Crime statistics collected by the FBI show a steady decline in violent crime rates. Since 1993, violent crime has decreased by approximately 50% in Virginia and nationwide. Property crimes have dropped as well, but police have been arresting more and more people despite the apparent decrease in serious criminal activity. Petty crimes account for many arrests. Research by the RAND Corporation indicates that police accused 31% of arrestees of committing misdemeanors.
Jailhouse informants are valuable sources of information for prosecutors in Virginia and around the country, but their testimony is often only given in return for a reduced sentence or other concessions. Information that could bring the credibility of a prosecution witness into question must be turned over to criminal defendants and their attorneys under what is known as the Brady rule, but this does not always happen when prisoners agree to testify.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.