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.
We have previously written about the disturbing experiences many juveniles have when forced to interact with the criminal justice system. Here in Wisconsin and across the country, juvenile offenders accused of serious crimes often receive the same regard and same sentences as adult offenders.
In recent months, we have discussed the often-ignored problem of racism within the criminal justice system. Events like those in Ferguson, Missouri have reminded us that many communities in the United States have a strained relationship with law enforcement agencies, and those communities are often predominantly low-income and African-American.
We have previously written about the many problems in our legal system that lead to wrongful conviction, as well as the difficulties that wrongfully convicted inmates often face after being exonerated. Wisconsin is among 30 states (plus Washington, D.C.) to offer compensation to wrongfully convicted individuals. But of these states, Wisconsin’s compensation is among the lowest offered and can be difficult to get.
Many believe that the pursuit of justice must be tempered with mercy. This is a difficult line to walk in the criminal justice system, because judges do not always know the motives of defendants or their capacity for reform. Moreover, courtrooms in many Wisconsin cities need to shuffle cases through quickly, leaving little time for discussion or explanation.