Columbia, Missouri Criminal Defense Blog

Silence is golden

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of what is perhaps one of the two or three most famous Supreme Court cases. On June 13, 1966, the Court handed down the decision in Miranda v. Arizona. That case altered police procedure and the portrayal of police in movies and television, and placed in the American vernacular the memorable phrase that begins with, "You have the right to remain silent…."

That phrase, which is now required to be read to criminal suspects who have been subjected to a custodial arrest, seems at once unremarkable. The Fifth Amendment, which provides that right, has been part of the U.S. Constitution since the Bill of Rights was added to the document on December 15, 1791.

Perception and reality

Interesting news that the number of traffic citations issued by the Columbia Police department has declined sharply. The numbers are really amazing. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune, "Traffic tickets and summonses police doled out in 2015 decreased by 72.8 percent from 2010’s 10-year high of 13,337."

An almost 73 percent decrease in traffic tickets. What is most surprising, is it is unlikely that anyone driving around or through Columbia would have recognized this massive decrease. The number of crashes, drunken drivers and other traffic problems certainly has not increased by a similar amount.

This time, it really is a technicality

In the criminal justice system, when a charge is dropped or dismissed because of mistakes by the police or prosecution, some people complain that a guilty individual went free because of a technicality. Of course, if they are not convicted, the are not guilty. And in too many cases, that "technicality" is often one of the bedrock principles of American jurisprudence.

When law enforcement illegally searches a person or residence without a warrant, the items discovered during that search may be suppressed and not allowed as evidence due to the illegality of the search which violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

Stopped by the police? The less you say the better

One of the difficulties for most people when interacting with the police is that of knowledge. If you were pulled over by the Missouri Highway Patrol during the Memorial Day weekend on suspicion of a DUI, that trooper is very likely far more experienced at their side of the interaction.

If they have been in the patrol for years, they may have participated in hundreds of traffic stops. They should understand the limits the Constitution places on their activities. They are also likely to have been schooled in how to get around those limits. You may only have a vague sense of what goes on during such an encounter and you may be stressed and fearful.

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.

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