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West Des Moines Iowa Criminal Defense Law Blog

States consider the problem of implicit race bias in jury selection

For a jury to be of "your peers," shouldn't it more or less reflect the ethic makeup of the community you live in?

The U.S. Supreme Court case of Swain v. Alabama held that prosecutors cannot intentionally exclude African-Americans from juries without violating the Equal Protection Clause. In Batson v. Kentucky, it went further and said that prosecutors could not use preemptory strikes (a thumbs down to a juror without cause) in order to intentionally exclude African-American jurors.

Since Batson, it has become common for the defense to challenge the prosecution's use of preemptory strikes if they appear to be made on the basis of race. However, these "Batson challenges" are not always successful. Many African-American defendants are still convicted by all-white juries here in Iowa and in other states.

Study: Many courts allow unscientific psychology tests as evidence

Recently, a report appeared in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest that indicated large variability in what psychological tests are being allowed in American courts. These tests are used in both civil and criminal cases and can have enormous impact. In a criminal case, a psychological test could influence everything from whether the defendant gets bail to their ultimate sentence.

The scientists pored over 876 U.S. court cases that contained psychological evidence and took place between 2016 and 2018. Hundreds of different tests and techniques were entered into the records of these cases -- but not all are considered standard in the field.

In Iowa, African Americans are 7.3 times more likely to be arrested for weed

In its report "A Tale of two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform," the ACLU points out that marijuana arrests continue to clog the criminal justice system even though there is broad support for legalization. And, 9 out of 10 marijuana arrests continue to be for simple possession.

Although possession may be treated as a misdemeanor, depending on how much weed was involved, the impact of a marijuana arrest can still be devastating. A conviction can carry life-altering collateral consequences. For example, parents convicted of marijuana possession may lose their kids, according to the ACLU. Immigrants, even lawful permanent residents, can be deported for marijuana offenses. You can lose your public benefits and healthcare, be evicted and barred from public housing, and find it nearly impossible to find a job.

Supreme Court guarantees unanimous jury in serious criminal cases

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution doesn't specifically grant criminal defendants the right to a unanimous jury, but the protection is so fundamental to justice that it is assumed. This is according to a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court led by Justice Neil Gorsuch.

You may be surprised to learn that jury unanimity was still a question in the year 2020, but two states have traditionally allowed criminal convictions based on a majority of jurors. Those states are Louisiana and Oregon and, in both states, there is substantial evidence that allowing non-unanimous juries was done to promote an anti-minority agenda.

Intoxalock Asks an Attorney: The OWI/DUI process during COVID-19

With the outbreak of coronavirus, formally COVID-19, standard procedures relating to the process following a drunk driving charge have been modified in many states.

Persons with a pending OWI or DUI may have questions about how they need to proceed. Intoxalock spoke with attorney Molly Spellman of Spellman Law P.C. in West Des Moines, Iowa, to learn about her insights and advice for the OWI/DUI process during COVID-19.

Supreme Court: It's reasonable to assume a driver is car's owner

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits "unreasonable" searches and seizures by the government, including police officers. A search or seizure can be anything from a momentary stop to a full search and arrest. Over the years, courts have worked hard to determine what should be considered "reasonable."

This is because, when the government is found to have committed an unreasonable search or seizure, any evidence they find was obtained illegally. Since the government should not be allowed to benefit from illegal activities, that evidence is then suppressed and cannot be used against the defendant.

If you violate a site's terms of service, are you a criminal?

The federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) could be considered a harsh law by any standards. For the offense of "accessing a computer and obtaining information," you could be sentenced to up to 5 years in federal prison on a first offense.

Could you be sentenced to that for activity that merely violates a website's terms of service? Does merely violating a website's terms of service violate the CFAA?

Supreme Court: States may determine their own insanity defenses

Traditionally, the insanity defense has been available in two situations:

  • Due to a mental illness or defect, the defendant could not keep his actions within the dictates of the law.
  • Due to a mental illness or defect, the defendant could not appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions.

Can the police test shed skin cells for DNA evidence?

Human beings leave behind DNA wherever we go. We shed skin. We sneeze out DNA-containing droplets. We shed hairs. We can't avoid it.

Now, DNA testing has reached the point where the police could start testing this unavoidably-shed DNA and using it in criminal cases. With ancestry DNA, we don't even have to be the person the police are interested in; any reasonably close relative will do. Some DNA testing allows the identification of a person based on a close relative's DNA sequence.

Increased OWI enforcement for St. Patrick's Day begins now

You may need more than the luck of the Irish to get home safely on St. Patrick's Day. It's one of the biggest nights of the year for drinking, and that means there will be a lot of impaired drivers on the roadways Tuesday -- and also this weekend.

That's why there will be increased OWI enforcement this throughout the state this weekend. That likely means increased staffing, saturation patrols and OWI checkpoints in many areas.

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