Many people in Illinois have raised serious concerns about the continuing impact of racial bias on prosecution, conviction and sentencing in criminal cases. One of the most important areas of study has been implicit bias, when people's decisions are affected by unconscious stereotypes and prejudices. Implicit bias rests on the acceptance of socially propagated stereotypes about a racial group rather than a conscious commitment to racist beliefs. Because it is unconscious, it can be more difficult to prove and challenge successfully. However, when implicit bias goes unchallenged, the cost for defendants of color could be substantial, including longer sentences and a higher likelihood of detention before trial.
A number of people in Illinois and across the country have been exonerated even many years after a criminal conviction on the basis of DNA evidence examined later on. While DNA evidence is often entered at trial by both the prosecution and the defense, there are circumstances where DNA could be re-examined after a conviction. These kinds of requests, especially for older cases before the routine use of DNA analysis, have become so common that standard procedures have been developed to determine how a new analysis can be requested by those who say they were wrongfully convicted.
Black people in Illinois and across the country are still more likely to be imprisoned than white people, although one study points to a positive trend in reducing racial disparity in the criminal justice system. The Council on Criminal Justice reported declining racial gaps in imprisonment rates in local jails and state prisons as well as probation and parole authorities. The council includes bipartisan members from government agencies, police organizations and the criminal justice reform movement. The study noted that declines in racial disparity were found in all major crime categories but were most pronounced in terms of drug offenses.
Bias in the criminal justice system is a major concern in Illinois and across the country. Disparate sentencing and penalties have led to nationwide calls for criminal justice reform. However, one of the most concerning aspects of bias are the forms that are unintentional or subconscious. It can be more challenging to prove unconscious bias, but the effects on a defendant may be significant. Unconscious bias is a major field of study for natural and social scientists looking into how brain activity can affect behavior. Results have indicated that unconscious beliefs and social stereotypes can affect judgment even in contradiction with expressed beliefs.
Illinois readers who are concerned about privacy issues should be aware that many tech and app companies readily share customer information with law enforcement agencies without a warrant, according to a report by Government Technology magazine. These companies include Ring, Lyft, Uber, Netflix, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Venmo.
People in Illinois who are accused of certain types of crimes may agree to settle the issue through a diversion plea. In these circumstances, the person pleads guilty and agrees to other circumstances, such as attending a program or paying a fine. As a result, the plea is not considered to be a conviction under state law. However, after a decision by the 7th Circuit court, these pleas may be considered "convictions" and reported in some types of criminal background checks for the purpose of employment.
A recently filed lawsuit accuses Apple Inc. of using facial recognition technology to track the activities of shoplifters in Illinois and around the country. According to the lawsuit, the company used the controversial software to accuse an innocent New York teenager of stealing goods worth thousands of dollars from Apple Stores in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Delaware. The mix-up came to light when the teen was arrested in November 2018 by police in New York for stealing Apple Pencils and other items from the Boston Apple Store.
When defendants in Illinois go on trial for state or federal offenses, they often face a jury trial. Jurors' life experiences and opinions about society can often affect their decisions, for better or worse. One Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in February 2019 formalized the recognition of that reality, saying that members of juries cannot leave their world views outside the courtroom. Instead, the court argued that it was not desirable for jurors to ignore their own lived experiences.
For many people in Illinois, the advancement of technology can also lead to a decrease in personal privacy. While many individuals are familiar with the controversies surrounding tech companies' use of personal data, the issue can be far more significant when law enforcement wants access to a person's locked cell phone. A federal judge's ruling may provide people with greater protection for their cell phone data. The judge at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that police cannot make people unlock their phones with their faces or fingers.
The U.S. Marshals Service arrested a 37-year-old man out of state in connection with the fatal shooting of a 39-year-old man in Decatur on Christmas Day 2017. Police in Macon County processed the suspect, who remains in jail awaiting charges from the Macon County State's Attorney's Office.