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Articles Posted in Wrongful Arrests and Convictions

For decades, criminal law was seen as a “one-way ratchet” in that, whenever changes were made to the criminal law, they almost always made the laws stricter. Typically, this is a function of high crime rates, and the political pressure lawmakers face from their constituents. Generally, lawmakers do not want to be seen as being “soft” on crime, so they continually propose increasingly strict laws to prove they mean business. However, California constitutional law provides citizens the ability to propose ballot initiatives. If someone can get enough signatures to support a ballot initiative, the entire state will vote on the initiative and, if it passes, it will become law. This is what happened with California’s Proposition 57.

Proposition 57, or Prop 57, as it is more commonly known, is a ballot initiative passed in 2016. Prop 57 implements broad criminal justice reform as it pertains to parole consideration and juvenile offenders. Proponents of Prop 57 emphasized that the continued incarceration of many inmates was not only overly harsh, but wasted tens of millions of dollars a year in valuable tax revenue.

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Under the terms of Prop 57, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must allow for defendants convicted of certain non-violent crimes to be considered for parole upon completing their sentence for the primary offense. Previously, various sentencing enhancements could keep someone in jail longer than their original sentence; for example, if they had committed multiple crimes against multiple victims. Prop 57 eliminates the requirement that defendants serve the enhanced portion of the sentence, allowing for earlier parole consideration.

Police and prosecutors are eager to use anything they can to identify a suspect and obtain a conviction, especially in the most serious cases, such as California homicide crimes. However, often this comes at the expense of—rather than the pursuit of—justice.

For example, take a recent New York Times article discussing the use of facial recognition software. Racial recognition software relies on computers to recognize human faces. In the law enforcement context, this usually involves a police officer inputting a suspect’s photo into the program, which then searches through a database of thousands of photos, looking for a match. Police will occasionally use facial recognition software if they have surveillance video or a still-frame photo, but do not know who it is in the photo.

According to the New York Times article, the use of facial recognition software was used to arrest a man for a crime he did not commit. Evidently, police received a report of a man stealing candy. When police arrived on the scene, they found the suspect at a rental car agency, trying to get his rental extended. The suspect gave them an ID card, apologized, and offered to pay for the candy.

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