We often write about important criminal-defense-related rulings by state Supreme Courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. Before any of these cases make it to a high court, however, they are first handled locally. The lower courts where most cases are first heard are often referred to as "trial courts."
In today's post, we'll be following up on a topic we discussed last week: flawed eyewitness testimony. The New York Times recently published a story about a shooting incident involving two police officers and an African-American suspect. Security camera footage corroborated the officers' version of events (and showed that the shooting was necessary and justified). Before that, however, two eyewitnesses gave the Times somewhat conflicting and ultimately incorrect accounts of what transpired. Both witnesses gave their accounts confidently.
We have previously written about the problems with relying on eyewitness testimony to solve crimes and secure convictions. Most of us are pretty confident about our powers of observation and the reliability of our memory. But in most cases, that confidence is misplaced.
Forensic testing in criminal cases has become the stuff of legend, in large part, because of television crime dramas that portray these tests as irrefutable proof of guilt or innocence. But in real life, forensic testing is increasingly becoming a source of controversy.
Racial profiling continues to be a significant problem here in Wisconsin and around the country. Civil rights advocates often argue that police spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy patrolling neighborhoods with high concentrations of African Americans and other minorities. Racial profiling is also a major issue during traffic stops.
Forensic science has become the nearly unquestioned gold standard in criminal cases. This is, in part, due to dozens of television crime dramas showing tests which are supposedly foolproof. It is also because many of these tests were developed and endorsed by agencies like the FBI.
Most of us consider ourselves to be law-abiding citizens. Indeed, very few of us would think of ourselves as "criminals," much less accept being labeled as one. But criminality is kind of a fluid concept, particularly in a country where so many behaviors are considered crimes.
What duty do we owe to the men and women we incarcerate in the United States - or just here in Wisconsin? Most people might say that as law-abiding citizens, we owe no duty and bear no responsibility. An oft-repeated mantra says "don't do the crime if you can't do the time."
We have previously written about the problems plaguing the criminal justice system, particularly in its treatment of minors. While low-level juvenile crimes are typically prosecuted through the juvenile justice system, minors who commit serious and violent offenses are often tried as adults.
There have been a number of high-profile criminal cases in recent years - including here in Wisconsin - where the defendant's mental health was a prominent subject. Although the United States has a long way to go, it is ultimately a good thing that more attention is being paid to the intersection of mental health and crime.