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Leesburg Criminal Law Blog

Technology may give police greater surveillance powers

When people in Virginia buy technologically advanced doorbells, they may not realize that they are also signing up for an agreement with the police. Ring is one company, recently purchased by Amazon, that produces doorbells with a video feed. Homeowners can see who is at the door by checking the connected app on their mobile phones. However, police have a special portal into Ring. They can request video from community residents who are using the app. This may not seem too troubling as it relies on voluntary interactions. However, if the owners don't turn over the footage, police can go to the company directly without seeking a warrant or showing probable cause.

Built into the agreement when people sign up for Ring is permission for the police to access their data. Police agencies argue that consumers are aware of the surveillance potential of the systems and that "good upstanding" people have nothing to fear. Amazon is asking police agencies to join community boards in order to encourage people to freely provide their data to the police. However, civil liberties organizations warn that many people do not really read the full user agreements that accompany apps. They might think the data is their own and not subject to police review.

Wrongful convictions often result from poor police practices

For many people in Virginia, the prospect of a wrongful conviction is very frightening, even if the possibilities seem remote. DNA evidence has confirmed that a number of people convicted of serious crimes like murder and rape actually spent decades behind bars for crimes that they did not commit. In many cases, wrongful conviction cases do not indicate mere mistakes or tragedies that take years of people's lives away. Instead, misconduct or abuse by police and prosecutors are often a major part of these cases. Witnesses may be coerced or badgered into providing inaccurate testimony and evidence may even be planted in some cases.

A study examining cases of wrongful conviction found that the problem goes deeper than individual corruption or misconduct, however. Even police and prosecutors who believed themselves to be acting ethically and honestly have been involved in these cases. Confirmation bias can lead law enforcement to focus on a particular suspect even when the evidence isn't clear. In addition, there can be heavy pressure to quickly identify, arrest, try, and convict a suspect. This can lead to rushed, flawed investigations and the resulting miscarriages of justice seen in wrongful conviction cases.

Eyewitness identifications can be flawed

Many criminal convictions and charges are heavily based on eyewitness testimony, even though it is known to be often inaccurate or unreliable. While people may be heavily affected by their experience of a crime, memory can be tricky, especially when people feel pressure to provide important information. In many cases, witnesses of a Virginia crime are asked to view a set of photos or a live lineup of people in order to see if they can identify the perpetrator. This photo lineup may take place some time after the initial incident.

In most cases, there is more evidence presented in a criminal case than a simple selection from a lineup. However, a witness identification can also spark police to build a case around a suspect that may be innocent of the crime. In other cases, witnesses select people chosen as "fillers" who are known to be innocent or say that a guilty suspect was not there. Some of these wrongful identifications have led to improper convictions that have put people behind bars for years.

Virginia man sentenced to 14 years in prison for drug dealing

On July 9, a 43-year-old Leesburg man was sentenced to 14 years in a Virginia prison after being convicted of multiple drug crimes. Following his release, he will also serve five years of supervised probation and five years of unsupervised probation. An additional 12 years of his sentence were suspended.

According to media reports, the defendant was arrested by the Virginia State Police in January 2018 after he sold 1.72 grams of cocaine to a police informant. In March 2018, he was charged with forgery and obtaining money by false pretense after using a fake $100 bill to buy a Bluetooth speaker at an area office supply retailer. When he was taken into custody on outstanding warrants a few weeks later, officers found more counterfeit money in his pocket. After he was transported to Loudon County Adult Detention Center, officers also found cocaine in his pocket.

Appeals court says long-standing law is unconstitutional

A Virginia habitual drunkard law was declared unconstitutional by the en banc Firth Circuit. It was heard by all 15 members of the court after a panel of three judges ruled in January that a suit filed by four homeless men should be dismissed. The law allows authorities to bring individuals before a judge and eventually send them to jail for an inability to handle alcohol.

The law has been on the books since the 1930s, but an attorney for the plaintiffs says that it is now used to rid homeless people from parks. The court wrote in its majority opinion that the state should not criminalize those who are experiencing mental or physical problems. Instead, it suggested that the state create ways to help those who need it. Furthermore, the law was said to be vague and that it could be enforced in an arbitrary manner.

The criminal justice system disadvantages the poor

For any system of legal justice to work satisfactorily and endure for the long run, it must be fair and unbiased, and perhaps most importantly, it must inspire the faith and confidence of the people to whom it applies. This is especially true of the criminal justice system. Yet, as many Virginia residents who have run afoul of the law for any reason have discovered, there is an inherent imbalance that glaringly impacts one group of citizens. The poor, simply by the reality of their economic situation, are severely disadvantaged if they are accused of a crime.

As legal experts emphasize, the trouble for the poor begins when they stand as accused and not convicted of any crime. Bail has been required as a condition of release pending adjudication for many criminal cases since the formation of our Constitution. It is designed to ensure the individual does indeed show up for his or her day in court, but it is not to be excessive or punitive. However, depending on the economic plight of the accused, even a low bail amount may prove excessive, which can keep the person incarcerated until trial.

DEA operation at Virginia Walmart leads to 3 arrests

A 49-year-old Virginia man, a 42-year-old New York man, and a 28-year-old Georgia man were taken into custody on June 25 when federal agents assigned to a Drug Enforcement Administration narcotics task force conducted an operation in the parking lot of a Virginia Beach Walmart store. A DEA representative was guarded when asked about the details of the operation, but he did say that the men were allegedly involved in a cocaine deal worth $280,000.

When agents moved in, the New York man is said to have attempted to flee the scene in a black SUV. Media reports indicate that the SUV dragged one law enforcement officer for several yards and ran over the foot of another before coming to a halt. Several vehicles were struck by the SUV and one of the federal agents discharged a weapon. A bystander told reporters that the agents were wearing tactical gear and carrying military-style rifles.

Will a DUI conviction jeopardize your security clearance?

Let us say you have a security clearance because you are a government contractor or an employee of a government agency such as the FBI, CIA or IRS.

Unfortunately, you drank a little too much at a retirement party for a coworker; law enforcement stopped you on suspicion of DUI as you were driving home. Will this spell trouble for your security clearance?

Man caught in Virginia narcotics sting operation sentenced

A federal judge in Virginia has sentenced a 37-year-old man to 10 years and six months in prison for organizing a plot to buy 100 kilograms of cocaine. The Dominican Republic national entered into a plea agreement with U.S. attorneys in February. The charges he faced carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life. A 24-year-old man was sentenced to six years and six months in federal prison for the role he played in the scheme.

The men were taken into custody during a sting operation mounted by the Virginia State Police in October 2018. They traveled to Fairfax County from New York City to complete a drug deal worth $2.5 million. According to U.S. attorneys, the men took precautions to avoid law enforcement that included using aliases, several untraceable cellphones and multiple vehicles to transport the drugs.

Top court decides 7-2 against

The United States Supreme Court chose not to expand protections against people who are being charged for the same crime by both federal and state prosecutors. The 7-2 ruling has major implications for many people, including Paul Manafort. Those in Virginia may remember he is facing both state and federal charges as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

The case brought to the Supreme Court was for an Alabama man who was found guilty in a gun possession case of both state and federal charges. The man challenged the federal charges because he believed the charges violated the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment protects those found guilty of a crime against "double jeopardy," being tried for the same crime twice.

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