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Milwaukee Criminal Defense Law Blog

Do you have a duty to open your door for the police?

If the police have a warrant to search your home, you have to let them in. A warrant is a court order requiring you to stand aside and let them perform the search described.

Many times, however, police search homes when they don't have warrants. The constitution requires either a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement in order for police to search. Common exceptions involving home searches include searches incident to a lawful arrest, when evidence is in the plain view of police, consent by the resident, and the emergency exception, when police reasonably believe that someone inside is in immediate need of assistance.

Charges filed against DNA profile to beat statute of limitations

In an apparent bid to avoid missing a six-year statute of limitations, the Wisconsin Department of Justice recently filed felony charges against a man who mailed a threatening letter to a judge in 2012. Prosecutors apparently obtained DNA from the back of the stamp, which the suspect had presumably licked.

There's only one problem with the case: Prosecutors don't know who that DNA belongs to.

'Making a Murderer' lawyers start new forensic science nonprofit

Did you know that multiple studies have shown that faulty, unscientific or exaggerated forensic science is a major cause of wrongful convictions? According to the National Registry of Exonerations, improper or invalid forensic science has been discovered in approximately 24 percent of all exonerations since 1989.

Now, the lawyers behind the Netflix true crime series "Making a Murderer" have joined the University of Wisconsin law professor who co-founded the Wisconsin Innocence Project to start the Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences (CIFS). The purpose of the nonprofit is to drive reform in the use of forensic science in criminal cases.

Could a parking violation put you at risk for arrest?

Imagine you're out on a freezing January evening in Milwaukee. You stop at a liquor store, momentarily parking your car while you run inside. Unfortunately, you park less than 15 feet from an unmarked crosswalk.

The worst you could get is a $30 parking ticket, right? Unfortunately, the outcome could be much worse.

Federal court: Searches at the border must still be reasonable

In 2015, Abdisalam Wilwal, Sagal Abdigani, and their four young children were heading home after visiting Canadian relatives when they stopped at the Portal, North Dakota, border station. They are both U.S. citizens and married. Shortly after handing over their papers, they were confronted by armed and aggressive Customs and Border Protection officers. Mr. Wilwal was handcuffed in front of his frightened, crying children.

The CBP officers accused Mr. Wilwal of being a terrorist. Although he denied this, they handcuffed his hands behind his back and left him in a room for hours with no food or water. He eventually passed out and needed paramedics called.

California just reformed its bail system

Should people be locked up for being unable to pay bail? More than 30 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that was unconstitutional. Bail is meant to incentivize people to show up at their court dates. But as we mentioned in a recent blog post, nearly half a million Americans are currently locked up awaiting trial, simply because they can't afford bail.

As we discussed, cash bail disproportionately affects the poor and minorities, and it actually increases the chances of conviction. Being stuck in jail before your trial often means the loss of your job and housing and can negatively impact your child custody rights. It can have repercussions on your privacy and attorney-client confidentiality. It can put you in a position where pleading guilty seems the only way to get your life back.

American Bar Assn issues guidelines on ending debtor's prisons

Over 30 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people who cannot afford their court fees or fines should never be locked up for their inability to pay. Yet across the country, nearly half a million people sit in jail awaiting trial -- often simply because they can't afford bail.

Originally, bail was meant to ensure that people would appear at their court dates. Now, however, the system has morphed. Nowadays, wealthy people are nearly always released regardless of the charge, while poor folks typically find themselves trapped in jail even on minor charges. The time they spend locked away -- before they've ever been convicted of anything -- often costs them their jobs, housing and even child custody.

How can we know how accurate DNA testing devices really are?

The basic science behind DNA testing is sound enough. Each individual has DNA that varies as much as one person varies from another. With the right technology, we should be able to compare a DNA sample found at a crime scene with one taken from a suspect.

That is, we should be able to do a fair comparison of those samples as long as:

  • The evidence was gathered and preserved correctly
  • There was no break in the chain of evidence
  • The test used to compare the samples is scientifically valid
  • The test was performed correctly, and
  • The testimony about the test results is not exaggerated

Why should sentences after trials be longer than pled sentences?

In the criminal justice world, there is something we refer to as the "trial penalty." It is a penalty, in the form of a harsher sentence, for anyone who demands a trial and is then found guilty. In almost every case, defendants convicted at trial are sentenced to far longer than people who accept plea bargains.

It's reasonable, from the prosecution's point of view. Court and prosecution resources are limited, so an incentive for pleading guilty is needed. Just plead guilty -- don't make us go to the trouble and expense of a trial and we'll cut you a break, the prosecution argues.

How common are wrongful misdemeanor convictions?

If you were charged with a misdemeanor, you might decide to plead guilty just to get out of jail and go home. By definition, the penalty for a misdemeanor must be less than a year behind bars, and most people receive far less than that. In many cases, a guilty plea results in no jail time at all.

In contrast, demanding a trial could be ruinous if you can't make bail. You could be in jail for months awaiting a trial date. Not only would your life be on hold, but you could easily lose your job and even your housing. For many people, there is simply no question of trial -- they simply must take a plea regardless of guilt.

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