Those who are charged with a crime in Virginia and throughout the country must be read their rights before being taken into custody. Individuals have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney and the right to know that anything that they say or do can be used against them in court. These are generally referred to as Miranda rights, and they were the result of a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Miranda v. Arizona.
In Virginia and across the country, many people have urged changes to the criminal justice system to reduce the number of people incarcerated. In particular, drug offenses have led to long-term imprisonment and felony criminal records for many people who face serious obstacles in reintegrating into society. Despite the growing movement for cannabis legalization and the reduction of drug possession sentences, some are still advocating for higher sentences for people convicted of drug dealing and distribution.
State and federal prisons in Virginia and around the country have a disproportionately high number of African American inmates, but racial disparities in correctional facilities are less pronounced today than they were in previous decades. In 2000, the chance of being sent to a state prison for violating drug laws was 15 times higher for African Americans than it was for whites. By 2016, that figure had fallen to five times higher.
Many people in Virginia and throughout America are influenced by unconscious biases. In other words, they make decisions or form opinions on issues based on information processed in their subconscious. Research has indicated that judges tend to make decisions as much on feel as they do on the facts in a case. This may result in harsher sentences being handed down to black or LGBTQ defendants.
Blood spatter may be a factor in the evidence introduced in homicide, assault and other cases involving violent crimes in Virginia. This kind of analysis of bloodstains has been featured on TV shows like "CSI" and has played a major role in securing convictions in several high-profile murder cases. However, the field of science is being questioned by other experts who say that blood spatter analysis does not produce the kind of certainty required to jail or even execute people for a crime.
Virginia residents who are convicted of minor crimes are often ordered to perform community service. Community service is intended to provide judges with a humane alternative to incarceration for offenders who lack the means to pay fines and court fees, but the results of a study conducted recently by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles suggest that being ordered to work without pay actually makes life worse for these offenders.
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.