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June 2016 Archives

Supreme Court Makes it Easier to Admit Evidence From Illegal Stops

One of the hallmarks of the American criminal justice system is the development of what is called the Exclusionary Rule: the legal principle that says that evidence obtained by the police through unconstitutional actions should not be admitted at trial against a criminal defendant. This rule helps protect our liberties as Americans by not rewarding the government for the actions it takes in violation of our constitutional rights. In recent years, however, the courts have been chipping away at the protections of the Exclusionary Rule, and this past week the US Supreme Court went another step in this direction by ruling that evidence may be admissible against a defendant if the police illegally stop a person but later find an outstanding warrant against the person. With such erosion of our constitutional protections, it is all the more important that defendants obtain experienced and tough criminal defense representation to protect their rights at trial.

The Facts of Utah v. Strieff

The Supreme Court's decision in Utah v. Strieff was based on a 2006 arrest and search of a man in South Salt Lake City, Utah during which a police officer found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. The police officer initially had no reasonable suspicion to stop the man, and thus stopping him was a violation of the man's constitutional rights under the 4th Amendment protection against illegal searches and seizures. After the police officer stopped the man and asked him to produce identification, the officer ran his information and found that there was an outstanding warrant for the man's arrest. The officer then conducted what is called a "search incident to a lawful arrest" of the man and found the contraband. The Supreme Court ruled in Strieff that, even though the initial stop of the man was illegal, the contraband that was found in the search following the illegal stop could be admitted against the man in court.

The Erosion of the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine

Again, the Exclusionary Rule is a long-held principle of American law preventing prosecutors from using evidence obtained by police through unconstitutional means. Along with the Exclusionary Rule, the doctrine of "the fruit of the poisonous tree" says that any evidence obtained indirectly as a result of an illegal search or seizure cannot be admitted either. For example, if the police raided your house without a warrant and found a map leading to a storage room full of contraband, they could not the contraband from the storage room admitted at trial.

Oklahoma Cops Can Seize Assets off Prepaid Cards Without Filing Charges

If you have not heard of the concept of "civil asset forfeiture," you can consider yourself lucky that you haven't had to suffer the ill effects of this highly questionable law enforcement practice. Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to take property from criminal suspects without filing criminal charges first, and while it is intended to be a device to fight organized crime and drug trafficking, Oklahoma law enforcement has used it to target the private property of many innocent civilians and used it to generate revenue. Now, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol has more power than ever to take the property of citizens without filing criminal charges through the introduction of Electronic Recovery and Access to Data (ERAD) scanners which can scan suspects' prepaid cards and remove value from the cards on the spot.

How the ERAD Cards Work

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has purchased at least 16 scanners for use in taking funds from citizens they deem to be criminal suspects. The scanners can read prepaid debit cards (such as phone cards, gift cards, government benefit cards, or American Express prepaid cards), read the account balances, and then transfer any or all funds to the government, with the makers of the card receiving a 7.7% of all the funds taken from citizens.

Federal Crimes and Sentencing: What You Should Know

The topic of "mandatory minimums" - or mandatory minimum criminal sentences - has gotten a lot of attention in the news lately. President Obama even made history in Oklahoma last year by becoming the first sitting president to visit a prison when he came to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno to talk about his goal of reducing the impact of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes. The focus on mandatory minimums highlights one of the lesser-discussed but most important issues in federal criminal law: sentencing.

What are Mandatory Minimums?

Mandatory minimums can refer to any criminal law or rule that imposes a mandatory minimum prison sentence for a given crime. For example, a state might have a law saying that the crime of rape is punishable by no less than 5 years in prison, and so a judge might not be permitted to impose less than a 5-year sentence on a defendant who is found guilty of the crime.

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