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.
In the United States, anyone charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But many people accused of crimes never make it to court or even to the police station. Too many police interactions end with suspects being shot and killed for dubious reasons. Naturally, these stories - many involving minority suspects - have strained relationships between law enforcement agencies and the communities they have sworn to protect.
There are many complex factors that need to be considered in any discussion about fighting and preventing crime. Most can now agree that high crime rates are not simply the result of personal irresponsibility and low moral character. Instead, it is now clear that socioeconomic status and race play significant roles in the equation.
We have previously written about the public misperceptions of forensic testing. Shows like CSI have convinced Americans that forensic tests performed in criminal cases are completely reliable and produce results that are indisputable.