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West Des Moines Iowa Criminal Defense Law Blog

Child endangerment charges often triggered by other allegations

Iowa Code §726.6 provides nine specific definitions of child endangerment. Overall, however, child endangerment could be described as: 1) knowingly exposing a minor to substantial risk of physical, mental or emotional harm; 2) intentionally causing such harm; 3) depriving a child of the basic necessities of life; 4) abandonment; or 5) failing to provide adequate supervision in specified circumstances.

Child endangerment can be charged on its own, but the charges are often the result of other criminal allegations. Prosecutors often argue that exposing children to certain criminal activities qualifies as knowingly exposing them to substantial risk of harm. Here are some examples from around the country that could easily result in child endangerment charges in Iowa:

High visibility OWI enforcement expected beginning this week

The holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving and continuing through the rest of the year, is among the busiest times for drunk driving. So many celebrations offer alcohol, and many people end up over the limit without even realizing it. For that reason, many law enforcement agencies engage in what's called "high visibility enforcement," or HVE, at this time of year.

HVE combines increased enforcement activities with visibility and publicity elements in an effort to deter drunk driving during the HVE period. It's a departure from more traditional law enforcement efforts because the enforcement efforts are designed to be obvious to the public.

Is it time to end the war on marijuana?

Marijuana arrests make up over half of all drug arrests in the U.S., and approximately 88 percent of marijuana arrests are for possession. Enforcing our state and federal marijuana laws costs the U.S. about $3.6 billion every year, yet doing so has had virtually no measurable impact on the availability of marijuana. It also ensnares hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system.

Worse, our marijuana laws are enforced in ways that are demonstrably racist. Research has shown that African-Americans and whites use weed at roughly the same rate, but blacks are an estimated 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana.

US Supreme Court to consider racial bias in jury selection

When prosecutors and defense attorneys choose jurors from a pool, they are allowed to reject some jurors, either for good cause or in what is called a "preemptory challenge." Jurors can be removed for cause, for example, when they are unqualified to serve, have a conflict of interest, or admit that they cannot put aside their biases. Each side gets a limited number of preemptory challenges that can be used to strike jurors without a specific cause.

In the 1986 landmark case Batson v. Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors may not use preemptory challenges to dismiss jurors based solely on their race. Doing so violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. While defendants have no constitutional right to a jury containing members of their own race, the court found that equal protection is denied when prosecutors intentionally exclude members of the defendant's race from a jury. When a defendant alleges that a prosecutor has done so, it is called a "Batson challenge."

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.

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