Trang (Mae) Nguyen

Trang (Mae) Nguyen is the John N. Hazard Fellow in International and Comparative Law at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute, New York University School of Law. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for the Study of Law and Society. Her research uses mixed empirical methods to study authoritarian legality, human rights, and legal institutions, with a focus on Asia. Her work has been published by the Harvard Human Rights Journal, the New York University Law Review, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. She earned a J.D. degree from NYU School of Law, where she was a Mitchell Jacobson Leadership Fellow and an executive editor of the NYU Law Review.

Designation: New York University, School of Law
Institution: New York University, School of Law
Paper: Reason and Compassion in Authoritarian Courts: Criminal Sentencing in Vietnam
Abstract: "What roles, if any, do emotions play in authoritarian courts? While courts and judges in Western legal ideology are often cast in a myth of iron-clad rationality, the opposite is assumed about the enterprise of judging in authoritarian context: at worst unprofessional and corrupt, at best beholden to situational justice and local norms at the expense of law. Using empirical methods, this paper explores the notion of fairness as an interplay between compassion and legality in one such judicial system—Vietnam. Taking advantage of recent publication of court cases, this paper analyzes a database of over 200 criminal decisions by the Vietnam Supreme People’s Court, supplemented by interviews with judges, court officials, and lawyers, to shed light on a core tenet of Vietnam’s socialist legality—judging “with reason and sentiment” (“hợp tình hợp lý”). I focus on situations in which statutory laws require judges to balance multiple mitigating and aggravating factors in criminal sentencing. The goals are two-fold. First, by analyzing how judges weight these factors, I challenge existing literature’s view of judicial “sentiment” as extra-legal discretion, arguing instead that the law deliberately makes room for emotions as a way to bolster populist legitimacy. Second, as statutory laws allow judges leeway in balancing criminal sentencing factors, studying judicial decisions can reveal valuable information on how judges exercise such discretion in a tightly controlled space."