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Canine Profiling

With nearly 75 million dogs living in the United States, there is a need for ethical and justifiable laws to govern these popular pets, GW Associate Professor of Law Joan Schaffner says.

Ms. Schaffner is editor of A Lawyer’s Guide to Dangerous Dog Issues (ABA Press, 2009), where she points out that in 2006 “there were 31 fatal dog attacks in the United States … in comparison, on average, 100 people are killed by lightning, 150 by falling coconuts, 54 by bug bites, and 65 by being struck by a cow.”

Research has shown that a dog’s temperament has more to do with how it is raised—socialized in a loving home or isolated in harsh conditions—than its genes. Yet jurisdictions and cities still ban specific breeds (typically German shepherds, pit bulls, and rottweilers) from their city limits, and some homeowners’ insurances will deny coverage to homeowners who own certain breeds that are considered dangerous.

Ms. Schaffner argues that good canine law has more to do with owners’ behaviors and individual dogs than dog breeds. She advocates protecting people and punishing bad owners, but not punishing responsible owners.

In the 100-page reference guide, Ms. Schaffner and six other animal law experts examine real cases and hypothetical legal situations illustrating the complexities of canine law, as well as offering suggestions for lawyering in dangerous dog cases, and what lawyers should push for.

Ms. Schaffner directs the GW Animal Law Program. She has testified on behalf of non-breed-specific dangerous dog laws and has appeared on animal law panels at conferences worldwide.

Justice for All

In his book Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice (The New Press, 2009), law professor and former prosecutor Paul Butler puts the American criminal justice system on trial, arguing that when it comes to incarceration and protecting communities, a lock ’em up mentality does more harm than good.

“In the United States, the rush to punish is out of control,” Mr. Butler writes. “In addition to the violent creeps I put away, I sent hundreds of other people to prison who should not be there.” Written in a conversational style, Mr. Butler’s text argues that mass incarceration actually makes us less safe.

Mr. Butler tells about his own arrest and trial for a false accusation involving a neighborhood dispute, and how the judicial process can hurt a person’s pride, family, job, status, and security. “I don’t know what I’m ashamed of. I do know that my arrest and prosecution hurt me in ways I still haven’t touched,” Butler writes.

In Let’s Get Free, Mr. Butler suggests ending the war on drugs because violence associated with drugs stems from the existence of an illegal market. Jurors, writes Mr. Butler, have the power to end mass incarceration by using jury nullification.

Clues to making our justice system more effective can be found within the hip-hop culture, Mr. Butler says. “Hip-hop has the potential to transform justice in the United States,” by emphasizing that even drug dealers have worth as people, he writes.

Other suggestions offered by the former prosecutor include paying at-risk students to finish high school, reducing lead poisoning (which leads to higher aggression and reduced impulse control), building up families’ and communities’ support of drug offenders who promise to “straighten up,” and tailoring punishments to fit the crime and the criminal.

Mr. Butler is associate dean for faculty development and Carville Dickinson Benson Research Professor of Law at GW.

Protecting Speech

We think of the Internet as a public forum, but is it, really?

Law Professor Dawn Nunziato examines the issue in her new book Virtual Freedom: Net Neutrality and Free Speech in the Internet Age (Stanford University Press, 2009).

“Although the Internet is generally seen as a forum for free expression, in reality speech on the Internet is subject to censorship and discrimination at a variety of chokepoints,” Ms. Nunziato writes. Powerful, private Internet providers have the right and have already exercised control of e-mails, Web pages, and content that they believe to be damaging to their political or economic interests.

She describes an incident where Comcast restricted e-mail subscribers from receiving communications from two public interest groups critical of President George W. Bush. Similar practices have been exercised by other major broadband carriers.

Comcast in the Boston area restricted users’ access to Google and Gmail, and when people called to complain, Comcast staff members said it must be a problem with Google, and suggested customers switch from Gmail to a Comcast e-mail account, Nunziato writes. “[B]ecause such speech restrictions as these occur at the hands of ‘private’ conduits,” she writes, “they are not considered First Amendment violations under the prevailing understanding of the free speech guarantee.”

As a result, Ms. Nunziato writes, “virtually no places exist on the Internet to serve as ‘public forums.’” So unless our laws change, we can’t truly express ourselves on the Internet without the possibility of censorship.

Ms. Nunziato’s book examines the implications of limited free speech on the Internet through previous court cases on parallel matters and past related rulings.

In her concluding pages, she writes that “those few companies that serve as the gatekeepers for expression on the Internet should be regulated to ensure that they act as good stewards within this marketplace.”

Ms. Nunziato is a professor of law at GW and teaches a course on the First Amendment.

—Carrie Madren