Guilty Minds
A Virtual Conference on Mens Rea and Criminal Justice Reform

Academy for Justice
Arizona State Law Journal

Accidents may be inevitable, but creating accidental criminals is not; rather, that’s a choice, and one that the criminal justice system should never make. But unfortunately, the criminal justice system has made this choice, repeatedly, by failing to account for a defendant’s mens rea—Latin for “guilty mind”—in imposing criminal liability and scaling punishment across a number of contexts. The consequences of these unjust policies—more people going to prison, and for longer periods—are intolerable at any time. But they’re particularly troubling in a time of mass incarceration, widespread racial injustice, and a prison system overwhelmed by a global pandemic. So now more than ever, there’s a pressing need to bring attention to and reform our nation’s state and federal mens rea policies. That’s the primary goal of Guilty Minds—A Virtual Conference on Mens Rea & Criminal Justice Reform.

On September 25 and 26, 2020, the Academy for Justice and the Arizona State Law Journal will bring together some of the nation’s leading criminal law professors and practitioners for an extended conversation about mens rea policy and its role within the broader criminal justice reform movement. The conversations will revolve around accessible papers, which will be published in a special issue of the Arizona State Law Journal. Topics that will be covered include: strict liability, felony murder, complicity, intoxication, mental illness, willful blindness, ignorance of wrongdoing, and the politics of mens rea reform. For balance and diversity of perspective, every conference panel will include a mix of criminal law scholars and practitioners.

The conference was developed and is being hosted by ASU Law Professor Michael Serota. The current list of participants includes:

  • Rachel Barkow (NYU)
  • Vera Bergelson (Rutgers)
  • Guyora Binder (Buffalo)
  • Douglas Berman (OSU)
  • Bennett Capers (Fordham)
  • Jenny Carroll (Alabama)
  • Hon. Katherine Easterly (D.C. Court of Appeals)
  • Kimberly Ferzan (Penn)
  • Brenner Fissell (Hofstra)
  • Robert Garcia (Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative)
  • Stephen Garvey (Cornell)
  • Hon. Nancy Gertner (Harvard)
  • Molly Gill (FAMM)
  • Laura Hankins (Public Defender Service, DC)
  • Shon Hopwood (Georgetown)
  • Douglas Husak (Rutgers)
  • Joshua Kleinfeld (Northwestern)
  • Benjamin Levin (Colorado)
  • Erik Luna (ASU)
  • Tracey Meares (Yale)
  • Matthew Mizel (RAND)
  • Jamelia Morgan (UConn)
  • Stephen Morse (Penn)
  • Shana O'Toole (Due Process Institute)
  • Hon. Jed Rakoff (US District Court, SDNY)
  • Andrea Roth (UC Berkeley)
  • Michael Serota (ASU)
  • Francis Shen (Minnesota/Yale)
  • Kenneth Simons (UC Irvine)
  • Jonathan Wroblewski (US DOJ, Office of Policy & Legislation)
  • Gideon Yaffe (Yale)
  • Ekow Yankah (Cardozo)

You can read more about this dynamic group here.

(Please note: all governmental panelists are participating in their individual capacity, and the opinions they express will be their own.)
On your computer screen, virtually, provided you have Zoom and an internet connection! More information about connectivity will be released soon.
The conference is taking place on Friday, September 25 and Saturday, September 26, 2020. Each day will run for approximately six hours total, which includes a number of breaks. The start time is 9am PST/12pm EST and the end time is 3pm PST/6pm EST.

What’s Different About This Conference?

Typically, legal conferences are narrow in focus, heavy on presentations, and light on public access. This one aims to be different in three main ways:

Diversity of participants

Conference participants come from both the legal academy and the world of criminal justice practice. They are experts on many different areas of the criminal law and have experience working with many different aspects of the criminal justice system. These varied perspectives will be brought to bear on each panel, which should help facilitate a more meaningful discussion.

On-demand presentations

All panelists who wrote papers for the conference will pre-record their presentations for viewing before the conference, maximizing the opportunities for group discussion within the six-hour timespan.

Universal access

Anyone can participate! Well, sort of. The event will be publicly accessible via Zoom Webinar, and there will also be an email address to which audience questions can be sent. That email address will be carefully monitored, and serve as an important source of questions for the group discussion.