Jocelyn Simonson

Visiting Associate Professor of Law

Fall 2019

Biography

Professor Jocelyn Simonson writes and teaches about criminal law, criminal procedure, and social change. Her scholarship explores ways in which the public participates in the criminal process and in the institutions of local governance that control policing and punishment. In particular, she studies bottom-up interventions in the criminal legal system, such as bail funds, copwatching, courtwatching, and participatory defense, asking how these real-life interventions should inform our conceptions of the design of criminal justice institutions, the discourse of constitutional rights, and the meaning of democratic justice. Her law review articles have appeared or are forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review, Columbia Law Review, California Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, Northwestern University Law Review, and NYU Review of Law & Social Change. Professor Simonson’s scholarship has been cited twice by the Supreme Court, and was designated “Must Read” by the NACDL Getting Scholarship Into Courts Project.

Professor Simonson is an Associate Professor at Brooklyn Law School. Prior to joining the Brooklyn Law School faculty in 2015, Professor Simonson was an Acting Assistant Professor of Lawyering at New York University School of Law. Previously, Professor Simonson spent five years as a public defender with the Bronx Defenders. She clerked for the Hon. Barrington D. Parker, Jr., U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

Areas of Interest

Jocelyn Simonson, The Place of “the People” in Criminal Procedure, 119 Colum. L. Rev. 249 (2019).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
Sub-Categories:
Criminal Defense
,
Criminal Prosecution
,
Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement
Type: Article
Abstract
The rules and practices of criminal procedure assume a clean separa­tion between the interests of the public and the interests of the lone defendant who stands accused. Even the names given to criminal pros­ecutions often declare this dichotomy, as in jurisdictions such as California, Illinois, Michigan, and New York that caption criminal cases “The People of the State of X v. John Doe.” This Essay argues that this traditional people/defendant dichotomy is critically flawed and then builds on that critique to point the way toward a more realistic, inclu­sive, and just vision of the role of the public in the criminal pro­cess. The people/defendant dichotomy in the ideology of contemporary crimi­nal procedure rests on two mistaken premises: first, that prosecu­tors are and should be the primary representatives of the public in the court­room; and second, that the rules of criminal procedure must limit direct public participation to an illusory, limited subset of the public that is deemed “neutral” and “unbiased.” These conceptions of representa­tion and neutrality distort the criminal legal system’s understand­ing of who “the People” are, marginalizing and excluding the voices of those members of the community who stand to be harmed by the defendant’s prosecution or incarceration. As a result, the ideology of the people/defendant dichotomy promotes practices that are more puni­tive than the multifaceted interests of the public dictate. This Essay puts forth a new, alternative approach to thinking about popular participa­tion in criminal procedure, an approach that recognizes that “the People” can and do appear on both sides of the scale of justice. This recogni­tion casts new light on the role of bottom-up resistance to local police actions and prosecutions—such as through courtwatching, participa­tory defense, and community bail funds—by those who otherwise do not have a voice in the process. And it directs us toward proce­dural rules and constitutional jurisprudence that both acknowledge com­munal interests beyond merely protecting “public safety” and pro­mote an inclusive system of criminal adjudication responsive to the multidi­mensional demands of the popular will.
Jocelyn Simonson, Bail Nullification, 115 Mich. L. Rev. 585 (2017).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
Sub-Categories:
Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement
,
Criminal Prosecution
,
Criminal Defense
Type: Article
Abstract
This Article explores the possibility of community nullification beyond the jury by analyzing the growing and unstudied phenomenon of community bail funds, which post bail for strangers based on broader beliefs regarding the overuse of pretrial detention. When a community bail fund posts bail, it can serve the function of nullifying a judge’s determination that a certain amount of the defendant’s personal or family money was necessary to ensure public safety and prevent flight. This growing practice—what this Article calls “bail nullification”—is powerful because it exposes publicly what many within the system already know to be true: that although bail is ostensibly a regulatory pretrial procedure, for indigent defendants it often serves the function that a real trial might, producing guilty pleas and longer sentences when an individual cannot afford to pay their bail. By examining the ways in which community bail funds serve the functions that a nullifying jury might—allowing popular participation in an individual case to facilitate larger resistance to the policies and practices of state actors—this Article argues that community bail funds have the potential to change how local criminal justice systems operate on the ground, shifting and shaping political and constitutional understandings of the institution of money bail. Community bail funds give a voice to populations who rarely have a say in how criminal justice is administered, especially poor people of color. And the study of bail funds helps point toward other ways in which bottom-up public participation can help create a criminal justice system that is truly responsive to the communities that it is ultimately supposed to serve.
Jocelyn Simonson, Copwatching, 104 Calif. L. Rev. 391 (2016).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
,
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement
,
Government Accountability
Type: Article
Abstract
This Article explores the phenomenon of organized copwatching—groups of local residents who wear uniforms, carry visible recording devices, patrol neighborhoods, and film police citizen interactions in an effort to hold police departments accountable to the populations they police. The Article argues that the practice of copwatching illustrates both the promise of adversarialism as a form of civic engagement and the potential of traditionally powerless populations to contribute to constitutional norms governing police conduct. Organized copwatching serves a unique function in the world of police accountability by giving these populations a vehicle through which to have direct, real-time input into policing decisions that affect their neighborhoods. Many scholars recognize that a lack of public participation is a barrier to true police accountability. When searching for solutions these same scholars often focus on studying and perfecting consensus-based methods of participation such as community policing, and neglect the study of more adversarial, confrontational forms of local participation in policing. By analyzing copwatching as a form of public participation, this Article challenges the scholarly focus on consensus-based strategies of police accountability. The Article urges scholars and reformers to take adversarial, bottom-up mechanisms of police accountability seriously—not just as protest, but as true participation. Doing so requires respecting observation and contestation as legitimate civic gestures worthy of protection.

Education History

Current Courses

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