When judges and juries in Maryland and around the country are tasked with making sentencing decisions or determining an individual's suitability for bail, they often consider the results of IQ and psychological tests. These tests are generally viewed as being accurate and backed by science, but that is not what a team of researchers found when they studied almost 900 cases that went to court between 2016 and 2018. The study, which was published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal on Feb. 15, concludes that only about one in three of the IQ and psychological tests that are routinely used in courts has received the backing of the scientific community.
When some people face Maryland criminal charges, they may have to deal with the unconscious weight of racial bias and stereotypes from juries and even judges. Research shows that black defendants continue to receive higher prison sentences and are more likely to be held in pre-trial detention. According to many scholars, these results could be explained by implicit bias, a form of racial prejudice that relies on the unconscious perpetuation of social stereotypes rather than conscious choices to discriminate against members of a particular race. One of the key characteristics of implicit racial bias is that it remains unspoken and unexamined.
People in Maryland may think of eyewitness identifications as particularly strong evidence that a person committed a crime. However, research has shown that witness identifications may be particularly prone to human error; they are a major factor in wrongful convictions that have been overturned through new DNA evidence. The quality of an eyewitness identification may vary greatly depending on the police procedures used to obtain it. For example, police may praise witnesses for selecting a suspect or pressure them to identify someone from a photo or in-person lineup.
A person who is taken into custody in Maryland or any other state must be read his or her rights. Failure to do so could result in a statement being suppressed before or during a trial. It could also result in any other evidence obtained based on that statement to be suppressed as well. An individual has the right to know that he or she can remain silent at all times while in custody.
People in Maryland who the police suspect of possibly committing crimes might be asked to write statements about what they remember from the incidents. Law enforcement officers use these statements when they build their cases. However, most people might not realize that some police departments use a forensic tool called Scientific Content Analysis or SCAN to analyze the written statements to purportedly detect deception.
A study produced by the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice reported that the racial imbalances within the criminal justice system have improved over the past 16 years. Despite the narrowing of racial disparities among criminal defendants and inmates in Maryland and nationwide, blacks remain disproportionately represented within local jails and state prisons and among parolees and people on probation. In 2000, state prisons held 15 times more black people convicted of drug crimes than white people. By 2016, the ratio had dropped to 5 to 1.
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.