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Technological advancements have led to new products which police are using all over the country to fight crime. Police television shows have introduced many of us to cool new gadgets but while the TV shows are make believe, the real world also offers many new and interesting bits of information.  Here’s just a few of them:

The Robotic Camera:  When its too dangerous to have a police officer go check out a scene, the police can just send in a remote control car with a camera that can be used to check out what is happening.  In the old days the police would send in a police dog, but that could cause the dog to be killed.  The robotic camera can be used outside, such as to be sent underneath a vehicle to see if a bomb has been placed underneath.  Or inside such as when the police want to make sure that nobody is waiting for them inside a house when they try to serve a search warrant.  The robotic cameras cost about $9,000 and their use is spreading.

Gunshot Detectors:  The Nassau County Police Department in New York is using a system which tells them where shots have been fired.  This is especially useful in high crime neighborhoods where by the time police arrive at the scene of a report of “shots fired” the shooter is often long gone and the police have to conduct a difficult and lengthy investigation to find out where the shots were fired.  With this system police can place sensors in a given neighborhood and when shots are fired it will pinpoint exactly where the shots came from. The service costs between $40,000 to $60,000 a year per square mile and is used in only a limited number of places.

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear an especially interesting 5th Amendment Double Jeopardy case.  Not especially interesting because of the legal issue, but especially interesting because of how clear the 5th Amendment violation was.  Now the facts of the case are not very pleasant.  Alex Blueford had been charged in Arkansas with the murder of his girlfriend’s 19 month old child.  Prosecutors alleged that Blueford hit the 19 month old so hard that his eyes bled and brain swelled so much that he died.  Blueford admitted that he had struck the child with his elbow but only by accident after the child startled him from behind. He also admitted that he lied to hospital personnel because he was afraid that they would not believe him. After 4 1/2 hours of deliberations the jury sent a note to the judge that they were having trouble deciding on the capital murder charge.  The jury went back into court and informed the judge that they had voted 12-0 for acquittal on the capital murder charge.  They then informed the judge that they had voted 12-0 for acquittal on the first degree murder charge but were split on the misdemeanor manslaughter charge.  The jury had not even discussed the fourth charge, negligent homicide, which was also a misdemeanor. So the jury had decided on not guilty on the murder charges but had not even considered the misdemeanor charges.  Even if they had found Blueford guilty of the misdemeanor charges he would have been released from prison because he had already served enough time in jail to satisfy any possible jail sentence that could be imposed.  Blueford’s attorneys asked that the judge announce the verdicts on the murder charges but the judge refused, instructing the jury to go back and deliberate on the misdemeanor charges.  When the jury informed the judge that they were deadlocked on the misdemeanor charges he declared a mistrial. Prosecutors immediately sought to retry Blueford for the murder and Blueford appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court claiming that Blueford’s 5th Amendment rights against Double Jeopardy were being violated.  In a surprising decision, the Arkansas Supreme Court disagreed and found that the foreperson’s statements in court that they had reached unanimous verdicts on the murder charges was not an actual verdict because they were not written down on paper and entered into the official court record.  They further found that the mere reading of a jury’s verdict in open court did not amount to an official verdict until the judge accepts it and enters the order.

It is clear from the facts of the case that the trial judge was not happy with the fact that this defendant was going to walk free on these serious charges and manipulated the law to avoid an ending that he was not happy with. Like it or not, Blueford had won his case and the trial court took his victory away from him.  Many briefs have been filed by law professors and groups outraged that the Fifth Amendment was so clearly manipulated and violated in this case.  The role of the judge is to apply the law and not make the law.

In reviewing news releases about this case I was struck at the different descriptions of the case in different news articles.  One news article mentions that the jury foreperson made an “offhand remark” to the judge in open court that the jury had decided 12-0 for acquittal on the murder charges.  But the fact is that nobody is disputing that the jury had voted 12-0 for acquittal, not even the prosecutors who are opposing Blueford’s appeal.  So whether this was an “offhand remark” in open court is irrelevant.  It is undisputed that the jury had found Blueford not guilty of murder.  Language used in a newspaper article to minimize the importance of the fact that he was found not guilty is clearly an attempt by certain media outlets to minimize the fact that he was found not guilty by a jury of his peers.  It is clear that the court was searching for legal technicalities to avoid having the jury’s verdict become final.

Kevin Keith is set to be executed by lethal injection in Ohio on September 15.  Keith is claiming that he is innocent.  While there’s nothing unusual about his proclamation, what is unusual is the growing support in the legal community for his claims.  Prosecutors allege that on February 13, 1994, Keith murdered three people because he believed that they had informed on him to police investigating his illegal drug sales.  One of the murder victims was a 4 year old girl.  Several witnesses testified against Keith at trial and his attorneys did not produce any mitigating evidence at his sentencing hearing and he was sentenced to the death penalty.  A closer look at Keith’s case offers some good reasons why a new trial or commutation of his death sentence may be warranted.  Some 31 former judges and prosecutors are supporting Keith’s claims.  At his trial, the police had mentioned that a witness, by the name of “Amy Gimmets” had given them the name of “Keith” as the shooter who committed the murders.  Keith’s defense attorneys discovered that “Amy Gimmets” does not exist.  They argue that if the jury had been told that “Amy Gimmets” did not exist, it may have undermined the credibility of the police witness.  Also, the 911 police logs do not support the police and prosecution theories of the case.  At trial, the police and prosecutors told that jury that witness John Foor had called the police and told them that the shooter was “Kevin.”  The 911 tapes do not support this contention.  The same 911 tapes also show an important discrepancy in the trial testimony of a witness who claims she found a shell casing near the scene of the crime.  The shell casing was the sole piece of physical evidence prosecutors used to connect Keith to the murder.  On top of these problems, there is also compelling evidence that another man, Rodney Melton, may have committed the murders.  Keith’s attorneys claim that Melton is the most likely suspect.  Melton was seen in the area right after the murders, he drove the same type of car that was driven by the shooter, Melton’s license plate numbers matched partial license plate numbers that the police lifted from the snow, had an extensive violent criminal record and had previously been convicted of murder, and had told a police informant that he had been paid $15,000 to cripple a family member of some of the murder victims.  In addition, Melton had gone to the hospital on the night of the shootings and told a family member that the victims had gotten what they deserve for snitching.

Prosecutors are fighting Keith’s claims of innocence and insisting that he was the murderer.  Keith is facing an uphill battle.  Post-conviction efforts by inmates like Keith have been dramatically limited by an ever-increasing conservative Supreme Court.

We will keep you updated on any developments in this interesting case which raises serious questions about the imposition of the death penalty against a man that may be innocent.  At the very least, his claims deserve to be thoroughly examined before he is executed.

Efforts are underway in Illinois to change the way DNA evidence in rape cases is processed.  The Chicago Tribune conducted an exhaustive investigation of the problems associated with the Illinois State Police Crime Lab and discovered that many rape kits were not being tested.  A rape kit allows a nurse or a doctor to collect semen, saliva and other potential sources of DNA samples from victims.  The process of securing the DNA evidence can take up to 8 hours but the results can be very powerful.  The results may link an offender to a crime or even exonerate a suspect.  Even when rape kits are submitted to the crime lab, the lab sometimes refused to conduct any testing and returned them to the police agency.  At least 88 rape kits were found to have been returned to the Chicago Police untested.  On February 1, 2010, we published a post describing how an arrest for a 2004 rape was made as a result of the analysis of a rape kit recovered from the basement of the Village of Harvey Police Department in a raid from local authorities in 2007. The International Human Rights Watch estimates that there are at least 4,000 untested rape kits throughout the state.  This is considered a low estimate because only 82 police agencies throughout the State of Illinois have agreed to participate in the reporting process.

The reasons that these rape kits are not being tested are numerous.  One reason is that the prosecutor decided not to press charges.  For example, if a victim acknowledges there was sex but that it was consensual, or the victim recanted the charges, or the victim no longer wishes to pursue charges or the prosecutor and police determine that the victim is not believable.  Another reason given is that federal law requires that that DNA profiles in databases come from a crime.  Their position is that if no charges were filed then no crime.  However, the FBI does not agree with that interpretation of the law.  As long as the prosecutor believes that a crime was committed they can have the DNA analyzed.  However, consensus seems to be gathering around the idea that analysis of all rape kits is required, regardless of whether charges are ever brought.  The main reason seems to be that analysis of all these rape kits may help solve other crimes.  For instance, analysis may reveal whether a serial rapist is involved in the case.  

The Illlinois Attorney General’s Office is working on legislation that would require police to submit sexual assault evidence to the state’s crime lab with 10 days of picking up the rape kit from the hospital.  In addition, the proposed legislation would require all police agencies to submit all untested rape kits in their possession to the crime lab within 30 days.  

Attorney Sergei Lemberg is a nationally recognized expert in consumer law who has earned a reputation as a tireless consumer advocate.  Mr. Lemberg is an expert in lemon law (, fair debt collection practices (, and other areas of consumer law (  As a service to our readers and our clients, we have invited him to post the following blog:

In today’s economy, bill collectors are out for blood, doing everything they can to squeeze every last dime out of consumers.  Like vultures, debt collectors know that you are vulnerable, and they circle around, waiting for an opening to strike.  A bill collector will use a variety of tactics – some legal and some illegal – to break a person’s spirit, to incite panic, and to make him or her take desperate measures to make the harassment stop.  Debt collection agencies count on the fact that most consumers don’t know the difference between legal and illegal tactics, and don’t know hot to block bill collectors.

Knowledge is power, which is why you should know where the law draws the line when it comes to bill collectors.  The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act outlines in detail what constitutes legal and illegal behavior.  Here’s a brief rundown:

This week, the United States Supreme Court announced which cases it will be considering in the upcoming Fall Term. In the backdrop of this announcement is the fact that a new Justice, Judge Sotomayor, will be taking her seat, and speculation that Justice John Paul Stevens could be retiring at any time. We first posted a post discussing the speculation surrounding his retirement on September 2, 2009. To read that post click hereThe addition of Sotomayor is not expected to change the philosophical balance on the court.  But the expectations for this term surround the cases that the Supreme Court has agreed to decide. Below you will find a brief synopsis of the interesting cases the Supreme Court has agreed to consider.

Guns and the Second Amendment: This case promises to get the greatest attention. On Wednesday the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving a challenge to Chicago’s ban on handguns. Last year the Supreme Court overturned Washington D.C.’s ban on handguns. Chicago has a similar ban and is arguing that the decision overturning the Washington D.C. ban on handguns does not apply to state and local governments because Washington D.C. is governed by federal law. The Court of Appeals agreed with Chicago and the Supreme Court will now take up the issue. How the Supreme Court decides this case will have a tremendous impact on handgun bans throughout the country.

The case is McDonald v. Chicago, 08-0521.