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Milwaukee Criminal Defense Law Blog

Analysis reveals more flawed forensic evidence being presented

"How many cases of innocent people being wrongly convicted have to occur before people realize that there's a very broad spectrum of forensic science?" asks U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff, a former member of the National Commission on Forensic Science.

For the past five decades, FBI examiners have used image comparison to tie defendants to crime scenes. Image comparison has been used in thousands of cases, yet studies have shown several of its underlying techniques to be scientifically unreliable.

Vermont high court case a landmark civil rights victory

In 2014, an African-American man named Gregory Zullo was pulled over in Vermont after an officer noticed his license tab was partly obscured by snow. At the traffic stop, the officer also noticed a bottle of Visine, an air freshener and a faint smell of marijuana, which has been decriminalized in Vermont. Zullo admitted having smoked marijuana three days' before.

When Zullo refused permission to search his car, the officer had the vehicle towed to the station and left Zullo to hitchhike eight miles home in the snow.

Philadelphia's reform prosecutor moves against over-charging

Despite the obvious momentum for criminal justice reform demonstrated in the recent election and the potential passage of the First Step Act, many prosecutors around the country continue to engage in harsh, "tough on crime" tactics. One exception who bears watching is Larry Krasner, the elected district attorney for Philadelphia.

We mentioned Krasner in May, when he announced that Philadelphia would no longer prosecute marijuana possession offenses. A number of jurisdictions have followed Krasner's lead on the issue.

Supreme Court: 'Excessive fines' prohibition may apply to states

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, "excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." An Indiana man is testing the excessive fines rule by appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. The problem? The high court has never held that the "excessive fines" clause applies to the states.

It may surprise you to learn that the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution) hasn't always applied to the states, but it's true. It wasn't until the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed everyone due process and equal protection of the law that the Supreme Court began applying the requirements of the Bill of Rights to the states. Still, while most of those requirements have specifically been applied to the states, there are a few that haven't had a hearing yet. The excessive fines clause is one of those.

When will we see reforms in forensic evidence?

"Some experts extrapolate far beyond what can be supported," reads a 2009 National Academy of Sciences report about bloodstain pattern analysis. It adds, "The uncertainties associated with bloodstain-pattern analysis are enormous."

Just a year later, Julie Rea of Illinois was exonerated. She had been convicted in 2002 of stabbing her 10-year-old son to death, based almost entirely on what turned out to be faulty bloodstain pattern analysis. She was later acquitted at retrial four years later. The defense challenged the forensic testimony and also presented new evidence that a serial killer who was wanted for a nearly identical crime had confessed to killing Rea's son.

911 caller facing felony after blowing fentanyl off his finger

Last August, 50-year-old Eric Weil called 911. He had taken in a friend's son who was struggling with opioid addiction. This help was offered on the condition that the young man bring no drugs into the house, but he did. When Weil discovered a packet of white powder in the guest room, he called for help.

He didn't expect to be arrested himself. He didn't expect to be charged with a felony, but he was, according to the New York Times.

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.

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