearings began for Loretta Lynch. She's President Obama’s nominee to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. In light of the hearings, Pitt Law Professor David Harris talks about the role and responsibilities of the office of the Attorney General.

Harris first explains that the Attorney General is the top lawyer for the US government. Their role is to advise all of the departments of the executive branch, including the office of the President. He or she is also the administrator and chief of the US Justice Department. Harris says while the AG serves as a lawyer for the office of the President, it's not the same as representing the President. He offers Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon as examples.

"There has to be, there should be a separation between the white house and the political interests of the president," says Harris, which is why Janet Reno did not represent Bill Clinton in his impeachment hearing.

Harris says the office of the Attorney General has existed pretty much from the start of the nation in 1789, and the Justice Department was created in 1870. Read more at the Department of Justice website.

So What Does It Really Take to Indict a Police Officer?

Dec 9, 2014
Britt Reints / Flickr

The recent decisions by grand juries not to press charges against white police officers involved in fatalities of unarmed black men in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY has led the headlines in recent weeks. 

These incidents have called into question the difficulty of charging police officers with crimes, even with video evidence, and what alternatives there could be to address police misconduct.

Pitt Law Professor David Harris explains the difficulty of charging officers, and how police departments are changing.

Light Brigading / Flickr

Demonstrations have been happening all over the country following a Missouri grand jury's announcement that it will not seek an indictment of police officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Rachel Lippmann covered last night's announcement for St. Louis Public Radio and joins us for an update. David Harris, University of Pittsburgh School of Law Professor, explains why a grand jury was used and offers his thoughts on the prosecutor's approach.

Lippman says that Ferguson has been comparatively calm today after hours of demonstrations. She says that St. Louis police reported that demonstrations last night were the worst seen since the shooting occurred in August, with many shots fired and more than a dozen buildings burned to the ground.

Meanwhile, Harris explains that there were several different options for moving forward in the Ferguson case, but the prosecutor used the grand jury option in order to involve members of the community while simultaneously absolving himself of responsibility for making the decision.

American Attitudes on Juries and Jury Duty

Nov 18, 2014
zzpza / Flickr

    

Jury duty is a civic duty many people hope they’ll never have to endure. While many are summoned, few serve.

Pitt law professor David Harris joins us for a look at juries -- from their history to how they’re selected. Some people cringe at the idea of jury duty while others feel honored to by the summon.

He talks about the attitudes associated with jury duty and what role they play in our justice system.

David Harris Explains Grand Juries

Nov 4, 2014
David Harris

A grand jury is a legal body that is empowered to conduct official proceedings to investigate potential criminal conduct and to determine whether criminal charges should be brought.

One of the most famous grand juries was used in the investigation of President Clinton by Ken Starr.

More recently a grand jury is now investigating the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. University of Pittsburgh Law professor David Harris joins us to discuss the role of grand juries and their role in our justice system.

The Supreme Court: What cases will be heard this term?

Oct 9, 2014
David / Flickr

 

 

The 2014-2015 session of the Supreme Court began on Monday. The court wasted no time in making news by refusing to rule on same-sex marriage. There are a number of other issues on the docket including first amendment rights in the digital age and whether to hear a challenge to the affordable care act. The current term also marks John Roberts’ 10th year as chief justice. Joining us for an overview of the cases the Supreme Court could be ruling on is University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris.

Elvert Barnes / Flickr

Much of the nation’s attention has been focused on the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. The fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a young African American man, by a police officer has led to riots, looting and tension between law enforcement officials and the citizens of Ferguson.

Pitt Law Professor David Harris evaluated the police department’s response to the incident.

“What you have here is not just the killing of one person by another, but the killing of a person by an agent of the state, a police officer."

Because of these stipulations and "the possibility that the police officer went beyond his duty to protect with reasonable force while depriving the person of their 'constitutional right to life without due process,'" Harris said there is a possibility of both state and federal court cases.

If the officer is charged, which Harris said is "a big if", the court case would still be a long process. Harris pointed out that a police officer has the right to use force to effectuate the job.

Contradictory Court Rulings on Expert Witnesses

Jun 18, 2014
Lucy Skywalker / Wikipedia Commons

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court could not make up its mind on the usage of expert testimony in criminal cases, handing down two contradictory decisions recently.

In the first case, on eyewitness testimony, a majority changed the longstanding rule that no experts on the problems with eyewitness testimony were allowed; from this point forward, the Supreme Court ruled, trial courts in PA may permit experts.

But in the other case, the court ruled the exact opposite, stating expert testimony can create a false confession.

Pitt Law Professor David Harris believes he can help clarify the cases.

FBI

The U.S. Department of Justice has decided law enforcement agencies including the FBI, DEA and ATF must electronically record interrogations of people in custody. What could this mean for the future of law enforcement since some of these agencies have been resistant to this change in the past?

University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris said many local and state law enforcement agencies have already been using recordings for interrogations. 

“They know there’s a better way. Once you’ve tried doing this, once you’ve used recordings in court. It’s crazy not to, because it improves the process.”

Jonas Seaman / flickr

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases with outcomes that could have a big impact on the future of information privacy.

These cases question the Fourth Amendment exception, which lets police to search any items on a person at the time of arrest, including cell phones.

Yet many argue that cell phones should be treated differently. University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris explained why many say cell phones are more akin to a diary than a wallet and should require a warrant for search and seizure.

The History of Minors Being Tried As Adults

Apr 17, 2014
University of Pittsburgh Law School

Alex Hribal, the 16 year-old student apprehended during a stabbing rampage at his high school last week, was charged as an adult. What is the history behind this decision? How did the idea manifest itself in practical terms? We posed these questions and more to our legal expert, Pitt Law Professor David Harris.

Prior to the late 1980’s, children were only tried as adults after they went through the juvenile court system. If a judge decided that they were unable to be rehabilitated, the case was passed along to adult court.

Context Controls Decision in Jordan Miles Trial

Apr 1, 2014
Lucy Skywalker / Wikipedia Commons

Four years after an altercation between three Pittsburgh police officers and CAPA High School student Jordan Miles, eight jurors reached a split verdict  Monday.

The officers were found guilty on the charge of false arrest of Miles, but not guilty in the charge of excessive force.

Miles was awarded monetarily for his injuries, but many are still concerned about the result of the trial.

University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris explained one of the most confusing elements the verdict -- if Miles was falsely arrested, shouldn’t any force be considered excessive? 

In the Case of Nate Harper, Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

Feb 26, 2014
University of Pittsburgh Law School

Roughly one year ago Nate Harper resigned from his post as Pittsburgh Police Chief. Soon after his resignation, Harper was indicted with conspiracy charges and failing to file tax returns.

Yesterday US District Judge Cathy Bissoon sentenced Harper to 18 months in prison as well as repayment of the $31,986 for the slush fund that he spent on himself.

Interpreting the Fourth Amendment in the 21st Century

Jan 9, 2014
David Glover / flickr

Last month judges in New York and Washington DC issued two different opinions on the controversial bulk metadata collection program being done by the NSA.

In light of these conflicting decisions, many wonder if the Supreme Court will take up the issue.

David Harris, Distinguished Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law University of Pittsburgh School of Law says the opposite rulings were products of the environments where the judges preside, as well as the radically different views of the Fourth Amendment.

Mehfuz Hossain / flickr

People share so much of their lives on social media, from vacation photos to music and book choices. This over-sharing of information has extended to the bold and casual admittance of criminal activity.

David Harris, Distinguished Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law University of Pittsburgh School of Law says the rape case in Steubenville, Ohio is an example of how ever-present social media can play an important role in criminal cases.

The Low Income Legal Dilemma

Oct 7, 2013
University of Pittsburgh Law School

It may come as a shock to those who think that there are too many lawyers, but many Americans cannot get their legal needs met. That's because many can not afford legal representation and don’t qualify for legal services.

In fact, according to University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris, 80% of Americans who have legal needs can not find help.

“Even if you just look at the people who come into legal services offices, for every one person served, one person is turned away."

While the issue of cost of legal representation is well known, Barbara Griffin, coordinator for the Pro Bono Center of the Allegheny County Bar Foundation, points out that due to funding cuts in community legal service centers, and the present economy, there are more people in need of aid than lawyers to serve them.

National Archives / wikipedia

Some people underestimate just how influential the Constitution of the United States has been to the world.

Constitution Day is September 17 and the US Constitution remains the key document used in deciding important Supreme Court cases. But University of Pittsburgh law professor, David Harris notes that the Justices have very different views on how the Constitution should be read.

The Future of Law Enforcement and Sentencing

Aug 13, 2013
Victor Caselle/Flickr

Opponents of the New York City Police Department’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy have long accused the program of having a racial bias. On Monday, their accusations were validated, as U.S. Judge District Shira Scheindlin ruled that the city’s implementation of such searches violated both the 4th and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution.

According to University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris, this ruling does not mean that there will be an end to the city’s stop-and-frisk policy. Instead, the policy must be altered so that it can fall in line with pre-existing standards for civilian searches.

The Legality of DNA Swab Testing After Arrest

Jun 20, 2013
Kendra Griffiths / flickr.com

In a 5-4 majority, the United States Supreme Court concluded suspects can be subjected to a police DNA test after arrest and before trial and conviction. DNA samples would go into a national database and could possible be used to solve "cold cases." However, it calls into question the issue of personal privacy vs. public safety.

Standing Your Ground in Pennsylvania

May 31, 2013
University of Pittsburgh Law School

The killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin brought attention to stand your ground laws last year. A number of states have laws which dramatically expand the definition of self defense, often including personal property. So what do the self defense laws look like here in Pennsylvania? University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris is currently part of an American Bar Association National Task Force on stand your ground laws, looking into their overall impact on society.

Heather McClain / WESA

Two weeks ago Hofbrauhaus in the South Side agreed to pay $15.6 million in a settlement after one of their patrons consumed copious amounts of alcohol and proceeded to kill a seven year old girl while driving drunk down Carson Street. When a bar patron has too much to drink resulting in an accident who is ultimately at fault? And when it comes to serving drinks, how do you know when a patron has had too much. How do you handle the situation?

Watergate's Legacy and Legal Ethics (Web-Extra)

Apr 30, 2013
University of Pittsburgh Law School

Our legal contributor, University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris talks about the lessons attorneys learned from the Watergate era and why lawyers must now consider more than just attorney client privilege.

"Before John Dean, a lawyer had two choices, keep his or her mouth shut or quit. And that was it."

Miranda Rights and the Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect

Apr 23, 2013
University of Pittsburgh Law School

    

A great deal of news coverage has been reported about the decision to read or not to read the Miranda Rights statement to Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. According to our legal contributor, University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris, much of the coverage has been off base. He joins us to discuss what Miranda rights do, in general, and specifically how they apply to this case. We'll also talk about the current Supreme Court case, Salinas v. Texas, which begs the question, how much protection should we get from our "right to remain silent?"

Breaking Down the Steubenville Verdict

Mar 18, 2013
University of Pittsburgh Law School

On Sunday, a verdict was announced in the rape case of two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio. University of Pittsburgh law professor, David Harris breaks down the details of the verdict and the role of social media in the case.

Failed Evidence

Mar 15, 2013
University of Pittsburgh Law School

Pitt Law Professor David Harris discusses his latest book, Failed Evidence, which challenges police and prosecutors to embrace science when investigating crimes, in order to prevent miscarriages of justice.

This segment originally aired on Essential Pittsburgh September 11, 2012