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Cops Can't Force Phones Unlocked With Face and Fingerprints

In a landmark ruling, a federal district court judge in Northern California ruled that police cannot force people to use biometrics to unlock their phones without a specific warrant. As technology advances, some are worried about their invasion of privacy, both civilly and criminally. Though this ruling has limited jurisdiction, it is the first of its kind to outlaw the use of biometrics based on Fifth Amendment rights.

What's a Violent Felony? Supreme Court Just Lowered the Standard

Repeated violent felonies can have dire consequences for some criminals. Many states, and the federal government, have three-strike type rules that require mandatory sentencing for certain convictions post-third-strike. Therefore, defendants can, and should, fight tooth-and-nail to keep convictions from coming under violent felony codes.

But what is "violent"? According to the United States Supreme Court, the slightest physical altercation between criminal and victim, even if just reflexive, should be considered violent.

When Should You Call the Police Over Hate Mail?

People can be downright nasty, especially in this age of social media. Though people have a First Amendment right to speak their minds, that right is limited. As the old saying goes, "Your right to swing your arms stops at my nose." If you are the recipient of hate mail, either physical or electronic, and wondering whether your skin is too thin, or if the words are actionable, here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to call the police.

How Are Cops Collecting, Sharing Travel Patterns?

Big brother is watching you more than you think. And not only watching, but sharing that information with others. Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) are the main mechanism behind the collection of travel data. These readers are mounted on cop cars as well as stationary devices, like street signs and lamp posts. They read license plates and send the data to storage centers, where they are processed and sorted. This data is then used to find cars involved in Amber Alerts as well as other criminally related activity.

So, ALPR can be used in fantastic ways. But what if the data captured was inaccurate and there are resulting erroneous negative consequences? Or what if the information is over-shared, violating one's constitutional rights to privacy? These issues concern the masses in discussions about ALPR.

What to Do If You Suspect Neighbors of Child Abuse

Suspecting child abuse is one of the most painful things an adult can endure. You fear the stakes are high if you call it in, regardless of whether or not you are correct. However, public policy has changed to encourage reporting, and if you truly suspect your neighbors are abusing their children, here is some information that might help in making that difficult call.

Man Nearly Faced Jail Time for Criticizing Police Chief

Every parent knows that the best way to curb behavior is to be consistent and immediate with consequences. That leaves many wondering why an Exeter, New Hampshire man could be facing jail time long after the conditions were met to have his suspended sentence reinstated, but immediately after he published disparaging remarks about the local police department on a Facebook page. The action has left many wondering exactly which behavior the police were trying to curb.

What Happens If an International Student Commits a Crime?

International students have it slightly harder than domestic students, and not just on the language front. Those in the U.S. on a student visa must not only stay in school to keep their visas valid, but also stay away from even being suspected of certain crimes. And if found guilty, the punishment could be harsh. 

So, before you try to get a fake ID to go out to college bars like you do in your home country, educate yourself about the unique consequences of your situation.

We've all heard about solitary confinement, where prisoners are kept in cells alone, with little or no human interaction. The practice -- sometimes used as punishment, or to keep the prisoner or other inmates and guards safe -- has come under additional scrutiny lately, however, as tales of abuse or exceedingly long stretches in solitary confinement have come to light.

One such story, that of a mentally ill Illinois man who spent over 20 years in solitary confinement, is now a lawsuit claiming that sentence amounted to torture. So, when does solitary cease to be an acceptable form of incarceration and become cruel and unusual punishment?

There are some who claim that police misconduct, if it does happen, is a rare occurrence, and even so, a few bad apples shouldn't spoil the whole bunch. There are others who claim such misconduct is rampant, and dirty cops outnumber the good ones. The problem for both sides of the argument has been one of transparency: most police departments aren't required to release investigations into officer abuse or misconduct or even the number of complaints they receive.

But last September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law loosening confidentiality rules regarding records of police misconduct. That law went into effect January 1, and according to local media, those records releases are already revealing major offenses.

Can Cops Search Your Home Based on Sense of Smell?

According to the Kansas Supreme Court, the nose knows. In a 4-3 decision, the highest court in Kansas resolved conflicting decisions at the appellate level to rule that if police smell raw weed when outside a Kansas home, they can conduct a warrantless search of the home based on probable cause. This smells fishy on many different levels, as pointed out by the minority opinion, but the ruling will stand.