Crime has been part and parcel of society for a long time. It is almost impossible for a country or a society to exist crime-free. For an activity to be identified as a crime or not, it depends on the country’s laws that must have been violated or the governing ethics of a particular society that must be ignored so that the doer will be termed a criminal. On peaceful grounds, a crime might happen unknowingly and might take some time to be identified and prosecuted, but on harsh grounds, crime happens in an outright robbery, cold blood murder, or heated genocides where firearms and different types of ammunition are used. There is always a trace of evidence left behind at a crime scene that forensic investigators can use to follow the case through. Forensic investigators use the little detail found at the crime scene, such as bullets, prints, clothing, and footsteps, among others, linking it to the owners who can, later on, give important information about a particular crime such as murdered or a robbery depending on the situation. Identifying the firearm owner becomes possible because the cartridges on ammunition are matched to a weapon with the manufacturer’s help, which is later linked to the owner, and can be very important in crime cases as proof. This paper, therefore, seeks to explain three cases where the identification of forensic firearms was challenged, giving a case by case analysis and the author’s opinion.
United States V Davis
The case was held in the United States Supreme Court on April 17, 2019. It was decided by the 5th circuit of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2019. This case was argued during the 2018-2019 term of the court. The case involved Davis and Glover, who were found guilty on several counts of carrying or using illegal firearms to a place of a crime or carrying an illegal firearm to aid a conspiracy to commit a crime. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case when the defendants appealed (Giannelli, 2006), where it affirmed it in part and vacated it in part. Davis pleaded guilty to carrying with him a firearm but, on the other hand, defended himself by saying that carrying a firearm had no intention of creating a conspiracy and that judgment on him should be done fairly.
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18 USC 924 (c) contains both the elements clause where it clearly states that criminal violence is held punishable and affirmed if there is a case of the use of a firearm, attempted use, or threatened use of a firearm against someone physically or putting their lives at risk. Subject to state or national law, an attempt to commit an offense is still punishable in law. The burden of establishing the elements of the offense and proving if the defendant committed the offense lies with the prosecutor. Part of the proof includes ascertaining the firearm’s existence and eventual functionality. It may not be compulsory that the firearm was discharged for the court to consider that the firearm used to commit a crime. Pointing and threatening with the potential use of a firearm qualifies for its use (Wright, Rossi, & Daly, 2017). Besides the commission of the predicate offence, the prosecuting team should also prove that the item used was a firearm as defined by the law, irrespective of its appearance. In some instances, the proof of the firearm’s functionality may not be necessary since the sheer threat of use can qualify the specific or aggravated offence, such as in cases where the firearm served an intimidating purpose. However, if the firearm is thought to have been used to cause death or arm, the proof of the functionality is essential that forensic experts must establish. In such a case, the investigator may not just prove that the item discovered is a firearm, but must also ascertain that the item can function as a firearm, can shoot or expel bullet, and it is the item that was used in the crime scene to cause death or harm (Wright, Rossi, & Daly, 2017).
The residual clause states that crime violence can be attained if, in its nature, the firearm carried by an individual poses some risk to a person or property, physically and directly causes judgment to be enhanced, according to Garnfinkel (2007). The residual clause requires the course to adopt categorical methods to determine if an offense qualifies as violent crime. The fifth circuit, in this case, held that it is criminal to have a firearm and attempt to use it in connection to a crime but vacated the clause of aiding and abetting conspiracy stating that it is unconstitutionally vague. The court held that the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S C; 924 e, (2) (B) (ii) is vague and, therefore, it prevented the judges from considering how the crime was committed which led the bench to the ordinary case which was the crime and did away with the means. It was a blow to the field of forensic identifiers because they were forced to look for other means of connecting possession, use, and criminal violence. After all, the court ruled that the information was not something to go by like in Davis’ case. Forensic information is an expensive asset for professionals because it takes time and resources (Kwon, 2019). This only means that the field needs to create a documented methodology to approach a variety of its issues that are real to the society and individuals to stretch justice over and beyond personal issues to society and state issues.
In my view, the Supreme Court was fair enough in the case because it is true that there is a connection between having a firearm and committing a crime, especially while at the crime scene. After all, science allows forensics to put a connection over that and consider a person a suspect. On the other hand, there is no connection between owning a firearm and being an accomplice in a crime that has not occurred in the real sense. If a crime has occurred in that particular place, then a case could be held against him, but in this instance, there is no way therefore that you can face an enhanced judgment (Garnfinkel, 2007) because you had weapons with you and actually did not use them or even had intentions to. They left the conspiracy catalyst aside and just concentrated on the case itself. For this case, conspiracy does not hold water for prosecution, which explains why the court took that direction I ultimately uphold.
People V. Hall (1854)
Due to the world gold rush in 1849, so many foreigners flocked to California and did not hesitate to make new rules and amend the existing ones to favor themselves financially and socially. An example is the tax rule of 1850 which demanded that non-whites pay $16 on every mining profit they made. Laws and court rulings were biased and favored the whites over the rest of the population. A classic example is the People V. Hall (1854). In People V. Hall (1854), the Supreme Court overturned the lower court decision that found George Hall (White American) guilty of shooting Ling Sing (Chinese American) in the back with a shotgun, fatally wounding him with about fifteen buckshot wounds. George Hall was arrested for the murder claims, and the witness was a Chinese. People v. Hall mirrored the racist environment of California’s early settlement. On appeal, Hall’s (defendant’s) lawyer, during the hearing, argued that it is in the California constitution that Indians, Mulattos, and other non-whites were not supposed to testify against or favor a white, leaving the case staggering, and finally, Mr. Hall was set free (Lennon, 1989). The freeing of Hall skyrocketed racial discrimination in California in the 20th century because the Chinese felt left out in their land, and not only that, but also they felt inferior, and as a plus, oppression was administered at different levels, which made them feel more useless than those who were invaders in their country (Kwon, 2019).
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Forensic identification was challenged because it relies so much on the information it obtains from the crime scene to connect it to the doer and foster justice. Because of unfair laws, the Chinese who were present during the murder could not testify because the law did not allow them to do it either for or against the whites. Despite being in their country, they were still considered unimportant, and they were not allowed to testify against the whites and paid taxes for their wealth because it was being controlled by the invaders who considered themselves to be better on the grounds of color. Because no evidence proved Hall to be guilty, the court held that he needed to be set free, which he was, and justice was denied to many people. It held that a person needs not only to show a person’s guilt, but they only need to be capable of doing that (Kwon, 2019). This destroyed the Chinese’s hope in the judicial system because it proved to uphold crime provided a white was involved.
I consider the court to have erred in the decision made in favor of Hall but against the people because it failed to consider probability witnesses and even ways of tackling the case. The case was naturally decided in favor of the people, but the law limited that because it was amended (Cooke, 2010) to function in favor of only the whites. The Chinese were considered people of low caliber who couldn’t decide on anything even that related to them. They were a non-issue; violating them or even what belonged to them with the culprits walking free was nothing new, but this one had become too much. In a follow-up, the case was later appealed after the rule on witnesses was amended to invalidate testimony laws and later changed the decision. The Californian Supreme Court ruling was largely race-based and not logically based. The court relied on the opinion that persons of Chinese origin were a race that nature has marked and labeled as inferior, incapable of intellectual development and progress beyond a certain point. For that reason, a person of Chinese origin could not swear away the life of another citizen. They also could not participate with the whites in administering the affairs of the American white-dominated government (Kwon, 2019). The court decision classified the Chinese, alongside African and Native Americans, as people with no status to testify against any European American.
Borden V. United States.
The case involved Charles Borden, a teenager charged with carrying a pistol at a traffic stop in April 2017. The case was argued at the Roberts court in November 2020 and decided on June 10, 2021. The government wanted to sentence borders as a career criminal according to the U.S. Constitution because he was armed and also based on three previous assault cases that were facing him. He objected by arguing that one of his prior assaults was not valid. He said that the aggravated reckless assault did not qualify to be a felony. The court held that a violent felony occurs when the actions of one person cause or put some threat of causing harm to another person. The defendant’s action was considered reckless, and the court argued that reckless could not qualify as a violent felony. However, this aggressiveness must be physical to be able to cause harm. Border thereby argued that recklessness of the mind could not be counted as intentional in causing assault. The 6th circuit of the court affirmed that he had committed a crime on three counts, making him a career criminal who is armed according to the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). However, some other judges argued that the act states that it must be the use of physical force, and any other force or aggressiveness is not mentioned and thus can’t be recognized and termed as offensive.
Forensic research is again challenged because prosecuting border relies on what was going on in his mind during the aggressive assault so that they can establish its connection to the actual happenings on the ground, which is impossible because he can even imagine lying to stay off the hook. According to Dionne (2021), he informed that the suspect gives is not always anything to go by because it can be distorted to the victim’s interest. In this case, the information that forensic investigators might want to present to the court so bad that justice is obtained is unreachable and unrealistically available, making them unable to perform their work diligently. Violence felonies cannot be identified using mind basis and conditions because they are difficult to quantify and analyze because only a person facing aggression can tell of which they cannot testify against themselves. The forensic firearm is critical in any crime involving firearms to obtain scientifically proven evidence. Ballistic and firearm marching plays a significant role in criminal investigations. Every firearm tells a different story (Cook, & Goss, 2020). All the information needed to narrate their story can be obtained from both the interior and exterior of the firearm. It can help with further investigation into the crime scene and prosecution, contributing to intelligence gathering and further analysis of the crime. Firearms and the surrounding area in any crime scene provide evidence. The crime scene may include areas where: a) a victim is nursing firearm associated injury; b) a firearm has been criminally discharged; and c) a firearm or components linked to a particular crime have been discovered (Cook, & Goss, 2020).
Forensic firearm-related evidence helps in significant crime and can also be used to build a parallel criminal case. It can be used to identify other crimes that may have been committed by the offender using the same firearm. When a forensic investigation is conducted correctly, a single piece of evidence can help investigate the previous and current crime committed by the offender using the same firearm (UNODC 2022). For instance, ballistic comparison can reveal that the firearm was used in the murder case and other crimes committed in other regions, an indicator of the routing of the firearm. However, in many cases, firearms and ammunition provide evidence that is often overlooked in crime investigations. The enforcement often stops at recovery or seizure (UNODC 2022). Recovered or seized firearms and related components can be subject to forensic examination and reveal additional crucial evidence of a significant range of crimes, including illicit manufacturing
I think the ACCA has not tackled even the finer details on the issues people can face and the actual happenings in the forensics line of duty. There are so many loopholes that need to be looked at and handled so that the field (Dionne, 2021) can function efficiently to make crime less in society. In the real sense, in my view, Borden seems like a criminal who is defending himself by touching on a line that has not been tacked by the ACCA and challenging, therefore, issuance of a sentence by the court even though it is a fact that some judges overlooked the details whereas others favored him because it is not mentioned anywhere. Barkow (2019), while exploring the flawed framework of ACCA, argued that Congress in the 1980s fundamentally altered federal crime punishment almost totally for the worse. The Comprehensive Crime Control Act (CCCA) of 1984 cabined judges’ discretion, removed parole and granted significant power to the persecutors using the mandatory minimum sentence, higher maximum sentence, and enlarged pretrial detention. These actions increased the leverage to extract pleas during the prosecution (Barkow 2019). The U.S. Sentencing Commission was created later and was charged with creating mandatory sentencing procedures for federal crimes. The commission did not get a chance to begin the operation as Congress initiated a series of critical sentencing determinations, including passing laws on mandatory minimum sentencing, which mostly ignored the use of data and evidence to guide the sentencing (Barkow 2019). Through such loopholes, criminals like Borden explore to get away with crime.
The Sentencing Commission could have been allowed to apply data and evidence to guide the policy concerning sentencing and effectively tackle previous state convictions in line with sentencing individuals who have committed federal crimes instead of Congress tasking itself. A guideline model also offers the judges more scope to march the punishment with evidence and facts (Barkow, 2019). Unluckily, Congress settled on a different path, creating a flawed regime due to misguided assumptions. Until we correct such loopholes, criminals will continue to get away with crimes because the court is reluctant to use scientific evidence and come up with concrete evidence.
As depicted in the paper, forensic firearm identification and challenge is a significant issue, especially today. Forensic information gets distorted or, in other instances, lacks inclusion in the constitution, making its operation null and void. When the information provided by forensics is challenged, it only means that many people can walk away with crime because of justifications for not being included or distortion. The first and second cases operate on the ground of not being included, whereas the third case stands on the ground of distortion. Therefore, professionals should adopt and document more than one approach to getting information to control crime at a considerable rate. Law enforcement agencies should consider embracing technology in their operations, including scientific data collection and analysis as part of their investigation. Data collection and analysis provide concrete evidence on how the victim is affected by the crime and whether the response deployed is effective and adequate. In many cases, the part of scientific data collection and analysis or simply forensic investigation is ignored in instances where the crime impacts victims. The investigators and even the courts rely on witness evidence, which might prove challenging to apply complex cases such as where the use of firearms is involved. As it is so noticeable in society today almost daily, crime is not so easy to get information that can be staged in a court of law as evidence for justice to take its course because of the operating environment’s operands. Forensic specialists use so many ways in their endeavours, including pathology, graphology, dentistry, audits, and crime scene forensics, whichever way will give a breakthrough for justice.