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Articles by Bill Barton

Cops Killed Nearly 13 Times More People Than Mass Shooters

by Bill Barton

Mass shootings in the U.S. “have claimed the lives of 339 people since 2015,” which, while certainly egregious, is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the 4,355 citizens killed by police during the same timeframe, according to thefreethoughtproject.com.

There is no question that some ...

Police Still Have Access to Records That Are Supposedly Sealed, Suit Alleges

by Bill Barton

According to a recent Collateral Consequences Resource Center report, “While police in 12 states are prevented by law from accessing records of arrests that did not result in a conviction, officers in New York and elsewhere can look up such files if they get permission from a ...

Tenth Annual NRC Report Magnifies Limits of Forensic Evidence

by Bill Barton

Steven Mark Chaney was convicted of a 1987 murder based partially on the testimony of forensic scientists, which linked him to the crime by a bite mark found on the victim’s skin. The court heard that Chaney’s teeth were a “perfect match,” and that there was a ...

Critics Claim Thin Blue Line Protects Cops and Prosecutors in Orange County, California

by Bill Barton

At about 6 a.m., August 19, 2018, Orange County police officer Michael Devitt yanked Mohamed Sayem from his Jeep and punched him several times in the face and stomach, an incident captured on Devitt’s dashboard camera.

Devitt and fellow officer Eric Ota had awakened the apparently intoxicated ...

Prosecutors Working to Clear Wrongful Convictions With Mixed Results

by Bill Barton

Before the murder charge against him was finally dropped, Richard Phillips had the decidedly dubious distinction of being locked up longer than any other eventually exonerated prisoner—he was incarcerated for 45 years, convicted of a crime he did not commit. 

According to a report from the ...

Killer’s Bold DNA-Based Defense to Get New Mexico Supreme Court Hearing

by Bill Barton

Anthony Blas Yepez, in October 2012, beat to death the 75-year-old boyfriend of his girlfriend’s mother in a drunken dispute. Charged with first-degree murder, Yepez said he could not remember much of the incident and didn’t know why his reaction was so violent. Public defender Ian Loyd, who was assigned to represent him, said, “He seemed bewildered at what he had done.”

While preparing for trial, Loyd learned about the existence of a variant of MAO-A, a genetic mutation that affects the regulation of aggressive behavior in men, from forensic psychiatrist William Bernet, who spoke at a conference in Washington that Loyd attended.

The mutation was first documented in 1993 in a Dutch family, and some researchers dubbed it “the warrior gene,” according to the NBC News story about Yepez. “Maybe he’s got this gene, too,” Loyd recalled thinking.

Loyd went online and found a commercial genetic testing company, FamilyTreeDNA, that charged $99 to check for the MAO-A deficiency. After an associate visited Yepez in Santa Fe County jail and swabbed his cheek, the DNA sample was sent in. A few weeks later, the results came back positive. “This is the defense I want to pursue,” Loyd ...

Michigan Will Pay $1.5 Million to Longest Serving Exonerated Prisoner

by Bill Barton

Richard Phillips, a Michigan man who was wrongfully incarcerated for 46 years before being exonerated in spring 2018, will receive a settlement of $1.5 million from the state, more than a year after he was released without even as much as a bus ticket. Phillips is the longest serving exoneree in U.S. history.

Phillips, 73, had long maintained that he was innocent of a fatal shooting in the Detroit area in 1971.

“The Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan Law School learned that a co-defendant in 2010 told the parole board that Phillips had absolutely no role,” according to USA Today.

Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement targeting other exonerees as well that, “We have an obligation to provide compassionate compensation to these men for the harm they suffered.”

The payment still needs approval by state legislators.

“Someone who is exonerated based on new evidence can qualify for $50,000 for every year spent in prison. Phillips would appear to qualify for more than $2 million.… But he’s being paid only for 30 years because he was serving a separate armed robbery conviction at the same time. Phillips and his legal team said he was ...

Black Drivers in Missouri 91 Percent More Likely to Be Stopped Than White Drivers

by Bill Barton

A report by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt reveals that black motorists in that state are 91 percent more likely to be pulled over than whites. The 2018 report illuminating this statistic was released in May.

Scott Decker, an Arizona State University professor of criminology and criminal justice, one of the people who prepared the report, informed CNN that “The disparity is the highest in the 19 years the vehicle stops report has been conducted.”

African Americans comprise 10.9 percent of Missouri’s driving-age population but 19.2 percent of all traffic stops in 2018. The report examined 1,539,477 vehicle stops from 596 law enforcement agencies in the state. “People of other races — including whites, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans — were stopped at rates ‘well below’ their portion of the driving-age population,” the report said.

“Unfortunately, the numbers have been trending this way consistently year in and year out,” St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt said. “The state is not taking it seriously enough to try to fix this issue. Using stops as a policing tool for crime prevention needs to cease. The fact that somebody is driving in a particular area, and a police officer feels ...

Genetic Testing Raises Privacy Concerns

by Bill Barton

DNA testing, once an expensive technology, is now so inexpensive that approximately 26 million people have taken advantage of it,” according to Slate.com. “With sites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe, you can easily submit samples of your DNA and receive information about your family history and personal health.

“Both sites allow individuals to obtain raw DNA data files, which they can then upload to an open-source database like GEDmatch in order to connect them to distant family members. While the files are supposedly anonymous, one study found that an outside individual could identify an ‘anonymous’ set of data using GEDmatch in just one day.”

It is now a tool for law enforcement. For instance, police can create a “user profile” for a crime suspect, upload that suspect’s DNA, and find a match, without requiring a court order of any sort.

A suspect in a scenario such as this one has no idea that his or her DNA has been uploaded to a public website. Joseph DeAngelo, the Golden State Killer suspect in over a dozen murders and 50 rapes in the 1970s and 1980s, was apprehended in part due to this technique. It might appear, in his case, ...

Tracking Phones: Google as a Dragnet for the Police

by Bill Barton

The Google Sensorvault database has been used by law enforcement agencies on multiple occasions to obtain what are being called “geofence” warrants, which specify an area and period of time and require Google to provide information regarding the devices that were there.

According to nytimes.com, the warrant “labels [the devices] with anonymous ID numbers, and detectives look at locations and movement patterns to see if any appear relevant to the crime. Once they narrow the field to a few devices they think belong to suspects or witnesses, Google reveals the users’ names and other information.”

Catherine Turner, a Minnesota defense attorney who is handling a case involving the technique, said, “There are privacy concerns that we all have with our phones being tracked—and when those kinds of issues are relevant in a criminal case, that should give everybody serious pause.”

Gary Ernsdorff, a senior prosecutor in Washington state who has been involved with several cases utilizing geofence warrants, said, “It doesn’t pop out the answer like a ticker tape, saying this guy’s guilty. We’re not going to charge anybody just because Google said they were there.”

Nytimes.com said, “Technology companies have for years responded to court orders ...




 

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