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.
Now, perhaps more than ever before, Americans are taking a hard look at our criminal justice system and realizing that it is broken. Wrongful convictions are far more common than most people thought they could be, and the causes of wrongful convictions are not simply honest mistakes. Much of the time, they are the product of lazy police work, prosecutorial misconduct and coercive tactics used on defendants who cannot advocate for themselves.
We often write about criminal appeals that go before the U.S. Supreme Court. These cases do not just affect the defendants involved. They nearly always address an important civil rights issue that is relevant to law enforcement across the country. Typically, they focus on how a certain aspect of a statute can be or should be applied.
We've all seen the TV crime dramas. When it is time to interrogate a suspect, investigators use a number of tactics: the bright overhead lights, hours of questioning, good cop vs. bad cop, threats, intimidation and bargaining. These are all meant to get to the truth and elicit a confession. In real life, these tactics may very well elicit a confession, but that doesn't mean it will be truthful.