David Harris

Essential Pittsburgh
4:05 pm
Tue December 9, 2014

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

Local protesters staged a "die-in" on the University of Pittsburgh campus in the wake of the NYC Eric Garner decision
Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:29 pm
Tue November 25, 2014

The Ferguson Decision: An Update and Legal Analysis

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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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:29 pm
Tue November 18, 2014

American Attitudes on Juries and Jury Duty

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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.

Essential Pittsburgh
4:49 pm
Tue November 4, 2014

David Harris Explains Grand Juries

Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:00 pm
Thu October 9, 2014

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

Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:49 pm
Thu August 21, 2014

Law Professor David Harris: Ferguson Shooting is More Complicated Than It Appears

Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
8:51 pm
Wed June 18, 2014

Contradictory Court Rulings on Expert Witnesses

Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:09 pm
Thu May 29, 2014

Mandatory Interrogation Recording Could Improve All Sides of Law Enforcement

A screen capture showing Ariel Castro during his interrogation with the FBI.
Credit 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.”

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:27 pm
Wed May 7, 2014

How Cell Phone Search And Seizure Could Radically Affect Privacy

The United States Supreme Court heard two cases last week involving search and seizure of cell phone information. If determined constitutional, police could use evidence found in the phone during a trial without a warrant.
Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:15 pm
Thu April 17, 2014

The History of Minors Being Tried As Adults

David Harris says that there has been a shift from rehabilitating kids in juvenile courts to automatically trying them as adults.
Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:18 pm
Tue April 1, 2014

Context Controls Decision in Jordan Miles Trial

The Monday verdict of a civil case between Homewood resident Jordan Miles and 3 Pittsburgh police officers left many questions for our listeners and our guest. Listen to find out why.
Credit 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? 

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:46 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

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

David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, believes that the sentencing was right for Nate Harper.
Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:22 pm
Thu January 9, 2014

Interpreting the Fourth Amendment in the 21st Century

Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:02 pm
Mon November 25, 2013

The Dark Side of Social Media: Criminal Activity Displayed Online

Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
2:42 pm
Mon October 7, 2013

The Low Income Legal Dilemma

David Harris poses the question of how to solve legal representation for low income households.
Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
5:12 pm
Mon September 16, 2013

The U.S. Constitution 224 Years Later: Why it Endures

The Preamble is one of the most well known phrases in the English language.
Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
3:28 pm
Tue August 13, 2013

The Future of Law Enforcement and Sentencing

Two major decisions on Monday may have a big impact on law enforcement.
Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
8:03 am
Thu June 20, 2013

The Legality of DNA Swab Testing After Arrest

DNA swab testing may become the "gold standard" of reliable evidence gathering.
Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
7:35 pm
Fri May 31, 2013

Standing Your Ground in Pennsylvania

Legal contributor David Harris has joined the American Bar Association's National Task Force on "Stand Your Ground" Laws.
Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
9:44 am
Tue May 21, 2013

How Much is Too Much? Should Bars Be Responsible For Irresponsible Drinkers?

What can bar owners do to intercede when a customer has had too much to drink?
Credit 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?

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Essential Pittsburgh
12:27 pm
Tue April 30, 2013

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

David Harris is a Professor of Law and Associate Dean of Research at the University of Pittsburgh Law School
Credit 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."

Essential Pittsburgh
9:00 pm
Tue April 23, 2013

Miranda Rights and the Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect

David A. Harris is Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law
Credit 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?"

Essential Pittsburgh
1:39 pm
Mon March 18, 2013

Breaking Down the Steubenville Verdict

David Harris teaches criminal law at the University of Pittsburgh Law School.
Credit 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.

Essential Pittsburgh
5:00 am
Fri March 15, 2013

Failed Evidence

David Harris is the author of Failed Evidence
Credit 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