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hartford criminal defense lawyerIn the United States, people expect the legal system to be open and honest. Legal documents filed in court and the decisions made in legal proceedings are made available to the public, providing people with an understanding of their rights and how the laws are applied in specific situations. However, one of the most important courts in the U.S. operates under a veil of secrecy. Even though its decisions affect the types of surveillance that law enforcement officials can use in criminal cases, these decisions are not always made available to the public. Criminal justice advocates have raised concerns about how this secrecy affects the civil liberties of people in the United States.

Decisions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) was created in 1978, and it was given the power to oversee the types of surveillance conducted by officials in matters related to national security. While the court initially had a narrow focus, authorizing a few hundred wiretaps each year, its powers were expanded significantly following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

This expanded role occurred at the same time that new forms of technology became available that allowed for mass surveillance of millions of people. As government officials have begun to collect data about people’s communications and activities, the court has authorized a number of programs that have affected people’s privacy rights. The FISC has allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect records of phone calls made within the United States and between the U.S. and other countries, including details about who made calls, when calls were made, and how long they lasted. It has also allowed government agencies to scan people’s emails and collect information about messages people have sent online. In many cases, these forms of surveillance have been authorized without the need to show probable cause or suspicion of criminal activity.

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East Hartford criminal defense lawyer for state and federal chargesThe United States Constitution gives citizens dozens of rights that are indicative of the spirit and history of the country, such as the right to free speech, the right to peacefully protest, and the right to bear arms. These rights are contained in the first ten Amendments, called the Bill of Rights, and they are constantly being analyzed in different contexts by scholars, lawmakers, and the members of the U.S. Supreme Court. One of these rights is the protection against double jeopardy, or being tried for the same crime more than once. This has been an issue that has wedged its way into the Supreme Court more than once and that has held precedent for many years.

Understanding Dual Sovereignty and Double Jeopardy

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution contains a variety of protections and rights given to citizens concerning criminal trials. One of these protections is from what is known as “double jeopardy” or being tried for the same crime twice. Originally, the Fifth Amendment was only meant to apply to the federal government, but over the years, the Supreme Court has ruled that it also applies to state governments.

The issue that the Supreme Court has faced again and again is whether or not a person can be tried for the same instance of a crime in both state and federal courts. For many years, the Supreme Court has upheld that a person can, in fact, be tried in both state and federal courts for the same instance of a crime because the state government and federal government are technically two different jurisdictions or “sovereigns.” This is known as the dual sovereignty doctrine.

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shutterstock_557897101Most people are familiar with the term “double jeopardy,” or they have probably at least heard of the concept. Protection against double jeopardy is written into the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “no person shall...be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb…” Basically, this provides U.S. citizens with protection against being tried more than once for the same crime. This issue typically arises when a person allegedly commits a criminal offense in more than one state or jurisdiction. Recently, the Supreme Court dealt with this issue by looking at whether or not those facing criminal charges could be tried for the same crime in both state and federal courts.

Recent Supreme Court Case Upholds Precedent

The case that made it to the Supreme Court dealt with a man who is currently a federal prison inmate. The Alabama man appealed to the Supreme Court after he was charged on both the state and federal level for possessing a gun after a previous felony robbery conviction. On the state level, he was sentenced to one year in prison. When tried for the same crime on the federal level, he was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison, a sentence that was to run concurrently with the other sentence.

The man appealed to courts until the case found its way to the Supreme Court. In a vote of 7 to 2, the Supreme Court voted to uphold the exception to the double jeopardy rule, citing the dual sovereignty doctrine. Only two justices opposed the ruling, stating that the exception should be reconsidered.

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