Columbia, Missouri Criminal Defense Blog

State will retry man whose conviction had been overturned

A man whose conviction was thrown out by the Missouri Supreme Court will be retried, according to prosecutors, who now claim they have DNA evidence to obtain a conviction for the murder and rape of two sisters in 1991.

The man was one of four arrested in connection with the rape and murder of two sisters on the Chain of Rocks Bridge. All four were convicted and three were sentenced to death, while the fourth received 30 years after cooperating with the prosecution. One of the men has been executed, one had his sentence changed to life without parole, and the third man has been released.

The problem with (potentially) lowering the BAC limit

Numerous times in recent history, the federal government has attempted to alter the one drunk driving rule that everyone seems to know: that a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or greater means a DUI is in your future. Every time the attempt to change this rule comes up, it is invariably an effort to move the blood alcohol content (BAC) limit lower. And the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently said that one of their wishes for 2016 is a reduced BAC limit.

The NTSB wants to drop it to 0.05, or even lower. While on paper that may sound like a noble idea worth pursuing, think about who this law targets.

You mean they are held to a lower standard than a bus driver.

Law enforcement is given great authority. They can take away a person's liberty with the power of arrest and they are authorized to violate numerous traffic and safety laws in the pursuance of their job. They are even authorized to shoot to kill in some circumstances. With that great authority comes great responsibility and accountability.

In many occupations that carry great responsibility for public safety, drug and alcohol testing after an "incident," is the norm. When a bus driver in St. Louis has a fender bender, if there is a train crash at a grade crossing, or if a pilot cuts a corner on a taxiway too tight and drops a wheel off the pavement, they are subject to such a test.

Missouri should proofread their regulations more closely

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled last week that the word "and" is important. It appears that the regulations governing the calibration of breathalyzers in the state had an inadvertent, but significant, mistake. The regulations that were in place from December of 2012 until January 2014 stated that breathalyzers had to be calibrated at vapor concentrations of 1.10, 0.08 and 0.04 percent.

This regulation had been intended to list the concentrations as "or" not "and," meaning it only had to be calibrated at a single value, and that is what had been customary. However, agencies are not permitted such sloppy proofreading, and the Supreme Court ruled that any breathalyzer reading from a machine not calibrated to all three values during that period were invalid and not admissible.

Can "focused-deterrence" prevent crime in Columbia?

The police department in Columbia is working on implementing a type of program that focuses police resources on individuals who are involved in criminal activities, such as gangs or other types of violence.

The program is sometimes referred to as predictive or proactive policing. In Kansas City, a program has focused on gangs in an effort to reduce the number of homicides. The police meet with many of these individuals on a monthly basis, reminding them that they are being watched and offering social services that may help them escape the cycle of violence and crime.

Drunk driving cases are not always what they seem (cont.)

Last time, we discussed what appeared to be an obvious drunk driving crash. The crash was horrific. One man dead. The other driver unconscious, but seemingly intoxicated. But was she? Or had she been slipped a date rape drug, attacked and raped and then as she escapes from her attacker, she crashes her car?

That is the argument the defense will make if she is retried by a Missouri court. She was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. That verdict has been overturned by a court of appeals decision, which found the jury instructions were improper and limited the jury's consideration circumstantial evidence.

Drunk driving cases are not always what they seem

Circumstances can often mask a situation, even for trained investigators. A terrible crash on Interstate 70, a head-on collision between two vehicles. One driver killed, the other, a woman, left in a very strange condition. She was unconscious, but paramedics claimed she smelled of alcohol. And she was not wearing any pants.

She suffered a traumatic brain injury due to the collision and can only recall going out with coworkers for a few drinks that night. She remembered nothing of the rest of the evening, of two minor collisions that occurred prior to the fatal crash.

Justice Department will require crime lab accreditation by 2020

The Justice Department has announced that it will eventually require the crime labs that it contracts with to be accredited. While this is encouraging, a review of the way in which crime labs are accredited and the quality of forensic evidence that is used by courts suggests we have a long way to go before many of the problems in this area are solved.

Accreditation is potentially an improvement, but the standards today that apply to most crime lab accreditation are problematic. These accreditation standards are set by organizations that are linked to professional forensics associations. While the standards on paper are probably better than nothing, they are often not very rigorous. In addition, the enforcement of the standards that exist is often weak or entirely lacking.

U.S. Supreme Court to hear DUI refusal cases

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision from 2013 in Missouri v. McNeely appears to stand for the proposition that if the police have the ability to obtain a search warrant for a blood test after a driver has been stopped on suspicion of drunk driving, they must obtain that warrant.

Is it a real crime or merely fantasy?

Most crimes have specific elements that a prosecutor must prove in order to convict someone accused of that crime. These elements can range from simple to complex. The first-degree assault in Missouri described as, "A person commits the offense of assault in the first degree if he or she attempts to kill or knowingly causes or attempts to cause serious physical injury to another person."

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