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Milwaukee Criminal Defense Law Blog

Police and prosecutors should be held liable for intentional wrongdoing

Desmond Ricks spent 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Unfortunately, that is not uncommon in the U.S. justice system. What makes Ricks' story more tragic is what sent him to prison - false testimony by two Detroit police officers.

Ricks was freed in June after it was revealed that bullets recovered from the body of a murder victim in 1992 did not come from a gun police recovered from Ricks' mother's home. Prosecutors dropped all charges against him and Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he will reopen every case worked by the two officers, who gave false testimony that helped convict Ricks and who are now retired. No charges can be brought against the officers due to the statue of limitations.

Wisconsin has no plans for independent review of bad evidence

After learning that its own hair and fiber analysis methods were faulty, the FBI has tried to identify all criminal convictions that relied on such evidence. The agency has initiated a nationwide review of all cases involving such evidence before 2000, when the FBI switched to the use of mitochondrial DNA analysis instead of the older techniques.

The FBI has acknowledged at least 13 flawed prosecutions in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Those are among hundreds that have been discovered nationwide. The Center suspects there may be more, but writes that its efforts to identify these wrongful convictions "have been thwarted by district attorneys" and U.S. Attorneys who have shielded prosecutorial records and been non-responsive to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Supreme Court declines cases defining computer system hacking

Under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, it's a criminal act to intentionally access a computer or computer system without authorization. The law also allows victims of unauthorized access to sue for damages. In the modern world of the internet and social media, the definition of "unauthorized" has become contentious, however.

The CFAA does not specifically define who has the power to authorize access, so courts have had to do their best to determine what Congress meant when it passed the law, or similar laws.

Should your license be suspended for failure to pay a fine?

In most states, including Wisconsin, judges can suspend or revoke your driver's license if you fail to pay a fine. That can be somewhat counterproductive, as well as costly to the courts. Many people aren't able to earn a living without driving, so suspending their licenses makes it a great deal harder to pay the fine. Continued nonpayment can lead to a vicious debt cycle and thus longer term involvement with the courts than would otherwise be necessary.

In Wisconsin, one can ask judges to consider the defendant's ability to pay, although low-income defendants are still expected to pay in installments. Unfortunately, defendants have to proactively notify the court of their inability to pay in order to get the installment plan. And, failure to pay can lead to imprisonment for contempt of court.

Bipartisan group pushes for restrictions in FISA reauthorization

A group of House lawmakers from both sides of the aisle has agreed to support extending the FISA Amendments Act, the law authorizing warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency, through 2023. It is currently set to expire at the end of this year. In exchange for their support, the group will push for changes and restrictions on the law that would bring it more in line with general search procedures. The restrictions are opposed by the Trump administration.

The lawmakers include Jim Sensenbrenner, former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, current chair Robert Goodlatte of Virginia, and the ranking Democrat on the committee, John Conyers of Michigan. Their agreement to support a restricted renewal is apparently private but was reported to the New York Times by anonymous congressional officials.

Open records of crime lab backlogs at odds with Schimel's claims

On July 27, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin sent an open records request to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. It was seeking reports on the operations of the state crime lab and whether there continue to be backlogs in processing evidence. Hours after the request was filed, Attorney General Brad Schimel announced that he would authorize overtime and create 11 part-time positions to help law enforcement collect DNA samples and other evidence.

Schimel's spokesperson added that high-priority cases are already being processed "forthwith."

Appeals court limits reach of search warrants for cellphones

The mere fact that someone is under suspicion for a crime is not enough to justify a warrant for that person's cellphone. The mere fact that most people have a cellphone is not enough to justify a warrant. A warrant issued with no more specific reason than those is unconstitutional, the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled recently.

Although the D.C. Circuit doesn't include Wisconsin, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is considered quite influential and has jurisdiction over much of what federal agencies do, and other federal courts will give weight to its decisions in their own cases.

Imprisoned for 45 years, Michigan man may soon be exonerated

For decades, Richard Phillips has insisted upon his innocence in a 1971 murder in Detroit. Now 71, Phillips may finally be released from prison after his co-defendant admitted Phillips played no role in the crime. A judge recently dismissed his conviction, although he also granted prosecutors a new trial. Prosecutors in Wayne County, Michigan, have vowed to appeal the reversal.

It might have seemed like a hopeless case before the University of Michigan Law School's Innocence Clinic took it on. For one thing, the conviction was largely based on the testimony of a witness who has since died.

Faith, advocacy groups seek independent review of Milwaukee PD

Recently, an array of faith-based, civil rights and other advocacy organizations announced they are seeking an independent review of the Milwaukee Police Department's policing practices. Milwaukee is far from immune to the nationwide debate brought up by instances of what appear to be excessive force used against unarmed, typically African-American defendants. At stake is the public's trust in the police force and even the justice system.

Justice Department audit months late, incomplete

Is the Justice Department about to crack down on marijuana?

Observers on Capitol Hill believe Attorney General Jeff Sessions may be about to lay down the law on marijuana users, reversing popular policies put in place by the Obama Administration. Moreover, the reason for the change is almost as surprising as the potential policy change.

AG Sessions heads the president's Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, a group meant to fight violent crime. According to the Hill, Sessions has explicitly instructed members of the task force to review "the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana" to determine whether they're in line with the DOJ's overall strategy against violent crime.

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