Most of us consider ourselves to be law-abiding citizens. Indeed, very few of us would think of ourselves as "criminals," much less accept being labeled as one. But criminality is kind of a fluid concept, particularly in a country where so many behaviors are considered crimes.
What duty do we owe to the men and women we incarcerate in the United States - or just here in Wisconsin? Most people might say that as law-abiding citizens, we owe no duty and bear no responsibility. An oft-repeated mantra says "don't do the crime if you can't do the time."
We have previously written about the problems plaguing the criminal justice system, particularly in its treatment of minors. While low-level juvenile crimes are typically prosecuted through the juvenile justice system, minors who commit serious and violent offenses are often tried as adults.
There have been a number of high-profile criminal cases in recent years - including here in Wisconsin - where the defendant's mental health was a prominent subject. Although the United States has a long way to go, it is ultimately a good thing that more attention is being paid to the intersection of mental health and crime.
Over the past year, the public's attention has been largely focused on issues of race and racism within the U.S. criminal justice system. The killing of unarmed, African-American men by white police officers in Missouri and New York caused other states to examine their own consciences regarding treatment of the African-American community.
We have previously written about common problems with the juvenile justice system, both here in Wisconsin and around the country. Courts are supposed to treat juvenile crimes and young offenders differently than adults (focusing on rehabilitation rather than simple punishment). Unfortunately, young offenders are too often incarcerated, resulting in significant costs to taxpayers and significant risks to the futures of the incarcerated youths.
There are many reasons why wrongful conviction is a persistent problem in the United States, including some we have discussed recently (false confessions, for instance). And while wrongful convictions are often the result of shoddy work by police and prosecutors, the mistakes are usually honest ones.
Our post last week focused on the fallibility of human memory. It is tempting to conceptualize our memories as a recorded video that captures the objective record of what we have experienced. Unfortunately, our memories are far less accurate than that.
Last month, we wrote about some of the reasons why false criminal confessions are so common. In many cases, suspects are coerced into saying things they know are not true, either because they fear for their safety or do not understand their rights.
Nearly any criminal defense attorney would tell you to always have an attorney by your side if you have been detained and are being questioned by police. Too many suspects believe that because they are innocent and have nothing to hide, they also have nothing to fear. Sadly, this isn't always true.