Fingerprint Ruling May Have Broad Implications

A judge’s decision to bar fingerprint evidence in a Baltimore homicide trial could have far-reaching implications, according to some legal experts. The ruling is unprecedented, largely because fingerprints have been a crucial aspect of forensic science for nearly a century.

Circuit Court Judge Susan M. Souder said in her ruling that fingerprinting’s long history is not necessarily proof of its dependability.

“The state is correct that fingerprint evidence has been used in criminal cases for almost a century. While that fact is worthy of consideration, it does not prove reliability. For many centuries, perhaps for millennia, humans thought the earth was flat,” she wrote.

A Blow for Prosecutors

State prosecutors had planned to use a set of partial fingerprints taken from a Mercedes owned by Warren T. Fleming, who was killed in January 2006 during an attempted carjacking at Security Square Mall.

The fingerprints linked the killing to Bryan Keith Rose, a 23-year-old Baltimore man. However, defense attorneys challenged the admissibility of the prints and during a pretrial hearing cited the lack of consistent scientific review of fingerprint evidence over the past century.

The Decision

In recent years, fingerprinting technology has come under scrutiny. Judge Souder criticized a common fingerprinting method as highly subjective and called testimony asserting the technique’s infallibility “neither credible nor persuasive.”

She partially based her decision on the 2004 Madrid bombing case in which the FBI mistakenly linked the crime to Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield based on fingerprint analysis. Mayfield was offered an apology last year and a $2 million award.

No Longer the “Gold Standard”

“Fingerprints, before DNA evidence, were always considered the gold standard of forensic science, and it’s turning out there’s a lot more tin in that field than gold,” said professor David L. Faigman of the University of Hastings College of Law.

The repercussions of the judge’s decision, according to Faigman, are “terrifically broad.”

“If fingerprinting turns out to not be so good, people could start questioning that science as well,” he said in reference to other types of forensic science such as bite pattern and firearm analyses.

(Source: Baltimore Sun online)

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Rate of Domestic Violence Dramatically Drops

The number of domestic violence cases in the U.S. fell dramatically from 1993 to 2004, according to the Justice Department who also added that native Alaskan women and American Indian women face an increased risk of being victimized than Caucasians and other minorities.

Furthermore, the statistics, gathered by the Bureau of Justice, found that “intimate partner violence” rates dropped by over 50 percent. This sharp decline mirrors a downward trend in other violent crimes in the U.S.

What Caused the Drop

The Justice Department has no definite answer as to why the rates of domestic violence crimes have dropped so significantly in the last decade, but some criminal experts claim it has something to do with better police training and funding for prosecution.

“For the first time, there are entire domestic violence units in law enforcement,” said Lonna Stevens, director of the Sheila Wellstone Institute, a domestic violence group. “We’ve had protocols and policies developed for responding to this.”

More Statistics

For every 1,000 people over the age of 12 in the U.S, there were nearly 5.8 cases of nonfatal violence in 1993. By 2004, that rate had dropped to 2.6.

However, native Alaskan women and American Indian women suffered three times the incidence of violence than white woman, and Black women were also more likely to be abused than white women.

According to Stevens, this could be because law enforcement officials are less successful at responding or deterring violent behavior in some minority neighborhoods.

In addition, the Justice Department found that divorced or separated women, or those in their early 20s faced the highest risk of being abused. Women in low-income households were also victimized more often.

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Legal Group: Death Penalty System in U.S. Flawed

The nation’s largest association of lawyers recently released a report citing serious problems with the death penalty system in the United States. A halt on executions is justified until issues of fairness and accuracy in capital punishment are reviewed, the organization said.

“The death penalty system is rife with irregularity,” said Stephen F. Hanlon, who chairs the association’s Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project.

According to the American Bar Association report, problems with the death penalty system include:

  • False confessions
  • Eyewitness misidentification
  • Racial disparities—for instance, the death penalty is more likely to be administered when the victim of a crime is white
  • Mishandling of DNA evidence—more than 200 inmates have been exonerated in recent years with DNA

Separate reviews of the death penalty have been conducted over the past several years in eight states. Those reviews were compiled and presented in the ABA report.

“After carefully studying the way states across the spectrum handle executions, it has become crystal clear that the process is deeply flawed,” Hanlon said.

The ABA does not take a position on capital punishment and is not calling for a permanent halt to executions. Rather the organization is recommending that states review their procedures before putting more inmates to death.

(Source: The Associated Press)

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Teen Sex Offender Released After Long Legal Battle

A controversial teen sex offense case came to a conclusion today after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Genarlow Wilson be released from prison. According to the court, Wilson’s sentence violated the constitutional ban against “cruel and unusual” punishment.

In 2005, Wilson was convicted on felony aggravated child molestation charges for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl and received a mandatory 10-year sentence. He was 17 at the time of the sex act.

Wilson Kept Behind Bars

Wilson has been in jail since his conviction more than two years ago, despite a previous ruling by a Monroe County Superior Court judge to void the sentence based on constitutional grounds. The state attorney general’s move to appeal that ruling kept Wilson behind bars.

Majority Ruling

The high court’s ruling upheld the decision of the Monroe County judge.

“Although society has a significant interest in protecting children from premature sexual activity, we must acknowledge that Wilson’s crime does not rise to the level of culpability of adults who prey on children,” the majority wrote in its decision.

“For the law to punish Wilson as it would an adult, with the extraordinarily harsh punishment of 10 years in prison without the possibility of probation or parole, appears to be grossly disproportionate to the crime,” the majority concluded.

Controversial Case Draws Attention

Wilson’s case drew international attention and the support of civil rights leaders and former President Jimmy Carter, who once served as Georgia’s governor. Amid controversy over Wilson’s conviction, the state legislature changed the law regarding consensual teen sex acts.

The new law made such acts misdemeanors, as opposed to felony crimes, and “punishable by no more than a year in prison and no sex offender registration.” However, the laws were not made retroactive and so did not apply to Wilson’s case.

Wilson To Go Home

B.J. Bernstein, Wilson’s attorney, said he could be released today.

“We want him home. In the end, it shows this: That the courts can work, the courts do work,” Bernstein said.

(Source: CNN)

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