We have previously written about the problems with relying on eyewitness testimony to solve crimes and secure convictions. Most of us are pretty confident about our powers of observation and the reliability of our memory. But in most cases, that confidence is misplaced.
Forensic testing in criminal cases has become the stuff of legend, in large part, because of television crime dramas that portray these tests as irrefutable proof of guilt or innocence. But in real life, forensic testing is increasingly becoming a source of controversy.
Racial profiling continues to be a significant problem here in Wisconsin and around the country. Civil rights advocates often argue that police spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy patrolling neighborhoods with high concentrations of African Americans and other minorities. Racial profiling is also a major issue during traffic stops.
Forensic science has become the nearly unquestioned gold standard in criminal cases. This is, in part, due to dozens of television crime dramas showing tests which are supposedly foolproof. It is also because many of these tests were developed and endorsed by agencies like the FBI.
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.