Criminal Law Case Analyses
June 14, 2018
Criminal law defines how a society should operate so that everyone may enjoy the freedoms for which ancestors fought and sacrificed lives. However, as time passes, many laws have come into question and have been re-evaluated by the Justices of the United States’ Supreme Court. Often, these re-evaluations do not result in any changes but occasionally a questionable law is redefined due to modern technology, a question of constitutionality, or more specific wording for clarification. The following case studies highlight how some laws have evolved over time and how they impact criminal justice practitioners.
John Smith has already been arrested by one officer and has been placed in the custody of another tasked with driving Smith to the police station. While in custody of this second officer, Smith shouts that he is sorry for shooting someone. By law, every person placed under arrest must be Mirandized before the arrestee is interrogated. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Miranda v. Arizona specified that certain constitutional rights must be made known to offenders, particularly the right not to self-incriminate and the right to have counsel present not only in the courtroom but also during questioning CITATION Fac1 l 1033 (Facts and case summary – Miranda vs. Arizona, n.d.).
It is a common belief that an offender must be Mirandized immediately after being placed under arrest; this is not exactly true. An offender must only be Mirandized prior to all interrogation sessions CITATION Sel18 l 1033 (Self incrimination, 2018). Law enforcement departments may have policies requiring an arresting officer to read arrestees their rights immediately upon arrest to avoid any uncertainties about whether information or a confession can be used to build their case.
Another common misconception may be that anything an offender says prior to being read his or her rights cannot be used against him. However, if the information was given voluntarily and the custodial officer had not yet begun questioning the offender, that information may be admissible in court CITATION Sel18 l 1033 (Self incrimination, 2018).
Smith’s defense attorney has argued that the officer’s testimony regarding Smith’s apology should not be allowed because Smith had not been Mirandized at that point. A judge would have to consider whether the custodial officer had been asking Smith questions about the bank robbery for which he just been arrested. In the given scenario, the officer was not questioning Smith. The ruling of the Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona provided clarification of what and when information is admissible. The testimony of the officer who heard Smith’s confession would be allowed based upon the fact that Smith spoke without any prodding from the officer.
Jewelry Store Robbery
Surveillance and Arrest
A police officer conducted a “stop and frisk” after noticing three men standing outside a jewelry store that had been robbed numerous times over the last month. The officer believed these men were behaving suspiciously based on their manner of dress and because they were pacing nervously in front of the store. As the officer frisked the man known as Wilson, who was wearing a sweatshirt despite the heat of the day, the officer felt what turned out to be a gun concealed in the pocket of the sweatshirt. Wilson’s defense attorney has challenged the search of Wilson’s person stating it was conducted illegally.
There are several types of modern technology available to law enforcement that would aid officers in avoiding the use of “stop and frisk” tactics. Facial recognition software is one example of technology that can be used while conducting surveillance. This form of technology can review picture and video images of faces to correctly identify potential offenders CITATION Fac11 l 1033 (Facial Recognition Technology, 2011). The officer mentioned above could have taken pictures of the three men and run the pictures through the facial recognition software using the security camera images from the jewelry store for comparison. If the images matched to anyone in the store just before or during the previous robberies, the officer may be able to provide a more solid reason for probable cause to arrest the men rather than conducting a “stop and frisk.”
The Terry v. Ohio case questioned whether a “stop and frisk” search of a person without a warrant was a violation of one’s Fourth Amendment right. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an officer does not need a warrant to perform a superficial pat-down search of any person who has displayed suspicious behavior and the officer believes there is reason for concern of his or her own safety CITATION Pea15 l 1033 (Peak, 2015). Given that the officer in the jewelry store scenario was suspicious of the clothing and behaviors of the three men and the jewelry store had been robbed recently, I believe that the search was justified and the officer did not need a warrant to conduct the search. Also, because the officer felt what could have been a weapon, he or she was required to reach into the pocket and secure the weapon.
Due to the ruling of Terry v. Ohio, law enforcement has more effective performance than they would have if the court ruled against the state. The act of obtaining a search warrant to search a person in a public space would be very time consuming and would likely not prevent a crime from happening. If the officer in the given scenario had to wait for a warrant before being allowed to search Wilson, the men may have robbed the store and potentially hurt or killed someone in the process before the warrant was issued. The purpose of patrol officers is to not only to strengthen community relations but also prevent or deter crime by stopping criminal activity before it happens or ending a crime already in progress CITATION Pea15 l 1033 (Peak, 2015). The court’s ruling in Terry v. Ohio provides a more efficient, therefore effective, performance of duty.
Recent technology available to investigating rape-related crimes includes an FBI database called CODIS: Combined DNA Indexing System. This system allows law enforcement officers to upload a DNA profile from an investigation and search for a potential matching profile CITATION Wha1 l 1033 (What is CODIS?, n.d.). The database contains local, state, and national levels that allow law enforcement to narrow or expand their search as necessary, which can provide potential leads in rape cases and also identify serial rapists who may have crossed multiple jurisdictions.
This database has provided leads in over 90,000 cases and, as of 2009, held over seven million DNA profiles CITATION Wha1 l 1033 (What is CODIS?, n.d.). Some cases that are decades old have been solved, either exonerating previously convicted individuals due to mismatched DNA profiles, or solving cases by matching DNA profiles across multiple cases CITATION Jim18 l 1033 (Shannon, 2018). Unfortunately, the CODIS database is only as good as the number of rape kits that are tested and used to search the database. Many police departments across the nation have thousands of untested rape kits that may never be tested for a multitude of reasons, including the victim’s desire to avoid rehashing their victimization in a courtroom CITATION Jim18 l 1033 (Shannon, 2018).
Limitations or Regulations
The United States Supreme Court reviewed Maryland v. King (2013), in which King challenged the constitutionality of the DNA swab taken after he had been arrested on first- and second-assault charges. The Maryland DNA Collection Act allows law enforcement to collect DNA from offenders arrested for felonious acts (Cowen & Park, n.d.). The DNA profile had been loaded into CODIS and linked King to a rape from 2003. King was then charged with that crime as well CITATION Mar131 l 1033 (Maryland v. King, 2013). The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the DNA swab taken after booking King was similar to fingerprinting after being charged with a crime: DNA swabbing serves as a form of identification, and under these circumstances did not require a warrant to obtain the sample CITATION Mar131 l 1033 (Maryland v. King, 2013).
The limitations and regulations provided by the court’s ruling allow for a warrant-less collection of DNA after an offender has officially been charged. However, prior to charging an individual, DNA collection from a person is protected against unreasonable search and seizure by the Fourth Amendment, requiring probable cause and a warrant to collect such a sample CITATION Mar131 l 1033 (Maryland v. King, 2013).
Miller v. Alabama changed the way courts can sentence 14-year-old juvenile offenders whose crimes would otherwise result in a life-without-parole sentence. Miller’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court following just such a sentence argued that his sentencing was cruel and unusual (Carrizales & Schultz, n.d.). The courts must take into consideration the brain development of an adolescent when deciding on a form of rehabilitation and/or punishment. The American Psychological Association acknowledges that the brain of an adolescent is still developing and he or she would not necessarily be able to think through his or her actions to the point of understanding the full extent of the repercussions (Carrizales & Schultz, n.d.). For this very same reason, it can be and has been argued that an adolescent can be rehabilitated in ways adults cannot, making life without parole an unnecessary punishment causing more harm than good.
The ruling of the court was that a state may not sentence a juvenile to mandatory life without parole. Life without parole may still be issued at sentencing, however, only in a criminal court and only for certain crimes CITATION Ali16 l 1033 (Merlo, A. V., Benekos, P. J., Champion, D. J., 2016). Using the Miller v. Alabama case as a guide for the presentence investigation, it is important to consider the severity of the murder committed: was this first- or second-degree murder? Was the murder committed to hide evidence of another crime or was there some other motivating factor, such as anger or hatred? These are all important factors to consider prior to determining what length of incarceration is appropriate when a juvenile commits murder.
Model Penal Code Test
After becoming obsessed with actress Jodi Foster, John W. Hinkley, Jr. tried to express his love for her by assassinating then-President Ronald Reagan CITATION Joh17 l 1033 (John Hinckley Jr. Biography, 2017). Hinkley only succeeded in wounding President Reagan and three others, though he
severely injured Reagan’s press secretary James Brady. Hinkley was caught immediately following the shooting. He went through a trial and was found not guilty due to insanity.
At the time, it was the prosecution’s burden to prove a defendant was sane when he or she committed a crime. It had been brought to attention that prior to the shooting, Hinkley had been receiving psychiatric treatment for depression and other mental issues CITATION Joh17 l 1033 (John Hinckley Jr. Biography, 2017). Measuring Hinkley’s behavior against the Model Penal Code test to determine his mental state would have resulted in not guilty due to insanity ruling. The Model Penal Code test’s only requirement to prove insanity was that a person is unable to control their behavior CITATION Gar15 l 1033 (Gardner, 2015). Given the medical history of Hinkley’s mental health, a jury would have to decide in favor of the insanity defense.
Burden of Proof
The Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 shifted the burden of proof to the defense team. It is now the defense’s responsibility to prove that a client is insane using a present-day test similar to the M’Naghten rule, which excuses a crime due to diminished mental capacity CITATION Gar15 l 1033 (Gardner, 2015). Again, due to Hinkley’s mental history and the fact that his psychiatric treatments were unsuccessful in managing his erratic behavior, a jury would rule in favor of the insanity defense, though the verdict would be delivered as guilty by reason of insanity.
Historical Milestone Case
As previously mentioned, press secretary James Brady was severely injured by Hinkley. Brady, who spent the remainder of his life in a wheelchair, became an advocate for gun control. Bill Clinton, in his presidency, signed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act into law in 1993 CITATION Ste13 l 1033 (Pappas, 2013). This law requires background checks to be conducted on everyone who attempts to purchase a gun. The background checks are intended to prevent anyone with known mental health issues or a certain type of criminal history from being able to purchase a gun CITATION Ste13 l 1033 (Pappas, 2013). Unfortunately, guns sold privately or illegally are still sold to those who legally are not allowed to be in possession of firearms. The act has prevented countless sales conducted via legal channels, however, making it more difficult for someone to obtain a gun when the law prohibits the sale to certain individuals.
Defense for the Client
A client is accused of raping and killing, then dismembering and eating four boys. The client also claims to have done nothing wrong, though he does not deny having done the crimes. A defense attorney’s initial instinct would be to use insanity as an affirmative defense and is likely the only valid defense. While certain forms of rape, murder, and even cannibalism may be accepted in certain cultures under certain circumstances, it is so far removed from acceptable behaviors in American culture that U.S. law does not tolerate any of those behaviors. The defense attorney must prove insanity and would need to have the client psychologically evaluated as per the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984. The evaluation could prove that the client suffers some severe mental defect and does not understand what was wrong with his actions, as per 18 U.S.C. § 17(a). The act also allows the defense to provide expert witness testimony regarding the client’s particular mental defect. The affirmative defense will allow the client to receive psychiatric treatment while also being removed from the general public, unable to inflict more harm to others.
Jim Aiken arrived home to find his wife intimately engaged with the mailman. Aiken shoots the mailman, killing him, then leaves the bedroom to make himself something to eat and watch TV, all while his wife is still in the bedroom, terrified. Two hours later, Aiken returns to the bedroom and kills his wife.
A defense attorney would recognize that the probability of Aiken being found not guilty is extremely low. However, empathy allows others to realize that finding out one’s spouse is cheating can elicit some extreme emotions; finding one’s spouse actively engaged in the act of cheating would only result in more emotional devastation. The prosecution may attempt to prove that Aiken intentionally came home early to catch his wife cheating as an excuse to kill her, providing an argument for first-degree murder, which is premeditated CITATION Gar15 l 1033 (Gardner, 2015). Aiken’s defense attorney could attempt to prove that Aiken left work early to take his wife out or share an intimate evening with her as a surprise, arguing that Aiken became enraged upon finding her with the mailman and resulting in a heat-of-the-moment crime (Sherman ; Hoffman, 2007).
Heat-of-the-moment crimes, or crimes of passion, have no premeditation. The offender is provoked by some action that causes such an extreme rush of anger that the offender does not think, he only reacts (Sherman ; Hoffman, 2007). In order for this defense to apply to the Aiken case, the defense team will need to prove that Aiken did not have time to calm down, referred to as a cooling off period. Given that Aiken shoots the mailman immediately after finding him in bed with Mrs. Aiken, it is clear that there was no time for Aiken to calm down before he shot the mailman.
To argue the same defense in the murder of Mrs. Aiken will prove more difficult, but not impossible. Two hours elapsed between the killing of the mailman and the killing of Mrs. Aiken. It can be argued that Aiken used that time to decide whether or not to kill his wife, making her murder in the first degree. It could also be argued that he had plenty of time to cool off, especially if he performed such mundane tasks as making a sandwich and watching TV. Aiken’s defense attorney could argue that there is no time constraint on the cooling off period; every person is different and feels emotions differently, therefore it could take hours for one person to calm down and only minutes for another person to calm down (Sherman & Hoffman, 2007).
The Kyllo v. United States case clarified when the use of technology to conduct a search of one’s home is legal and ethical. The case involves an officer who used thermal imaging to conduct a search for extreme heat used to grow marijuana inside of a home. A warrant was not obtained and when the search was challenged in the court, the Justices decided that the use of technology that is sense-enhancing and not in mainstream-use to conduct a search of one’s private property without a warrant is a violation of one’s Fourth Amendment right CITATION Kyl01 l 1033 (Kyllo v. United States, 2001). The evidence gathered cannot be used in court to prosecute the offender. A detective who decides to build an investigation based on evidence discovered in this way compromises the ethical integrity of his or her investigation and could be the reason a known criminal avoids the repercussions on his actions.
Today, thermal imaging technology is more readily available to the general public, making a similar case more difficult to decide whether the search would be considered legal. Certain cell phone manufacturers sell thermal imaging add-ons, providing easy and affordable access CITATION Kat14 l 1033 (Barlow, 2014). However, the court’s decision of Kyllo ensures that detectives are conducting ethical investigations rather than driving around and searching random homes via thermal imaging technology to create and build cases that may otherwise never exist.
As the deciding judge of the Kyllo case, I would rule in favor of Kyllo. There is an expectation of privacy in one’s own home that every person can relate to and it is that those standing outside cannot see through the walls. Thermal imaging equipment can “see” through those walls and determine where a person is doing as well as view any heat sources without knowing what they are for. This is a clear violation of one’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches, particularly if law enforcement does not have reasonable cause to conduct the search. The detective in the Kyllo case conducted his search based on a statement from another person CITATION Kyl01 l 1033 (Kyllo v. United States, 2001). Without further, ethically obtained evidence, this does not constitute a valid reason to search someone’s home without a warrant.
Having obtained a mobile scanner, a Manta Ray, used to listen to cell phone conversations and read text messages, a detective believes he has found a confession made by his murder suspect via text message. If the detective first obtained a warrant to conduct this “search,” then there is no question that this was done ethically. However, if there was no warrant validating the use of the Manta Ray the search was unethical and illegal per the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
The case cannot be built on illegally-obtained evidence, therefore if the suspect was arrested on this information alone the detective would have to let him go and charges would be dropped, similar to Kyllo v. United States. Phone conversations inside of one’s home cannot be heard without being in the home and the use of sense-enhancing technology would be necessary to listen in. A warrant must be obtained to do just that.
Law enforcement and Homeland Security currently use a device, called Stingray, that mimics cell phone towers and collects incoming and outgoing phone numbers CITATION Lis14 l 1033 (Bartley, 2014). Law enforcement is required to obtain search warrants prior to use. This is being questioned on an ethical basis because this device collects information from every cell phone in the area where the device is being used, not just the target cell phone, and there is also some question about what exactly is collected CITATION Lis14 l 1033 (Bartley, 2014). It is unclear whether this device acts as a listening device, as well, and whether the information collected is then being used to create new cases that otherwise would not exist.
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