The Law Office of Robert D. Anderson, PLLCFormer Chief Prosecutor Of Loudoun County
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Criminal Defense Archives

Virginia federal judge rules terrorist watchlist unconstitutional

A federal judge in Virginia ruled on Sept. 4 that the government's terrorist watchlist violates the constitutional rights of the more than 1 million people who have been placed on it. The case challenging the watchlist was brought by more than 20 Muslim-Americans and argued before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The plaintiffs are being supported by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Research uncovers a possible wrongful conviction rate

Individuals who are currently sitting in jail or prison in Virginia may have been wrongfully convicted. According to a study conducted by a research team at Pennsylvania University, roughly 6% of participants said that they were innocent of the charges against them. The team asked 3,000 prisoners in the state a series of questions such as why participants felt that they were wrongly convicted. Participants answered these queries anonymously over a period of six months.

Technology may give police greater surveillance powers

When people in Virginia buy technologically advanced doorbells, they may not realize that they are also signing up for an agreement with the police. Ring is one company, recently purchased by Amazon, that produces doorbells with a video feed. Homeowners can see who is at the door by checking the connected app on their mobile phones. However, police have a special portal into Ring. They can request video from community residents who are using the app. This may not seem too troubling as it relies on voluntary interactions. However, if the owners don't turn over the footage, police can go to the company directly without seeking a warrant or showing probable cause.

Wrongful convictions often result from poor police practices

For many people in Virginia, the prospect of a wrongful conviction is very frightening, even if the possibilities seem remote. DNA evidence has confirmed that a number of people convicted of serious crimes like murder and rape actually spent decades behind bars for crimes that they did not commit. In many cases, wrongful conviction cases do not indicate mere mistakes or tragedies that take years of people's lives away. Instead, misconduct or abuse by police and prosecutors are often a major part of these cases. Witnesses may be coerced or badgered into providing inaccurate testimony and evidence may even be planted in some cases.

Eyewitness identifications can be flawed

Many criminal convictions and charges are heavily based on eyewitness testimony, even though it is known to be often inaccurate or unreliable. While people may be heavily affected by their experience of a crime, memory can be tricky, especially when people feel pressure to provide important information. In many cases, witnesses of a Virginia crime are asked to view a set of photos or a live lineup of people in order to see if they can identify the perpetrator. This photo lineup may take place some time after the initial incident.

Appeals court says long-standing law is unconstitutional

A Virginia habitual drunkard law was declared unconstitutional by the en banc Firth Circuit. It was heard by all 15 members of the court after a panel of three judges ruled in January that a suit filed by four homeless men should be dismissed. The law allows authorities to bring individuals before a judge and eventually send them to jail for an inability to handle alcohol.

The criminal justice system disadvantages the poor

For any system of legal justice to work satisfactorily and endure for the long run, it must be fair and unbiased, and perhaps most importantly, it must inspire the faith and confidence of the people to whom it applies. This is especially true of the criminal justice system. Yet, as many Virginia residents who have run afoul of the law for any reason have discovered, there is an inherent imbalance that glaringly impacts one group of citizens. The poor, simply by the reality of their economic situation, are severely disadvantaged if they are accused of a crime.

Top court decides 7-2 against

The United States Supreme Court chose not to expand protections against people who are being charged for the same crime by both federal and state prosecutors. The 7-2 ruling has major implications for many people, including Paul Manafort. Those in Virginia may remember he is facing both state and federal charges as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Exculpatory evidence in criminal prosecutions

There are generally two types of evidence in criminal trials in Virginia and around the country. Inculpatory evidence is presented by prosecutors and tends to incriminate defendants and establish their guilt. Exculpatory evidence is presented by criminal defense attorneys to exonerate their clients or raise questions about the validity of inculpatory evidence. Defense attorneys will usually try to gather exculpatory evidence by using investigators or making inquiries of their own, but this kind of material may also be provided by prosecutors.

"Crime fighting" apps may promote racism and fear

A number of apps are widely touted as increasing neighborhood awareness and preventing crime in Virginia and across the country. However, critics note that the apps have shown little to no evidence that they actually have any impact on crime rates. On the other hand, they argue that these apps are more likely to promote racial stereotyping, vigilantism and unsupported fears about the surrounding world. Crime statistics have dropped precipitously in the past 25 years, and violent crimes are far less common than they were in the past. Still, many people believe that their neighborhoods are more dangerous despite statistical evidence.

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