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Milwaukee Criminal Defense Law Blog

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.

State law enforcement works to improve eyewitness identifications

Imagine how you would feel if you were sent to prison for a crime you didn’t commit. Now, imagine how the victim would feel upon learning the wrong person was put behind bars and the real perpetrator is free.

Wrongful convictions hurt everyone involved, and police and prosecutors should be among the most highly motivated groups to prevent wrongful convictions and rectify the situation when they are discovered.

California may abolish the felony murder rule. Should Wisconsin?

Shawn K. was 15 when he and three other teens broke into a neighbor's house looking for cash. Shawn's job was to guard the back door. Unfortunately, things did not go as expected and the homeowner was seriously injured and ultimately died. Although no one, not even prosecutors, accused Shawn of harming the victim, he was still found guilty of first-degree murder. How? The felony murder rule.

In most of the United States, people can be found guilty of first-degree murder if a death results from the commission of certain dangerous felonies. In other words, if the defendant was involved in the commission of any of a list of serious crimes, that defendant is considered responsible for any death that results.

Milwaukee to pay $3.4 million over stop-and-frisk race profiling

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and a law firm filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Milwaukee Police department of operating a "vast and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program" that targeted African-Americans and Latinos. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of six plaintiffs who had been stopped, sometimes multiple times, by officers with no reasonable suspicion that they were involved in criminal behavior.

Former Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn denies that the department engaged in racially motivated stop-and-frisk practices. He acknowledged that the department had a policy of concentrating traffic stops in high-crime areas.

Is data-driven policing just tech-based stereotyping?

With constant calls for police to stop racial profiling, law enforcement agencies want concrete, race-neutral information to help them target people based on their behavior alone. Many officers believe that a small number of people are responsible for the majority of non-drug street crime. Identifying those people could be crucial to keeping crime down.

Police might once have hauled in "all the usual suspects," but arresting people without probable cause is unconstitutional. Plus, "the usual suspects" were often simply people of color with whom the police had already had contact.

Supreme Court updates law on access to cellphone location data

If the police want to track you through your cellphone's location history, should they have to get a warrant?

Requiring that law enforcement officers get a warrant is meant to protect people from unduly intrusive searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution promises that people will be "secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."

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