Judges == Old Law Students

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Mar 16, 2011 in The 2L Life | Subscribe

The main reason I signed up for NCCU Law‘s Scientific Evidence course this semester was because it’s being taught by Professor DVLaw, a challenging professor but one who focuses on making sure students know the material and how to apply it. She invited the class to sit in on a national conference for judges titled “Developmental Forensics of Children Adjudicated by Courts” where she is one of the attorneys moderating today’s panel on genetic testing of minors.

I decided to head over there after I was done tutoring the 1Ls in CrimLaw.1 And let’s just say I wasn’t impressed.  :roll:

On the positive side, the place was packed wall-to-wall with a wide variety of people from all over the place. I got to meet judges from North Carolina, New York, Texas, California, Maryland, and several places in between.

But on the negative side, I came to the realization that judges are really just old law students :beatup:

One session debated a hypothetical involving a 16-year-old who was pregnant with a fetus potentially carrying a fatal gene, with the issue being how the judge would rule on a request to have the fetus tested against the mother’s will based on a variety of variables. You had the “gunner” types who felt the need to raise their hands and talk at every single opportunity. There were the judges who gave long-winded answers that didn’t actually address the question. The ones who were too timid to actually say anything publicly, but would lean over and comment to the people on either side of them. The political ones who always gave the same answer no matter the change in underlying facts and case law. The list goes on.

The panel discussion focused on a child with a predilection for pyromania, committing arson occasionally, frying a cat in a microwave, and so on, and asking how the judge would rule on a prosecutor’s motion to have the child tested for a “violence” gene or some similar genetic marker.2 Here there wasn’t even that much discussion of the law — one of the judges turned to one of the science experts on hand to ask if such a gene existed, asking “I just need you to give me the science and then I can make a ruling.” The scientist goes “for the sake of argument, assume there is”… at which point every single judge in the room said they’d order the testing.  :surprised:

Maybe it’s because I come from a science-oriented background at N.C. State, but that kind of reflexive judicial fealty to experts makes me apprehensive. Science isn’t law; while we might have “settled law” on some issues, we rarely ever have “settled science”.3 You don’t just have to take my word for it either: you can read the 352-page indictment of forensic sciences issued by the National Academy of Sciences a couple years ago. My hope was that the folks in the black robes would be more circumspect in their decision-making.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly thankful for the opportunity to go4 and it’s probably important for me to know how judges look at experts if I’m going to be practicing in a courtroom. But about all it did was shatter any misconception I had about judicial competence — judges are just law students like us, aged a couple decades ;)

  1. In what I sheepishly confess is now the 3rd day in a row I’ve voluntarily set foot in Chapel Hill… (pun intended) []
  2. With the objective of having him civilly committed permanently, instead of being charged with a crime, serving a sentence, and being released. []
  3. Otherwise scientists in a “settled” field would all be out of a job. []
  4. Especially gratis :beatup: []

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