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Milwaukee Criminal Defense Law Blog

Reports: Blood pattern analysis could use scientific improvement

In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued a blockbuster report challenging the scientific underpinnings of many fields of forensic evidence. The report found that such evidence is rarely supported by rigorous study. Moreover, the analyses are often performed unscientifically, and analysts often overstate the scientific rigor of their evidence during testimony.

This is crucially important. Numerous people have been exonerated after it was shown that the forensic evidence used to convict them was false or exaggerated. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, false or misleading forensic science is a factor in 23% of exonerations.

Called by someone demanding money and claiming to be a US marshal?

There is a scam going around that targets the public, criminal defendants and especially sex offenders. We've received some calls about it at our office, so we thought we would cover it here.

According to the U.S. Marshals Service in Milwaukee, con artists are calling people from numbers that have been spoofed to look like the marshals' phone number or other local numbers. The scammers may also claim to be from other law enforcement agencies.

Supreme Court: Can states just get rid of the insanity defense?

At stake is our basic understanding of the difference between right and wrong. If someone commits a wrongful act but, due to a mental illness or defect, wasn't able to recognize that what they were doing was wrong, we don't consider them to have committed a crime.

The same goes for people who are completely unable to conform their behavior to the law. If their mental illness or defect meant that they couldn't keep themselves from breaking the law, they have traditionally been considered not guilty.

What should prosecutors do when they know an officer lies?

It's a controversial subject, but we live in a harsh world. Some police officers lie. Some have a documented history of misconduct, including lying or other acts that call their truthfulness into question. If they do, this history should be available to the defense so that the officer's credibility can be tested in court.

In its 1963 ruling in Brady v. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors have an affirmative duty to disclose to the defense any evidence that tends to show the defendant is innocent or that calls into question the reliability of the state's evidence. That means that prosecutors are required to tell the defense when their case relies on the testimony of a police officer with a history of lying.

Study: Cellphone location data is not necessarily accurate

In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences issued a blockbuster report on the state of the science in forensic investigation. That report concluded that, "with the exception of nuclear DNA analysis ... no forensic method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source."

On this blog, we've discussed the fact that many common forensic techniques are not supported by science. That includes techniques that prosecutors and police have long relied on, such as drug field tests, bite mark comparison, blood spatter analysis, image comparison, microscopic hair comparison, ballistics, lie detector tests and more.

Jailhouse informants lie. Should they be allowed to testify?

A jailhouse informant is rarely someone who just wants to help. Jails and prisons have a strong anti-snitching culture, so passing along information to prosecutors is a choice that could get you in serious trouble. People don't inform on other prisoners to be solid citizens; they do it to get a break on their sentences.

As long as informants are offered a break for snitching, there will always be a strong incentive to say whatever the prosecutor wants to hear. 

The United States Supreme Court has termed the use of jailhouse informants a "dirty business," and therefore allows broad cross-examination and special cautionary jury instructions. But those remedies are often inadequate.

When people with intellectual disabilities commit sex crimes

When Adam N. was arrested for exposing himself to a neighbor, it was hard to understand it as a sex crime. Adam is 32 but functions at the level of a 10-year-old. His mother says that the neighbor was actually abusing Adam and coerced him to expose himself. Adam pled guilty, however, and was sentenced to two years of probation and 10 years on the sex offender registry.

Since Adam functions at such a low level, however, he has a hard time understanding and complying with the restrictions of his sentence. He was required to move to a new residence because his home was too near the alleged victim's. That meant the entire family had to move because Adam can't live on his own. Finding a home that complied with the sex offender restrictions cost the family $150,000.

Wisconsin woman says she was railroaded into arson conviction

In February 2013, a house in the small town of Quincy, Wisconsin, burned nearly to the ground. Its owner was Brenda Jones, a 51-year-old woman with cancer. She was legally disabled and disability insurance was her only source of income. She wasn't home at the time of the fire, which was electrical in origin.

Although both an insurance adjuster and arson investigators ruled that the fire was accidental, the Adams County Sheriff's Office pressed forward with an arson case against Jones. 

Wisconsin's county jails are full of innocent people

According to the bipartisan nonprofit the Prison Policy Initiative, a third of all Wisconsin county jail inmates between 2009 and 2013 were locked up solely because they couldn't afford a low cash bail. In other words, they're behind bars before having been convicted of anything.

In fact, people who are held in jail prior to trial make up the fastest growing population in Wisconsin's jails. Nationwide, approximate 75% of people held in local jails have yet to be convicted of any crime.

Does police use of Amazon's Ring constitute illegal surveillance?

The Ring doorbell sold by Amazon offers homeowners security by filming and recording everyone who enters its field of vision. Along with the product comes access to a social network called Neighbors, where Ring users can share and discuss the footage their systems capture.

It is not just neighbors who share that footage, however. More and more often, law enforcement is making deals with Amazon and Ring users to obtain the security footage -- even when no crime has occurred.

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