In our previous post, we began a discussion about proposed mens rea reforms in bills being considered by Congress. The concept of mens rea - a term often translated as "guilty mind" - is an important component of criminal justice. Traditionally, in order for an act to be considered criminal, the actor must have been aware that it was illegal and acted with criminal intent.
Most of us would consider ourselves law-abiding citizens. But can we be sure? By some estimates, there are approximately 4,500 or more crimes on the books, and that's just at the federal level. And because there is no central database (which would seem like a no-brainer), there is no way to definitively quantify the number of criminal statutes.
It has often been said that technology evolves faster than our ability to regulate its use. You might think the danger in this equation comes from consumer products that are released to the general public without proper testing and rules governing use. But in many cases, the real danger lies in how modern technology is used (and abused) by law enforcement agencies and other arms of the government.
We have written several times in the past year about the growing distrust between American communities and the police officers who work within them. This anger and distrust has been sparked, in large part, by the numerous fatal shootings of unarmed African-American men by white police officers. Many other examples of apparent racial profiling in traffic stops have been recorded and shared by the suspects and bystanders. Such incidents have occurred here in Wisconsin as well as other parts of the Midwest.
One of the many criminal justice issues under the media spotlight right now is the problem of police officers in schools. These "resource officers" first began appearing in schools in the 1980s. Their presence has only increased in the wake of numerous school shootings. Now, it is common to see at least one police officer posted in middle schools and high schools around the country.
We have written several posts over the last couple years about incidents in which police officers seemingly overstepped their authority and violated the civil rights of suspects. Many of these interactions involved African-American suspects and were ultimately fatal.
If you've been charged with a crime, it may seem like the only options you have are bad ones. Should you accept a plea deal? Should you try to fight the charges on your own? Should you attempt to get free legal representation from an overworked public defender? Should you hire your own criminal defense attorney, even though this could potentially be expensive?
How many times have you heard someone start a sentence with: "There should be a law"? Americans seem all too eager to pass laws, especially in the wake of disaster or tragedy. Criminal law, in particular, is full of statutes passed in response to gruesome crimes.
Over the past couple years, the news has been full of stories demonstrating the problem of racial profiling across the United States. It is difficult to find a plausible alternative explanation as to why so many unarmed African-American men are killed during encounters with white police officers.
It is a common misconception that most criminal cases are tried in court. The truth is that the vast majority of cases never go to trial. This is because prosecutors push defendants to take a plea deal as often as possible in order to save the state time and resources.