b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_2018157440.jpgWhen a person is accused of a crime, the evidence against them should be properly evaluated during an investigation by law enforcement officials. When this evidence is presented during a criminal trial, jurors should be informed about the potential for errors and the possibility that investigators came to the wrong conclusions. Unfortunately, forensic evidence is often seen as infallible, and prosecutors may claim that certain types of evidence provide incontrovertible proof of a person’s guilt. In reality, many of these forms of evidence are based on “junk science,” and the misuse or misapplication of forensic evidence can lead to wrongful convictions.

Problems With Forensic Science

There are some forms of evidence that can be scientifically evaluated to indicate whether a person did or did not commit a crime. For example, DNA evidence can often be used to identify a person, and prosecutors may argue that the presence of a person’s DNA at a crime scene demonstrates that they are guilty. However, there are multiple other types of forensic evidence that have been called into question, including:

  • Bite marks - Because people often have unique dental characteristics, so-called experts often claim that they can identify a person based on the bite patterns left on a crime victim. However, multiple studies have found that the identification of a person through bite marks is highly unreliable. Even those who claim to be experts have been found to misidentify bite marks 50 percent of the time or more. Sadly, even though this form of evidence is highly unreliable, it continues to be used in many criminal cases.

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hartford criminal defense lawyerThose who are involved in criminal cases will often struggle to protect their rights, including when they are placed under supervised release. There are many cases where those who are convicted of crimes may receive an early release through parole, or they may be sentenced to special parole in addition to serving a prison sentence. In other cases, a person may be sentenced to probation or other forms of conditional release. Those who are on parole or probation are subject to multiple types of restrictions, and they can face additional prison sentences or penalties for a probation or parole violation. This is a serious concern for many people, and a recent study has found that criminal violations of parole or probation account for around two thirds of all prison time sentenced by state and federal courts.

Sentences for Criminal Violations of Probation or Parole May Result in Double Punishment

Many criminal justice advocates focus on the penalties that people often face for “technical violations” of probation or parole. These may include issues such as failure to meet curfew requirements or to show up on time for meetings with a parole officer. While this is a significant issue that often results in the revocation of probation or parole, a study by a law professor at Penn State has found that criminal violations are another issue that may affect the rights of people in these cases.

Criminal violations include any new criminal charges that a person faces while they are on parole or probation. Most of the time, the conditions of supervised release that are put in place by a court will require a person to obey all laws. If a person is accused of violating any laws, they may not only have their probation or parole revoked, but they will often face additional prison sentences for committing a criminal violation, as well as sentences for new criminal charges. This can result in “double punishment,” and sentences may greatly exceed what would have been appropriate based on the crimes a person is accused of committing.

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connecticut criminal defense lawyerPeople in the 21st century usually expect that images of their faces will be captured on a regular basis, such as by security cameras at stores they visit. However, they may not be aware that these images could potentially be used against them in cases where police officers investigate alleged crimes, identify possible suspects, and decide to perform arrests and pursue criminal charges. As the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement continues to increase, many criminal defense lawyers, privacy advocates, and others who are concerned about criminal justice have raised concerns about how defendants may be affected by these practices.

Concerns About the Accuracy of Facial Recognition

According to a study performed by the Georgetown Center on Privacy and Technology in 2016, around half of all adults in the United States are included in facial recognition databases, and police in most states have access to this information. These databases include driver’s license photos and mug shots of people who have been arrested, and some facial recognition services have also compiled information from publicly available photos people have shared online, such as on Facebook or Instagram. 

Unfortunately, few police departments or state governments have adopted rules about when and how facial recognition technology should be used. A program may scan through thousands of photos to identify suspects, providing confidence scores for potential matches. However, there are rarely rules about what inputs may be used when performing searches or what confidence scores are acceptable when identifying suspects. This introduces a great deal of bias into the system, making it more likely that the wrong suspects will be identified. 

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hartford criminal defense lawyerPeople who are charged with crimes can face a number of difficulties as they navigate the criminal justice system, and unfortunately, many defendants are treated unfairly by law enforcement officials and prosecutors. There are multiple ways that these officials can abuse the system, including by filing criminal charges against a person in retaliation for asserting their rights or to justify illegal actions by police officers. This is known as “malicious prosecution,” and it can often place people in a difficult position as they fight against what can seem like a rigged system. Fortunately, a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court may help limit these types of actions and ensure that defendants can protect their rights.

Fourth Amendment Protections Against Malicious Prosecution

For years, courts have been divided on the issue of whether the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people against criminal consequences, such as arrest or imprisonment, that are based on false statements or omitted facts by police officers or prosecutors. In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court determined that people who have been subject to malicious prosecution can pursue civil lawsuits against those who were responsible in cases where charges are dropped or when they are acquitted.

The case in question, Thompson v. Clark, involved a man in Brooklyn, New York who was charged with resisting arrest. He and his wife had a newborn daughter, and they also lived with the wife’s sister, who had developmental disabilities. The sister had called the police and reported that the man had sexually abused his child. When EMTs and police officers arrived at the apartment following the call, the man refused to allow them to enter without a search warrant. The officers then tackled the man, handcuffed him, and conducted a search of the apartment without a warrant, and to justify these actions, they charged him with resisting arrest. The man was held in police custody for two days. When no evidence of abuse was found, prosecutors chose to drop the charges.

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connecticut criminal defense lawyerNearly everyone agrees that sex crimes are a serious issue that should be addressed by the criminal justice system. Sexual offenses committed against children can be especially horrific, and around one out of every four girls and one out of every 13 boys experience some form of sexual abuse while they are under the age of 18. However, people may disagree about the best ways to address these issues and protect children against harm. A recent study indicates that the resources the United States puts toward addressing child sexual offenses are more focused on punishing offenders than actually preventing these types of crimes from occurring.

Money Spent on Incarceration Vastly Outweighs Child Sex Crime Prevention Efforts

The criminal justice system spends a significant amount of money to address child sex offenses, but nearly all of these funds go toward “reactive” efforts that take place after crimes have already been committed. There are currently more than 144,000 people incarcerated in state or federal prisons who have been convicted of sex crimes against children. Most of these offenders are required to serve sentences of at least eight years, and they are also subject to restrictions after being released, such as the requirement to register as sex offenders. 

While incarceration and other penalties may be seen as appropriate responses for crimes committed against children, studies have found that they are not an effective way to prevent future crimes from taking place. 82 percent of people convicted of sex crimes do not commit additional offenses, and only 5 percent of all sex crimes are committed by those who have previously been convicted of sexual offenses. In fact, some studies have indicated that incarceration in harsh prison environments may increase the likelihood that those who have been convicted of sex crimes will commit additional offenses after being released.

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