Michael Rich: Asking the question, “Should we make crime impossible?”
While growing up, Michael Rich was, by his own admission, a nerdy kid who was interested in science fiction, particularly the works of Ray Bradbury. As an associate professor of law at Elon, his most recent research has taken him into an area that only Bradbury and other futuristic writers could foresee.
Advances in technology are making it possible for the government to prevent people from committing such crimes as driving drunk, stealing copyrighted material or even committing sex offenses. In a provocative New York Times opinion column (“The Perfect Non-Crime” Aug. 6, 2012) and an article in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy (“Should We Make Crime Impossible?” forthcoming), Rich offers an analytical framework for policymakers who, as a result of emerging technologies, are being forced to decide whether making criminal conduct impossible is a proper government function.
“To me, the big question that this ultimately raises is the government’s role in interacting with individuals,” he says. “Is the government about providing services and merely influencing conduct or is it allowed to take on a bigger role and foreclose conduct entirely?”
Challenging the status quo and venturing into some of law’s grayer areas has long been of interest to Rich. He started his career at the Cincinnati law firm of Vorys Sater Seymour & Pease LLP, where he worked on white-collar criminal cases, government fraud litigation and civil rights litigation. As a young lawyer, Rich was fascinated by the behavior of whistleblowers and criminal informants. They benefit society, but are often disliked for what is seen as their acts of betrayal.
“I think they are complex figures. Few of them are purely heroic. At the same time, they are people who choose to go down an unpopular road, but they convince themselves, accurately or not, that they’re doing it for the common good,” he says.
Rich’s scholarship on criminal informants includes, “Lessons of Disloyalty in the World of Criminal Informants,” forthcoming in volume 49 of the American Criminal Law Review, “Brass Rings and Red-Headed Stepchildren: Protecting Active Criminal Informants,” published in volume 61 of the American University Law Review (2012) and “Coerced Informants and Thirteenth Amendment Limitations on the Police-Informant Relationship,” published in volume 50 of the Santa Clara Law Review (2010).
Prior to joining Elon, Rich served as an assistant professor of law at Capital University Law School. He has been at Elon since 2010 and teaches evidence, criminal law and criminal procedure.
“My professional experience taught me that lawyers need to be ready to be challenged and to be ready to explain themselves in the face of those challenges,” he says. “So I require a lot of my students in class. They need to be ready to answer questions and they need to be ready for their first answer to give rise to further inquiry.”
What Rich thought would be a one-time article about the implications for society in preventing crime has blossomed into a new area of study in what he believes could be an emerging field. He is at work on a second article that will expand on questions raised in his recent Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy article.
“It’s a relatively new thing,” he says. “That’s made it kind of fun and exciting, to feel like I’m not retreading on ground that’s already been worked on.”