The United States Supreme Court has been wrestling with several substantial cases this term. The two marriage equality cases currently being considered and the two dog-sniffing Fourth Amendment challenges recently ruled upon are only some of the cases that have been before the Court this session. In addition to these high-profile cases, the Court has ruled on several important criminal defense matters, including a critical privacy-related holding that was virtually unnoticed by the public or media when it was handed down two months ago.
A broken criminal justice system benefits no one. When the system is defined by corruption, inconsistencies and dysfunction, the accused, victims and even prosecutors suffer undesirable consequences.
"You have the right to remain silent." While not all Americans understand that this sentence is the beginning of one's Miranda rights, nearly all adult Americans understand that this right exists. Popular movies and television programs have taught the public that when you are arrested, you can refuse to speak to law enforcement until you have an attorney present.
The criminal justice system both serves to hold criminal offenders accountable for their behavior and to ensure that the rights of anyone accused or convicted of criminal behavior are respected. A long-recognized right of those forced to mount a formal criminal defense is that of double jeopardy protection. This right is critical, but is widely misunderstood.
Every major television network broadcasts programs centered on detectives, forensic experts and other professionals whose job responsibilities include solving crime and predicting criminal behavior. Certainly, law enforcement and other crime experts must engage in behavior analysis in order to do their jobs. But these programs tend to overly romanticize a very complex subject, as this sort of analysis can trample the rights of Americans if taken too far or approached in inappropriate ways.
First, a lab technician in Massachusetts handled criminal evidence negligently in thousands of cases. Now, nearly 1,000 rape cases in New York City may have been tainted by evidence mishandling by a crime lab technician. These criminal defense challenges do not just affect those defendants and victims directly affected by the negligent behavior of the specific lab techs in these locations. When crime lab integrity is called into question, the effectiveness of the entire criminal justice system must be revisited.
A community in Florida has recently announced a measure which may serve as a model for other Florida jurisdictions. For nearly 20 years, the community has been issuing civil citations for non-violent juveniles who have committed offenses ordinarily addressed by the criminal justice system. In a game-changing move, the community is also currently issuing civil citations for certain adult criminal offenses ordinarily worthy of arrest.
The Florida Supreme Court recently held that some criminal trials may be partially closed to the public, but the justices were split on their reasoning for this decision. Press and general public access to criminal proceedings help to ensure that defendants are granted fair trials. However, the court has held that in certain portions of trials involving sex crimes that judges can order a courtroom's doors closed to outsiders.
The criminal justice system is far from perfect. As a result, even when an innocent individual has mounted a convincing criminal defense, he or she still may be convicted. Thankfully, advances in DNA evidentiary analysis has made it possible for roughly 300 innocent individuals to be exonerated of their criminal convictions. Unfortunately, the devastation that wrongful convictions cause cannot be erased by exoneration alone.
Four years ago, the Florida legislature passed a law designed to help those who had been wrongfully convicted of criminal charges. Though attorneys skilled in criminal defense law can often prevent wrongful convictions, the system is not perfect. The wrongful conviction compensation law was designed to right these wrongs in some small way.