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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

DNA Testing and Fingerprinting Subject to Human Error

DNA is a “genetic fingerprint” that can help people track down their origin story or assist law enforcement in solving a decades-old cold case. DNA testing is ubiquitous in modern times and is considered indispensable to crime fighters the world over. Where once significant emphasis was placed on fingerprinting, today swabbing for genetic material is the best tool.

Most people believe that a person’s fingerprints are unique to each person. The idea is that no two individuals have the same loops and whorls on the tips of their fingers. Long has fingerprinting been relied upon to solve crimes.

In 1880, a Scottish physician by the name of Henry Faulds wrote a letter to the scientific journal Nature claiming that fingerprinting could help law enforcement, the Smithsonian Magazine reports. In the following decades, the novel solution became routine and helped “solve” countless crimes around the world.

To this day, criminals wear gloves to disguise their identities; even though, the theory that no two people have identical fingerprints hasn't been proven.


The Myth of Fingerprints

Simon Cole, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification, says that fingerprinting experts have never agreed on “a way of measuring the rarity of an arrangement of friction ridge features in the human population.” He points out that there have been numerous cases of people being charged and convicted for crimes they did not commit, according to the article.

Fingerprinting, simply put, is not an exact science and the practice is prone to human error.

When, in 1991, a federal judge in California learned that the standard for determining if prints matched was different from one county to the next, he threw out the fingerprint evidence in the trial he was presiding over. “I don’t think I’m ever going to use fingerprint testimony again,” the judge said in court. “I’ve had my faith shaken.”

Even though Science magazine declared DNA analysis was the “gold standard” in 2005, criminal law professor Erin Murphy at New York University School of Law makes clear that it is susceptible to human error. Genetic samples can get mixed up, and contamination can occur.

Still, there has been far more research on the efficacy of DNA than there has on fingerprinting, in spite of the fact the latter has been utilized for nearly a century longer.


Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

Contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you are facing legal trouble. Attorney Brower has been named “One of the Southland's Finest" and has been honored by Best Lawyers in America. As a leading player in the Southern California legal scene, he can help you achieve a favorable result.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Death Penalty Executive Moratorium

death penalty
In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 66. The bill, which passed narrowly, kept the death penalty in place along with some procedural changes that expedited the appeals process by putting trial courts in charge of initial petitions challenging death penalty convictions. Prop 66 also set a new time frame for death penalty review.

The legislation goes even further, requiring death row inmates to work to pay restitution to victims' families. The measure did away with public review requirements for the state’s lethal injection procedures.

California is widely held to be one of the most progressive states in the nation. However, capital punishment tends to fly in the face of lenient viewpoints. Still, the death penalty is a fixture of state law; yet, the state’s new governor is doing what he can to put an end to the practice, one that disproportionately affects people of color and those with mental health disabilities. January 17, 2006, was the last time a death penalty sentence was carried out in California.

Moratorium on Executions in California

One of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first orders of business is halting any executions in California, as long as he is governor, NPR reports. His executive moratorium ordered the closure of the state's execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison, effective immediately. The Governor’s action does not overturn any existing convictions or death penalty sentences.

"Our death penalty system has been — by any measure — a failure," Newsom said in a written statement. "It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. But most of all, the death penalty is absolute, irreversible and irreparable in the event of a human error."

Gov. Newsom’s move put the state in line with Colorado and Oregon which have similar moratoriums on the death penalty, according to the article. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that twenty states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation abolishing capital punishment.

Supporters of the death penalty called the executive moratorium an “abuse of power.”


Orange County Criminal Defense

If you or a loved one is being charged with any form of homicide, it is vital that you seek experienced legal representation. The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower has handled many homicide defense cases, and attorney Brower can provide you with the quality representation you or your family requires. Please contact our office today to learn more.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Automatically Sealing Criminal Records

criminal records
An arrest record can significantly disrupt a person’s life. Many Californians who have served time for a conviction struggle to find employment, secure loans, and acquire housing. Unfortunately, many of the said individuals do not know that there is an avenue of recourse that could dramatically change their lives—petitioning the court to seal a person’s arrest record.

Existing law authorizes a person who was arrested and has successfully completed a pre-filing diversion program, a specified drug diversion program, et al. to have their record sealed. When such petitions are approved, the crime for which the defendant was charged is deemed to have never occurred.

Low-level offenders can seal their records, in many cases, but most eligible offenders are not privy to this information and are "living in a paper prison," says San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon. California Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco has introduced a bill that would automatically clear some 8 million criminal convictions eligible for sealing, Capital Public Radio reports. AB 1076, Criminal records: automatic relief would require the Department of Justice to review the records in the state summary criminal history information database and to identify those who are eligible for having their record sealed, and seal the said records without a petition.

Sealing Criminal Records

If passed, law enforcement databases would hold records of a low-level offender's conviction, but background check agencies and the general public would be unable to find evidence of a person’s past transgressions. It is important to note that sex offenders and those who served time in prison are ineligible for utilizing the benefits of AB 1076.

"There has been such a focus on rehabilitation in Sacramento," Ting said. "Rehabilitation begins with a fresh start. You can't get a fresh start with something still on your record." 

A similar practice of sealing records was used in San Francisco following the legalization of marijuana, according to the article. Rather than have people go through the long process of petitioning the courts to have their record sealed, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office automatically erased 9,000 marijuana convictions eligible for sealing. AB 1076 would use the same method for other low-level offenders throughout the state.

"This is very low-level technology," Gascon said. "It will provide relief to people who are unable to get jobs and housing."


Southern California Criminal Defense Attorney

The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower can assist you or a loved one who is facing legal trouble. Attorney Brower has a long history of bringing about favorable outcomes in some of the most challenging cases. Please contact our office today to learn more.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Civil Forfeiture Limitations

civil forfeiture
Civil forfeiture (otherwise known as civil asset forfeiture, civil judicial forfeiture, or civil seizure) is a legal mechanism allowing law enforcement officers to take assets from persons who are suspected of committing a crime or illegal activity. This process has occurred in the United States for decades; one of the facets of this procedure that is both unique and controversial is that assets can be seized without necessarily charging the owners with wrongdoing.

For instance, a person driving down a freeway may get pulled over; said driver just finished selling their expensive watch to an individual they met on eBay and maybe failed to get a receipt. An officer searches the driver's vehicle, discovers thousands of dollars in the form of cash and finds the discovery “suspicious.” The officer then asks the driver to prove the money was not involved in criminal activity. Such a request isn’t so simple to honor; unlike a civil procedure (person v. person), a civil seizure is a dispute between law enforcement and property.

Essentially, a police officer can take someone's property – without any proof of a crime – and tell them if they want it back they have to take steps to prove that the property isn’t linked to a crime. Proving the innocence of one’s money or car isn’t a simple endeavor, one may have to hire an attorney they cannot afford. As you can imagine, some people involved in these types of cases are unable to cover the cost of hiring representation and give up and lose their property. It’s a scenario that plays out more times than not!

Naturally, law enforcement agencies are allowed to keep the property seized that victims are unable to prove ownership. Critics of this practice sometimes refer to it as “policing for profit.”

Civil Forfeiture On the Ropes

We have taken the time to cover the controversial practice of civil forfeiture on numerous occasions in recent years. Major media outlets have done exposés on the subject highlighting severe abuses across the country by both local, state, and Federal law enforcement agencies. HBO’s comedic commentator John Oliver did a whole segment on the practice in 2014. Oliver breaks down the problem, one that allows billions of dollars to be confiscated without ever charging anyone with a crime.

Last month, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) weighed in on civil forfeiture. The Justices agreed unanimously to place limitations on civil forfeiture, but did not ban the practice outright. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg authored the opinion in Timbs v. Indiana. Timbs pled guilty to selling heroin; he paid his fines ($1,203), did house arrest, went to treatment for opioid addiction, and is on five years of probation. Then the state of Indiana hired a private law firm to help seize Timbs’ Land Rover; the vehicle was valued at $42,000 (more than four times the maximum fine for a drug conviction), Slate reports. The state and its law firm would share the profits of the seizure.

However, the Eighth Amendment guarantees that no “excessive fines” may be “imposed,” applied to the states through the 14th Amendment. Timbs fought it and lost in the Indiana Supreme Court. The case was taken up by SCOTUS which ruled:

“the historical and logical case for concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause is overwhelming …. the judgment of the Indiana Supreme Court is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.” 

This case will set a precedent for years to come, and there is little doubt that similar cases will be affected.


Orange County Criminal Defense

Please reach out to the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you are facing criminal charges. We can advocate for you and help you achieve the best possible outcome in your situation. With more than three decades of practicing law, you can trust that Attorney Brower will provide you with excellent representation.

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