The criminal justice system in the United States has not escaped the broad implications that have come with the technology revolution of the past years. In every part of the legal system, technology has forced change to occur, leaving several new challenges and opportunities that police departments, community groups, correctional facilities and court systems are struggling to catch up with.
The technologies described below are not all new. However, the extent to which they are used today is much greater than when they were first introduced. Many of these technologies featured regularly in Hollywood movies of yesterday but are so commonplace today that they require no special introduction.
Concealed Weapons Detection
These technologies come with a large amount of doubt because of privacy issues. The fact that a police officer can now tell from a distance using a hand-held device whether a suspect is armed or not may seem like life-saving technology; but, when that same technology is applied to schools, public gatherings and other such situations, the line between security and invasion of personal privacy can easily be blurred. In a country where the right to bear arms is a right every citizen has, the use of such technology needs to be carefully thought-out in all its scenarios.
This advanced forensic technology is used extensively by law enforcement to find matches for biological samples that are found at the scene of the crime. The findings of DNA tests are often admissible in court, and have led to the acquittal of many people who had been convicted by a jury of their peers. In a book entitled “Convicted by Juries; Exonerated by Science”, 28 such cases have been described in detail and, on average, these convicted people spent seven long years in prison before they were finally exonerated by using DNA technology that proved their innocence.
Drug testing in the past was a tedious task that often took days or weeks for the results to be processed and published, and even these were not always foolproof. Today, drug testing is so commonplace that it has become a basic requirement for employment in many places such as hospitals, law enforcement, the airline industry, school athletics, and so on. Drugs are known to be associated with criminal behavioral tendencies, so the legal system is constantly rubbing shoulders with recreational drug users. The deployment of this technology, therefore, has been rapid and all-pervasive.
The impact of the internet and its vast repositories of information have changed the way the criminal justice and law enforcement systems in the United States work. A response to a 911 call, for example, can now be supported with the location’s crime history, background on suspects and other bits of information that will aid in arresting and convicting offenders. Probationers can be tracked by their probation officers using monitoring systems. Even the neighborhood watch can benefit from computerized and current information such as maps and statistics of crime in the area.
Knowledge Transfer Technology
The fact that police departments across a state or even across states are now linked via computers gives them an edge in fighting crime. Knowledge is now freely shared between law enforcement and the legal system in an attempt to bridge knowledge gaps that may slow down or prevent justice from being served. Shared information means that a new process that hasn’t worked in California need not be tried again in Texas. This saves time and money – the two resources that the criminal justice system relies heavily upon.
All of these technologies are in existence today and being used extensively. All of them also carry implications for personal privacy. Without exception, all of them have promoters as well as detractors. The challenge of incorporating them into daily life is the job of the law-makers, but it can only be done effectively if the law enforcers and the criminal justice system work collectively to utilize these technologies for the greater good. Privacy is often sacrificed in the bargain, but the best system is one in which all considerations are carefully balanced.
Zane Schwarzlose writes for the Law Offices of WT Johnson, a personal injury law practice in Dallas, Texas. Zane thinks that technology will change the legal industry greatly in the next 20 years.
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