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Criminal Defense Archives

Jailhouse informants lie. Should they be allowed to testify?

A jailhouse informant is rarely someone who just wants to help. Jails and prisons have a strong anti-snitching culture, so passing along information to prosecutors is a choice that could get you in serious trouble. People don't inform on other prisoners to be solid citizens; they do it to get a break on their sentences.

Wisconsin's county jails are full of innocent people

According to the bipartisan nonprofit the Prison Policy Initiative, a third of all Wisconsin county jail inmates between 2009 and 2013 were locked up solely because they couldn't afford a low cash bail. In other words, they're behind bars before having been convicted of anything.

Does police use of Amazon's Ring constitute illegal surveillance?

The Ring doorbell sold by Amazon offers homeowners security by filming and recording everyone who enters its field of vision. Along with the product comes access to a social network called Neighbors, where Ring users can share and discuss the footage their systems capture.

The US arrests 10.5 million each year. Is that really necessary?

When researchers examined arrest data from 1997 to 2008, a third of all young adults and almost half of all African-American men had arrest records by age 23. Yet most arrests are for low-level crimes like disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and drug possession. Nevertheless, America's 18,000 police agencies arrest about ten and a half million people every year.

Lie-detector tests are unscientific, produce faulty evidence

Polygraph tests, often called "lie-detector tests," are not admissible as evidence in the courts. This is because they have never been shown to produce reliable proof of whether the subject is lying.

Police are relying on sealed arrest records in new cases

New York City is infamous for its "stop-and-frisk" policy, which allowed officers to perform a pat-down search on anyone they suspected of carrying a firearm. This resulted in tens of thousands of innocent people, the vast majority of whom were African-American or Latino, being stopped, frisked, and given an arrest record despite having done nothing wrong.

Do police gang databases violate people's rights?

Around the country, there have been calls to significantly reform or even end the practice of keeping police gang databases, along with other gang policing practices. Last year, the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica found glaring errors in the Chicago Police Department's gang database, including people who were not gang members, people who were deemed members of multiple, rival gangs, and people who were elderly or even dead.

Study: Risk-assessment algorithms are fraught with racial bias

The Center for Court Innovation, a New York-based criminal justice reform agency, recently released a study on supposedly race-neutral risk assessment tools. These tools are widely used by courts to determine whether defendants should be granted bail or held in jail until trial.

Criminal restitution orders leave juveniles languishing in debt

When we think of people being ordered to pay restitution to the victim of their criminal act, we typically picture that victim being an ordinary person who lost valuables in, say, a burglary. We imagine the restitution is directly tied to the criminal behavior, with simple justice requiring the victim to be repaid. It's often a lot more complicated than that.

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