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Grand Rapids Criminal Defense Law Blog

Should you always trust evidence from the crime lab?

If you are charged with a crime and are required to submit to testing so that authorities can collect relevant evidence against you, chances are that it is a crime lab that will analyze the samples you provide. The same could be said for investigations geared towards finding suspects for crimes.

What has become ubiquitous because of the “CSI” television franchise, analyses from state run crime labs have become the gold standard when it comes to proving crimes that were once thought to be unsolvable. However, findings of misconduct in crime labs in a number of states has weakened the credibility of once infallible forensic evidence. 

Things to consider before answering questions for the police

If you have ever been asked by the police to answer questions in the investigation of a crime, you may think that talking to investigators will be okay. After all, the police will make it seem like having a conversation is nothing to worry about, especially if they say that you are not under investigation, and that it should not be a long conversation.

Keep in mind that this is what the police want you to think. After all, who would voluntarily speak with law enforcement investigators if there was something to lose? Whatever utopian view you are being sold, a “few questions” can easily morph into a full blown interview, where the questions are posed specifically to illicit information that form the legal basis to justify a search warrant or even an arrest. Because of this, it is critical that no interviews, no matter how short or benign they can be, should take place without a lawyer present.

Why police officers need warrants to search cell phones

Because cell phones, laptops and tablets are ubiquitous within our society, many criminal investigations involve the seizure and search of electronic devices. In some cases, the right to canvass private devices for information is obvious, but in others, law enforcement may overstep their bounds. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court court ruled unanimously in Riley v. California that law enforcement officers must obtain a search warrant before combing through a suspect’s cell phone for information to link him (or her) to a crime.

Are former sex offenders still being driven away?

It is well known that under Michigan law, registered sex offenders are barred from living near school safety zones. The notion behind the state’s law is to prevent sex offenders from living in close proximity to children, and to limit the exposure of children to suspected pedophiles since they tend to like playgrounds and other areas where kids play.

Indeed, the difficulties that former sex offenders experience in finding suitable housing because of limitations about where they can live have largely been ignored, especially by legislators because they appear to see the issue as a radioactive topic. After all, why would public figures stand up for such a politically unsavory group? 

A decision about field sobriety tests

As we near the Independence Day holiday weekend, we feel it prudent to revisit the question of whether drivers stopped on suspicion of drunk driving should take field sobriety tests.

So many people submit to the tests thinking that they are okay to drive, and they probably are. However, the police are not necessarily looking to judge your cognitive functions. Instead, they are looking for objective evidence to justify a portable breathalyzer test (PBT), which could lead to a drunk driving arrest. 

Mistrial determined in Cosby sex assault case

The latest high-profile sex crime case that captured national attention has now ended. The criminal case involving longtime comedian Bill Cosby has ended in a mistrial. The ruling leaves him without an acquittal and potentially sets the stage for prosecutors to try the case once again.

According to a CNN.com report, a Pennsylvania judge determined that the jury was hopelessly deadlocked on whether Cosby was guilty of aggravated indecent assault stemming from an alleged encounter with a University of Pennsylvania employee in 2004. Cosby is known as one of America’s most recognized entertainers, with a great deal of his fame coming in the 1970’s and 1980’s with a number of film and television credits to his name, including the iconic “The Cosby Show.”

Should police departments control access to body cam videos?

Over the past few years, more police departments have embraced the use of body cameras which create video footage of encounters with the public. The interest in these devices is ostensibly based on the public’s desire to have more accountability with policing. However, the growing trend is that such footage is only being used to protect police officers from liability.

A number of media reports have chronicled the difficulties with obtaining such footage when an officer could be held liable for wrongdoing (commonly excessive force claims). A recent npr.com report highlighted the roadblocks an attorney defending a criminal charge encountered when requesting body cam video. At the same time, footage is readily available to prove when officers are performing heroic acts or members of the public are obviously belligerent or committing crimes. 

What Sessions' recent memo means for federal criminal defendants

After nearly five years of criminal justice reform regarding drug crime prosecutions and sentencing, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to be rolling back such efforts. According to a recent Atlantic.com report, Sessions has instructed federal prosecutors across the nation to “seek the strongest possible charges and sentences against defendants they target.”

Before Sessions’ memo, these sentences were reserved for the most serious, high-level offenses, where violence was involved. They also provided some semblance of justice for low-level offenders who were less likely to re-offend, and addressed the nation’s jail overcrowding epidemic. 

If Authorities Are Speaking With You, Speak With A Lawyer

With news stories breaking weekly, if not daily, about the investigations into connections between the Trump administration and Russians before and after the election, the news-monitoring public is being introduced to a handful of terms that are frequently used in criminal investigations and in the reporting of those investigations.

One that has cropped up a lot lately is “person of interest.” In truth, the term is used by media more often than law enforcement authorities. In fact, a review of the U.S. Attorney’s Manual, a guidebook used by federal criminal prosecutors, shows the phrase “person of interest” does not exist.

How an evaluation can help your case

In some sex crime cases, harsh sentences can be avoided by proving that the accused is not a specific and continual threat to be a repeat offender.  Indeed, most defendants would say this to avoid jail time. However, showing this in a court of law may be a completely different exercise.

With that, criminal defense attorneys must present facts and arguments indicating that the accused will not be a future threat (if they are in fact guilty of the crime accused). A psychosexual evaluation is an important part of this process. 

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