In the criminal justice system, there are at least three parties involved in every case: prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges. In high-profile cases, prosecutors and defense attorneys may hold press conferences or otherwise talk to the media. But it is rarer to hear from judges on any specific case or on larger issues.
We have previously written that a criminal conviction can have consequences that last far beyond whatever sentence is imposed. This is especially true for teenagers and young adults. A conviction, even for minor offenses, can jeopardize job opportunities, college admissions and scholarship opportunities.
In the United States, anyone charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But many people accused of crimes never make it to court or even to the police station. Too many police interactions end with suspects being shot and killed for dubious reasons. Naturally, these stories - many involving minority suspects - have strained relationships between law enforcement agencies and the communities they have sworn to protect.
There are many complex factors that need to be considered in any discussion about fighting and preventing crime. Most can now agree that high crime rates are not simply the result of personal irresponsibility and low moral character. Instead, it is now clear that socioeconomic status and race play significant roles in the equation.
We have previously written about the public misperceptions of forensic testing. Shows like CSI have convinced Americans that forensic tests performed in criminal cases are completely reliable and produce results that are indisputable.
The vast majority of criminal trials take place in obscurity, and most don't receive much media attention outside the cities in which they take place. But when a case enters the national mainstream, as occurred with the Steven Avery case in the recent Netflix series "Making a Murderer," the reverberations can extend beyond water-cooler conversation and armchair adjudication. The effects, for better or worse, may begin to alter the public's perception of the entire legal process -- and sometimes even the process itself.
Now, perhaps more than ever before, Americans are taking a hard look at our criminal justice system and realizing that it is broken. Wrongful convictions are far more common than most people thought they could be, and the causes of wrongful convictions are not simply honest mistakes. Much of the time, they are the product of lazy police work, prosecutorial misconduct and coercive tactics used on defendants who cannot advocate for themselves.
We often write about criminal appeals that go before the U.S. Supreme Court. These cases do not just affect the defendants involved. They nearly always address an important civil rights issue that is relevant to law enforcement across the country. Typically, they focus on how a certain aspect of a statute can be or should be applied.
We've all seen the TV crime dramas. When it is time to interrogate a suspect, investigators use a number of tactics: the bright overhead lights, hours of questioning, good cop vs. bad cop, threats, intimidation and bargaining. These are all meant to get to the truth and elicit a confession. In real life, these tactics may very well elicit a confession, but that doesn't mean it will be truthful.