Connecticut criminal law attorney for jury trialsDue to ongoing health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, federal and state courts in Connecticut have once again delayed the date when jury trials can resume. State trials had previously been scheduled to resume in November of 2020, but they were rescheduled to December 31, and following another delay, the dates for when they can resume are currently uncertain. Federal trials had been scheduled to resume on February 1, 2021, but that date has been delayed to May 3. These delays mean that those who are awaiting a trial on criminal charges will be forced to wait longer until their cases can be resolved. 

To address these delays, courts in some states have taken steps to conduct trials virtually using video conferencing software and other online tools. However, many criminal defense attorneys and criminal justice advocates have raised concerns about these types of trials, since they present a number of issues that may affect a person’s right to receive a fair trial.

Problems With Online Trials

To avoid the risks of conducting trials in person, video conferencing apps such as Zoom may be used, allowing attorneys, defendants, jurors, and other personnel to participate in a trial from a remote location. However, this presents a number of concerns related to the procedures that are followed during a trial and the ability of all parties to participate.

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Hartford criminal law attorney for Fourth Amendment rightsPeople in the United States have the expectation that their Constitutional rights will be protected in encounters with law enforcement officials. The Fourth Amendment provides protection against unreasonable searches, and this typically means that before police officers or other officials can search a person’s home, vehicle, or electronic devices, they must either receive consent from the person, or they must obtain a search warrant that is based on probable cause that the person has committed a crime. While these rights apply to people within the United States, many people do not realize that when traveling internationally, their phones, laptop computers, or other electronic devices may be subject to searches by customs agents, and in many cases, these searches are performed without obtaining warrants or receiving consent from a device’s owner.

Appeals Court Considers Legality of Border Searches

Concerns about the increasing use of warrantless searches by customs agents have been raised by advocates for privacy and civil liberties. In 2017, the Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) conducted more than 30,000 searches of electronic devices at U.S. borders, which was a massive increase from about 8,500 searches in 2015. Current CBP policies allow agents to open a person’s device and search through its contents, and agents can confiscate a device for up to five days without providing a reason for doing so. 

A number of lawsuits have been filed against the Department of Homeland Security by people who have been subject to these types of searches. In one case that is currently being heard by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, a group of 11 people are challenging the CBP’s policies, claiming that their First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated by border searches. The plaintiffs are all either U.S. Citizens or lawful permanent residents (Green Card holders), and customs officers conducted searches of their devices without obtaining warrants or accusing them of any crimes. In some cases, devices were confiscated and kept for multiple weeks or months.

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East Hartford criminal defense lawyer for collateral consequencesMost people understand that breaking the law can result in a variety of penalties. A conviction on criminal charges can result in large fines, a prison sentence, and other punishments. However, what many people may not realize is that criminal offenders will often face a lifetime of additional consequences, even after they have fully completed their sentences. A criminal record can place a number of restrictions on a person, and because of this, many convicts struggle to maintain stability in their lives and avoid additional criminal activities. Criminal justice advocates are working to bring people’s attention to this issue and help those who have paid their debt to society successfully reintegrate into their communities.

Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

There are penalties associated with different types of criminal convictions, and these can range in severity depending on whether a person is charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, the circumstances of their alleged crime, and whether they have any previous convictions. In addition to these penalties, offenders may face a variety of “collateral consequences” after serving their sentence and being released. 

Advocates have identified more than 45,000 different types of collateral consequences that affect convicts throughout the United States. In Connecticut, these consequences include:

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Hartford, CT criminal defense attorney for discretionary releaseWhile the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone’s lives in a variety of ways, it has impacted prison inmates disproportionately. For those who are held in correctional facilities, it can be difficult or impossible to follow social distancing recommendations, and inmates may be unable to avoid becoming infected. The risk of infection has caused concern about the ongoing safety of inmates, especially since they often do not have access to adequate medical care. Because of this, the number of discretionary releases being granted by Connecticut state officials has increased, and advocates are calling for more releases, including for people being held in pre-trial detention and those who have been charged with or convicted of low-level offenses.

What Is Discretionary Release?

A discretionary release occurs when an inmate is allowed to leave prison before their sentence has been completed. In many cases, this release will take the form of parole, which will require a person to meet certain conditions before being released, while also requiring them to follow certain rules and restrictions following their release. A parolee will be under the supervision of the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles. Violations of the terms of a person’s parole will result in their being taken into custody by a parole officer, and a hearing will be held to determine whether parole should be modified, extended, or revoked.

Discretionary Release During COVID-19

The state of Connecticut has increased the use of discretionary releases during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result, the population of prisoners has decreased by about 25% since March of 2020. However, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have advocated for the release of more prisoners through pardons or other forms of discretionary release. They have also called on Governor Ned Lamont to use the emergency powers granted to him by the state’s constitution during a public health emergency, which allow the governor to take appropriate measures to protect the health and safety of inmates in state prisons.

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Hartford criminal law attorney for student cell phone searchesNearly everyone in the United States uses a cell phone on a daily basis, and these devices contain a great deal of personal information. This is especially true for young people, who are always finding new uses for technology. While most people have some expectations of privacy when using electronic devices, there are situations where a phone may be subject to a search by school officials or law enforcement. Students will want to understand their rights regarding cell phones, since information uncovered during a search could lead to serious penalties, up to and including criminal charges.

Use of Phone Decryption Technology by Schools

Students will often use their phones to send text messages and emails, take and share photos and videos, browse the internet, and communicate with others using social media. All of these activities can involve intimate details of a person’s life that they will want to keep private. If teachers or administrators suspect that a student has violated a school’s policies or committed unlawful acts, they may ask a student to unlock their phone and submit to a search. In some cases, schools may tell students that school policies require them to unlock their phones when requested, or they may impose penalties if students refuse to comply.

In a troubling trend, some schools have begun using technology to hack into students’ phones. Several school districts throughout the United States have purchased mobile device forensic tools that can be used to bypass passcodes and access information stored on cell phones. This technology is often used by the FBI and other law enforcement organizations to investigate terrorism or other serious crimes, and when it is used by school officials, it may result in improper access to a student’s private information.

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