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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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b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_1416718478.jpgDefendants in criminal cases often face an uphill battle as they respond to the charges against them. Law enforcement officials have significant resources that they may use as they investigate an alleged crime, gather evidence, and build a case against a person. However, defendants have certain rights, including protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Recently, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued a ruling that may affect the types of searches that may be performed and the evidence that may be allowed in cases involving drug crimes.

Court Rules on Search Warrants, Canine Sniffs, and Visual Sweeps

In the case of State of Connecticut v. Ricardo Correa, the defendant was charged with multiple drug-related offenses. During his initial trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, claiming that the evidence was uncovered due to the use of a drug-sniffing dog and an officer’s visual observations that were performed prior to obtaining a search warrant. This motion was denied, and the defendant was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison. The defendant appealed the case, but the Appellate Court ruled against him. However, after a further appeal, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court’s decision and found that the search was unconstitutional.

The question of constitutionality in this case involved whether a canine sniff prior to receiving a search warrant is considered to be an illegal search. Officers had been conducting surveillance of the defendant at a motel room, and they performed a sweep on the walkway outside the motel room with a drug-sniffing dog. When the dog indicated that the defendant’s room contained narcotics, officers applied for a search warrant. The defendant claimed that conducting a canine sniff without a warrant was a violation of the Connecticut state constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches or seizures. 

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