Criminal justice issues and sentencing reform have garnered a great deal of attention in Virginia and across the country. An unlikely coalition is supporting one bill in Congress to address some of the problems that have tainted the system, the First Step Act. The bill has bipartisan support and is backed by, among others, the American Civil Liberties Union and President Trump. Despite presenting only a modest reform agenda that fails to address many of the key concerns raised by justice reform advocates, opponents of the bill have continued to say that its adoption presents a threat to safety.
Criminal justice reform is a major concern to many people in Virginia, especially those dealing with drug convictions. After years of criticism about the ways disadvantaged groups are treated, the First Step Act is being considered in Congress. The bill is backed by an unusual alliance of supporters, including President Donald Trump and some law enforcement groups as well as the American Civil Liberties Union and other longtime justice reform advocates.
At times, authorities will attach electronic monitoring systems to parolees or people awaiting trial in Virginia. Two men heading the Challenging E-Carceration Project have researched the negative aspects of ankle monitors and the excessive punishment that they place on people, especially those who have not yet been convicted of a crime.
Virginia residents may be interested in a study that examines the role race plays in the decisions made by bail judges. According to the study, bail judges, whether they are white or black, seem to show bias against defendants who are black.
People in Virginia could have greater privacy protections after a U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant in order to access location information for a person's cellphone. The June 2018 decision is based on the Fourth Amendment, protecting people's rights to be free of warrantless search and seizure. There have been a variety of mixed rulings on how the Fourth Amendment applies to modern technologies, but experts say that this ruling could be among the most significant.
The criminal justice system may be far less reliable than many Virginia residents expect. Many people are aware of some of the famous exonerations for serious crimes, especially on the basis of DNA. These cases generally concern capital crimes such as rape or murder.
If a Virginia resident is charged with a crime, there must be enough evidence to convict on that charge. If there are any doubts as to the legality of evidence collected, it may be suppressed. It is important to note that evidence used in a case must be relevant and collected properly. Otherwise, a judge may grant a defendant's motion to have it suppressed.
Approximately 90 percent of all criminal cases in the United States involve some type of plea bargain arrangements or negotiations. Essentially, a plea bargain is an agreement in which the defendant seeks a lesser charge or sentence. There are different types of plea bargains and certain conditions that apply to legal arrangements of this nature in Virginia.
The U.S. Department of Justice has announced its intention to make the asset forfeiture process easier for law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies in Virginia and across the country may, in some circumstances, seize assets from suspects in criminal investigations. There are a number of valid reasons for such actions, including their use as a tactic against strong criminal organizations, but critics say asset forfeiture is often abused by police.
Virginia residents likely know that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, but they may not know that evidence obtained without a search warrant or probable cause was still admissible in state courts during criminal trials until the Supreme Court effectively created the exclusionary rule in 1961. However, deciding whether or not evidence was gathered within the boundaries established by the Fourth Amendment is often difficult for judges.