Whether conscious or unconscious, the effects of a judge's bias can be highly damaging for people facing criminal charges in Maryland. Researchers have probed the issue of unconscious bias, a form of bias or stereotyping that is an aspect of the subconscious mind rather than conscious thought. In many cases, people's unconscious biases may be entirely opposed to their conscious, thoughtful choices and beliefs. According to neuroscientists, there is a strong biological basis for the concept of unconscious bias. The human brain is complex, and certain factors can lead to a greater impact of these types of unconscious biases and pervasive social ideas.
Maryland prosecutors often rely on Breathalyzer tests to convict people accused of drunk driving. However, a report from The New York Times highlights the challenges of such tests as well as their questionable accuracy. While the science underlying a breath test for blood alcohol concentration may be fundamentally valid, those scientific conditions are often not replicated in the roadside and even police station breath tests administered to people accused of driving under the influence. The report noted that in several states, judges have thrown over 30,000 Breathalyzer test results out of court due to their unreliability.
For many people in Maryland, community service sentencing appears to reflect a more humane approach to criminal justice than levying heavy fines or assigning jail time. However, the UCLA Labor Center and School of Law carried out a study that takes issue with that conclusion. It argues that the extensive use of community service exacerbates poverty and unemployment, especially in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, where most defendants sentenced to community service live. The school argues that not only may defendants be blocked from pursuing employment themselves, but potential paid jobs are being replaced by free labor obtained through the sentencing process.
Some Maryland residents may have seen firsthand the effect that increased incarceration rates can have on a community. Although the incarceration rate in the United States has diminished slightly in recent years, there is no country on the planet that has an incarceration rate as high as the United States.
Prosecutors say that jailhouse informants are a prime source of accurate information that can hold people accountable for the crimes they have committed. However, groups such as the Innocence Project say that the information they provide may not necessarily be credible. Individuals who are in prison in Maryland or elsewhere may receive lighter sentences or other perks for providing what they know. This could create a conflict of interest as an individual could simply tell prosecutors what they want to hear.
Accepting an exhaustive list of terms and conditions before signing up for an online service or downloading a useful piece of software is something that many Maryland residents have done. This fine print often allows technology companies to gather and store large amounts of personal information, which may then be shared with marketing companies, data brokers and law enforcement. Media outlets have sometimes reacted angrily when social media platforms have sold user data to advertising firms, but there has been little outrage over the sharing of this information with law enforcement.
There were roughly 80,000 federal cases prosecuted in 2018. Of those, only 2% went to trial. Data indicates that 97% of all federal convictions are obtained through plea bargains while 94% of convictions in state cases are resolved through plea bargains. There are several reasons why defendants in Maryland and throughout the country confess guilt in a vast majority of cases. For instance, prosecutors may add charges if an individual doesn't take a plea deal.
When Maryland residents face criminal charges that are later dismissed, these charges could still show up in a criminal background check. This was the case for a woman who faced a battery charge in Illinois. The court had dismissed her charge without a conviction after she served a short supervision sentence. However, a rental application the woman submitted 20 years later was rejected because of the charge. She filed a lawsuit against the background check company, alleging that it violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Encounters with the criminal justice system can be particularly devastating for people living in poverty in Maryland. States, counties and cities across the country have developed an increasing reliance on court fines, fees and citations in order to balance their budgets and pay for specific services. Therefore, the use of these kinds of financial penalties can be encouraged by some administrations. Because these punishments are heavily financial in nature, they can have a deeply disproportionate effect on poor residents. Fines that people are unable to pay can escalate into significant debts and even jail time in some cases.
Maryland residents who have had their property seized by law enforcement agencies may be interested to learn that, according to a study, civil asset forfeiture has little impact on preventing criminal activity. Civil asset forfeiture is the practice that allows law enforcement agencies to seize property that may have been used to commit a crime. Common property to be seized includes money, vehicles and even homes.