COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

Articles Posted in Criminal Justice News

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When investigating crimes in Massachusetts, law enforcement officers rely on a variety of methods. In most cases, police rely on statements from the alleged victim, physical evidence they gathered from the scene, video surveillance, and a host of other types of tactics. However, what can police officers do if no one recognized the suspect? A video is useless if there is no one to compare it to, and without a name, police may run into a dead-end.

In situations like the one described above, police may rely on newly-available facial recognition software to identify a suspect. Facial recognition software allows law enforcement officers to put a suspect’s picture into the program, and compares the photo to thousands of others in a database, looking for a match. While this may sound like it would work well in theory, in practice, facial recognition software has been responsible for several recent wrongful arrests, and an unknown number of wrongful convictions. Perhaps most concerning is the fact that facial recognition programs tend to not work as well when attempting to match Black or Asian faces.

According to a recent article by the New York Times, police wrongfully arrested a man after mistakenly believing that he committed a serious crime. According to the article, police responded to a call reporting a man stealing candy from a store. When police arrived, they found the man, who apologized and offered to pay for the items. He gave police his ID; however, when police went back to run it through their system, they realized it was a fake. The man fled, nearly hitting a police officer with his car.

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As the COVOD-19 pandemic continues, the restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the virus remain in effect. Initially, the pandemic resulted in the near-total shutdown of the Massachusetts justice system, as all jury trials were suspended, and courts only heard emergency matters.

As the number of new cases in the area has started to drop off, courts have begun to reopen. However, many of the restrictions that were put in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 will remain to have an impact on the ability of the criminal justice system to function properly. There are several areas of concern related to conducting jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Sixth Amendment Right to a Fair Jury Trial

Under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, anyone charged with a crime enjoys the right to a fair trial by an impartial jury of the person’s peers. An important part of this right is the requirement that the jury is drawn from a fair cross-section of the community. While there is no magic formula to determine what a fair cross-section looks like, courts have held that states cannot pass laws or implement policies that have the effect of limiting groups of people from serving on juries.

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