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West Des Moines Iowa Criminal Defense Law Blog

Supreme Court to decide if states' implied consent laws are legal

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up a case that could have an important impact on Iowa law. At issue is whether police need a warrant before drawing the blood of an unconscious suspect in order to determine his level of intoxication.

The case before the court is from Wisconsin, which has a law similar to Iowa's and that of 28 other states. Wisconsin's law states that drivers, by operating a motor vehicle on our roadways, are deemed to have consented to breath, blood and urine tests whenever there are reasonable grounds to believe they are operating while intoxicated (OWI). This is called an "implied consent" law. In Wisconsin, this consent can be withdrawn.

Ballistics database being promoted despite problematic science

The idea that ballistics -- marks made on bullets and casings by the gun they are expelled from -- can be relied upon as evidence is something most of us are familiar with. We've seen it on the CSI shows. 

In order to be useful evidence, a ballistics test would need to show with great certainty that a bullet from a crime scene had to have come from a particular gun. It shouldn't serve to convict anyone unless it conveyed some certainty backed by science.

Can you be arrested for driving while taking prescription drugs?

Driving while under the influence of drugs can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. In fact, if you are pulled over in Iowa and are found to have any amount of controlled or illegal substance in your bloodstream or urine, you can be charged with OWI.

Different drugs can cause different effects. For example, marijuana can make you drowsy or cause you to hallucinate. Cocaine and methamphetamine can make you euphoric and energetic. All of these drugs can cause trouble behind the wheel, especially if:

Supreme Court: For ACCA, burglary includes theft from vehicles

For the purposes of the federal Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), burglary is considered a violent felony. When someone has two or more violent felony convictions, whether state or federal crimes, they may encounter the ACCA if they are then convicted federally of unlawful firearms possession. Such a conviction carries a mandatory 15-year prison sentence.

Interestingly, the ACCA doesn't provide a definition for burglary. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there is a generic definition of burglary which courts should use when determining whether a particular conviction qualifies as a "strike" under the ACCA. When state statutes vary from the generic definition assumed by the ACCA, those varying elements should not be considered.

What happens before a criminal trial?

An arrest is traumatic for most people. You may wonder what will happen next. After police take you into custody, you will face a series of steps before your case goes to trial in Iowa. You may find some comfort in knowing what those steps are. 

3 things you need to know about federal investigations

In the United States, far more people go to prison for state crimes than federal offenses, but federal charges are just as serious, if not more so. If you suspect you may be charged with a federal crime, here are a few things you need to know.

1. What counts as a federal offense?

Federal First Step Act would reduce crack sentencing disparity

It appears that the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill backed by bipartisan groups and supported by the President, may yet come up for a vote this year. The bill proposes changes in federal criminal sentencing and promises some reforms in the prison system.

Supporters say the First Step Act represents the most significant reforms to the federal justice system in decades. What could we expect if the law is passed?

Supreme Court may rule some forfeitures are 'excessive fines'

The use of civil forfeitures has been called "policing for profit." The civil forfeiture process usually begins when someone is charged with a crime, either at the state or federal level. At that point, police and prosecutors may find that some of the defendant's money or property is connected to criminal activity. In essence, the prosecutor charges these valuables with being connected to or the proceeds of crime. The defendant bears the burden of proving that they were not. If the defendant fails to prove that, the police and prosecutor's office get to seize the money and property permanently -- even if the defendant has not yet been convicted of any crime.

It happened to an Indiana man. He was convicted of selling a small amount of heroin in an effort to support his own opioid addiction. A civil forfeiture claim was levied against his Land Rover, which was valued at $42,000, because he had briefly transported drugs in the vehicle. The SUV was worth more than four times the maximum fine for the crime he committed.

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