We have written numerous times about the need to vigorously protect our civil rights. This is especially important in the context of police actions. The Fourth Amendment, for instance, protects us against "unreasonable search and seizure" by law enforcement. This usually means that police cannot search our personal property (or our person) without first obtaining a search warrant.
Every year, advocacy organizations like the Innocence Project uncover an increasing number of wrongful convictions and work tirelessly to free those who have been imprisoned for crimes they didn't commit. Although it would be comforting to believe that these convictions were the result of honest mistakes that could not have been foreseen, it often turns out that prosecutors acted irresponsibly and maliciously.
The Constitution's Sixth Amendment guarantees that someone charged with a crime has the right to a trial by an impartial jury. Bias and impartiality cannot be accounted for in all circumstances, but we should at least prevent the cherry-picking of juries by overzealous prosecutors eager to secure a conviction.
We live in an age where having a private past is becoming nearly impossible. With the internet and digitized record-keeping systems, details from your past can haunt your present in some unexpected ways.
Most Americans have seen criminal trials dramatized in movies, and many of us have seen real trials broadcast on television. When watching a trial, it would be easy to assume that the processes and procedures we observe are the same ones that have always been in place (save for some technological upgrades). After all, haven't we always had the same criminal justice system?
We often write about the need for criminal justice reform. And one of the more pressing issues in need of reform is sentencing requirements for repeat offenders. Most states, including Wisconsin, allow for harsher sentencing of individuals convicted numerous times.
We have previously written that, of all the forensic tests currently used in criminal investigations, DNA analysis is by far the most accurate and reliable. But it is important to note that these tests are not foolproof. And as DNA analysis techniques become more and more sophisticated, the risk of error may actually be going up rather than down.
In a post last week, we began a discussion about a recent ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In a 4-3 decision, the Court essentially ruled to expand law enforcement power to conduct warrantless searches. Specifically, the court may have made it easier for police officers to justify searches without a warrant by claiming the "community caretaker" exception.
As we have previously written, the Constitution's Fourth Amendment protects Americans against unreasonable search and seizure by law enforcement. This generally means that police officers must have a warrant before conducting a search, especially when searching someone's home. When evidence is obtained without a search warrant, defendants may file a motion to have that illegally obtained evidence suppressed (essentially thrown out).
In the criminal justice system, there are at least three parties involved in every case: prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges. In high-profile cases, prosecutors and defense attorneys may hold press conferences or otherwise talk to the media. But it is rarer to hear from judges on any specific case or on larger issues.