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Stamford Criminal Defense Law Blog

Talking about race in court can reduce juror and court bias

In Connecticut and around the country, racial bias can have an impact in criminal cases. Most people hold implicit biases, and defense attorneys need to talk about race to help jurors to consider cases without being impacted by the ones that they might have.

According to the American Bar Association, criminal defense lawyers who are representing minorities can take several steps to reduce implicit bias among the jurors and the judge both before and during trials. In cases in which police officers stop minorities because of racial bias, the attorneys can file pretrial motions to challenge the reasons for the stops as pretextual. They can also file pretrial motions to request the use of experts to testify about the impact that race can have on charging decisions.

Reformers call for changes to cash bail system

In Connecticut and across the country, inequities around cash bail have sparked widespread calls for change. Cash bail systems mean that people living in poverty who are jailed for misdemeanor charges or minor drug cases are unable to post bail, remaining in jail before trial, while wealthy people facing much more serious charges like rape or murder are able to pay for their freedom. Research has indicated that pretrial detention can have a serious impact on the outcome of a criminal trial. People detained before their trials are often more likely to be convicted or face higher sentences regardless of the seriousness of the underlying charges.

There are several proposals to change Connecticut's cash bail system in line with reforms being implemented elsewhere in the country. Some are proposing that pretrial detention be based solely on the charges involved and whether a person is considered dangerous or a flight risk rather than involving cash and asset-based guarantees. One state senator said that the cash bail system as it currently exists is essentially a further punishment for poverty. Pre-trial detention can make many people's situations much worse, even if they are eventually exonerated. They may lose their jobs or their housing while detained and face additional pressure to plead guilty in order to resolve their case more quickly.

Connecticut judge denies defense motions in murder case

The legal team representing a Connecticut man who is accused of killing his wife were dealt a number of setbacks on Jan. 27. A Superior Court judge denied defense motions to exclude evidence recovered from an electronic fairness monitoring device, prevent testimony about police dog searches, change the trial's venue, and exclude residents from the man's home town from sitting on the jury. The man claims an unidentified armed home intruder murdered his wife and then assaulted him.

The most heated arguments centered on the reliability of Fitbit activity tracking devices. An expert witness called by prosecutors told the judge that Fitbits are generally viewed as reliable and the device worn by the victim is known for its accuracy. Under questioning from defense attorneys, the expert conceded that the electronic monitors have an error rate of about 10%. Prosecutors successfully argued that the electronic evidence should be introduced and it was up to the jury to decide how much weight to give it.

Tip leads police to alleged drug deal

A tip about a possible drug transaction led to three individuals being taken into custody in Connecticut on the evening of Jan. 23. Officers from the Stamford Police Department's Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit went into action after learning that a black sedan would be arriving at a parking lot on Perry Street to sell illegal drugs. Initial reports do not reveal if the information was provided anonymously or received from an informant.

Officers were waiting when the car appeared at about 7:30 p.m. They approached the black car after blocking it in with their police vehicle according to media reports. When they began to ask questions, officers say that a 26-year-old man sitting in the back of the car pulled 10 bundles out of waistband and placed them by his feet. Each of the bundles allegedly contained 10 folds of heroin. Police say that each of the folds would have been sold for $20 on the street. Marijuana worth approximately $100 in addition to $231 in U.S. currency were also allegedly discovered in the car.

How to defend against voluntary manslaughter charges

Individuals who are charged with voluntary manslaughter in Connecticut may have a variety of defenses to that charge. For instance, it may be possible for a defendant to assert that he or she didn't actually commit the crime in question. This may be done by questioning the evidence in the case or by claiming that he or she was somewhere else when the victim was killed.

A defendant may claim that he or she acted in self-defense when taking another person's life. A self-defense claim can either be classified as perfect or imperfect. A perfect self-defense claim means that an individual thought that deadly force was justified to confront a threat. In a voluntary manslaughter case, only a perfect claim could result in an acquittal. Otherwise, an individual has essentially admitted to taking a person's life without good enough cause to do so.

Miranda warnings date back to 1966

Connecticut residents likely became familiar with the Miranda warning after hearing police officers in films and television shows tell suspects that they had the right to remain silent and consult with an attorney. The rights referred to in the Miranda warning are provided by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but police officers were not required to inform suspects about them until 1966.

That was when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving an Arizona man who confessed to kidnapping and raping an 18-year-old woman after two hours of police interrogation. The nation's highest court ruled that the confession was inadmissible because officers used coercive techniques and did not tell the man that he had the right to say nothing and any statements he did make could be used against him in court. While the Supreme Court did not state the specific words police officers should use when they inform suspects about their constitutional rights, the justices did make clear which rights should be included in Miranda warnings.

Connecticut school board member charged with kidnapping

According to news sources, a member of the Bridgeport Board of Education is facing multiple charges following an incident that occurred on Dec. 27, 2019. The man and his wife reportedly impersonated law enforcement officers and attempted to force an acquaintance to go with them at gunpoint.

The school board member and his wife reportedly went to the apartment of a 21-year-old acquaintance in Seymour and attempted to force the man to leave with them. The man fought back, and the couple allegedly fled the scene. The couple reportedly impersonated police officers to gain access to the apartment building in which the man's apartment was located.

Man charged for drug crimes after police chase

A man in Connecticut was charged for drug crimes after a short police chase at 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 26. The 27-year-old man was allegedly found to be in possession of several illegal substances as well as an illegal loaded firearm. He was handed several charges including illegal possession of narcotics and sale of illegal drugs.

The man was driving his car in Naugatuck when the incident began. Believing that the man had participated in a drug transaction, a police officer followed the man's black 2019 Mazda CX5 to an entrance ramp on Route 8 North where the man had parked in a travel lane. After the policeman pulled up behind the man's vehicle and told him to exit, the man allegedly got out of his car with a gun in his hand. The accused man then ran into the woods where other police officers and K9 units stopped him.

Advocacy group comes out against the SOFA Act

Prison populations in Connecticut and around the country swelled in the 1990s because of harsh sentencing laws passed to combat a crime wave linked to crack cocaine. The latest drug menace is the deadly opioid fentanyl, and Congress is once again being urged to take a hard line to protect the public. An emergency order made fentanyl a Schedule 1 controlled substance in February 2018. The Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues Act would make the classification permanent.

The Schedule 1 designation makes apprehending and prosecuting fentanyl traffickers easier, but the SOFA Act has as many critics as it has supporters. These critics say passage of the bill would disproportionately affect poor and minority communities just as draconian crack cocaine sentencing laws did decades ago. In a report released on Dec. 18, the Drug Policy Alliance asks lawmakers and law enforcement to consider alternatives to harsh punishments.

Experts question police use of controversial technique

Connecticut residents might be aware that the results of polygraph tests cannot be used in criminal trials because they are considered too unreliable. They may be surprised to learn that law enforcement still uses lie detectors as well as an equally dubious investigative technique known as Scientific Content Analysis. SCAN involves handing a suspect a pen and asking them to write down answers to a series of questions. Analysts then look at what suspects have written to determine whether they are being truthful.

The reliability of SCAN analysis is not supported by any empirical evidence, but the technique remains popular with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the country. The website of the company that developed the technique currently lists 417 police and military clients in the United States. SCAN proponents say the technique saves police time and money and is not designed to provide proof of guilt.

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