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Articles by Steve Horn

Eric Schneiderman Pushed Laws Opposing Abuse of Women as He Stands Accused of Abusing Them Himself

by Steve Horn

Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as New York’s Attorney General May 8, had a record of supporting legislation and criminal law enforcement to protect women from sexual abuse. However, allegations surfaced that he did not practice what he preached. A former state senator prior to his election as attorney general in 2010, Schneiderman’s rising-star political career came crashing down after The New Yorker magazine revealed a pattern of both physical and emotional abuse toward at least four romantic partners in New York City. Schneiderman, who resigned just hours after the article went public, might potentially face criminal charges and is under investigation by a special prosecutor, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas. In a conversation with The New Yorker, one of his accusers revealed that Schneiderman told her, “I am the law.” In contrast to his personal behavior, Schneiderman’s work showed a history of advocacy on women’s issues and law enforcement.

Strangulation Prevention Act

As a state senator in 2010, for example, Schneiderman introduced and sponsored the Strangulation Prevention Act (S.6987), which became law. But two women told The New Yorker that, in fact, Schneiderman had physically abused them by slapping and choking them.

“They did ...

Academic Paper Highlights Need to Tighten Rules for Fingerprint Evidence in Light of False-Positive Error Rate

by Steve Horn

A new study published in the UCLA Law Review reveals a potential for rule tightening on the use of fingerprint evidence in the U.S. judiciary.

The Reliable Application of Fingerprint Evidence,” written by University of Virginia School of Law professor Brandon Garrett, focuses on the State v. McPhaul decision in the North Carolina Court of Appeals in November 2017.

The defendant, Juan McPhaul, faced charges of attempted first-degree murder, assault, and robbery with a dangerous weapon stemming from a Domino’s Pizza delivery in North Carolina. In retracing McPhaul’s steps, law enforcement pulled fingerprint data from pizza and chicken wing boxes and other items seized from the address associated with his order. The prints were cited as evidence in the successful prosecution of McPhaul in trial court.

However, upon appeal, the reliability of that fingerprint evidence was questioned by McPhaul’s defense team. They pointed to inadequate cross-examination responses by the prosecution’s fingerprinting expert about the methodology used to confirm the fingerprints’ accuracy.

While fingerprint evidence is often viewed as nearly infallible, the science backing that assessment is lacking. As a result, the National Academy of Sciences in 2009 and the Presidential Council of Advisors on ...

Courts Have Made Social Media a Landmine for Defendants. Could It Change Soon?

by Steve Horn

Social media, broadly defined as encompassing popular websites, and smartphone applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, has been pointed to by many as a potentially revolutionary avenue through which citizens from around the world can communicate with one another to effect change and participate in democratic actions.

Underneath that popular narrative sits a murkier reality for defendants in the U.S. criminal justice system. A recent history of court rulings, combined with lack of legislative action on the federal-level, has ushered in an era in which law enforcement has nearly carte blanche authority to utilize social media during criminal investigations.

The broad authority given to law enforcement agencies to use social media has real-life consequences for defendants in the criminal justice system, even amid debate over Fourth Amendment privacy protections. Everyone from journalists, to criminal justice scholars, legislators, and the U.S. Supreme Court, have called for updated constitutional or legislative protections over law enforcement use of social media.

Some have heeded that call, predominantly in the legislative sphere – in city councils across the country and particularly in California. But, at the federal level, little has been done in courts or Congress to regulate ...

The Long, Dark History of Law Enforcement’s Warrantless Bus Searches

by Steve Horn

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s a truism to many observers of history and politics, but in the orbit of the U.S. criminal legal system, it’s literally governed by precedential decisions.

So, when news broke early this year about U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) agents working alongside the company Greyhound to perform warrantless searches on its buses to sniff out people ICE agents think might be undocumented immigrants, something about that fact pattern seemed awfully familiar. Enter: the 1991 U.S. Supreme Court case, Bostick v. Florida.

The Bostick ruling — and everything that followed it — is key. Under 8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(3), CBP has a 100-mile range extending from the border in which to conduct warrantless searches of any vehicle passing through that territory.

That 100-mile range, criticized as too broad by the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”), was deemed “a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States” under that statute. The ACLU derisively calls the 100-mile range, in which two-thirds of the U.S. population lives, a “Constitution-Free Zone.”

But the reality: Greyhound buses have long been ...

Golden State Killer Suspect Arrest Opens Floodgates for Law Enforcement Use of DNA Websites

by Steve Horn

The use of DNA-based genealogy websites to track down Joseph DeAngelo — the “Golden State Killer” suspect — appears to have inspired police departments nationwide. It’s a move that has irked privacy advocates and criminal justice system reformers.

DeAngelo, a former police officer and alleged serial killer in the 1970s and 1980s, was arrested April 25 at his home in Sacramento County, California. He has been charged with murdering 12 people in California. He also is a suspect in dozens of rapes and over 100 burglaries.

Law enforcement officials stated they utilized the open-source family DNA website GEDmatch.com, creating a genetic profile under a fake name that helped lead them to DeAngelo.

Most criminal law experts say those who hand over their DNA to websites like GEDmatch have no expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment. But whether that same legal logic applies to their extended relatives, though, will remain an open question as the Golden State Killer’s case weaves its way through the courts.

Currently, DeAngelo is being held in the Sacramento County Jail without bail. A judge may soon order law enforcement to unseal more documents pertaining to the circumstances that led to the arrest, according to ...

Alabama’s Most Populous County Reaches Bail Reform Settlement, But Problems Could Persist

by Steve Horn

Jefferson County, the most populous county in Alabama, reached a Resolution Agreement on April 6 with the U.S. Department of Justice and the group Equal Justice Under Law in response to a complaint brought by the group alleging that the County court system’s bail policy violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

The Agreement mandates that the County will do “risk-based assessments and pretrial release alternatives, acting as substitutes for traditional bail bond requirements in determining which defendants are released prior to trial and to establish a fully-funded pretrial services agency for Jefferson County,” explains Equal Justice Under Law’s press release announcing the striking of the deal.

The deal comes in the aftermath of an administrative complaint filed by Equal Justice Under Law against the Tenth Judicial Circuit of Alabama on February 19, 2016 through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Division of Civil Rights.

Virginia Pretrial Risk Assessment

The Resolution Agreement directs Alabama’s Tenth Judicial Circuit to utilize the Virginia Pretrial Risk Assessment Instrument (“VPRAI”) to make decisions on bail and the expenses relating to posting bail, as opposed to the system in Alabama, which Equal Justice Under Law alleged was discriminatory in ...

Eric Schneiderman, Once a Champion of Women, Now Accused of Assaulting Four

by Steve Horn

Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as New York’s Attorney General May 8, had a record of supporting legislation and criminal law enforcement to protect women from sexual abuse. However, allegations surfaced that he did not practice what he preached.

A former state senator prior to his election as attorney general in 2010, Schneiderman’s rising-star political career came crashing down after The New Yorker magazine revealed a pattern of both physical and emotional abuse toward at least four romantic partners in New York City.

Schneiderman, who resigned just hours after the article went public, might potentially face criminal charges and is under investigation by a special prosecutor, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.

In a conversation with The New Yorker, one of his accusers revealed that Schneiderman told her, “I am the law.”

In contrast to his personal behavior, Schneiderman’s work showed a history of advocacy on women’s issues and law enforcement.

 Strangulation Prevention Act

As a state senator in 2010, for example, Schneiderman introduced and sponsored the Strangulation Prevention Act (S.6987), which became law. But two women told The New Yorker that, in fact, Schneiderman had physically abused them by slapping and choking them.

“They ...

Golden State Killer Suspect Arrest Opens Floodgates for Law Enforcement Use of DNA Websites

by Steve Horn

The use of DNA-based genealogy websites to track down the “Golden State Killer” suspect, Joseph DeAngelo, appears to have inspired police departments nationwide. It’s a move that has irked privacy advocates and criminal justice system reformers.

DeAngelo, a former police officer and alleged serial killer in the 1970s and 1980s, was arrested April 25 at his home in Sacramento County, California. He has been charged with murdering 12 people in California. He also is a suspect in dozens of rapes and over 100 burglaries.

Law enforcement officials stated they utilized the open-source family DNA website GEDmatch.com, creating a genetic profile under a fake name that helped lead them to DeAngelo.

Most criminal law experts say those who hand over their DNA to websites like GEDmatch have no expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment. But whether that same legal logic applies to their extended relatives, though, will remain an open question as the Golden State Killer’s case weaves its way through the courts.

Currently, DeAngelo is being held in the Sacramento County Jail without bail. A judge may soon order law enforcement to unseal more documents pertaining to the circumstances that led to the arrest, according ...

Eyewitness Sketches Provide ‘Stormy’ Results, Can Lead to False Convictions

by Steve Horn

Stephanie Clifford, the adult film actress known as Stormy Daniels, has set off a flood of media coverage on her claims of having a sexual relationship with President Donald Trump and the subsequent non-disclosure agreement and $130,000 paid to her by Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, during the last weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign.

The saga catapulted to the forefront of U.S. political discourse in the aftermath of a January article published in The Wall Street Journal about the $130,000 payment and the 2006 sexual affair, which took place just four months after Trump’s wife, Melania Trump, gave birth to their son Barron. Some campaign finance experts have said this is an illegal in-kind campaign contribution. Cohen has come under FBI investigation and could potentially face charges in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for his actions.

On a parallel track, in a March interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper, Daniels said she was threatened while in Las Vegas in 2011 by a man who did not give her a name, saying, “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story.” That man then turned toward Daniels’ ...

Cautionary Tale: Visible Fingertips in Cellphone Pictures Can Get You Arrested

by Steve Horn

For those in the U.S. who enjoy taking photos on their cellphones, particularly of illicit activities or potentially illegal ones, the South Wales Police force has sent a warning shot across the Atlantic to beware. Or else.

In March in South Wales, U.K., a kingpin of a cannabis and ecstasy trafficking ring was arrested after photos of ecstacy which he took on his cellphone and sent in a text message on WhatsApp were traced back to him via his fingerprint marks that could be seen on enlarged images of that photo. In total, 11 people were arrested as members of the ring.

In South Wales, law enforcement officials there said it was the first time this particular technique had been used to support an arrest. It is an investigation which began with neighbors calling to say it appeared that suspicious activity was occurring at a house with more-than-normal foot traffic coming into and out of it. And the arrest phase of it has ended with the tracking down of the 28-year-old leader of the pack, Elliot Morris.

Dave Thomas, forensic operations manager at the Scientific Support Unit, said in a press release put out by ...




 

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