Even people who have never been arrested and never worked in the criminal justice system are often familiar with the Miranda warning. As heard in countless TV shows and movies, the warning advises arrestees that they have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and that an attorney will be provided for them if they cannot afford one.
America’s criminal justice system is supposed to be fair, impartial and above all, as accurate as possible. Unfortunately, the statistics on criminal justice accuracy are not promising. In recent decades, researchers and advocacy groups like the Innocence Project have been tracking (and desperately trying to correct) wrongful convictions in the United States.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A person who causes bodily harm to another person in Pennsylvania may face assault charges. Depending on the severity of the charge, the penalties can range from time in prison and fines. There are two types of assault charges: simple assault and aggravated assault.
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.
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.
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.