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Seattle Criminal Defense Law Blog

How ‘genetic genealogy’ could violate your civil rights

One of the biggest cold cases in modern history made news about a year ago with the capture of the alleged “Golden State Killer.” The man identified as the suspect has been charged with 26 counts of murder for his alleged spree of murders and rapes in the 1970s and 80s across California.

If the man had been caught through conventional policework, the case would still be notable for its sheer size and scope. But it has been especially noteworthy because it relied on a practice called “genetic genealogy,” which up until now has mostly been a way for history enthusiasts to build accurate family trees based on genetic data shared on genealogy websites. There is little doubt that, now proven, genetic genealogy will be used to solve more cases alleging violent crimes, sexual assault, homicide and more. The question is: Are we ready for the potential privacy intrusions that come with such changes?

Does new legislation impede defendants charged with sex crimes?

 

Although mounting any criminal defense can seem overwhelming, allegations of criminal sexual conduct against adults involves special considerations. The reason is reputational: such crimes are often media fodder, and a defendant may feel like he or she is indicted in the public’s opinion before ever getting due process of law.

Many 'violent offenders' in US prisons committed no violent crime

Burglary. Purse snatching. Manufacturing meth. Marijuana possession, of a certain amount. These are all examples of crimes that some states consider violent. Others include possessing a precursor chemical with the intent to manufacture methamphetamine, aiding in an attempted suicide, and trafficking in a stolen identity.

Most people wouldn't consider any of those offenses to be violent. Yet state statutes around the country do, and they punish people more severely when they have committed a so-called violent crime. When a crime is considered violent, a conviction can get you labeled a violent offender. That often means a significantly longer sentence -- even a three-strikes sentence.

Prosecutors would rather drop cases than reveal child porn tool

"When protecting the defendant's right to a fair trial requires the government to disclose its confidential techniques, prosecutors face a choice: Give up the prosecution or give up the secret," an expert in computer crime law and former Justice Department lawyer told the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica recently.

That's because the right to fully confront all the witnesses and evidence against you is protected by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That right wouldn't mean much if the defense simply had to take the prosecution's word for how a particular technique works.

Study: Your DNA can end up on objects you’ve never touched

While other types of evidence and forensic science are increasingly being challenged as unreliable, DNA analysis is the notable exception. It is usually considered the gold standard in the criminal justice arena, especially in prosecutions of violent crimes and sex offenses. And DNA evidence has been used to both convict and exonerate countless individuals.

While the science of DNA analysis stands up to scrutiny, a DNA match does not automatically convey guilt. This is because the way that DNA is collected and stored is highly important, and tainted evidence can implicate the wrong person. Additionally, a recent study has found that the transfer of DNA is more common than we think, and our DNA can end up on objects we’ve never touched.

Welcome New Attorney Jennifer Atwood!

The Law Office of Amy Muth welcomes Jennifer Atwood, Attorney, to its practice! Jennifer and Amy began their careers in public defense together in 2002 in Kitsap County, Washington. Jennifer, like Amy, is a career criminal defense attorney. Jennifer comes to the Law Office of Amy Muth after spending over 11 years working for The Defender Association Division of the King County Department of Public Defense. Jennifer is a seasoned trial lawyer, having obtained acquittals in numerous serious cases, including sex offenses. Jennifer has a varied amount of expertise, having worked in the misdemeanor appeals, felony, juvenile, and mental health commitments divisions, but juvenile and youthful offenders are a particular focus; she has spent four years representing indigent youths in criminal matters. Jennifer will expand the firm's practice areas to include juvenile cases, protection order matters, appeals, and is building a school discipline and Title IX practice. Welcome, Jennifer!

Do people on federal supervised release have the right to a jury?

Andre Haymond of Oklahoma was convicted in federal court of possessing child pornography in 2010. As part of his sentence, he was placed on supervised release for 10 years. When he was accused of violating his supervised release, he was ordered to serve an additional 5 years in prison -- longer than his original term of incarceration. Now, he is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that he should have received a jury trial before being sentenced to the additional five years.

Federal supervised release is different from state parole or probation. In parole or probation, the defendant is given the chance to serve part of their incarceration sentence in the community under certain conditions. If they violate those conditions, they are returned to serve the remainder of their sentence behind bars.

Should people accused of violent crime be eligible for diversion?

Court diversion programs are a way to keep people out of prison, which is crucial in our age of mass incarceration. These programs usually target groups of people such as veterans acting out due to service-related issues or people whose crimes were motivated by addiction.

In general, eligible offenders agree to plead guilty and enter a court-ordered program to help them address their addiction, PTSD or other specific issues. Successful completion typically results in the charges being dropped altogether.

Appeal: Clicking one link shouldn't justify a full-home search

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (and the Washington State Constitution) protect people from unreasonable searches and seizures. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled time and again that a person's home, in particular, deserves heightened protection.

Home searches generally require judicially authorized warrants. Further, judges should only authorize such warrants when they are fully confident that the probable cause standard was met.

DNA exonerates man of shocking rape after 37 years in prison

When a set of allegations is explosive enough, the police are under immense pressure to solve the crime. That can lead to corners being cut, such as targeting the most likely suspect to the exclusion of all others. Witness statements that don't match the police's theory may be ignored, as may evidence tending to show the suspect isn't guilty. When the allegations are especially shocking, the risk of a false conviction seems to increase.

The allegations against Eric Prudholm, now 58, were horrifying. In June 1981, three men entered a Louisiana motel room occupied by a married couple and their three children. According to the police, the men forced the husband to lie on one bed with the children while two assailants raped the wife. Meanwhile, the third man searched the victims' car for items to steal.

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