Dean Elena Kagan

From the Dean

Criminal Law in Flux

Criminal law is standard fare for every Harvard 1L. There's a reason for this, of course: The laws that determine when and how individuals should be punished are at the heart of any legal system, including our own. And in a sort of "perfect storm" scenario, recent events have conspired to raise criminal law to an ever-greater prominence. The specter of terrorism, DNA-based exonerations of death-row inmates, human rights abuses--these are the kinds of issues that prompt us to think deeply about the way a criminal justice system should function.

In the field of criminal law, as in so many others, I'm proud to say that Harvard Law School alumni, professors and students are taking the lead in addressing many of the most pressing issues of our time. The remarkable scope of their activities is reflected in this issue of the Bulletin. For example, "The Guardian" profiles Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff '78, now charged with the massive task of overseeing the nation's antiterrorism efforts. For another, very personal perspective on criminal law, turn to "Putting Together the Pieces," the inspiring story of Geraldine Umugwaneza LL.M. '05, who lost her family in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and went on to become a judge in the court charged with implementing the country's new "gacaca" system, a traditional form of dispute resolution aimed at promoting reconciliation.

As many of you know, one of my highest priorities as dean is to instill in all students--regardless of career track--a genuine commitment to public service, and it's exciting for me to see the eagerness with which so many have embraced this challenge. One of the newest examples of this enthusiasm is the Harvard Project on Wrongful Convictions, an affiliate of the national Innocence Project. As described in "Guilty Until Proven Innocent," students involved in the Harvard Project review cases with an eye to ascertaining whether post-conviction DNA evidence might yield conclusive proof of innocence.

While most would agree that our criminal justice system stands in need of some reform, there is endless debate over what changes should be made. Our criminal law faculty members, along with many alumni, have dedicated countless hours to studying these complex and profoundly important questions. "Aftermath" charts the immediate fallout from the Supreme Court ruling freeing federal judges from mandatory sentencing guidelines. As the air begins to clear, Professors William Stuntz, Philip Heymann '60 and Carol Steiker '86 share their thoughts on the new landscape, which could turn out to be not so different from the old one. And in "Is the War on Drugs Succeeding?" HLS alumni who have played key roles in the national debate on drug policy--among them Joseph A. Califano Jr. '55, William Bennett '71 and Ethan Nadelmann '84--stake out their various positions.

As you read this issue of the Bulletin, I hope that you'll be struck--as I was--by the extraordinary work of Harvard Law School students, alumni and faculty in the criminal law arena. As always, there is a diversity of viewpoints. But so long as debate over crime and punishment continues, I'm confident that it will be far richer and more productive for the law school's contributions.

Dean Elena Kagan '86


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