U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has just made his opposition to a bipartisan sentencing reform bill clear. Calling the legislation a "grave error," he said the proposed changes would reduce the sentences of "a highly dangerous cohort of criminals."
An unfortunate fact about our criminal justice system is that minorities are frequently sentenced to more time for the same crimes as whites. In the U.S., African-Americans, for example, make up 13.3 percent of the population but account for 38 percent of people incarcerated in state prisons, according to federal data.
Journalist Robert Draper writes in the current issue of National Geographic about "surveillance creep," the seemingly unchecked proliferation of closed-circuit cameras by municipalities for law enforcement and security purposes.
When a crime scene sample has evidence of more than one individual crime labs attempt to assign the results to particular individuals. When there are DNA alleles from only two people the process is usually straightforward -- there is a "major contributor" and "minor contributor" identified. The problem becomes more complicated if there is evidence of DNA from three or more persons in the mixture. Until recently, many labs reported results as "inconclusive" because separating the mixture of DNA was too subjective. Then several software companies developed algorithms that could assign the DNA profiles to particular individuals by using statistical probabilities. This method of "probablistic genotyping" has been controversial among scientists in the field and forced courts to confront much new evidence.
In many ways, news that disparities exist in the U.S. criminal justice system based on race evoke thoughts of Captain Renault, Claude Rains' character in "Casablanca," shutting down Rick's Café and exclaiming, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"
If you end up being convicted of a crime, there's a fair chance that part of your sentence will involve probation. Probation allows you to be released into the community instead of serving all of your sentence in jail -- but you must meet certain conditions. If you fail to meet any of the conditions, your probation could be extended or revoked.
In most states, including Wisconsin, judges can suspend or revoke your driver's license if you fail to pay a fine. That can be somewhat counterproductive, as well as costly to the courts. Many people aren't able to earn a living without driving, so suspending their licenses makes it a great deal harder to pay the fine. Continued nonpayment can lead to a vicious debt cycle and thus longer term involvement with the courts than would otherwise be necessary.
A group of House lawmakers from both sides of the aisle has agreed to support extending the FISA Amendments Act, the law authorizing warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency, through 2023. It is currently set to expire at the end of this year. In exchange for their support, the group will push for changes and restrictions on the law that would bring it more in line with general search procedures. The restrictions are opposed by the Trump administration.
On July 27, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin sent an open records request to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. It was seeking reports on the operations of the state crime lab and whether there continue to be backlogs in processing evidence. Hours after the request was filed, Attorney General Brad Schimel announced that he would authorize overtime and create 11 part-time positions to help law enforcement collect DNA samples and other evidence.
Recently, an array of faith-based, civil rights and other advocacy organizations announced they are seeking an independent review of the Milwaukee Police Department's policing practices. Milwaukee is far from immune to the nationwide debate brought up by instances of what appear to be excessive force used against unarmed, typically African-American defendants. At stake is the public's trust in the police force and even the justice system.