The Boundaries Are Dead, Long Live the Boundaries!

Volume 94

94 Va. L. Rev. Online 85
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In our article Overcoming Procedural Boundaries, we set out to dispense with the anachronistic and dysfunctional distinction between civil and criminal procedure and to offer in its stead an alternative procedural divide that is better suited to the goals and purposes of the original dichotomy. The article is comprised of two parts, the first deconstructive and the second reconstructive. The deconstructive part seeks to show that the existing procedural taxonomy is inherently flawed both conceptually and practically. It highlights a fundamental shortcoming of our present procedural system in failing to provide adequate protections to individuals who are sued by the government or by large organizational entities and who face severe civil sanctions, while ensuring sweeping procedural safeguards for people and institutions facing only trivial criminal sanctions. We survey the many justifications for the civil-criminal rift in procedure, which include utilitarian, egalitarian, expressive, and liberal rationales, and challenge each one, showing them to be “obsolete if not completely unfounded.”

The second, reconstructive part of the article proposes cutting the Gordian knot binding substance to procedure and replacing the current bifurcated civil-criminal procedural regime with a model running along two axes: the balance of power between the litigating parties and the severity of the potential sanction (or remedy). The balance of power component of the model refers to its two sets of procedural rules and is aimed at remedying the asymmetry problems inherent to litigation. According to the proposed model, one set of rules would govern symmetrical litigation, that is, where both parties are either institutional entities (IE), including both governmental bodies and large organizational entities such as big corporations and financial institutions, or else individuals (IND), which would include small businesses. A second set of rules would govern asymmetric litigation, involving an individual on one side and an institutional entity on the other. The second trajectory in the model is the degree of harm that would be generated by an adverse ruling for the litigating parties, irrespective of whether the substantive legal regime governing the dispute is civil or criminal. In focusing on these two parameters, our proposed procedural regime maps out the entire procedural landscape. The article shows that the proposed model better realizes the objectives underlying the rationales for the current procedural regime.

In his thought-provoking response, Mr. Blenkinsopp raises several important points of criticism against our reconstructive move, arguing that our “attempt to erase boundaries ends up erecting new ones, which are perhaps equally arbitrary and dysfunctional.” In this brief response, we would like to address this criticism and use his arguments as a framework for clarifying some points of possible confusion.

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