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West Des Moines Iowa Criminal Defense Law Blog

How drug courts can offer hope

If you are charged with a drug crime, drug court may offer a way for you to regain freedom and control over your life while receiving substance abuse treatment. Drug court also keeps those charged from being incarcerated.

Not all drug offenders are eligible for drug court, however. The court serves mainly those whose criminal charges stemmed from substance abuse problems, usually involving methamphetamine. In other words, you are more likely to benefit from drug court if you are using drugs rather than selling them.

What degree of evidence is required for the terrorism watch list?

The question of what standard should be used when placing someone on terrorism watch list is currently before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. While Iowa is in the Eighth Circuit, the ruling could be significant nationwide because much of the evidence against watch-listed people is submitted by state and local law enforcement.

Five men have sued the federal government, claiming that they have suffered adverse consequences from being on the National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI) watch list -- a list that none of them did anything to be placed on. They contend that they were placed on the list for innocent things such as buying a computer at Best Buy, taking photos in public or being a member of the Muslim faith.

Iowa Supreme Court: DOT officers can't write traffic tickets

Imagine you're headed down the highway and are signaled to pull over by an official state vehicle. It's the Iowa Department of Transportation, and they say they spotted a traffic violation you committed a couple of miles back. They issue you a $150 ticket.

That scenario actually happened to over 22,000 drivers between 2014 and 2016. With an average ticket of about $150, IDOT helped the state take in over $3.3 million in fines. There's only one problem: IDOT is not authorized to issue traffic tickets to ordinary drivers. The agency's policing powers are limited to the regulation of commercial vehicles.

Des Moines police make arrest based on new ballistics machine

Recently, the Des Moines police became the first Iowa police department to install an in-house machine that can analyze shell casings and access a federal ballistic imaging network to identify potential matches with firearms. Now, that system has been used to match a particular handgun to shell casings found at a robbery scene. As a result, an 18-year-old Ankeny man is facing criminal charges.

Police say that without the new machine it would probably have taken between 10 and 12 months to obtain results from the state crime lab. The fast turnaround is impressive, but it doesn't change the fact that ballistics evidence has been under fire recently.

Keeping Halloween fun and free of criminal charges

For children and parents who go out trick-or-treating or to haunted houses during Halloween, the season is an occasion for fun and creativity. But for older children and teens, Halloween can also lend itself to a degree of mischief that can sometimes border on criminal. It's important to know where the line is between a bit of fun and a potential arrest, so you and your family can keep the holiday lighthearted, and potentially avoid a trip to the local jail.

Can you get arrested for OWI just for sitting in a parked car?

Suppose you've been drinking and had been planning to drive. Realizing you're too intoxicated to do so safely, you decide to avoid driving and sleep it off in your car. To keep warm, you start the engine, but you don't have any plans to drive. While you're asleep, the police notice you. Can they arrest you for OWI just for being in the car while intoxicated?

Unfortunately, it depends. While it's completely understandable to try to sleep off the effects of alcohol in your car, the reality is that people have been arrested for drunk driving in a situation like this one. The issue is that you may be considered to be in control of the vehicle -- and that is an element of OWI.

What are the penalties for OWI in Iowa?

In Iowa, drunk driving is considered "operating while intoxicated," or OWI. It is defined as operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, a drug, or a combination of substances. A blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 is considered "per se" OWI, as is having "any amount" of a controlled substance in one's system.

Drivers in Iowa should also be aware of the state's implied consent law. That law assumes that, by using Iowa's roads, you have consented to a breath, urine or blood alcohol test whenever a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe you are intoxicated. Refusing to take the test results in your license being revoked for a year or two years if you have refused or been convicted of an OWI within the lats 12 years.

When is threatening speech protected by the First Amendment?

The First Amendment protects us from being prosecuted or persecuted by the government for what we say -- our opinions, our arguments and our rants. That said, not all speech is protected by the First Amendment. Fraud, plagiarism, defamation, perjury and solicitation to commit crimes are all examples of speech that is not protected. Also, incitement to imminent lawless action and true threats fall outside the First Amendment's protection.

Yet sometimes, threatening language is used hyperbolically or merely for the sake of argument. 

Even with more legalization, marijuana arrests were up last year

Someone was arrested for a marijuana offense every 48 seconds in 2017, according to new data from the FBI. Arrests for marijuana offenses rose across the U.S. last year even as more states legalized the drug. Moreover, the increase was driven by arrests for mere possession.

According to data from the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, 659,700 people were arrested for marijuana crimes in 2017, which was up from 653,249 in 2016. Of those 2017 marijuana arrests, 599,282 were for possession, compared with 587,516 in 2016. Arrests for sales and manufacturing of the drug actually dropped.

Iowa Supreme Court to decide legality of pretextual traffic stops

When an African-American woman from Waterloo named Scottize Brown was pulled over in 2015, it had little to do with her behavior. The officer who pulled her over had run the license plate on the vehicle she was driving and learned that the owner had alleged gang affiliations.

That wasn't enough to legally justify stopping Brown, however, so the officer did the next best thing. He pulled her over for suspicion of driving through a yellow light. He also noticed, perhaps after he had stopped her, that the vehicle had a burned-out light on its license plate.

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