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NJ Instruction Makes Jurors Suspicious Of All Eyewitness Testimony

The state of New Jersey has been trying to help jurors better assess the reliability of eyewitness testimony, but a study reported by NPR suggests that the effort may be having unintended consequences. That’s because a new set of instructions read to jurors by a judge seems to make them skeptical of all eyewitness testimony, even testimony that should be considered reasonably reliable. In 2012, New Jersey’s Supreme Court said that in cases that involve eyewitness testimony, judges must give […]

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All Juvenile Lifers May Argue For Their Release, Supreme Court Rules

Teenagers sentenced to life imprisonment for murder must have a chance to argue that they be released from prison, the Supreme Court ruled today. The 6-to-3 ruling said the high court’s 2012 decision that struck down mandatory life imprisonment terms for juveniles must be applied retroactively, the Washington post reports. That would mean new sentencing or a chance to argue for parole, said Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority decision. The decision continues the trend of the court’s deciding […]

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Rethinking Criminal Intent: Why ‘Mens Rea’ Matters

In order for the government to legally prosecute, convict and punish someone, in most cases it must prove that the person committed the criminal act (known as actus reus) and that he or she committed that act with criminal intention (mens rea). There are a variety of terms used to describe mens rea, including moral blameworthiness, a guilty mind, an evil mind, conscious will, or willful action. Mens rea is a foundational element of American jurisprudence. The U.S. Supreme Court […]

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High Court To Decide On Obama’s Power To Defer Deportations

The Supreme Court today said it will decide whether President Obama has the authority to declare that millions of illegal immigrants be allowed to remain and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation, reports the Washington Post. The court likely will hear the case in April, with a ruling before July. It provides the last chance the administration would be able to implement the program Obama announced in 2014, which affects upwards of 4 million people, before he leaves […]

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Cameras and 'Making a Murderer'

If you watched the popular, and controversial, Netflix documentary series, “Making a Murderer,” you were treated to a rare, compelling portrait of a trial inside the Wisconsin state courthouse. If filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi had been covering a trial in a different state, or different level or court, their documentary may have looked a lot different. We're familiar with fictional courtroom dramas in the movies and on TV, but in most real-life courtrooms across America, what cameras are […]

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TX Criminal Court Reverses Convictions Of Seven In “Talking Dirty” Cases

Texas’ top criminal court yesterday reversed the convictions of seven men who were sentenced to prison for talking dirty to minors online, reports the Dallas Morning News. They are among the first to see their convictions reversed after a 2013 Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision overturned a state law criminalizing sexually explicit online communication with minors. The court said the law was written so broadly that it infringed on free speech rights, prohibiting things such as sexually explicit literature […]

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TX Witness ID Reforms After Mistaken Rape Conviction Called Success

The New Yorker tells the story of how Texas legislators passed laws in 2011 to change the way eyewitness identifications are handled in the criminal investigative process. It happened in the case of Tim Cole, who was granted the first posthumous pardon in Texas history after another man confessed to a rape for which Cole had been convicted and served a long prison term. The laws created an advisory panel on wrongful convictions, increased state compensation to exonerees, and required […]

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High Court Review Of Armed Career Criminal Law Could Lead To Inmate Release

Taking a case that Scotusblog says could lead to the release of hundreds of prison inmates, the Supreme Court agreed to consider extending to earlier, closed cases its ruling last June limiting prison terms under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act. The U.S. Justice Department believes that the ruling should apply retroactively. Defense lawyers say that at least hundreds of inmates have already served the maximum sentence that would now be allowed under the June ruling but remain in prison […]

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Media Group Seeks Documents, More Transparency In Baltimore Police Cases

A coalition of Baltimore and national media outlets has intervened in court to call for broader transparency and increased access to legal documents in the prosecution of the Baltimore police officers in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, reports the Baltimore Sun. The group yesterday asked for access to sealed documents, trial transcripts, evidence, and future moments during trials when jurors leave the courtroom to view evidence. It also asked the court to refrain from admonishing jurors not to […]

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Michigan Supreme Court Proposes Rules To End ‘Debtors’ Prisons’

Michigan’s Supreme Court has proposed new regulations to determine if defendants can afford to pay court fines, which would strengthen widely disregarded laws against jailing people who cannot pay them without hardship, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Critics say the hodgepodge system for determining a person’s ability to pay has created modern-day debtors’ prisons, which were outlawed in the early 1800s, and essentially resulted in a “pay or stay” system. People who cannot afford fines for arrests, tickets, or court […]