The amount of personal information we all carry around in our pockets is quite remarkable, yet too few people appreciate the liabilities associated with owning a smartphone. Thankfully, in the summer of 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that, in most cases, law enforcement agencies must obtain a warrant before searching the cellphone of an arrested individual.
Life is full of frustrations, big and small. And even the most mild-mannered of us sometimes lose our cool when things don't go our way. As just one example, consider the "self-checkout" stations at most grocery and big-box stores these days. They appear to be a time-saver, but are often so picky and prone to malfunction that they can take longer than waiting in line for a human cashier.
Racial profiling has long been a problem in the United States. But it has been an especially hot-button issue in the past year or so. Many African-American men are understandably nervous about even routine interactions with police for fear that they might be harmed or killed by officers who shoot first and ask questions later.
Last week, we began a discussion about the appeals process in criminal cases. As we noted in our first post, a defendant must have a legitimate reason for appealing his conviction. Most often, cases are appealed on the grounds that a serious error was made during the initial trial - serious enough to affect the outcome of the case.
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.