One of the most frequent and recognizable lines in any television police drama is the line that begins: "You have the right to remain silent." This is not just a Hollywood trope; it comes from real life. The entire speech, in which criminal suspects are informed of their Constitutional rights, is known as the "Miranda warning."
Many individuals with no prior criminal record get arrested and charged with a crime because of a careless mistake or a temporary lapse in judgment. Perhaps they drove a friend home after having a few glasses of wine, not realizing that they were impaired.
In our post last week, we began a discussion about a major problem with our nation's criminal justice system. It is largely predicated on fair trials and impartial jurors, but the techniques used to achieve these values are often antithetical to what we now understand about human behavior. Conscious and unconscious biases are affecting the outcomes of criminal cases, and results can be disastrous.
As human beings, many of us like to think of ourselves as rational and reasonable. We make decisions based only on facts, uninfluenced by emotion or bias. Unfortunately, a growing body of research continues to prove that this simply isn't true.
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.