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Milwaukee Criminal Defense Law Blog

Follow the evidence when evaluating sex offender registries

To many, sex offender registries seem like a good way to prevent people from committing repeat sex offenses, thereby keeping the public safer.

Many believe that people who have committed sex offenses in the past are much more likely to commit them in the future. However punitive and life-altering it may be to be placed on a sex offender registry, they say, registries are the best way to keep the public safe from sex offenses. Over time, the theory goes, sex offenses should go down overall as more and more offenders are placed on the registry.

Many cops believe they can use this tool to test people for lying

Scientifically, it's a pipe dream. It would be convenient if we could train law enforcement officers on how to tell if people are lying, but so far there is no way to do so. That doesn't stop people from trying, though.

We've discussed lie detector tests before. In theory, polygraphs measure changes in breathing, blood pressure and skin conductivity, tracking allegedly tell-tale signs of lying. In reality, polygraphs may be no more accurate than chance, especially depending on the operator. Worse, they are prone to false positives, making it seem that people are lying when they are not.

Is collecting DNA evidence that easy?

Recently, a New Mexico newspaper and the Associated Press covered what sounded like a light-hearted story. Apparently, someone attempted an armed robbery a Pizza Hut store in Las Cruces.

The police reviewed surveillance tapes but were apparently unable to identify the suspect. Then, they noticed that the suspect "face-planted" into a locked exit door before pivoting and using another door. 

Illinois moves to expunge low-level marijuana convictions

"We are ending the 50-year-long war on cannabis," said Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said in a statement recently. The state has just legalized the possession of marijuana for personal recreational use. Medical marijuana is also legal in Illinois.

Expungement of low-level, nonviolent marijuana offenses is a key provision in the law, according to state officials. This is meant to repair some of the damage the War on Drugs has done to individuals and communities, particularly minorities.

Don't put your faith in fingerprint matching 'experts'

It may be true that no two sets of fingerprints are alike, although there is no actual study showing that. Even if it is true, however, the process of matching fingerprints found at crime scenes to prints from other sources is messy. Most often, crime scene prints are partial or smudged, and there are plenty of prints that are thought common enough to match these.

In 2004, an Oregon lawyer, Brandon Mayfield, was falsely implicated in a Madrid train bombing. This was based on a faulty fingerprint analysis performed by the FBI. The lawyer's fingerprints were found to be a "close non-match" in a search aided by the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, the FBI's fingerprint database.

Race gap in prisons is narrowing, but it's still too wide

The nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice recently released a report on the race gap in American prisons. The race gap is the degree to which minorities are incarcerated at a rate beyond their proportion in society. For example, even though there is no evidence that African-Americans are more prone to drug crimes than whites, in 2000 they were 15 times as likely to be convicted of state-level drug crimes.

The good news is that the race gap seems to be shrinking. For example, using 2016 data, the latest available, the report found that African-Americans were only five times as likely as whites to be in state prisons for drug crimes. African-Americans account for only about 12% of the U.S. population.

In New Jersey, sex offenders fight for chance to get off registry

In New Jersey as in most states, there is a sex offender registry that was created by a "Megan's Law." These laws were enacted after a 7-year-old girl, Megan Kanka, was raped and murdered by a man who had been convicted twice of sexual assault. The law requires all those convicted of qualifying sex crimes to register their whereabouts with the state and allows public disclosure of that information.

Sex offender registries may seem reasonable, but they suffer from a number of problems. For one, there is actually little evidence that being placed on a sex offender registry reduces a person's chances of reoffending. In fact, it might make reoffending more likely because it makes it harder for people to reintegrate into society. It also promotes vigilantism and collateral damage to the offender's family. 

Illinois taking emergency steps to end child isolation punishments

Governor J.B. Pritzker has directed the Illinois State Board of Education to take emergency action and stop schools from isolating children behind locked doors as punishment. The Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois published an investigation of the punishment, which may amount to torture.

The investigation revealed that kids are frequently locked alone in isolated "timeout rooms" for hours. The reporters found evidence that children were crying, screaming, begging to be freed, prying at the doors and even ramming their heads into walls.

New York Times investigation finds OWI breath tests unreliable

Each year in the United States, about a million people are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. In virtually all of those cases, the driver is asked to blow into a breathalyzer-style machine that estimates their blood-alcohol content. If it's above a certain level, typically 0.08%, the driver is arrested and brought to the precinct for additional testing.

The preliminary breath tests drivers perform on the roadside are typically inadmissible as evidence. They are, however, used to support probable cause to arrest the driver and subject them to a test that will be admissible in court. Therefore, it's extremely important for the preliminary breathalyzer test to be accurate. It's even more important that the breath machines located in police stations be accurate, as those results are admissible in court. 

Court: Border agents need reasonable suspicion to search devices

At the border and in international airports, ICE and the Customs and Border Protection service have been routinely rifling through people's computers and smart phones. Away from the border, law enforcement needs a warrant before it can search your phone or another electronic device. So why have border agents assumed they didn't need one?

The ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation sued on behalf of 11 international travelers who had had their devices searched at the border without a warrant. In their defense, the border agencies claimed that their "paramount" interest in protecting the border gave them wide latitude in routine searches.

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