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Articles by Steve Horn

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 ...

New Report: 60 Percent of Exonerations Stem from Official Misconduct

by Steve Horn

The newly released 2017 edition of the National Registry of Exonerations report delivers big findings about the work done by conviction integrity units (“CIUs”), innocence projects, and what some legal experts refer to as the “two-tiered” criminal justice system.

Put together by the University of Michigan Law School, the Michigan State University College of Law, and the University of California-Irvine, the report has concluded that the work done by CIUs and innocence projects across the country has helped move the meter in the area of wrongful convictions.

But the report also points to a number which, to some, is troubling. That is, a record-high 84 official misconduct exonerations – or exonerations given because of official misconduct committed by those vested with the power of the law, such as police officers, prosecutors, and governmental officials – were given in 2017 nationwide. That’s 84 out of the 139 total exonerations, or about 60 percent, recorded by the Registry of Exonerations in 2017.

“Official misconduct encompasses a wide range of behavior — from police officers threatening witnesses, to forensic analysts falsifying test results, to child welfare workers pressuring children to claim sexual abuse where none occurred,” details the report ...

Prosecutors’ Offices Taking Thousands in Grant Money, Fueling Crackdown on Sex Buyers

By Steve Horn

Investigative articles published on March 24 by the Seattle-based alt-weekly The Stranger and the online publication The Intercept reveal that prosecutors’ offices in King County, Washington and nationwide have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in private grant money which legal critics and defense attorneys have argued has led to an approach to criminalize purchasers of sex workers.

The money, given in the form of a series of annual non-profit grants from the group Demand Abolition, is at the center of an ongoing criminal court case in King County’s Superior Court (State of Washington v. Charles T. Peters, No. 16-C-00154-4-SEA). In that case, Judge John Chun will soon decide if the receipt of that money played an undue influence in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office decision to press charges against 13 individuals who purchased sex workers in the county. King County prosecutors handed charges those 13 for “promoting prostitution in the second degree,” a Class C felony. The Stranger reporter Sydney Brownstone pointed out that these charges had typically been used against pimps in the state, not purchasers of sex workers.

Money with Strings Attached

King County and other locales nationwide have not only received ...

Congressional Spending Bill Provision ‘Clouds’ Constitutional Rights in Criminal Probes

by Steve Horn

Civil liberties advocates have decried a provision tucked into the budget bill recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump, as an end-run around constitutional protections guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

That provision was originally the stand-alone CLOUD (Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data) Act (H.R.4943 and S. 2383) bill and is buried on page 2,212 of the 2,232-page budget bill. It permits information to be collected from cloud computing companies by foreign governments on U.S. citizens living abroad to be fed to the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal investigatory agencies as part of criminal investigations, even if obtained without a search warrant. Generally, the Fourth Amendment requires that both probable cause and a search warrant be obtained by law enforcement before the search and seizure of “persons, houses, papers, and effects.”

Specifically, the CLOUD Act states that it “shall not be unlawful … for a provider of electronic communication service to the public or remote computing service to intercept or disclose the contents of a wire or electronic communication in response to an order from a foreign government ...




 

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