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Criminal Defense Archives

Miranda warnings protect defendants' rights

People in California may know that police are supposed to read them their rights in the case of an arrest, but they may not be aware of just how significant these Miranda rights can be. The standard warning was developed after a 1966 Supreme Court case that determined that people arrested by police must be informed of their rights against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment at the time they are taken into custody. While the warnings are well-known, partially because they are frequently featured on police TV shows, they provide a concise summary of constitutional protections afforded to those charged with a crime.

The rise of post-conviction DNA testing

Criminal defendants in California and around the country are often found guilty because of deoxyribonucleic acid analysis, but DNA can also be used to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. The accuracy of DNA testing became widely understood in the 1980s and 1990s when individuals who had spent decades behind bars began to be released. They were freed after tissue samples collected at crime scenes proved that other people committed the crimes they were incarcerated for. Newer techniques like cell-free fetal testing are even more reliable.

Ramped-up drug enforcement has unintended consequences

California is often in the forefront of new approaches in the ongoing societal effort to monitor certain chemical substances and punish their use, possession or other forms of control. For instance, as marijuana has progressed from a medically permissible substance to broad recreational use under state law, it continues to remain a Class One drug under federal law, the most restrictive classification. Federal offices rarely enforce those laws regarding marijuana, but how other drugs are classified and the fervor with which enforcement is prosecuted can result in unintended, and perhaps undesirable, consequences.

An outlandish tool police across the nation use regularly

California residents may be interested in learning about a tool that often used in police departments but is not so well known to the public. This tool is called Scientific Content Analysis. It is referred to as SCAN for short. While it is used in agencies across the nation, there is no reliable science to back it up.

The racial divide in prisons is shrinking

The racial divide in state prisons in California and around the country narrowed considerably over the last 16 years, but African Americans are still far more likely to spend time behind bars than whites. A study from the Council on Criminal Justice released on Dec. 3 reveals that racial disparities for every type of major crime have fallen in state and local prisons across the country with the biggest demographic shift being observed among drug offenders. The racial gap is also lower among individuals on parole and probation according to the study.

Longest Survivor of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Exoneree Albert Woodfox to speak at Criminal Justice Seminar

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - Albert Woodfox, one of the "Angola Three," gained his unfortunate fame for serving over 40 years in solitary confinement -- the longest in U.S. prison history. After decades of activism and confinement - Woodfox's conviction was overturned for the third and final time. Woodfox will share his story of injustice, resilience and hope at the 46th Annual California Attorneys for Criminal Justice Seminar December 7th in San Francisco. His new book, Solitary, is a 2019 National Book Award finalist and a powerful call to reform the inhumanity of solitary confinement.

Unconscious bias may affect criminal penalties

Experts in California and around the country have raised concerns about the potential effects of unconscious bias in the courtroom. Widely studied by a range of researchers in the natural and social sciences, unconscious bias is an example of discriminatory treatment that results not from conscious thought but from unconscious brain responses. Thus, people may believe themselves to be non-racist or even anti-racist, but they may still be more likely to judge people of color more harshly. When judges express unconscious bias, the result can lead to damaging inequities in the criminal justice system.

Studies reveal flaws in forensic science

Juries in California and around the country tend to find evidence provided by forensic experts to be extremely compelling, and criminal defendants are often convicted based largely on their testimony. Juries may be surprised to learn that the science supporting criminal forensic procedures is far from perfect. A team of researchers from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences looked into the way forensic evidence is gathered and processed in the United States, and they discovered problems with virtually every technique they scrutinized.

Study finds community service harms poor defendants

Court-ordered community service in California and other states is supposed to be a helpful alternative for defendants who cannot pay fines and fees. However, according to a new study, the practice unfairly impacts low-income people of color and increases the burden of court debt.

Do California courts consider diminished capacity?

When answering to criminal charges, an insanity defense may be met with a great deal of skepticism simply because the definition of insanity may seem so subjective. Plus, there is the issue of whether one struggles with chronic insanity issues, or whether the circumstances of the moment caused them to lose control of their reasoning. 

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