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East Hartford, CT criminal defense attorneyIn recent weeks, tensions have been escalating in the United States between the country’s police force and its citizens, specifically among minority groups. There has always been a backlash against the tactics used by police, with many stating that the weapons and procedures used are too harsh and acts of brutality are too often aimed toward minorities and people of color. A recent instance where an Atlanta police officer fatally shot a black man, Rayshard Brooks, after the man grabbed a taser from the officer has reignited public concern over tasers and stun guns and their effectiveness as law enforcement tools.

In Connecticut, stun guns and tasers are referred to as electronic defense weapons and are actually classified as “dangerous weapons.” This also means that they are subject to certain rules and restrictions, as well as Connecticut residents who choose to own them. Similar to gun regulations, permits are required for anyone seeking to legally own a taser or stun gun. Anyone who does not comply with the state’s dangerous weapons laws faces criminal charges and consequences.

What Is an Electronic Defense Weapon?

A stun gun or electronic defense weapon is a device that was created to temporarily immobilize its targets. Stun guns have been used by law enforcement officers for decades, especially in situations in which suspects have been difficult or uncooperative. A stun gun has the ability to deliver 50,000 volts of electricity to a person, which courses through his or her body. When the weapon is used directly on a person, it typically only causes pain, similar to a shock. When the weapon is used and the probes are discharged, the voltage causes temporary paralysis, pain, and in some cases, death.

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East Hartford, CT criminal defense attorneySince the 1990s, many states across the country have legalized marijuana for medical use, but it was not until just a few years ago that recreational marijuana was legalized. In 2012, Colorado and Washington state became the first two states to legalize the recreational sale, possession, and use of recreational marijuana. Since then, there have been nine other states that have legalized recreational marijuana; however, it still remains illegal on the federal level. One of the biggest oppositions to fully legalizing marijuana is the fear that legalization will increase crime. However, just the opposite is one of the reasons people want to legalize it; they think it will reduce crime.

Studies Show Crime Rates Are Either Unaffected or Decreased

According to the Reason Foundation, studies have been conducted in various states that have legalized recreational marijuana to determine what effect, if any, the legalization has had on the crime rate. In Washington state, the number of adults over the age of 21 who were arrested for marijuana possession fell by 98 percent, while the number of those under the age of 21 convicted of possession fell by 50 percent. In Colorado, the number of cases of illegal marijuana cultivation, distribution, and possession fell by 85 percent. Other states such as Alaska and Oregon have seen similar situations.

The Reason Foundation also states that jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for medical uses have also seen a decrease in the number of opioid overdoses. Other studies have found that property crime has not increased as some people feared it would. In fact, property crime actually fell in neighborhoods in Colorado that opened marijuana dispensaries.

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East Hartford criminal defense attorney jury trialRacism is not an issue that is new to our country -- this has been a very problematic issue in the United States for the entirety of the country’s 244-year existence. Even before the country was established, the slave trade was alive and well. By 1865, however, slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and made owning a human being illegal. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s brought about the next biggest racial change in the country -- segregation was ended. Now, in recent years, we have seen a new movement emerging, one that was ignited by multiple unjustified killings of black men by police officers. This new movement has been dubbed the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and is a call for racial equality, especially within our criminal justice system.

Understanding Systemic Racism

When you use the term systemic racism, people often incorrectly interpret that as meaning that all of the people involved in the criminal justice system are racist. In actuality, systemic racism refers to the policies and procedures that produce results that seem to disproportionately punish people of color more often than people who are white. Many of the elements contained within modern-day law enforcement were introduced and kept on permanently during the Jim Crow era.

Over the years, hundreds of studies have been conducted on the outcomes of the current criminal justice system to determine if the system really is punishing people of color more frequently. Many, if not most, studies have produced data that is hard to argue with. In nearly all areas, such as arrests, traffic violations, prison populations, and even the death penalty, people of color are disproportionally affected.

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East Hartford, CT criminal defense attorneyThe coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone to take a step back and make temporary changes to how things are run, but some Connecticut officials suggest looking into making more permanent changes to the system. One of the most simple changes that has been proposed is simply granting all criminal defendants the right to waive all nonessential court appearances, as long as they are represented by an attorney. The current Practice Book provides for modified procedures if a defendant waives his or her right to a court appearance, although it is not an option for all defendants at all times.

Reasons to Allow Court Appearances to Be Waived

Criminal court cases are notoriously long and complicated processes that can take months, if not years to complete. During the length of the case, the defendant is required to appear at each and every court date. However, that practice is rather repetitive because one of the purposes of a defendant’s arraignment is to determine if that person poses a flight risk. Other ways this requirement impedes the system include:

  • Forcing all defendants to be present can really slow down the efficiency. You cannot just walk into a courthouse. Most courthouses have some sort of security or metal detectors that you must go through before you can gain entrance. Hundreds of people, such as defendants, their family members, lawyers, and others are processed through to wait until their case is called. It is not uncommon during a criminal case for you to be notified that a court date has been rescheduled after you have been waiting for hours.

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Connecticut sex crime attorney character witnessesSince the beginnings of the “Me Too” movement, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on the issues surrounding sexual violence. Several high-profile cases have taken place in the past couple of years, including the Brock Turner case, in which a college student was convicted of three counts of sexual assault and sentenced to only six months in jail. Another more recent case is that of Harvey Weinstein, the media mogul who was convicted of two counts of sex crimes after years of allegations and trials. Weinstein’s case was of interest to the criminal justice community in particular for the choice of witnesses permitted to testify during the trial.

Sexual Assault Cases Often Involve “Prior Bad Acts” Witnesses

It is not uncommon for trials involving allegations of sexual misconduct to allow character witnesses to testify about the defendant’s past behavior. These “prior bad acts” witnesses may allege that the defendant committed previous acts of sexual misconduct, even if there were never any charges or convictions pursued for the supposed acts. In two recent high-profile cases, prior bad acts witnesses were involved. In the Weinstein case, three additional witnesses were permitted to testify against Weinstein, even though charges were never pursued for the misconduct the witnesses alleged. In another case involving actor Bill Cosby, five women testified against him, and none of these witnesses’ allegations resulted in criminal charges. It has been speculated that these witnesses played a significant role in the defendants’ convictions.

Implications of Allowing These Types of Witnesses

The fact that most courts allow prior bad acts witnesses is something of concern in the criminal justice community. This practice allows prosecutors to solicit testimony from alleged victims in cases where a defendant was never charged with a crime or found guilty, including in cases where prosecutors deemed that the defendant’s alleged actions were not substantial enough to warrant criminal prosecution. In some cases, witnesses may even testify about alleged incidents that were never reported to police or doctors. Because of this, many criminal defense attorneys have called the legitimacy of prior bad acts witnesses into question and argued against the use of this type of evidence.

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