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Seattle Criminal Law Blog

New Supreme Court ruling expands privacy rights

A recent Supreme Court decision may have far-reaching implications on criminal cases in Washington. According to some legal experts, the court's ruling greatly expanded the privacy protections of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision on June 22 related to a case in which a defendant challenged his conviction on the basis that the police had relied on his cell phone location records without a warrant. Wireless carriers gather cell phone location data for business reasons. With the advances in cell phone technology, this data includes information about the precise locations of each phone, meaning that law enforcement officers are able to see every place that a phone owner goes.

Washington's underage DUI laws

Seattle drivers under the age of 21 may not be aware that they can be charged with drunk driving even if they have a blood alcohol content level below the standard legal limit. This is because Washington, like all other states, has a zero tolerance law in place for underage drinkers.

The legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit in Washington for drivers over the age of 21 is .08. However, drivers under 21 can be charged with minor DUI if they have a BAC of just .02. The purpose of this law is to combat drunk driving crashes associated with underage drinking. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, almost one-third of all deaths of Americans between the ages of 15 and 20 are caused by car accidents. Of those deaths, approximately 35 percent involve alcohol. Furthermore, the alcohol involvement rate for drivers under the age of 21 is around twice that of drivers over legal drinking age.

Mayors in marijuana-friendly states seek legality federally

Many people understand that marijuana has benefits to people's health and is no more harmful than alcohol when it comes to intoxication. Some even believe that it's less dangerous and only illegal because of the government's aim to help out major pharmaceutical companies. The reality, at this point, is that federal law still prohibits the possession or use of marijuana, even though several states allow its use for medical purposes or for recreational purposes.

What's interesting now is that there is a possibility for people to be arrested for marijuana possession or use even within a state where it's legal. If they travel on federal highways and are pulled over, for instance, they could face federal charges depending on the situation. It's odd troubles in the system like this that made the mayors of Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, West Sacramento, Portland and Las Vegas take a stand. They are all mayors in marijuana-friendly states and have sponsored a resolution that asks the United States government to take marijuana off the list of federally illegal drugs.

Teen pinned under car in DUI accident

Two teenagers were involved in a car accident that left one of them pinned under a car and the other charged with DUI. The accident happened on June 24 near Seattle, on Mercer Island. The girl who was pinned reportedly suffered only minor injuries.

According to police, two 16-year-olds were in a car in a driveway when the driver began to back the car out. The car started to go over an embankment, prompting the girl who was a passenger to get out of the car to check to see how far off the road it had gone. While she was outside of the vehicle, it began to slide, and she was pinned underneath it.

Cryptocurrencies add to existing money laundering tactics

Money laundering occurs when criminals in Washington and around the country engage in activities meant to make money made from illegal actions appear to be coming from legitimate sources. The rise of digital forms of money not issued by governments has created new opportunities for money launderers. Internet tools like virtual currencies, anonymizing software that hides the tracks of digital transactions and peer-to-peer mobile phone transfers have given people new methods for shifting illegally gotten cash into accounts that appear legal.

Cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, present nearly anonymous pathways to move money. Criminal operations that distribute drugs and blackmail people have been using cryptocurrency in increasing numbers. Law enforcement and the laws against money laundering are caught in a game of catch-up as officials try to update investigation methods to monitor modern financial transactions. Online auctions, gambling websites and online games that use virtual game money provide nontraditional places for criminals to cleanse dirty money and move it into usable bank accounts.

How mistaken identity causes many wrongful convictions

In the past two decades, more than 2,000 men and women, including some individuals in high-profile cases, have been exonerated by DNA evidence. As researchers, journalists, lawyers and civil rights groups have examined the circumstances of these wrongful convictions, mistaken identify has proven to be one of the most prevalent causes of guilty verdicts against innocent people. Activist are pushing for stricter standards when it comes to eyewitness testimony due to this discovery.

One example of a wrongful conviction coming from mistaken identity involved a San Diego resident who was found guilty of a sex crime based on the testimony of a supposed eye witness. The witness in the case identified the defendant in a lineup with 70 percent confidence. During trial, the witness said she was 100 percent confident. Another witness identified the defendant as well, but research has shown that because the defendant was a different race from the witness, mistaken identity was more likely.

Comedian avoids jail in sentencing for drug charges

When placed under arrest for drug offenses in Washington, it is useful to understand what potential defense options are available. Charges associated with possession of drugs or related paraphernalia can be worrisome and lead to substantial consequences. However, as is the case with comedian Artie Lange, stories in the news about prominent people facing drug charges can provide a guideline of what might be possible in a plea bargain and sentencing.

Lange, a radio host and actor as well as a comedian, will be on probation for four years and perform 50 hours of community service as part of his recent sentence for possession of heroin in New Jersey. He will also be treated on an outpatient basis. His May 2017 arrest stemmed from a traffic stop after he was driving his vehicle in an erratic manner.

Cars on private property are protected from unwarranted searches

When law enforcement officers want to inspect a vehicle on private property in Washington, they will need to get a search warrant. The Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed this protection in a recent 8-1 ruling with only Justice Samuel Alito dissenting.

In this case, the Supreme Court overruled three previous lower court decisions. The issue arose from a police officer who suspected that a stolen motorcycle was located at the end of a private driveway. The officer entered the property and then arrested the man who lived there when he arrived home.

Teen trouble: Don't laugh off juvenile offenses

As a parent of a teen, there's not a day that goes by where you don't wonder what will happen next. You've raised your teen to be intelligent and to think through his or her actions, but your teenager is still a child who makes mistakes and has some growing to do.

The problem with teens is that they could be held accountable for more mistakes as they age. What might have been dealt with by informing you in the past now could result in the police getting called. For example, a 4-year-old stealing something from a store is likely to result in a few laughs from a store owner, a lecture and apology from your child, but a teen who steals could face heavy fines and other penalties for the same act.

Study finds 6 percent of prisoners were wrongfully convicted

When a person is exonerated for wrongful conviction based on new DNA evidence, Washington residents may hear about it, especially when the person was originally found guilty of serious crimes like murder or rape. About 3 to 5 percent of these types of cases are affected by DNA evidence. However, the estimates for exonerations of other crimes, ranging from aggravated assault to drug possession or theft, are not widely known.

Determining an estimation on the number of wrongful convictions can be difficult. One method would be to ask the judges, prosecutors and other workers involved in the criminal justice system for their opinions. However, these responses can be difficult to generalize for the purposes of a study. The second method is to directly ask those who were convicted of a crime as they know their actual involvement in the crime they were convicted of.

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