juvenile criminal defense laywerThe criminal justice system in the United States often comes under fire for the way people are treated when they are arrested, charged with crimes, placed in detention, or imprisoned. While many criminal justice reform advocates have raised concerns about the treatment of adult prisoners, issues related to juvenile offenders are often even more troubling. Some recent reports have shown that minors in juvenile detention facilities throughout the United States are often subject to harsh treatment and placed in unsafe conditions. To ensure that their rights are protected, minors who are involved in the juvenile justice system and their family members can work with a criminal defense attorney who can help them determine the best ways to resolve their cases.

Problems With Juvenile Detention

When minors are accused of committing criminal offenses, juvenile courts will usually handle cases differently than when adults are prosecuted for crimes. The juvenile justice system is supposed to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Minors should be provided with support to help address the causes of juvenile delinquency and help them avoid committing offenses in the future. While detention in juvenile facilities may be appropriate in some situations, other solutions may be used, such as placing a minor on probation, requiring them to attend educational classes or receive psychological treatment, or imposing sentences of community service and restitution.

Unfortunately, this is not always the reality. Officials in some states have been more likely to sentence minors to juvenile detention, and in recent years, there have been several reports of minors in juvenile detention facilities being mistreated. In Texas, minors in these facilities are often kept locked in cells for extended periods of time, without even being able to use the bathroom. In Louisiana, violence at juvenile facilities led the governor to move some minors to a maximum security prison. These issues have become worse due to understaffing at facilities, and some states have relaxed their requirements when hiring staff members, increasing the likelihood that minors will suffer mistreatment.

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hartford criminal defense lawyerThe prison industry has come under fire in recent years due to its focus on earning profits while failing to protect the rights of prisoners. While this has been an issue addressed by criminal justice activists in relation to private prisons, many have also raised concerns about the practices followed by government agencies. A recent report found that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has focused on using funds in accounts owned by prisoners to earn profits for the agency rather than paying restitution to victims or ensuring that prisoners meet other financial obligations, such as child support.

Prisoner Funds Managed by the BOP

The Federal Bureau of Prisons manages two separate pools of money owned by prisoners. The first is known as the deposit fund, and it may consist of any funds kept in accounts for prisoners, who may not have access to traditional bank accounts. The other pool consists of prisoner commissary accounts, and it is known as the Trust Fund. These accounts are used by prisoners to make purchases of food or other items while behind bars, as well as services such as phone calls or internet access. 

Money in the deposit fund is held in trust, and the BOP does not earn an income from these funds. However, money in the Trust Fund may earn interest for the BOP. The commissary purchases made using these funds are also a significant source of income for the BOP, and the agency generates around $80 million per year, which is used to pay salaries and benefits for BOP personnel. Even though prisoners are limited to spending around $400 per month through commissary funds, many keep thousands of dollars in their accounts.

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Hartford criminal defense lawyerDNA evidence is being used more and more often in criminal cases. Since everyone's DNA is unique, samples of blood or other bodily substances left behind at a crime scene can often be used to identify suspects. However, because family members share genetic information, police officers may gather DNA from other people to attempt to determine whether their relatives may have committed crimes. This has raised a number of concerns about privacy and whether these types of searches are Constitutional. 

Lawsuit in New Jersey Challenges Collection of Baby DNA in Criminal Cases

The New Jersey Office of the Public Defender (OPD) recently took legal action to address a subpoena used in a case in which the New Jersey State Police were seeking to identify a suspect in a sexual assault that took place in 1996. The police had narrowed down the potential suspects to one of three brothers. While they did not have a search warrant allowing them to take DNA samples from any of the suspects, they did request a blood sample that was kept on file with the state's Newborn Screening Laboratory. This sample had been taken in 2012, and by comparing the child's DNA with the DNA from the original crime scene, investigators were able to determine that the baby was the child of the person suspected of committing the crime. This gave them enough information to request a search warrant for a DNA sample from the child's father and prosecute that person for the 1996 offense.

These practices have raised alarms about the privacy of people's genetic information. The state of New Jersey requires blood samples to be taken from all newborn infants to screen children for different types of medical disorders. These samples are given willingly with the understanding that they will be used for medical purposes, and few people realize that a child's genetic information could be accessed by law enforcement during criminal investigations. In the case in question, a grand jury subpoena was used to obtain the DNA sample, and officials were only required to show that they had reasonable grounds to believe that the data would be relevant to a criminal investigation. This is a much lower standard than would be required in a search warrant in which officers must demonstrate that they have probable cause to believe that the information being requested is evidence that will demonstrate that a suspect committed a crime.

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East Hartford drug crimes defense lawyerThe laws in the United States related to marijuana have undergone many changes in recent years, and this has led to some confusion about which laws apply in which locations. Multiple states, including Connecticut, have made marijuana legal for both recreational and medical use. Other states only allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes, and some still consider it to be an illegal drug. At the federal level, marijuana is still considered to be a controlled substance, which means that people could potentially face federal charges even if they purchase marijuana legally in one state but transport it to another state. Lawmakers have taken steps to address these issues, and recently, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

In July of 2022, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon formally introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) in the U.S. Senate. When doing so, they noted that the overwhelming majority of people in the United States support the legalization of marijuana, and the majority of Americans also live in states where cannabis is legal in some form. They also stated that the so-called “war on drugs” and the prosecution of crimes related to marijuana has negatively affected many people, especially people of color, and decriminalization of marijuana will promote both justice and public safety.

In its current form, the CAOA would make the following changes to federal law:

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East Hartford criminal defense lawyerMemories can be surprisingly unreliable. This can be a difficult idea to swallow, since people often have strong emotions associated with the memories of their life experiences. However, even when a person believes that they have a strong memory that allows them to recall facts, people, or experiences, they often get the details wrong. People may misremember the order of events, inadvertently combine multiple memories, or even believe that someone else’s memories are their own. Unfortunately, even when memories are unreliable, people may strongly believe that they are correct. When a person’s memories are a key factor in a criminal case, this may lead to wrongful convictions. 

Far too often, criminal charges are based on eyewitness testimony, without any other supporting evidence. A testimony given by a victim or witness to a crime can be powerful, and a witness's identification of a suspect in a criminal trial can seem like incontrovertible truth, especially when strong emotions are involved. However, the unreliability of memory can easily cause a victim or witness to identify the wrong person. 

In fact, many witnesses are improperly influenced by police officers who have a particular suspect in mind. Officers may inadvertently or purposely indicate that they believe a certain person was the perpetrator when asking a witness to review photos or view a police lineup. This may affect people’s memories of events, causing them to believe that a suspect was involved in a crime. When a case is based on these types of memories, without other evidence, suspects may be falsely accused or convicted of multiple types of offenses.

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