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West Des Moines Iowa Criminal Defense Law Blog

At border and airports, agents need suspicion to search devices

If you have been annoyed at having your smartphone searched at the airport, you'll be interested to hear this. It turns out that agents need reasonable suspicion that you're involved in something illegal before they can perform such a search.

Agents from ICE and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) service have been routinely searching people's electronic devices at the border, including in international airports. They have had a policy of performing these searches without cause, looking for things like counterfeit media and child pornography. Now, a federal judge has ruled that policy unconstitutional.

New York Times investigation finds breathalyzer tests unreliable

About a million people each year are arrested for drunk driving in the United States. When you're pulled over on suspicion of OWI, you will be asked to blow into a breathalyzer.

These tests are used by virtually every police department in the nation, but there could be problems with their accuracy, the New York Times found in a major new investigation. The machines need precise calibration before they can even be used, but many police departments lack the expertise or interest in maintaining proper calibration. And when they're not properly calibrated, they tend to overestimate the amount of alcohol in a person's breath.

Should a drug relapse on probation mean prison time?

Right now, Iowa and most jurisdictions deal with drug abuse almost exclusively through law enforcement. If you're caught with a prohibited drug, or one you don't have a prescription for, you can be arrested, charged and convicted of a criminal offense. In most cases, that means you'll be incarcerated -- with little to no access to drug treatment.

There is an argument to be made, however, that law enforcement is an ineffective way to stop the use of illegal drugs. Some experts argue for a "harm reduction" approach, which essentially means providing drug users with information, support and services geared toward reducing the harm illegal drugs can cause.

Iowa Supreme Ct: Immigration status OK to consider in sentencing

In 2018, a Mexican immigrant who had been brought to the U.S. as a teenager was convicted in Iowa of intent to deliver marijuana. During a 2017 traffic stop, officers allegedly found 184 one-pound bags of marijuana and a handgun in his car. Although he claimed he had been using the marijuana to treat back pain, Guillermo A. pled guilty to the charge.

If Guillermo had been a U.S. citizen, he might well have been placed on probation. However, the judge in his trial decided he should not be given probation but should instead be sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was also placed on an immigration hold because deportation was likely in his case.

What is a prosecutor's duty if an officer is shown to have lied?

Prosecutors have a legal and ethical duty not to knowingly allow perjury. If a prosecutor learns that a witness -- even a police officer -- in one of their cases lied on the stand, that prosecutor is required to notify the judge and attempt to correct the matter.

But what if a prosecutor doesn't know that the officer lied in this particular case, but does know that the officer has a history of documented misconduct, including lying under oath? The prosecutor's duty, under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling called Brady v. Maryland, is to turn over that information to the defense so that the officer's credibility can be challenged in court.

When can the police search through your cellphone?

As many people know, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects you and your property against unreasonable searches and seizures by the police. However, not many people know how this nearly 200-year-old amendment protects their modern smartphones.

Nowadays, people keep a considerable amount of their personal information and activities recorded on their cellphones. So, how does the Fourth Amendment protect these devices if individuals face criminal charges?

New FBI data shows violent crime continuing its downward trend

The violent crime rate in the U.S. hit a high in approximately 1990 and then began to taper off. That trend continued until 2015 and 2016, when the violent crime rate rose slightly. In 2017 and 2018, however, the violent crime rate resumed its downward trend. Now, the violent crime rate is half of what it was in the early 90s.

Crime rates are significant to criminal defense attorneys because politicians, police and prosecutors play close attention to them. When crime rates are high, it's easier to justify cracking down on potential offenders. That sometimes means acting in ways that curtail the constitutional protections guaranteed to criminal suspects and defendants.

Marijuana arrests up again last year despite more legalization

Even though more and more states have legalized marijuana, the overall number of arrests for marijuana offenses continued to rise in 2018, according to new data from the FBI. There were 663,367 marijuana arrests nationwide last year, up from 659,700 in 2017. That itself was a jump from 2016's total of 653,249. Before that, marijuana arrests had been dropping steadily for more than a decade.

Of the marijuana arrests made last year, nearly 92% were for simple possession.

Momentum growing to limit the role of jailhouse informants

It's a tale as old as time. Someone is arrested and held in jail before trial. Naturally, they're desperate for a friendly face or a caring voice. They spill their guts to their new friend, giving details of the crime. That "friend" contacts the prosecution offering to turn over those details in exchange for a break on their own sentence.

Using jailhouse informants is legal

There are far, far too many things that are federal crimes

Do you know how many federal crimes are on the books? Neither do we. In fact, nobody does.

In 1982, a group of Justice Department attorneys attempted to find out. After two years of reading countless federal statutes and regulations, the lawyers were only able to come up with an estimate: approximately 3,000 acts could be charged as crimes by the federal government.

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