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September 2019 Archives

Lawmakers strengthen Brady rule for jailhouse informants

Jailhouse informants are valuable sources of information for prosecutors in Virginia and around the country, but their testimony is often only given in return for a reduced sentence or other concessions. Information that could bring the credibility of a prosecution witness into question must be turned over to criminal defendants and their attorneys under what is known as the Brady rule, but this does not always happen when prisoners agree to testify.

Criminal justice reformers criticize stripping felons of rights

So many laws are on the books in Virginia that someone might break the law without realizing it. At the federal level, critics of the government and criminal justice system have identified laws that could call for felony charges despite their absurd triviality. One example cited by a representative from the Fairness Center is a federal criminal statute that requires people to wear waterproof shoes when moving a crate containing imported primates. Although critics recognize that some offenders commit serious crimes, the complexity and number of criminal laws make people vulnerable to conviction as a felon. Once someone has a felony record, the law strips away rights, like voting, child custody or owning a firearm.

Scientists question the value of THC breath tests

Breath-testing equipment used by police departments in Virginia and around the country often provide the key pieces of evidence in drunk driving cases. Prosecutors rely on toxicology test results when motorists are suspected of driving while influenced by alcohol because the link between elevated blood alcohol concentrations and intoxication is well established, but the science of THC impairment is more nebulous. Several companies are working to develop breath-testing devices that police officers could use to find out if motorists have smoked or otherwise consumed marijuana, but this equipment may be of little practical use even if it works.

"Cannabis breathalyzer" aims to detect drugged driving

A growing number of people in Virginia and across the country are facing DUI charges based on allegations of driving under the influence of cannabis. As more and more states legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use, some say that the threat of drugged driving has risen even as alcohol intoxication while driving has decreased. However, while alcohol-related DUI and drunk driving charges are often relatively clear, there is no such clarity regarding cannabis and DUI. There is no cannabis equivalent of the BAC, the legal limit on alcohol consumption while driving.

Virginia federal judge rules terrorist watchlist unconstitutional

A federal judge in Virginia ruled on Sept. 4 that the government's terrorist watchlist violates the constitutional rights of the more than 1 million people who have been placed on it. The case challenging the watchlist was brought by more than 20 Muslim-Americans and argued before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The plaintiffs are being supported by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Research uncovers a possible wrongful conviction rate

Individuals who are currently sitting in jail or prison in Virginia may have been wrongfully convicted. According to a study conducted by a research team at Pennsylvania University, roughly 6% of participants said that they were innocent of the charges against them. The team asked 3,000 prisoners in the state a series of questions such as why participants felt that they were wrongly convicted. Participants answered these queries anonymously over a period of six months.

Feds bust up major drug ring

At the end of August, federal authorities busted a major drug distribution ring operating in Virginia, North Carolina and Texas. The three-day sting, dubbed "Operation Cookout," resulted in the arrests of 35 people.

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