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b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_1519929965.jpgPeople throughout the United States were shocked by the events of January 6, 2021. Protestors who believed that former president Donald Trump had not lost the election in 2020 engaged in violent and destructive behavior as they stormed the U.S. Capitol building. Since those events, many people who participated in the riot have been arrested and charged with crimes. Because the riot involved the destruction of government property, many of the protestors are facing federal criminal charges. However, some have been troubled by what seem to be lenient sentences for people who attempted a violent overthrow of our country’s democratic processes.

Federal Judge Questions Plea Deals in Capital Riot Cases

While more than 100 people have been charged with and convicted of crimes related to actions they took in the January 6 riots, many people have been troubled by what seems to be lenient treatment for these defendants. Recently, U.S. District Chief Judge Beryl Howell questioned whether the way the Department of Justice is pursuing charges in these cases is causing confusion for the American public about the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

During a sentencing hearing, Judge Howell questioned federal prosecutors about the DOJ’s handling of these cases and whether the charges they pursued were appropriate based on the actions that protestors took during the riot. In this case, the DOJ had offered a defendant a plea deal in which they would be charged with “parading, demonstrating, or picketing,” which is a misdemeanor offense with a maximum sentence of six months in prison. Based on these charges, the defendant was sentenced to 14 days in prison and three years of probation. When addressing this case, the judge noted that many defendants who participated in the riots were able to make similar plea bargains that allowed them to receive low-level misdemeanor convictions rather than more serious charges.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_92239273.jpgThe United States has some of the highest rates of incarceration in the world. With more than 200,000 inmates who have been convicted of federal crimes, the government has been looking for ways to reduce the prison population and allow those who have served time to be released and reintegrate into the community. While Congress passed the First Step Act in 2018, allowing certain inmates to be released based on Earned Time Credits, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had not taken steps to implement these new policies until 2022. However, there are a number of issues that may affect prisoners’ ability to secure early releases.

Racial Disparities in Risk Assessment Tools

Thousands of prisoners have become eligible for release under the First Step Act. Those who are in prison may qualify for home confinement or residence in a halfway house as they begin to take steps to ensure that they will be able to rejoin society successfully. Those who are currently under home confinement or in residential transition centers may be eligible for a full release, allowing them to secure housing and employment.

Unfortunately, the implementation of these policies has been flawed, and one issue that has been raised by criminal justice advocates is the use of risk assessment tools to determine whether prisoners may qualify for early release. These software programs evaluate a number of factors to estimate the likelihood that a person will engage in criminal activity or violate other rules and restrictions after their release. Civil rights groups have analyzed the decisions made using these tools, and they have found that there are significant racial disparities, with Black, Hispanic, and Asian inmates being much more likely to be classified in the wrong risk category. Because of these disparities, people of color may struggle to receive an early release, even if they have earned sufficient time credits under the First Step Act.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_1832540992.jpgDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, many courts throughout the country have struggled to hear cases while also protecting the health and safety of participants. To prevent the spread of infections, in-person proceedings have been limited in many cases, and some courts have begun using technological tools to allow certain participants to connect remotely. While the use of remote technology has provided benefits in certain situations, many people have raised concerns about how these practices may affect a person’s right to a fair trial in criminal cases. While courts throughout the United States have addressed this issue in different ways, one recent court ruling may indicate that the use of remote video testimony may violate defendants’ rights in criminal trials.

Missouri Supreme Court Overturns Conviction Based on Remote Testimony

The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides criminal defendants with the right to confront their accusers. A person should be able to directly question a witness during a criminal trial. When witness testimony is provided in person, a jury can observe how the person answers questions, and their facial expressions, body language, and other responses may indicate whether they are telling the truth and whether they are trustworthy. Testimony provided through video or other remote technology may not provide a jury with enough information to make a decision in a criminal case.

The Missouri Supreme Court recently addressed this issue when it considered a case in which a defendant was convicted of statutory rape based on the testimony of an investigator who appeared remotely during the trial rather than being physically present in the courtroom. Notably, this trial took place in 2019, well before most courts began using remote technology in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the alleged victim in this case had withdrawn their accusations, the prosecutor relied on the testimony of the investigator, who stated that DNA evidence in the case matched the defendant’s DNA.

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hartford criminal defense lawyerThe criminal justice system often imposes harsh punishments on people who are convicted of crimes. While certain sentences may seem to be appropriate for those convicted of serious offenses such as murder, they can result in a person spending most of their life in prison, even if they committed these crimes while they were a minor. Advocates for criminal justice reform have noted that scientific research has shown that people’s brains continue developing until they are 25 years old, meaning that offenders who have committed these types of crimes at a young age may not have been fully aware of the consequences of their actions. In recognition of this and as part of ongoing efforts to focus on rehabilitation for those who have been convicted, the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles has begun taking action to reduce the sentences of certain offenders.

Clemency for Murder Convictions in Connecticut

Public Act 15-84, which was passed by the Connecticut legislature in 2015, eliminated sentences of life in prison without parole for people who were convicted of capital murder or arson that was committed when they were under the age of 18. These changes were applied retroactively, and if a person committed an eligible crime before reaching the age of 18, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison, and was incarcerated after October 1, 2015, they may be eligible for parole. If a person was sentenced to up to 50 years, they may receive a parole hearing after serving either 12 years or 60 percent of their sentence, whichever is greater. Those sentenced to more than 50 years may be eligible for parole after they have served 30 years.

The parole board has begun putting this law into effect, and recently, it held hearings for 11 prisoners who had been convicted of murder or attempted murder based on offenses that were committed while they were under the age of 25. Several of these prisoners received commutations of their sentences, reducing the amount of time that they will be required to serve and allowing them to qualify for release from prison on community supervision.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_1029053185.jpgThere are a variety of situations where a person may be accused of committing crimes involving theft or misappropriation of money. Many of these cases fall under the category of white-collar crimes, which typically involve the theft or misuse of people’s financial information or other actions in which a person obtains money fraudulently. White-collar criminal cases will often involve accusations of wire fraud, and in some situations, a person may face federal charges. According to the FBI, instances of wire fraud have increased significantly over the past few years. Those who are accused of these types of crimes will need to understand the nature of an offense and the potential penalties they may face if they are convicted.

What Is Wire Fraud?

Fraud includes any actions in which a person obtains money or property through false pretenses. When these actions involve the use of electronic communications, including phones or internet services, they may be considered wire fraud. Because wire fraud will often involve messages or other forms of communication that are transmitted across multiple states, these offenses may be prosecuted at the federal level.

Examples of wire fraud include:

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