Studies have shown that invalid or inaccurate forensic science is a factor in almost half of wrongful convictions. In the approximately 354 cases where DNA later exonerated an Innocence Project client, poor forensic science contributed to most of the underlying convictions.
A recent New York Times story recounts how New York City police officer Nector Martinez arrested a Bronx woman on gun charges after reportedly finding a 9-millimeter handgun in a laundry bag the woman had with her at her front door when police arrived.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal on behalf of a 67-year-old Alabama death row inmate. After suffering at least two serious strokes, Vernon Madison has dementia. His speech is slurred and he says things that don't make sense. He is also blind now, and incontinent. He doesn't remember how to use the toilet in his cell. He can only say the alphabet to the letter G. He can't remember committing the crime for which he was sentenced to death.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, at least 139 people were exonerated of crimes in the U.S. last year. Some 2,100 have been exonerated since 1989, when DNA evidence was first used to exonerate someone. Today, people are being found innocent using a variety of methods that don't always involve DNA, but the principle remains the same: Sometimes, the criminal justice system convicts innocent people.
"These sting operations have used tremendous public resources to investigate and prosecute a large number of principally minority individuals for fictitious crimes," wrote the 7th Circuit's chief U.S. district court judge in a 73-page ruling.
David Robinson was convicted of first-degree murder in 2001, but it seems that conviction was wrongful. The state said he shot a woman from his hometown in 2000. The victim was killed outside a bar she owned with her fiancée, perhaps over $300 in receipts. Robinson was sentenced to life without parole.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced recently that federal prosecutors don't have the resources to focus on minor marijuana violations such as possession, although the cases could still be prosecuted under state law. This adds a bit of clarity to federal marijuana policy after Sessions reversed an Obama-era policy that had urged U.S. attorneys to avoid such cases.
Two criminal justice experts have cast serious doubt on the legality of many police activities in Milwaukee. Just as many African-Americans and Latinos have claimed for years, the evidence shows that they and their neighborhoods are being unfairly targeted for police stops and pat-down searches -- often with no legal basis.
The U.S. Supreme Court has just heard arguments in a case involving emails Microsoft stores on servers in Ireland. In a 2013 drug trafficking case, Drug Enforcement Administration investigators sought the emails using a warrant authorized by the 1986 Stored Communications Act.