Throughout American history the public has been gripped by fantasies of criminal activity. These crime fantasies manifest in two distinct but related typologies: witch-hunts and crime panics. On the one hand, witch-hunts target individuals based on their beliefs and are exemplified by the two Red Scares of the early and mid-twentieth century and the persecution of the Quakers in seventeenth century Massachusetts Bay. These are fundamentally distinct from crime panics, which target activity that was already classified as criminal but do so in a way that exacerbate deep procedural deficiencies in the criminal justice system. Crime panics are exemplified by the Salem witchcraft trials and the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s and 1990s. President Trump’s relentless focus on undocumented immigration can be seen as a partially successful attempt to create a crime panic, while, perhaps surprisingly, the investigation by Robert Mueller is neither a witch-hunt nor a crime panic. By bringing ongoing criminal law issues into conversation with legal history scholarship, this article clarifies our understanding of the relationship between politics and large-scale criminal investigations and highlights areas for future reform.
Trial of George Jacobs for Witchcraft (NYPL)
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Acevedo on Crime Fantasies
John Acevedo, Alabama Law, has posted Crime Fantasies, which appeared in the American Journal of Criminal Law 46 (2019): 194-240: