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Milwaukee Criminal Defense Law Blog

Prison vs. probation: Equally effective at crime prevention?

Those opposed to criminal justice reform often cite worries that reducing incarceration among violent offenders would be dangerous. This argument rests on the assumption that putting violent offenders in prison is more effective at preventing future crime than other forms of crime prevention. But is that true?

Researchers for a University of California, Berkeley, study reported surprising findings on that question. They compared the recidivism rates of two groups: those sentenced to prison and those sentenced to probation for similar crimes. The comparison revealed that sentencing people to prison doesn't reduce recidivism compared to a sentence of probation.

Forensic confirmation bias could sway analysts' results

A cognitive bias is something that keeps you from seeing reality as it is. Instead, the bias, which may be perfectly natural, causes you to see the world as you expect it to be.

For example, most people suffer from confirmation bias. When we see new information that confirms what we already believe, we tend to trust that information. When new information is provided that contradicts what we already believe, we tend to discount it. In that way, many of us fail to take in true information that tends to contradict what we already believe.

Pretrial detention makes convictions, long sentences more likely

Recently, criminal justice reform advocates have pointed out a fundamental unfairness in our system. People who can afford bail are allowed to continue their lives while under criminal charges. People who cannot are held in pretrial detention, often until their criminal charges are resolved. They typically lose their jobs and housing and may even lose their kids -- all before they've been found guilty of anything.

Being stuck in pre-trial detention is one major reason why people plead guilty to crimes they didn't commit. Prosecutors often offer seemingly good deals to people willing to plead guilty. Often, those deals allow the person to get out of jail right away and sometimes serve no additional time.

The fear and despair of having no help in the justice system

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that poor criminal defendants have a right to an attorney, even if they can't afford one, at any stage where their liberty is at stake.

In Wisconsin, Trequelle Vann-Marcouex wasn't accorded that right. Even though he qualified for a public defender, he couldn't get an attorney scheduled for his preliminary hearing.

'Genetic surveillance': Police use of DNA databases and privacy

If you take a genealogy test, you could be exposing your family, from your kids to your distant relatives, to the possibility of having their genetics exposed to third parties, including law enforcement.

This is because companies like GEDmatch have created massive databases of results from consumer genealogy companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com. If your genetic profile is uploaded to GEDmatch or a similar database, everyone you're related to can be extrapolated from your DNA.

It may be far harder to decline a police search than many believe

You have a right to withhold your consent when police ask to search your clothing, home, car or belongings, although many people don't realize it.

Police almost always ask for consent before searching because consent simplifies the issue of whether a search was justified. If they were to search you without probable cause to believe a crime was in progress or had been committed, the evidence they found might not be admissible in court. If they obtain your consent to the search, however, the evidence is usually admissible.

TSA body scanners may discriminate against black women, Muslims

According to the government, the full-body scanners that are standard at airports cost about $150,000 each. In the last decade or so, the Transportation Security Administration has invested over $100 million on the scanners, which are called "millimeter wave machines."

Unfortunately, these machines have a major flaw. They can detect non-metallic objects, but they can't tell what they are. And that includes hair -- especially African-American women's hair. The machines create a false alarm when people have Afros or wear dreadlocks, braids or twists. They also set false alarms on turbans, wigs and hair extensions.

2018's exonerees lost 1,639 years to wrongful convictions

According to the National Registry of Exonerations' annual report, 151 people were exonerated in the U.S. in 2018. Together, they spent 1,639 years behind bars for crimes they didn't commit -- an average of about 11 years each.

Unfortunately, that was a record. The Registry, which tracks all U.S. exonerations since 1989, reports that U.S. exonerees have spent a total of 20,000 years in prison. All those years for crimes they didn't commit -- or crimes that never even occurred.

Child porn-tracking software leads to false accusations, arrests

The Confrontation Clause in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that, "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right...to be confronted with the witnesses against him." The courts have read this to mean that criminal defendants have the right to fully confront any evidence brought against them.

When the evidence is technological in nature, the Confrontation Clause gives the accused the right to fully examine how that technology works. The defense needs this in order to challenge whether the technology works as described, whether it worked properly in a particular case, and whether its use violated the suspect's other constitutional rights.

Federal lawsuit seeks to halt Wisconsin's lifetime GPS monitoring

Last September, the then-attorney general announced that people with two or more convictions for sex offenses would be required to wear GPS monitors for life. He ordered 180 people to get fitted for GPS bracelets within 5 days.

Those required to enter the lifetime monitoring program are also required to pay for it, at a cost of up to $240 per month. Removing the monitor is a felony.

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