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West Des Moines Iowa Criminal Defense Law Blog

Study of 100 mln traffic stops finds pervasive racial disparities

"Driving while black" isn't a real crime, but it might as well be. African-Americans and people of color persistently report being stopped, searched, cited and even arrested for traffic offenses in situations where white people probably wouldn't be. Yet people of color don't break the law at a higher rate than whites. If anything, a recent study found, whites are more likely to do so.

Stanford University's Open Policing Project recently examined nearly 100 million traffic stops in an effort to identify any evidence of racial profiling. It wasn't hard to find, unfortunately.

Students protesting climate policy do have rights

On March 15, students around the world plan to strike in order to highlight the global climate crisis and urge leaders to act. Many participants will be skipping school to engage in discussions, lobbying, protests and demonstrations.

Unfortunately, many of those students will be subject to discipline for missing school. In the United States, however, even students have constitutional rights, if somewhat more limited ones than adults. And, public schools are considered state actors, so they may not unduly restrict students' constitutional rights, including free speech and assembly rights.

AP review shows the stunning consequences for felons who vote

According to some Iowa prosecutors, it doesn't matter if it was a mistake. It doesn't matter if they asked for a provisional ballot. The only thing that matters is that they were a former felon and they voted or attempted to vote.

The governor has proposed that Iowa restore people's voting rights after they've served their sentences, but people are still being charged. The charge is typically election misconduct, a felony carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison. These cases also average $1,578 in fines and court costs, according to the Associated Press.

Report: Federal prosecutors oversold courts on FBI photo analysis

The case involved South Carolina bank robbery. Witnesses were unable to ID the robber and the bank's surveillance video turned out to be too grainy to help. When the FBI finally arrived at a suspect, the man countered that the robber had been his brother. With only low-quality video to go by, how could investigators tell which brother had committed the crime?

The short answer is that they could not. Richard Vorder Bruegge, one of the FBI's most influential image examiners, reported that the FBI's suspect had a similar "overall shape of the face, nose, mouth, chin and ears" but didn't actually declare him a match to the grainy video. He admitted that the video was too low a resolution to fully identify the suspect.

SCOTUS unanimously rules states can't impose excessive fines

Did you know that your property can be seized simply because you have been accused of a certain crime? You don't even have to be convicted. When police decide your money or property is connected to criminal activity, they can seize it in what is called a civil forfeiture proceeding.

If they do, you have to prove that the seized money or property was not connected to crime -- or the agency that seized it gets to keep it.

Keto diet could create some positive OWI breath test results

These days, a lot of people are on the keto diet, a low-carb diet advertised to encourage weight loss. The diet puts your body into a state called "ketosis," where the liver begins to break down fat to fuel the body. Acetone, a byproduct of ketosis, is released through the breath in the form of isopropyl alcohol. This is different from ethanol, which is the type of alcohol people drink. The question is, can breathalyzers tell the difference?

It's not clear. According to a professor of forensic technology from Sweden's Linköping University explained to Men's Health recently that cheap models probably can't tell the difference. The head of a breathalyzer manufacturer agreed. The models that people buy on their own to self-monitor their blood alcohol content are somewhat different from those used by police. A metal film inside the device merely measures the number of alcohol molecules present.

A large percentage of drug field tests result in false positives

If a drug field test comes back positive, that is generally considered enough to justify an arrest. Field tests are inadmissible in most courts, so further testing must be performed by a lab. Unfortunately, lab results can take months to come back. If a field test is inaccurate, an innocent person could be stuck in jail for a long time before the inaccuracy is discovered.

False positives may be responsible for 80 people being arrested on drug charges in Florida recently. One, Matthew C., was arrested for allegedly possessing 92 grams of heroin.

Report: Federal judges using more discretion in sentencing

The question of how much discretion federal judges should have when sentencing criminal defendants is an important one, and opinions have changed over time. In the 1980s and 1990s, Congress passed a large number of strict, mandatory minimum sentencing requirements.

These laws stripped judges of their traditional discretion to choose what sentence is reasonable or fair under the circumstances. They mandated certain sentencing ranges regardless of the facts of the specific case. Appeals courts were prevented from resentencing people, even in cases of clear injustice.

Unregulated police use of Rapid DNA tests could be problematic

"You have nothing to fear if you're not going to be a criminal," said a spokesperson for the Bensalem, Pennsylvania police.

Bensalem is one of a growing number of police departments that have adopted Rapid DNA technology, a DNA sequencing machine that officers refer to as "the magic box." In the past, DNA testing was only performed by accredited labs, but now police can do it without assistance -- or accreditation.

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