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Leesburg Criminal Law Blog

Drug ring busted after cocaine found in inmate's prosthetic leg

In January, Virginia authorities uncovered an alleged drug distribution ring operating out of the Rappahannock Regional Jail. The ring was discovered after drugs were located inside a prisoner's prosthetic leg.

According to news reports, correctional officers were tipped off that drugs might be hidden in a particular inmate's jail cell. A search of the cell yielded somewhere between 3 and 7 grams of cocaine stashed inside the inmate's prosthetic leg. Court records show the inmate was incarcerated on Jan. 11 for allegedly possessing marijuana and pandering. He had been taken into custody by the Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office, and it was apparently a Spotsylvania detective that informed the officers the inmate was dealing drugs inside the facility.

How local vernacular could play a role in Virginia court cases

As the systemic biases in the criminal justice system have come under increased scrutiny, questions have arisen regarding the importance of dialect. A recent linguistics study found that 27 stenographers made errors in two out of every five sentences when presented with Black English grammatical patterns. Moreover, the stenographers were only able to paraphrase one in three sentences.

While the entire scope of the problems defendants face as a result of Black English language misinterpretations has not been studied enough to be known, there are several glaring examples of resulting injustice. In 2007, a circuit court of appeals falsely determined that a black woman who testified that another person had intended to shoot her had instead claimed that the person had already shot her. In another case, the court allowed inadmissible evidence based on police testimony that, based on an incorrect interpretation of Black English, a defendant had not requested an attorney when, in fact, he had.

Alternatives to prison make society safer

The incarceration rate in Virginia and around the country has fallen from 1,000 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 2008 to 830 prisoners per 100,000 adults today. This has been largely accomplished by local authorities adopting a more proactive approach and focusing on rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. However, more than 2 million people still remain incarcerated in state detention facilities, and the recently passed FIRST STEP Act does not offer them any relief.

Zealous prosecutors and tough-on-crime judges often claim that harsh custodial sentences provide a strong deterrent and prevent crime, but studies show that they actually increase crime and make recidivism more likely. This is because prisoners released after years behind bars find it difficult to adjust to society and often turn to the kind of behavior that got them into trouble in the first place. Civil rights advocates say that sophisticated algorithms capable of predicting future behavior reduce the prison population, save taxpayers money and make communities safer.

The law catching up to a new digital age

Over the past few years, digital privacy and security have been an issue that has been a hot topic, resurfacing in the media time and again. With that in mind, the citizens of Virginia might be interested to know that a Californian judge just issued a historic ruling that has the potential to be a landmark decision: The judge ruled that the government does not have the right to force individuals to unlock their phones using their biometrics, including the individual's face, fingerprint, or iris.

It all started when the cops in California were investigating a case of extortion, where the victim was being forced to pay a certain sum of money in return for preventing compromising footage of them being released. This crime was taking place on Facebook, prompting the cops to ask the judge for a warrant to search the suspects' property as well as their phones.

Misdemeanor cases make up 80 percent of America's dockets

Throughout Virginia courtrooms and across the United States, the number of misdemeanor arrests and charges appear to be swelling. While there is no definitive nationwide data available, an expert in the field estimates that misdemeanors now take up 80 percent of dockets in the United States.

The revelations about the growth of misdemeanor cases in American courts comes from a new book authored by a former federal public defender. The author came to their conclusions after studying arrest data provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other government reports.

3 ways to tell police officers you wish to remain silent

No one enjoys seeing flashing lights in the rearview mirror. With their badges, guns and handcuffs, police officers can be quite intimidating. If you have committed a crime, though, interacting with law enforcement personnel can be downright frightening. 

As you may know, the U.S. Constitution grants you the right not to incriminate yourself. Fundamental in this right is your prerogative to remain silent during police questioning. Nevertheless, because officers receive training on how to elicit information from suspects, exercising your right to stay quiet can be challenging. Here are three ways to tell police officers you wish to remain silent. 

Panel urges reduction of legal BAC limit

Virginia motorists may face a more serious likelihood of a drunk driving arrest if the recommendations of a panel are enacted by the state. The federal government commissioned the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to make recommendations that could help to reduce the number of drunk driving accidents on the road. Each year, around 10,000 people lose their lives in such crashes across the country.

People can be charged with drunk driving if they are found to be operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit. In 49 states, that limit is 0.08 percent, but Utah was the first step to reduce the BAC limit to 0.05 percent on Dec. 30, 2018. While Utah is an outlier, the panel backed the state's attempt to further limit people's ability to drive under the influence of alcohol. It is relatively easy for people to meet or exceed a limit of 0.05 percent; for most women weighing 120 pounds or more, they would be limited to two drinks at most. Men weighing over 180 pounds may reach the limit after three drinks.

Couple faces sentencing after accidental police overdoses

Two Virginia residents are facing long prison sentences after four Fredericksburg police officers suffered unintentional overdoses after coming in contact with their drugs. The 34-year-old man was convicted on two counts of possession of illegal drugs with intent to distribute as well as five counts of possession of illegal drugs, while the 28-year-old woman was convicted of seven counts of possession of illegal drugs. After rendering its verdicts, jurors recommended a 19-year sentence for the man and an 11-year sentence for the woman.

Police came in contact with the couple after the woman called 911 from the Super 8 motel in Fredericksburg, saying that her husband was unable to breathe. However, the man regained consciousness while his wife was still conversing with the 911 operator. While the woman said that no assistance was necessary now, police arrived at the scene. When they knocked on the door, no one answered and police eventually forced their way in. Police said that they saw drugs in plain sight and obtained a search warrant for the hotel room.

What happens during a person's first DUI arrest

Virginia residents who drive with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit or who drive under the influence of drugs run the risk of being charged with a DUI. When a person is charged with a DUI for the first time, they may have many questions about what to expect. In most cases, when a person is arrested for a DUI, even if it is their first one, it's likely that they will spend some time in jail.

A judge could allow the individual to go free after they have posted bail and are no longer under the effects of alcohol or drugs. It is likely that this individual will need to return to court at a later date for a hearing. During that hearing, they may face fines, penalties, or the suspension of their license.

Resolution calls for end of motorcycle profiling

Motorcyclists generally have the right to use Virginia roads in the same manner as passenger or commercial vehicles. In fact, the U.S. Senate recently passed a resolution calling on states to stop the practice of profiling motorcyclists. Although it is nonbinding, another piece of legislation bans the use of federal funds to conduct motorcycle roadblocks. According to a Supreme Court ruling, police officers are allowed to justify after a traffic stop after it occurs.

Therefore, it is legal to conduct operations targeting motorcycles in states that do not expressly forbid it. However, in Virginia, there is legislation that prohibits police checkpoints that only target those riding on motorcycles.

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