"Rapid DNA" machines are a new phenomenon in criminal justice. Able to process a DNA sample in just 90 minutes, they're often called "the magic box." The machines are small enough to be used by police departments. Until now, DNA testing has been performed exclusively by forensic scientists in neutral, accredited labs.
"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.
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.
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.
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.