Milwaukee Residents Give Solid Marks to Police

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Milwaukee, Public, Race & Law
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Last week, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission (of which I am a member) released the results of its first-ever survey of citizen attitudes toward the police.  Although the survey identified a few areas of concern, the overall tenor of citizen attitudes seems positive.

Conducted for the FPC by UWM’s Center for Urban Initiatives & Research last summer, the survey involved telephone interviews of 1,452 Milwaukee residents.  As detailed in the CUIR’s report, the survey respondents were reflective of the city’s diversity in racial composition and in other respects.

The report’s lead finding is that about three-quarters of Milwaukee residents report that they are at least somewhat satisfied with the Milwaukee Police Department, while only about nine percent said they were “not at all satisfied.”  These findings are notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that fully one-quarter of the respondents reported being stopped by the police in the past year.  One might suppose that this group would be predisposed to negative evaluations of the police.  However, the vast majority (71%) of those stopped felt that they were treated fairly.  The MPD has significantly increased its number of stops in recent years, but it does not appear that involuntary contact with the police normally leads to hard feelings by the person stopped.

Given recent racial tensions in Milwaukee and nationally regarding policing practices, it is especially important to note the racial patterns in survey responses.   Read more »

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Pet DNA Used to Help Solve Crimes

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Legal Practice, Public
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CatAs this public radio show discusses, DNA from pets is increasingly being used to help solve crimes.  Investigators can take DNA samples found at a crime scene, such as hair, and have it tested to match a victim’s pet.  A match can link a perpetrator to the crime if, for instance, the DNA of the victim’s pet shows up on the assailant’s clothes.  As noted on the show, the field of veterinary forensics is growing, and while the DNA testing is expensive, it can make a big difference in solving a case.  In addition to animal DNA, plant DNA and viral DNA has also been used in criminal cases.

 

 

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A Social Trust Theory of Criminal Law, Part III

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Public
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The first two posts in this series are here and here.  In this concluding post, I will share some thoughts regarding the various mechanisms by which criminal law potentially enhances social trust.

Deterrence: The criminal law’s deterrent threats help to make people feel more secure.  It seems to be a matter of widely shared intuition, and not without basis, that the possibility of punishment will cause many individuals to think twice before harming or endangering others.  The difficulty with deterrence is this: just because the threat of some punishment tends to reduce the frequency of undesirable conduct or outcomes does not mean that the threat of more punishment will achieve further gains.   Read more »

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A Social Trust Theory of Criminal Law, Part II

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As I discussed in my previous post, the job of criminal law is to reassure us that we will not be victimized when we leave the safety of our homes and families and engage with the wider world. Such reassurance is necessary for our economy to work and for us to be able to enjoy the individual freedoms so exalted by our culture. But the central dilemma of criminal law is this: criminal law and its enforcement not only function as sources of reassurance, but as threats in their own right—producers of fear that may undermine, rather than enhance, people’s sense of security and willingness to engage with the wider world. Every time the criminal-justice system acts against a citizen, it causes harm in some form or another. Viewing this harm, some will feel reassured—if the system, for instance, is seen as thereby deterring future harms—but others will feel frightened. Indeed, the very essence of deterrence is fright. There is no unalloyed good when the system acts. The bitter always accompanies the sweet.   Read more »

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A Social Trust Theory of Criminal Law, Part I

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Ours is a society of strangers.  Every day, we are likely to encounter dozens of unfamiliar faces, even if only fleetingly through the windshield of a car. We purchase our life’s necessities from people who are typically no more than bare acquaintances. Through the media, we are constantly exposed to exotic voices and personalities. We are even unlikely to know really well all of our neighbors and coworkers.  What is it they always say about the serial killers?  “He was such a nice, quiet neighbor.”

It sometimes seems a wonder our society does not disintegrate altogether.  After all, it is not an easy or natural thing for strangers to live together harmoniously.   Read more »

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Student Reflects on Restorative Justice Program at Green Bay Prison

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Marquette Law School, Public
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Student Jillian Dickson-Igl has put together these thoughtful reflections about her experience with the restorative justice program at the Green Bay Correctional Institution.   

Back in October, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI) as a part of the Restorative Justice class that was taught by Professors O’Hear and Schneider. The trip consisted of three days at the prison, two of which I was able to attend, as part of the prison’s Challenges and Possibilities program for inmates. The Challenges and Possibilities program is a thirteen-week program that helps the participants focus on their own personal growth as well as aiding them in realizing the impact of their actions, past and present, on other individuals. At the conclusion of the program is when the three-day restorative justice component comes into play, and this is when community members, lawyers, judges, and survivors of crime come to the prison to spend time with the men in the program.

Going into the experience I was very skeptical as to what was going to happen.   Read more »

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Barrock Lecture Explores Collision Between Criminal Law and Neuroscience

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Morse“Be of good cheer; everything is going to be all right.” With these words last week, Stephen Morse sought to reassure his audience at Marquette Law School that advances in neuroscience will not ultimately upset traditional understandings of criminal responsibility. Morse, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was in town to deliver Marquette’s annual Barrock Lecture on Criminal Law. A podcast of Morse’s engaging presentation is here.

Neuroscience is increasingly giving us the ability to understand — and even, in the form of colorful MRI images, to see — some of the specific biological processes in the brain that produce thought and action. This suggests the possibility of “my brain made me do it” defenses, especially in cases involving defendants who have demonstrable neurological abnormalities. If a particular aspect of a defendant’s brain can be identified as a “but for” cause of his criminal behavior, then should not that provide an excuse?

Morse argues that this defense proves too much.   Read more »

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You Knew Your New iPhone Was Cool, but Did You Know….?

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Category: Computer Law, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Public
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apple-logo-redApple is marketing its newest smartphone operating system, iOS 8, as a bulwark of personal privacy. Apparently, not even Apple itself can bypass a customer’s passcode and extract data from an iPhone that runs the new operating system. This means that even in response to a court order, the company will be powerless to comply.  Competitors are likely to follow suit.

This is a development with profound implications for law enforcement, which views the ability to obtain such data with a warrant as crucial in its efforts to combat crime and terrorism.  Defenders of the new technology point out that law enforcement may be able to obtain the same data in different ways; for example, if the data is stored “in the cloud” or if the password can be deduced somehow.

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New Research on Violence

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The new issue of Criminology features several interesting papers relating to violence and its control. This has been a hot topic here in Milwaukee over the past few months. Perhaps some of the emerging policy proposals would benefit from the new research.

First, an unusual controlled experiment in St. Louis provides support for “hot spots” policing, especially when officers proactively engage with citizens in the high-crime neighborhoods. Researchers working with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department randomly assigned hot spots of elevated firearm violence to one of three conditions: (1) a control group; (2) an enhanced visibility group in which officers were directed to patrol slowly through the targeted areas, but to refrain from self-initiated activity unless a crime was in progress; and (3) an enhanced activity group in which officers were directed both to increase patrols and to increase self-initiated activities, which might include arrests, pedestrian stops, vehicle checks, and so forth.   Read more »

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Good Time in Wisconsin: Why and How

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Legal Scholarship, Public, Wisconsin Criminal Law & Process
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In a couple of recent posts (here and here), I have discussed the possibility of reinstituting “good time” in Wisconsin. I have developed the argument for good time at much greater depth in a new article that is now available on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Wisconsin is one of about twenty states not offering good conduct time (GCT) to prisoners. In most states, prisoners are able to earn GCT credits toward accelerated release through good behavior. Wisconsin itself had GCT for more than a century, but eliminated it as part of a set of reforms in the 1980s and 1990s that left the state with what may be the nation’s most inflexible system for the release of prisoners. Although some of these reforms helpfully brought greater certainty to punishment, they went too far in eliminating nearly all meaningful recognition and encouragement of good behavior and rehabilitative progress. This article explains why and how Wisconsin should reinstitute GCT, drawing on social scientific research on the effects of GCT, public opinion surveys in Wisconsin and across the United States regarding sentencing policy, and an analysis of the GCT laws in place in other jurisdictions. Although the article focuses particularly on Wisconsin’s circumstances, the basic argument for GCT is more generally applicable, and much of the analysis should be of interest to policymakers in other states, too.

Entitled “Good Conduct Time for Prisoners: Why (and How) Wisconsin Should Provide Credits Toward Early Release,” the article is forthcoming in the Marquette Law Review.

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Brutality Touches Down at Home

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imagesVR6YYD65Anyone living in the United States who has watched TV in the last two weeks is undoubtedly aware that the NFL is in the midst of a storm of bad publicity. First, we saw the chilling videotape of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice delivering a punch to the head that knocked out his then-fiancée (now wife) Janay Palmer, and then roughly dragging her off the elevator and dropping her like a sack of potatoes on the floor. Only days later, the Minnesota Vikings found themselves in the midst of a similar scandal when their star running back Adrian Peterson was charged with felony child abuse in Texas, where it is alleged he beat his 4-year-old son with a “switch.” Perhaps learning from the debacle that ensued when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell originally imposed a meagre two-game suspension on Rice for his misdeeds, the Minnesota Vikings have suspended Peterson from games and team activities indefinitely, although since he continues to draw his $11 million dollar salary, he is hardly a sympathetic character at the moment. Meanwhile, the incidents involving NFL player violence against their partners and children keep surfacing.

A lot has already been said and written about these cases, and much of the discussion is thoughtful and educational. Numerous commenters, including New York Times columnist Michael Powell, have pointed out that we should not be so shocked that players who are rewarded for brutality on the football field revert to violent behavior at home. He makes an excellent point. After all, the NFL is not the only place where people who use force, sometimes brutal force, in their jobs have a hard time turning it off at home: the military and various police forces have faced similar issues. Moreover, we live in a society with a high tolerance for violence, at least violence of a recreational sort—as evidenced by numerous TV shows, video games and movies. Read more »

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“Good Time” in Washington: A Model for Wisconsin?

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In an earlier post, I argued that Wisconsin should consider reinstituting “good time” for prisoners, that is, credits toward accelerated release that can be earned based on good behavior.  An established program that Wisconsin might emulate is Washington’s.

Washington has long been regarded as a national leader in criminal justice.  Indeed, Wisconsin has previously borrowed from other Washington innovations, such as its “three strikes and you are out” law and its civil commitment program for sexually violent offenders.  Washington’s good-time law takes a balanced, moderate approach.  It is neither among the most generous nor the most stringent in the nation.

Notably, Washington’s recidivism rate has been consistently lower than both the national average and Wisconsin’s.  Although many factors contribute to a state’s recidivism rate, some research suggests that the incentives established by a well-designed good-time program may help to reduce repeat offending.

With the rules set forth here, the Washington program works like this:   Read more »

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