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hartford criminal defense lawyerThe prison industry has come under fire in recent years due to its focus on earning profits while failing to protect the rights of prisoners. While this has been an issue addressed by criminal justice activists in relation to private prisons, many have also raised concerns about the practices followed by government agencies. A recent report found that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has focused on using funds in accounts owned by prisoners to earn profits for the agency rather than paying restitution to victims or ensuring that prisoners meet other financial obligations, such as child support.

Prisoner Funds Managed by the BOP

The Federal Bureau of Prisons manages two separate pools of money owned by prisoners. The first is known as the deposit fund, and it may consist of any funds kept in accounts for prisoners, who may not have access to traditional bank accounts. The other pool consists of prisoner commissary accounts, and it is known as the Trust Fund. These accounts are used by prisoners to make purchases of food or other items while behind bars, as well as services such as phone calls or internet access. 

Money in the deposit fund is held in trust, and the BOP does not earn an income from these funds. However, money in the Trust Fund may earn interest for the BOP. The commissary purchases made using these funds are also a significant source of income for the BOP, and the agency generates around $80 million per year, which is used to pay salaries and benefits for BOP personnel. Even though prisoners are limited to spending around $400 per month through commissary funds, many keep thousands of dollars in their accounts.

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Hartford criminal defense lawyerDNA evidence is being used more and more often in criminal cases. Since everyone's DNA is unique, samples of blood or other bodily substances left behind at a crime scene can often be used to identify suspects. However, because family members share genetic information, police officers may gather DNA from other people to attempt to determine whether their relatives may have committed crimes. This has raised a number of concerns about privacy and whether these types of searches are Constitutional. 

Lawsuit in New Jersey Challenges Collection of Baby DNA in Criminal Cases

The New Jersey Office of the Public Defender (OPD) recently took legal action to address a subpoena used in a case in which the New Jersey State Police were seeking to identify a suspect in a sexual assault that took place in 1996. The police had narrowed down the potential suspects to one of three brothers. While they did not have a search warrant allowing them to take DNA samples from any of the suspects, they did request a blood sample that was kept on file with the state's Newborn Screening Laboratory. This sample had been taken in 2012, and by comparing the child's DNA with the DNA from the original crime scene, investigators were able to determine that the baby was the child of the person suspected of committing the crime. This gave them enough information to request a search warrant for a DNA sample from the child's father and prosecute that person for the 1996 offense.

These practices have raised alarms about the privacy of people's genetic information. The state of New Jersey requires blood samples to be taken from all newborn infants to screen children for different types of medical disorders. These samples are given willingly with the understanding that they will be used for medical purposes, and few people realize that a child's genetic information could be accessed by law enforcement during criminal investigations. In the case in question, a grand jury subpoena was used to obtain the DNA sample, and officials were only required to show that they had reasonable grounds to believe that the data would be relevant to a criminal investigation. This is a much lower standard than would be required in a search warrant in which officers must demonstrate that they have probable cause to believe that the information being requested is evidence that will demonstrate that a suspect committed a crime.

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East Hartford drug crimes defense lawyerThe laws in the United States related to marijuana have undergone many changes in recent years, and this has led to some confusion about which laws apply in which locations. Multiple states, including Connecticut, have made marijuana legal for both recreational and medical use. Other states only allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes, and some still consider it to be an illegal drug. At the federal level, marijuana is still considered to be a controlled substance, which means that people could potentially face federal charges even if they purchase marijuana legally in one state but transport it to another state. Lawmakers have taken steps to address these issues, and recently, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.

The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

In July of 2022, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon formally introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) in the U.S. Senate. When doing so, they noted that the overwhelming majority of people in the United States support the legalization of marijuana, and the majority of Americans also live in states where cannabis is legal in some form. They also stated that the so-called “war on drugs” and the prosecution of crimes related to marijuana has negatively affected many people, especially people of color, and decriminalization of marijuana will promote both justice and public safety.

In its current form, the CAOA would make the following changes to federal law:

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East Hartford criminal defense lawyerMemories can be surprisingly unreliable. This can be a difficult idea to swallow, since people often have strong emotions associated with the memories of their life experiences. However, even when a person believes that they have a strong memory that allows them to recall facts, people, or experiences, they often get the details wrong. People may misremember the order of events, inadvertently combine multiple memories, or even believe that someone else’s memories are their own. Unfortunately, even when memories are unreliable, people may strongly believe that they are correct. When a person’s memories are a key factor in a criminal case, this may lead to wrongful convictions. 

Far too often, criminal charges are based on eyewitness testimony, without any other supporting evidence. A testimony given by a victim or witness to a crime can be powerful, and a witness's identification of a suspect in a criminal trial can seem like incontrovertible truth, especially when strong emotions are involved. However, the unreliability of memory can easily cause a victim or witness to identify the wrong person. 

In fact, many witnesses are improperly influenced by police officers who have a particular suspect in mind. Officers may inadvertently or purposely indicate that they believe a certain person was the perpetrator when asking a witness to review photos or view a police lineup. This may affect people’s memories of events, causing them to believe that a suspect was involved in a crime. When a case is based on these types of memories, without other evidence, suspects may be falsely accused or convicted of multiple types of offenses.

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Hartford criminal defense lawyerPeople in the United States have a number of protections against unfair or illegal actions by law enforcement officials. These Constitutional rights include Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure. Under the Fourth Amendment, police officers or other officials generally cannot enter and search a person’s property without first receiving permission or obtaining a warrant. The First Amendment also protects the right to free speech and ensures that a person will not face retaliation for legal actions such as making a complaint. 

When these rights are violated in criminal cases or other situations, people may be able to take legal action to address the issue. Lawsuits may be filed seeking monetary compensation for civil rights violations, asking the government to take action against an official who committed a violation, and putting procedures in place to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future. However, due to a recent Supreme Court decision, the ability to pursue lawsuits in cases involving civil rights violations by federal agents may be limited.

How Egbert v. Boule Affects Claims Against Federal Officials

In the case Egbert v. Boule, Robert Boule, a man in northern Washington, had a history of smuggling people across the border into Canada. Erik Egbert, a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent, suspected that Boule was planning to illegally transport a person who was visiting the area from Turkey. Egbert entered Boule’s property to investigate. When Boule confronted Egbert, Egbert threw him to the ground and injured him. Boule later made a complaint and Egbert retaliated by reporting him to agencies such as the IRS and the Social Security Administration, asking them to investigate Boule’s business.

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