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West Des Moines Iowa Criminal Defense Law Blog

How Private Is A Student's Locker?

Heading back to school brings a few familiar rituals, which can include shopping for school clothes, school supplies and getting a new school locker and combination.

But unlike clothing and school supplies, lockers are not personal property. Therefore, once students get that new locker, they should not assume that everything they put in that locker will remain private.

Are the Des Moines police engaging in racial profiling?

The dashcam video of a Des Moines police stop involving two African-American men, Montray Little and Jared Clinton, has been viewed over 9 million times.

"My heart sank into my feet," said Clinton's mother. "I apologized to him because I brought him to this city."

Protect your rights when stopped by the cops: 4 key concepts

Always be respectful when interacting with law enforcement. At the same time, to be aware that when the police are questioning you about a potential crime, they are not on your side. Explaining your side of the story will not clear things up. In fact, it's best to avoid saying more to the police than you absolutely have to.

You do have the right to remain silent. You do have the right to an attorney. You have those rights and more, but constitutional law is complex. You shouldn't have to be a lawyer to understand your rights, however, and here are four key concepts you should use to protect them when interacting with the police.

ACLU of Iowa targets unconstitutional panhandling ordinances

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed in Reed v. Town of Gilbert that content-based regulations on free speech are unconstitutional. This has been widely applied to panhandling ordinances. Indeed, according to the ACLU of Iowa, every case since brought against a panhandling ordinance -- over 25 cases -- have resulted in a ruling that the ordinance was unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, several cities in Iowa are enforcing these ordinances. In Des Moines, for example, a homeless woman was told that her sign offering free hugs was a form of illegal panhandling. The police made her pack up her belongings and move along. Other homeless people report similar experiences or even being jailed for asking strangers for help.

Forensic scientists working to reform the evidence they present

Recently, about 1,400 forensic pathologists, fingerprint examiners and other crime scene investigators from across the country met in San Antonio for the International Association for Identification's annual International Educational Conference. At the top of the agenda was improving the standards for collecting, testing and presenting forensic evidence.

In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences issued a major report criticizing the forensic science community as having relied on assumptions, processes and methods that weren't grounded in data.

What are the penalties for prostitution and solicitation in Iowa?

Most people know that prostitution is basically defined as exchanging sex for money, and that it's illegal. Many also know that solicitation of prostitution is defined as asking or encouraging another person to engage in prostitution. The most common form of solicitation of prostitution is offering money in exchange for sexual acts. Promoting prostitution -- also known as pimping -- is also illegal in Iowa. What are the penalties involved?

When the alleged prostitute is 18 or older, both prostitution and solicitation of prostitution are aggravated misdemeanors in Iowa. The penalties include:

  • A fine of between $625 and $6,250
  • Up to 2 years in prison

Would the new 'pot breathalyzer' change anything in Iowa?

With marijuana now legal for either recreational or medical use in the majority of states, drugged driving appears to be on the rise. Unfortunately, there is no straightforward way to test whether someone is actually impaired by marijuana. It's easy enough to test for the drug's metabolites, but those remain in the system for weeks, while the drug's "high" only lasts for a couple of hours. Law enforcement has been seeking a so-called 'pot breathalyzer" that could test for actual impairment, not just exposure to the drug.

In Iowa, we have what's called a "per se" drugged driving law. What this means is that a person is considered guilty of drugged driving if there is any detectable amount of cannabis in their system. Prosecutors do not need to prove actual impairment to win their cases.

A hidden attraction at the state fair: The police

The Iowa State Fair has started, and will run through August 20. While fairgoers can look forward to Grandstand entertainment, rides, fair food and the Butter Cow, others could find themselves with a wristband they didn't ask for: handcuffs.

A Fortified Force

Last year the Iowa State Patrol made 217 arrests at the fair, an increase of seven percent from the year before, as reported by the Des Moines Register. Most of those arrests were alcohol-related: either public intoxication or minor-in-possession of alcohol. With the State Fair adding its own police force this year, that number could increase. The Fair's new police force will be able to make arrests, unlike the security force it has deployed in the past. The new police force adds to the existing presence of the Iowa State Patrol, the Des Moines Police and the Polk County Sheriff's department, according to KCCI Des Moines

Iowa Supreme Court limits warrantless inventory searches of cars

"This empowerment of local law enforcement to determine the substance of Fourth Amendment protections in the context of warrantless inventory searches and seizures of automobiles is rich with irony," Justice Brent R. Appel of the Iowa Supreme Court wrote recently, "as the Fourth Amendment was explicitly designed as a bulwark to restrain law enforcement in the context of searches and seizures."

The Iowa Supreme Court has determined that the Iowa Constitution provides greater protection against warrantless searches than does the federal constitution as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. A series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions had whittled away the requirement that law enforcement obtain a warrant before searching a person's property -- particularly in vehicle searches. The Iowa Supreme Court has decided not to follow the U.S. Supreme Court's reasoning.

Should courts order DNA tests' source code opened to the defense?

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of criminal defendants to fully confront the witnesses and evidence against them. That includes DNA evidence, but it can be difficult to apply that right to the forensic software used to match genetic material from crime scenes to that of a defendant. Why? The software's underlying algorithms, source code, user manuals, internal validation studies and other crucial technical details are trade secrets, often owned by private companies.

While courts have the authority to force the owners of those trade secrets to reveal them, many have been reluctant to do so because it would devalue the intellectual property. Unfortunately, that means that defense attorneys have no chance to scrutinize how particular forensic software works -- or whether the test results are even accurate.

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