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West Des Moines Iowa Criminal Defense Law Blog

More people released after drug field tests proven wrong

Sometimes, all it takes is an accusation. If you're accused of a serious crime, you may be assigned bail that you can't afford. If you can't afford bail, you could be stuck in jail for days or months. You could lose your job, your housing, your child custody rights. You might decide just to plead guilty and get it over with, especially if the prosecution offers you a deal.

But what if you know you're innocent? For example, what if a police officer told you that a white powder in your car was cocaine but you knew that it was laundry detergent? There could be any number of explanations, but the field tests cops use to gauge whether unknown substances are illegal can easily be wrong.

Will judges and juries be able to identify deepfake evidence?

A deepfake video uses artificial intelligence to alter an image so that it appears to be someone else, or say something else, or depict someone doing something other than what they really were. Done with care, a deepfake can show almost anything you like, and it can be virtually impossible for the naked eye to recognize the illusion.

Even when done relatively poorly using commercially available software, a deepfake can be convincing. These have been used against politicians and celebrities in order to make them appear to be saying unpopular things or simply slowed down to make the person seem unsophisticated.

Major poll says 94% of Americans want criminal justice reform

Weeks of nationwide and global demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have had their effect, according to a new AP-NORC poll. The vast majority of Americans now see the need for criminal justice reform. And, a large majority (69%) now says that the system needs either a complete overhaul or major changes.

Black people were still more likely than whites to say so, and to emphasize the need for significant changes. For example, 92% of Black respondents said the criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul or major changes, while only 65% of white respondents said so.

Boating while intoxicated is against the law in Iowa

A day on the water in your boat is a great way to enjoy some fresh air and forget about life's stresses. When you're planning your trip, be sure to think carefully about who is going to operate the boat while you're out because that individual needs to avoid alcohol during the trip.

Iowa's Water Navigation Regulations strictly forbid boating while intoxicated. This means that a person who consumes alcohol while they're operating a vessel can face criminal charges. A conviction comes with several possible sentences.

How much does it cost to collect all those court fines and fees?

Is assessing fines and fees an effective way to administrate justice? Does doing so result in less crime? Lower recidivism rates? Or does it come down unfairly on the poor? Should communities pay for part of their court administration costs with fines and fees? What does it mean when our justice system is partially a collection agency?

These are all important questions with no easy answers. The independent, nonpartisan think tank the Brennan Center for Justice, which is affiliated with New York University School of Law, has been looking at the issues. Although very little official information is available directly from courts, the center was able to perform an illuminating analysis of one aspect of the use of court fines and fees. How much does it cost jurisdictions to assess and collect those fines and fees?

Misdemeanors make up 80% of all state court dockets

In the wake of the national and international protests over police brutality, especially towards people of color, more attention is being paid to how people of color enter the criminal justice system. One of the major ways is through a low-level misdemeanor offense.

In fact, most state courts are flooded with misdemeanor cases. They account for 80% of all arrests and 80% of state criminal dockets.

Motorists should question the credibility of field sobriety tests

Motorists coming home from the bar may feel anxious if police stop them. In some cases, it doesn't matter if you're not impaired or below the legal limit; an officer may still choose to charge you with an OWI.

Many have started to question how authorities determine someone "too drunk to drive." As the use of breathalyzers have come under scrutiny in recent years, so have field sobriety tests.

Tyson Timbs' seized Land Rover is returned to him, for now

Across the country, police use civil asset forfeiture as a tool in the War on Drugs. When the police deem property or money to be associated with a drug crime, they can seize it. Then, the owner has to prove that the assets were not connected with a crime. If they can't, they lose the assets forever -- even if they are not convicted of any crime. The police agency that seized the assets gets to keep them.

Civil asset forfeiture is a major issue all across the United States. Law enforcement considers it a crucial tool used to disrupt drug trafficking and organized crime. Civil liberties groups, however, argue that it is disproportionately used on low-level offenders, not drug gangs. Moreover, allowing the police to keep the proceeds of these seizures has been called "policing for profit."

Why breathalyzer results can be challenged

If you're stopped for suspicion of drunk driving, the officer will ask you some basic identifying questions and then may proceed to conduct some field sobriety tests. There is a high chance they will have you blow into a breathalyzer to determine your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

Unfortunately, breathalyzers and other alcohol breath testing machines are small, highly unpredictable technological devices. When the machine confirms that your BAC is above the legal limit, there are several factors that prevent the results from being completely accurate.

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.

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