Columbia, Missouri Criminal Defense Blog

DNA evidence, a double-edged sword

Most people believe they could never be convicted of a crime they did not commit. They believe that if they were falsely accused, the "system" would discover that they were not guilty and the charges would be dismissed.

This is the same system that produces hundreds of wrongful convictions every year, that is more interested in metrics and throughput of prosecutor's offices and courts, and that virtually every month produces some horror story of failure, abuse and negligence. They must be very trusting, indeed.

Drug sentences continue to be "ridiculous"

There is an ongoing debate over what is a 'proper' sentence for drug-related offenses. No one argues that major dealers trafficking substantial amounts of Schedule I drugs should not be sentenced to long jail terms. Most are willing to agree that first time offenders, found with trivial amounts of drugs such as marijuana probably should not be sentenced to jail at all.

But in between there are a large number of drug cases where much less is clear or easily agreed to, leading to federal judges admitting in court that a sentence may be "ridiculous," but they, nonetheless, are forced to impose it.

Missouri HP won't refrigerate blood samples for DUI cases

The Missouri Highway Patrol recently issued instructions to its troopers indicating blood evidence, such as a blood draw from a DUI arrest, does not need to be refrigerated. This is a puzzling announcement, as there are typically concerns that blood samples held at room temperature could lead to a compromise in quality and make the evidence worthless, or worse.

An email sent out to its troopers stated, "neither the forensic handbook nor patrol policy requires the refrigeration of a blood sample." Blood evidence is typically refrigerated to prevent sugars in the blood from fermenting and creating ethanol, a form of alcohol. Such fermentation could alter the alcohol content of the blood, and provide a false reading of a suspect's blood alcohol content (BAC).

Fingerprint id on phone offers less 5th amendment protection

Among the more powerful Constitutional protections we have is the Fifth Amendment right to refuse to incriminate ourselves. You cannot be made to testify at a criminal trial or during an investigation. If you ask for an attorney as soon as police place you in custody, you essentially never have to say another word to police or prosecutors during the criminal process.

This right also encompasses providing information that would allow police to uncover additional information. You don't have to give up passwords or assist in the decryption of personal information. So you cannot be required to provide law enforcement with a password or code because that password is something you know.

Medical marijuana in Missouri-a legal no-man's land

Medical marijuana has been a difficult issue for parents in many states. For those with children who suffer from medical conditions such as autism or seizures, there is anecdotal evidence that such children can be helped by the active ingredients in marijuana.

States like Missouri passed laws that permit the use of cannabidiol (CBD). The CBD drugs have been decriminalized by these laws because they are low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary chemical component of the "high" users experience when smoking or ingesting marijuana.

Missouri and the 'ban the box' movement

If one of the goals of the criminal justice system is to stop people convicted of a crime from doing it again, it makes sense that the system should be set up to encourage people to find jobs after paying their debt to society. But when a job application asks about your criminal record, you can bet the chances of you landing the job are slim if you have one.

This is such a common practice that it can virtually block someone with a criminal history from having a career. Civil rights groups have long campaigned to “Ban the Box,” referring to the box on job applications that applicants are supposed to check if they have ever been convicted of a crime.

The application of justice may not be just

The symbol of the court system is often the figure of Justice, depicted as an enrobed woman wearing a blindfold, holding scales in her hand. Justice is blind because she is supposed to dispense justice without regard to position or power. Said another way, if you do the crime, you'll do the time.

That is how it is supposed to be. A recent study from the Pew Charitable Trusts suggests that there is a significant variation in the types of punishment that are handed out depending on the states where you are arrested and convicted.

Is 2.5 percent a success?

Earlier this month, police in Springfield and the Missouri Highway Patrol operated a sobriety checkpoint in that city for four hours on a Friday night. Friday and Saturday evening are viewed as a prime time for drivers in the state to attempt to try their luck at drinking and driving, so law enforcement often chooses those evenings as the time to set up a sobriety checkpoint.

These checkpoints are designed to capture drivers who are intoxicated and to deter those who may be going out for the evening. This checkpoint nabbed 15 drivers on charges of driving while intoxicated (DWI) and another 13 on various other charges. If you look at it from a statistical percentage, it works out to about 2.5 percent of the approximately 600 drivers stopped.

It sounds funny, until someone is charged with a sixth DWI

A man in Fulton was arrested last month on suspicion of a DWI. Not that remarkable, since Missouri experiences almost 30,000 DWI arrests in a year, which works out to about 80 per day. This case warranted news coverage because the man arrested was driving a lawn mower.

According to the report, he was driving the lawn mower "recklessly" and when police stopped him, resisted his arrest, getting into a scuffle with the police officers. This was probably not a good idea, as it added to his charges of driving while intoxicated/chronic offender, tampering with physical evidence and assaulting a law officer. They also reported this was his sixth DWI.

On the Supreme Court, no one for the defense

Half a century has passed since the last Supreme Court justice who had experience as a defense attorney was named to the court in 1967. Justice Marshall remained on the court until 1991. He had tried numerous cases as a criminal defense attorney and had experienced the harshest aspects of last century's justice system as it played out on his clients.

The court currently has two former prosecutors and the lack of a perspective from the defense side during the last 25 years has had consequences.

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