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Ankle bracelets can come at a heavy cost

Many people in Pennsylvania and across the country have been interested in electronic ankle bracelets as an alternative to imprisonment. Commonly used in white-collar cases, people like Paul Manafort and Harvey Weinstein have been released on bail while their movement is tracked. A more controversial use of the systems arose when Immigration and Customs Enforcement began using the ankle bracelets for undocumented immigrant families after the scandal around the separation of parents from their children.

Report reveals racial bias in bail hearings

Both black and white judges in Pennsylvania and Florida treat African American defendants unfairly according to a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. Researchers from Harvard Law School and Princeton University studied cases involving 93,914 defendants who appeared before bail judges in Philadelphia and 65,944 defendants who had their bail hearings in Miami, and they found that the average bail set for black defendants was $7,281 higher than the average bail set for white defendants.

Identifications made during police lineups are often unreliable

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have not yet taken steps to revise the way police departments conduct lineups, although such changes have been implemented in many states. The reliability of eyewitness identifications has been a controversial issue for decades, but legislators and police departments only began to take action when incontrovertible DNA evidence was introduced in the 1980s and it became clear that many people had been sentenced to prison for crimes they did not commit.

Supreme Court makes landmark Fourth Amendment ruling

The Fourth Amendment protects Pennsylvania residents against unreasonable search and seizure, but the courts have long held that this protection does not apply to information that is willingly shared with third parties such as banks or telephone companies. The digital age has radically changed the way that data is gathered and stored, and the Supreme Court was recently tasked with deciding whether or not the third-party doctrine should be applied to cell site location information.

Eyewitness errors involved in wrongful convictions

For many people in Pennsylvania who maintain their innocence despite being convicted of a crime, mistaken identity and wrongful identification could be a critical issue. DNA testing has helped to prove the innocence of a number of people across the country who were convicted of serious crimes like rape and murder in which modern-day technologies have allowed new discoveries to be made in old cases. In a number of the convictions overturned through DNA tests, eyewitness misidentification of the person responsible has been a significant factor.

Drivers of rental cars entitled to privacy, Supreme Court rules

Pennsylvania residents who borrow a rental car from a family member or friend should be aware that, according to a Supreme Court decision, they are entitled to the same protections against illegal police searches. This decision, which was handed down on May 14, came after the Trump administration argued that those not named on a rental agreement should be able to be searched without the person's consent.

Study links pretrial detention with higher conviction rates

Individuals facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania and around the country who are unable to afford bail are far more likely to be found guilty, according to a team of researchers from Harvard, Stanford and Princeton universities. After studying administrative court and tax data, the researchers found that criminal defendants who are granted pretrial release are 14 percent less likely to get convicted and 10.8 percent less likely to enter into negotiated plea arrangements.

Supreme Court hears case about cellphone location tracking

As smartphones have become nearly ubiquitous in Pennsylvania, law enforcement officers have used some of the technology behind the phones to track people and their movements. The Supreme Court of the United States recently heard arguments in a case involving the use of cell phone location data in order to pinpoint a defendant's location in relation to some robberies that had happened.

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