In our last post, we began a discussion about plea deals, which are how the vast majority of criminal charges are resolved. Although plea bargains have a legitimate purpose and can sometimes be beneficial for defendants, many individuals are forced into a plea deal by the "trial penalty." Essentially, the prosecutor threatens harsher charges and longer sentences if the defendant chooses to go to trial rather than accepting a deal.
Under the Sixth Amendment, anyone facing criminal charges is guaranteed the right to a public trial by a jury of their peers. And if you were to believe the crime dramas you see on TV, trials are the most common way to resolve criminal charges.
In our last post, we began a discussion about a controversial ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. It seems to violate a long-held principle about how evidence must be obtained if it is to be used in court.
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.