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hartford criminal defense lawyerThe Connecticut Senate and House of Representatives recently ended the 2021 legislative session, and multiple new laws were passed that will affect criminal cases in the state. While advocates for criminal justice reform have praised some of the changes that were made, they have identified several issues that they believe still need to be addressed. By working with a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney, those who are facing criminal charges can ensure that the state’s laws will be applied correctly in their case.

New Laws Related to Drug Crimes, Domestic Violence, and Criminal Records

The laws passed by the Connecticut legislature address issues such as:

  • Clean slate - Convictions for non-violent misdemeanors and certain types of lower-level felonies will be erased from a person’s criminal record if they are not convicted of any other crimes for seven or 10 years after completing their sentence.

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Hartford criminal defense lawyerThe actions of police officers in criminal cases have come under scrutiny in recent years. In many cases, criminal charges are based on evidence uncovered during police searches. While search warrants are usually required before police officers can search a person’s home or property, there are some situations where police have claimed that they are allowed to conduct searches without obtaining a warrant. Some recent rulings by the Supreme Court have limited the types of warrantless searches that police can perform, and this may affect the types of evidence that can be used against those who are facing criminal charges.

Warrantless Searches and Community Caretaking

In May 2021, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of Caniglia v. Strom, in which a Rhode Island man’s weapons were confiscated by police officers. Following an argument between the man and his wife, police were asked to perform a wellness check, and they informed the man that if he agreed to a mental health evaluation, his legally obtained weapons would not be confiscated. However, while the man was receiving the evaluation, the officers entered his home and took his weapons, claiming that this was done for “safekeeping.”

The key issue in this case involved whether the officers were allowed to enter and search the man’s home without a warrant because they were performing “community caretaking” functions. In the past, police have been able to receive exceptions to the Fourth Amendment requirement to obtain a search warrant in cases where they were performing these types of functions. However, advocates for civil liberties have stated that “community caretaking” has not been well-defined, and even though this exception was originally meant to allow police to search a vehicle that had been impounded, it has been used in a wide variety of situations to justify searches of people’s homes.

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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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Connecticut criminal defense lawyer for eyewitness testimonyWhen a person faces criminal charges, a prosecutor will present evidence that is meant to show that they are guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. This would seem to be a high standard that ensures that a person will only be convicted if there is no uncertainty about whether they actually committed the crime they are accused of. Unfortunately, the reality in many criminal cases is much different, and people are often convicted based solely on the testimony of eyewitnesses. While people’s observations may seem to be reliable, studies have shown that there are many factors that can affect what a witness sees and remembers, and as a result, many people have been wrongfully convicted.

The Problems With Eyewitness Testimony

“You don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.” -John Green

Most people trust what they see, and because of this, they will believe witnesses who report that they observed a crime and can identify a suspect. However, many people do not realize how unreliable witnesses’ memories actually are. Scientists who have studied these issues report that there are many reasons why people may fail to properly recall what they believe they saw, and they often involve uncertainty and bias.

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Hartford, CT criminal defense lawyer for clearing criminal recordsIt is well-understood that committing a crime can lead to multiple types of consequences. However, many people are not fully aware of the long-term effects of being convicted on criminal charges. Even after a person has served their sentence, they will have a criminal record that will show up in background checks, which can affect their ability to obtain employment, secure housing, or pursue education. To address this issue and help people convicted of crimes better reintegrate into society, the Connecticut state Senate recently passed a “Clean Slate” bill.

Potential Changes in the Clean Slate Bill

The bill passed by the Senate would automatically erase certain types of criminal convictions from a person’s record after they have successfully completed their sentence and have not committed any crimes for a certain number of years. Misdemeanor convictions may be erased seven years after the date of conviction, and Class D or Class E felony convictions may be erased after 10 to 15 years.

Supporters of the bill believe that it strikes a balance between ensuring that criminals are punished for their crimes and allowing people who have served their debt to society to avoid ongoing collateral consequences. For far too many people, a criminal conviction can function as a life sentence, even for relatively minor offenses. Those who are unable to find employment because of a criminal record are likely to commit further crimes. Clearing criminal records after the proper amount of time has passed will ultimately increase public safety.

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