Archive for the ‘ Criminal Defense ’ Category

Colorado Governor Signs New Civil Asset Forfeiture Law

Posted on: June 22, 2017 by in Criminal Defense
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Civil asset forfeiture is a controversial legal procedure and a growing concern across the nation. It’s the seizure of assets by law enforcement authorities from persons suspected of criminal involvement or activity – without necessarily filing any criminal charges against those persons. In June, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed a controversial new law which restricts the way civil asset forfeitures are handled in this state.

To be precise, civil asset forfeiture is more than the mere seizure of someone’s assets. When the government takes any part of someone’s assets, it’s called “asset seizure.” Asset “forfeiture” is the legal process whereby the government takes legal ownership of assets it has seized. Property is forfeited when that process is complete and the legal title to the assets transfers to the government.

WHAT IS THE JUSTIFICATION FOR CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE?

Supporters of civil asset forfeiture promote it as a tool for fighting organized crime and drug traffickers, since the procedure allows authorities to confiscate cash and other assets from narcotics traffickers and then use that cash to pay for the enforcement of drug laws. Critics of civil asset forfeiture contend that the innocent can have their right to property violated with few legal protections or due process rules to protect them.

Opponents of civil asset forfeiture have further contended that it creates a presumption of guilt rather than a presumption of innocence, and that it invariably leads to corruption and violations of citizens’ constitutional rights by police authorities. Thus, organizations such as the ACLU of Colorado urged Governor Hickenlooper to sign the controversial new restrictions. “Coloradans,” the ACLU declared, “want and deserve stronger protections when

“Coloradans,” the ACLU declared, “want and deserve stronger protections when property is taken by police.” The new measure was co-sponsored in the Colorado General Assembly by State Representative Leslie Herod and State Senator Tim Neville.

However, a number of Colorado law enforcement and local government officials insist that the new measure will impair law enforcement’s abilities in Colorado by reducing the resources available to the state’s local police agencies. “I think this is a solution looking for a problem,” Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey told the Denver Post. Activists who focus on the fight against human trafficking also asked Governor Hickenlooper to veto the legislation, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

WHAT DOES THE NEW LAW REQUIRE?

The new statute requires police agencies to report information about asset seizures twice each year to the state. However, the law’s most controversial provision would prohibit local law enforcement agencies from receiving any forfeited assets from the federal government in cases where local and federal police work together and the money and property forfeited amounts to less than $50,000.

Colorado Springs Police Chief Carey said that in the past five years alone, his department has received $2 million in forfeitures from cases where Colorado Springs officers worked with federal law enforcement agencies. Chief Carey told the Denver Post, “Of those cases, 85 percent of them did not meet the $50,000 threshold. So that means 15 percent of that would be equitable sharing in the future.” In 2014, Colorado police agencies received about $2.8 million of the $13.5 million seized by federal law enforcement officials in Colorado that year.

Civil asset forfeiture was actually quite rare prior to 1984, when Congress approved the Comprehensive Crime Control Act and thus established a special fund that shares forfeited assets with the law enforcement agencies that helped seize those assets. Local police agencies that work with federal authorities are rewarded with a share of the forfeited assets through a program called Equitable Sharing. Soon after 1984, most states started establishing their own civil forfeiture laws.

WHAT WAS THE CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE REFORM ACT?

Abuses quickly followed, and critics insisted that civil asset forfeiture is an unconstitutional violation of due process rights. In 2000, Congress passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act. It requires federal prosecutors to prove “a substantial connection between the property and the offense,” but critics contend that the Reform Act has done little to stop abuses linked to civil asset forfeiture, and there are still no penalties for wrongful seizures and forfeitures. Louis Rulli, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading forfeiture authority, told the New Yorker, “The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window.”

The federal Equitable Sharing program allows local police across the nation to sidestep state-imposed forfeiture rules by deeming suspected criminal activity to be a federal crime and bringing in federal authorities. Equitable Sharing thus subverts the intent of legislatures that have restricted civil asset forfeiture at the state level. The new statute here in Colorado checkmates that problem by simply prohibiting participation in Equitable Sharing when the money and property forfeited amounts to less than $50,000.

Supporters of the new Colorado forfeiture statute say that the $50,000 threshold figure protects poor and average-income citizens from civil asset forfeiture abuse while still allowing local law enforcement agencies to profit when they work on cases against organized crime and major drug trafficking operations. The only states that have outlawed civil asset forfeiture entirely are North Carolina and New Mexico.

Criminal forfeiture is a different procedure and a penalty that can be imposed against a defendant after a criminal conviction. If you are charged or being investigated for any crime in Colorado, you could be targeted for civil or criminal asset forfeiture, and you’ll need to get some legal advice – and possibly criminal defense representation – from an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney.

Even though you can be targeted for civil asset forfeiture without necessarily being charged with a crime, it’s still wise to consult a Denver criminal defense attorney if you learn that you are the subject of any criminal investigation. If you’re contacted by the police, do not agree to an interview or provide a statement – even if police officers tell you that “everything will be fine if you just cooperate.”

Anything you say to the police can be used against you, so trust only your attorney if you are under investigation by any law enforcement agency for any reason. In some cases, of course, an investigation cannot be resolved and an arrest cannot be stopped. In this situation, make sure that you are represented by an experienced defense lawyer who can bring your case to its best possible resolution.

What Are The Gun Laws In Denver?

Posted on: May 20, 2017 by in Criminal Defense
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Mass shootings. Assault weapons. Gun control. Regardless of where you stand on these perennially controversial topics, everyone in Colorado should know what this state’s laws are regarding guns, gun ownership, and concealed carry permits. This is a general explanation of gun laws in Colorado, but anyone who is charged with a particular firearms violation in this state will need the precise and specific legal advice that an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney can provide.

A number of laws regulate the purchase, ownership, and use of firearms in Colorado. The foundation of Colorado’s gun laws is the distinction it makes between handguns and long guns. To own either gun in this state, no permit, registration, or license is required by law.

The state allows both open and concealed carry, although concealed carry permits are approved only for handguns and never for long guns. Moreover, local governments in Colorado have the discretion in most cases to restrict guns, gun ownership, and gun use beyond what the statewide gun laws require.

A background check is required by federal law for all private firearms sales. Background checks in Colorado exceed what the federal law requires. Even for a private sale between two Colorado residents, the seller must have a licensed gun dealer conduct a background investigation on his or her behalf.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation must be informed of all gun ownership changes. The buyers are responsible to pay for the background checks. Gun show purchases also require background checks whether the seller is a licensed dealer or a private individual.

HOW IS A CONCEALED CARRY LICENSE OBTAINED IN COLORADO?

Concealed carry licenses in Colorado are issued in each county by the Sheriff’s department. A concealed carry license expires after five years. Applicants must successfully complete a concealed carry class. Concealed carry licenses allow gun owners to carry their weapons throughout Colorado except on federal properties, grade school (K-12) premises, and buildings like courthouses that have security desks or checkpoints.

To obtain a Colorado concealed carry license, you must be a resident of Colorado and a resident of the county where you apply for the license. You’ll need to answer some personal questions and you must answer them truthfully.

You’ll be photographed, fingerprinted, and subjected to a background check. If you are approved to use medical marijuana in Colorado, you might not be approved for a concealed carry permit because pot is still illegal under federal law.

WHAT IS THE COLORADO LAW REGARDING OPEN CARRY?

In most cases, if you meet Colorado’s legal requirements for a concealed carry permit, the permit will be approved. However, county Sheriff’s departments have wide discretion and may refuse to issue a concealed carry permit – even if the applicant qualifies – if the department believes the applicant may be a threat to public safety.

Open carry is allowed without a license in Colorado, but it is subject to local regulation. For example, open carry is not allowed in Denver. Rifles and shotguns openly carried in motor vehicles in this state cannot have a round in the chamber. Local governments may restrict open carry in municipal buildings with clear, visibly posted signs.

The state of Colorado does not ban assault rifles, but the city of Denver bans all assault weapons. Large capacity magazines (LCMs) are restricted to fifteen rounds. This state recognizes the “castle” doctrine, which allows residents to use deadly force inside their homes to protect themselves and others from intruders. However, there is no “stand your ground” law in Colorado, so anyone who feels threatened outside of his or her home must attempt to retreat first and may only use deadly force as a last resort.

Minors, persons with felony convictions, and those with a history of drug use, alcohol problems, mental illness, or domestic violence may not possess a gun in this state. Colorado exceeds federal domestic violence requirements by requiring those with civil protection orders (restraining orders) issued against them to turn in any guns they own – and not obtain more – for the duration of the protection order. A conviction for domestic violence prevents the offender from purchasing or owning a firearm legally in Colorado.

WHAT ARE SOME OF COLORADO’S OTHER GUN LAWS?

Even if you own a gun legally in Colorado, you may face a criminal charge for using a firearm illegally. Aiming a gun at someone, recklessly discharging a firearm, or possessing a firearm while under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances all constitute the prohibited use of a firearm, a class 2 misdemeanor punishable upon conviction by a term of three to twelve months in jail, a fine of $250 to $1,000, or both.

Purchasing or otherwise obtaining a firearm in Colorado – when you know it is illegal to do so – is a class 4 felony punishable upon conviction by two to six years in prison, a fine of $2,000 to $500,000, or both. The private transfer of firearms in Colorado – that is, sales or transfers of firearms between non-licensed firearms dealers – is legal provided that both parties adhere to all applicable state and federal laws. The illegal transfer of a firearm is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable upon conviction by six to eighteen months in jail, a fine of $500 to $5,000, or both.

Defacing a firearm or possessing a defaced firearm is also a class 1 misdemeanor. Defaced firearms are illegal in this state, and a court may order law officers to seize and destroy defaced firearms. Possession of a handgun by anyone under the age of 18 is a class 2 misdemeanor, but a second conviction is a class 5 felony punishable upon conviction by one to three years in prison, a fine of $1,000 to $100,000, or both.

Exceptions, however, may apply to minors who are hunting legally, enrolled in certified gun safety courses, or on private property owned or controlled by the minor’s parent(s), grandparent(s), or legal guardian – with that adult’s consent.

Forfeiture is also a part of Colorado’s gun laws. If you are convicted of any crime in Colorado that includes the use of a firearm, the court may order you to relinquish that firearm. Once again, what is listed here is merely a general outline of Colorado’s gun laws. Anyone with more questions and anyone who is accused of a specific gun violation in Colorado should seek an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney to provide sound, personalized legal advice, and if needed, effective defense representation.

Denver Is The First City In The U.S. To Allow Marijuana Use In Restaurants And Bars – Or Is It?

Posted on: December 22, 2016 by in Criminal Defense
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On November 8, the voters of Denver approved Initiative 300, a ballot measure originally allowing bars, restaurants, and other types of businesses to create onsite “consumption areas” for marijuana use that are either indoors (to permit vaping and edibles but not smoking) or outdoors (to allow smoking). Denver would have been the first city in the United States with “cannabis lounges” and “marijuana cafes.” But in yet another strange twist in this strangest of election years, it now appears that state officials will step in to prevent certain businesses in Denver from obtaining pot consumption permits.

Only ten days after the November election, the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Liquor Enforcement Division announced that businesses holding liquor licenses will not be permitted to become cannabis bars. The announcement was welcomed by the Colorado Restaurant Association and by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Both groups expressed apprehensions about people consuming pot and alcohol simultaneously and publicly. The Colorado Restaurant Association also stated that “several insurance companies have already indicated to us that they will not insure restaurants and bars that allow marijuana consumption.”

Some pro-pot activists immediately charged that the Department of Revenue was acting on behalf of the liquor industry. Speaking for the National Marijuana Policy Project, Mason Tvert told the Los Angeles Times, “This rule will not prevent bar-goers from consuming marijuana, but it will ensure that they consume it outside in the alley or on the street rather than inside of a private establishment.” The Department of Revenue, however, says that the new rule was not linked to the passage of Initiative 300 in Denver – despite the timing of the announcement.

WHAT DID INITIATIVE 300 LEGALIZE?

Originally, Initiative 300 allowed Denver’s bars and restaurants to apply for permits allowing consumption areas that would let customers use marijuana with some restrictions. Customers would have to be adults and bring their own weed. However, the new rule announced by the Department of Revenue doesn’t necessarily disqualify coffee houses, cafes, art galleries, yoga studios, and similar venues from submitting applications for pot consumption permits.

Initiative 300 is supposed to be a four-year “pilot” program. It was approved by 53.4 percent of Denver’s voters, and it was expected to increase tax revenue, particularly from tourists visiting the Denver area. Marijuana for recreational use by adults in this state became legal in 2014 after Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, but tourists who arrive in Denver for the cannabis quickly discover that hotels, bars, and restaurants won’t allow it. For now, marijuana consumption in this state is legal only in private residences and in a small number of obscure “cannabis-only clubs” that several Colorado jurisdictions have approved.

Rachel O’Bryan led the opposition to Initiative 300 in Denver as the campaign manager for the group “Protect Denver’s Atmosphere.” Ms. O’Bryan now wants the Colorado attorney general, Cynthia Coffman, to examine the legality of Initiative 300. “We used to have a problem with people smoking pot in the parks and now they will be smoking in our neighborhoods,” Ms. O’Bryan said.

WHAT DO PRO-POT ACTIVISTS SAY ABOUT INITIATIVE 300?

Still, and in spite of the many obstacles that the ballot initiative has faced, some pot activists insist that Initiative 300 is a positive, progressive step forward. Mason Tvert told the Los Angeles Times, “This is a groundbreaking law that reflects the shift in public attitude toward marijuana. The first was legalizing marijuana, and now the next step is to ensure that adults who legally purchase it have a place they can legally use it.”

State Representative Jonathan Singer also supported Initiative 300 as a positive, progressive step forward. Representative Singer told the Denver Post that the initiative would “be a good bellwether to see whether there’s a real appetite among the electorate to solve this problem” of visitors and Denver residents having nowhere they can consume marijuana when landlords don’t allow it.

Before Initiative 300 takes effect in January, Denver’s Office of Marijuana Policy will be designing the application form that businesses will submit to apply for onsite cannabis consumption areas. Dan Rowland, communications advisor for the City and County of Denver, says, “There’s a lot of work to be done in terms of how someone would go about applying for this permit and the time frame that will happen between now and then. Folks may be lining up to challenge it in the interim, just on the potential conflict with the state constitution.”

IS INITIATIVE 300 ON SHAKY LEGAL GROUND?

That’s because Amendment 20, the ballot measure that legalized marijuana for medical purposes in Colorado in 2000, clearly states: “No patient shall…engage in the medical use of marijuana in plain view of, or in a place open to, the general public.” In addition to Amendment 20’s clear language, the vaguer language of Amendment 64 could also be used in a potential legal challenge to Initiative 300. The bottom line is that, even though Initiative 300 was approved by the voters in November, Denver’s residents and visitors should not expect to take advantage of the ballot measure any time in the near future.

While marijuana for recreational use by adults in Colorado has been legal since 2014, driving under the influence remains a serious crime. It doesn’t matter if a driver is drunk on alcohol or high on pot – it’s the same criminal charge, and anyone facing the charge in the Denver area will need the counsel of an experienced Denver DUI attorney. Even a conviction for a first DUI without injuries or property damage is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

As you celebrate this holiday season, don’t drink and drive, and don’t smoke weed and drive. It’s that simple. This is the season when Colorado law enforcement agencies conduct more DUI checkpoints and focus on finding impaired drivers. While an experienced Denver DUI attorney can help suspects accused of driving under the influence, there’s no reason to ruin the holidays with DUI trouble. Before you drink, arrange for a limousine, a taxicab, a ride-share service, or a designated driver, or rent a room for the night. Pot is legal in Denver, so there’s no reason to get in legal trouble for using it.

Colorado Passes Cosby Law and Extends Statute of Limitations For Rape

Posted on: August 21, 2016 by in Criminal Defense
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Comedian Bill Cosby may or may not ultimately face justice for the sex crimes he has allegedly committed since the 1960s, but two of his accusers have won a different victory here in Colorado. Beth Ferrier, 57, of Denver, and Heidi Thomas, 56, of Castle Rock, lobbied aggressively to extend Colorado’s statute of limitations in rape and sexual assault cases. After a year-long effort, they succeeded, and Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill on June 10.

The new statute of limitations in rape and sexual assault cases, a response to the Bill Cosby rape allegations, doubles the statute of limitations to twenty years in Colorado. However, the statute is not retroactive, so Ferrier and Thomas will not be able to file charges against Bill Cosby in Colorado, but the women – both allegedly assaulted by Cosby in the 1980s – hope the new legislation will encourage more victims of rape and sexual assault to come forward, even ten or fifteen years later.

The legislation was sponsored by State Representative Rhonda Fields of Aurora, Senator John Cooke of Greeley, and Senator Mike Johnston from northeast Denver. “What we know is the path for survivors of sexual assault is uphill already,” Johnston told reporters after the governor signed the bill. “Justice is already elusive for victims of sexual assault. It makes no sense for Colorado to close the doors on those people who have the courage to try to seek it and say you can’t have your day in court.”

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In the 1980s, Ms. Ferrier and Ms. Thomas were both employed as models with the Denver talent agency JF Images. Both say they were drugged and then sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby. Ms. Ferrier told reporters, “For me this is from this day forward, making sure that those one in four women come forward, and those one in seventeen men come forward. Do not keep this a secret, and don’t stay silent, and don’t become depressed, and don’t do all the things that come with being a victim of sexual assault.”

WHY WAS THE NEW LEGISLATION NEEDED?

Neither woman reported the incidents when they happened because they feared that challenging Cosby would negatively impact their careers, they said. They both also said that they had been in denial about the assaults. Advocates of the new legislation contended that a longer statute of limitations is proper in such cases, because victims often need years to deal with the psychological impact of sexual assault before they gain the confidence to come forward.

Heidi Thomas, who was unable to attend the signing ceremony at the governor’s office due to family commitments, told reporters, “We are very proud of this bill, and we are very excited that it was able to pass in one year. I’m very proud of our legislators for seeing what really needed to be done. Hopefully, they see that this is one step of the process, but for right now we are going to celebrate.”

Bill Cosby has been the subject of sexual assault allegations for nearly two decades. Cosby has been accused by more than fifty women of rape, drug-facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual misconduct going back to the mid-1960s. He has denied the allegations. Most of the actions alleged by Cosby’s accusers now fall outside the statutes of limitations for legal proceedings. Numerous civil lawsuits against Cosby are still pending, and he still faces one felony charge of aggravated indecent assault in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE ACCUSED OF A SEX CRIME?

A number of sex crimes are against the law in the state of Colorado. Clearly, no one wants to be convicted of a rape or a sexual assault charge. Apart from the very real consequences of a sex crime conviction – fines, prison, and lifetime sexual offender status – a convicted sex offender will also lose the trust of his or her friends, family, and colleagues, and may even have difficulty finding employment or housing.

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For anyone who is charged with a sex crime in the state of Colorado, it is absolutely essential to retain the services of an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney who can protect your legal rights while defending you against the charge. Never try to act as your own lawyer, and never plead guilty or even answer any questions without having a Denver criminal defense attorney present. Sometimes the accusation of a sex crime can be completely discredited, and sometimes the charge can be reduced, but a winning defense in a sexual assault case will always require the skills of an experienced defense attorney.

WHAT ARE COLORADO’S PENALTIES FOR SEX CRIMES?

The penalties for each sex crime in Colorado vary based on a number of “aggravating” factors that can increase a perpetrator’s criminal responsibility: for example, the perpetrator used a deadly weapon to force submission, the perpetrator used a date rape drug to force submission, or the victim suffered serious bodily injury. These are the charges and penalties that a sexual assault suspect can face in Colorado:

  1. Class 1 misdemeanor: This is the charge when a victim of sexual assault is between 15 and 17 years of age and the alleged perpetrator is ten or more years older. If convicted, a defendant faces from six to eighteen months in jail and a fine from $500 to $5,000.
  2. Class 2 felony: This is the charge if the victim sustained serious physical injury, if more than one person aided or abetted in the alleged assault, or if a deadly weapon was used. Those convicted of the Class 2 felony charge face eight to twenty years in prison, years of parole after the prison term, and a fine from $5,000 to $1 million.
  3. Class 3 felony: This is the charge when a victim is both physically helpless and non-consenting, or when violence, injury, pain, death, kidnapping, or retaliation is threatened or actually take place. Penalties for a Class 3 felony conviction include four to sixteen years in prison, years of parole after the prison term, and a fine from $3,000 to $750,000.
  4. Class 4 felony: Any sex crime that does not fall into one of the three other categories can be prosecuted as a Class 4 felony. Those convicted of a Class 4 felony face two to eight years in prison followed by a three-year parole period and a fine ranging from $2,000 to $500,000.

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Denver Mayor Calls For Colorado Criminal Reform

Posted on: July 15, 2016 by in Criminal Defense
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The mayor of Denver, Michael B. Hancock, recently called for reforms to criminal justice policies that “have had disastrous effects on our communities of color” in the state of Colorado. The mayor writes that the state’s “drug laws and policies of incarceration” are “proving to be a failure,” and he advocated a number of sweeping reforms in a guest commentary published June 11 in the Denver Post.

Mayor Hancock writes, “the time is ripe for change in our criminal justice system,” and he insists that Colorado must alleviate prison overcrowding and what he calls “mass incarceration.” He’s right. From 1980 through 2008, the number of prisoners incarcerated in the United States rose from a half-million to 2.3 million, and in 2008, 58 percent of those prisoners were Hispanic or African-American. Currently, 36,000 people in Colorado are behind bars in the state’s jails and prisons, and a total of 123,000 are incarcerated or under criminal justice supervision.

Murphy - 2008 Racial Breakdown
The caseload has simply become too much for the Colorado Department of Corrections to handle. In 2014, the Denver Post published a series of investigative articles by Jennifer Brown, who reported that the Department of Corrections, by default, has become the largest mental health treatment facility in Colorado. A third of Colorado’s inmates, about 5,760 prisoners, have psychological problems. One-fifth of the Denver County Jail’s inmates as of 2014 struggled with some form of mental illness. If someone is arrested in the Denver area for any reason, it’s vital for that person to speak immediately with an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney.

HAS THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM CHANGED IN THE DENVER AREA?

However, according to the mayor, both Denver’s Sheriff’s Department and Police Department have recently implemented comprehensive policy changes and reforms. Jail is no longer the automatic response to the chronic mental health and substance-abuse challenges that face the Denver community. Courts and law enforcement now look to place individuals confronting such challenges in treatment programs rather than jails.

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According to the mayor, under Chief Robert White, the Denver Police Department has become the singular model for criminal justice reform across the United States. The department has been part of an international effort to address the concerns of those individuals most affected by the legal system. While there is much more work to do, the mayor says that Denver’s citizens should be proud that our city is considered a leader in criminal justice reform.

In his guest commentary, Mayor Hancock also advocates a federal legislative proposal – the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 – currently under consideration by the United States Senate. If passed into law, the bill would reform the federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws that have led to overcrowded prisons and wasted tax dollars. The bill would fund additional treatment programs for inmates and allow federal resources to be used effectively to keep Colorado communities safe as some communities can be more dangerous than others. In addition to treatment programs there are scholarships specific to Colorado, local community support programs and public health support.

WHAT IS THE SENTENCING REFORM AND CORRECTIONS ACT OF 2015?

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is a chance for federal lawmakers to implement substantial criminal justice reforms at the federal level, a change that Colorado’s citizens have already supported at the state and local levels. Citizens are encouraged to contact their congressional representative as well as U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner regarding the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. The mayor concludes his guest commentary by saying, “I urge Congress to pass this important piece of legislation.” If it becomes law, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 would:

  • Reduce the mandatory minimum life without parole sentence for a third drug offense under Title 21 of the United States Code, sections 841 and 851, to a mandatory minimum 25-year sentence.
  • Reduce the mandatory minimum 20-year sentence for a second drug offense under Title 21 U.S.C. sections 841 and 851 to a mandatory minimum 15-year sentence.
  • More narrowly define which prior drug offenses trigger longer mandatory minimum drug sentences under Title 21 U.S.C. sections 841 and 851.
  • Apply the 15-year and 25-year mandatory minimum drug sentences to offenders who now have broadly-defined “serious violent felony” prior convictions.
  • Make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive, allowing approximately 5,800 crack cocaine offenders sentenced before August 2010 to seek sentences in line with the Fair Sentencing Act’s reforms.
  • Expand the “safety valve” exception so that in some cases nonviolent drug offenders can receive sentences below the mandatory minimum term.
  • Create an additional safety valve exception for drug offenders facing 10-year mandatory minimum sentences so that they can receive the 5-year mandatory minimum prison term under certain conditions.
  • Clarify that the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for a second or subsequent offense of possessing guns in the course of drug trafficking offenses or crimes of violence under Title 18 U.S.C. section 924(c) only applies when the prior 924(c) conviction is final prior to the commission of the new 924(c) offense.
  • Apply the 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for the second or subsequent section 924 offenses to offenders who have broadly-defined prior convictions for crimes that include gun possession, brandishing, or discharge.
  • Allow some federal prisoners to earn time credits for completing rehabilitation programs and “cash in” those time credits at the end of their sentences for a transfer to a different type of supervision such as a halfway house.
  • Create a new mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for interstate domestic violence resulting in a death and five years for providing certain weapons or aid to terrorists.
  • Create a new, mandatory sentencing enhancement to drug offenses under Title 21 U.S.C. sections 841 and 960. If the drugs in question include an analogue or any amount of the drug fentanyl, or if the drugs involved were represented as heroin, courts must add up to an additional 5 years in prison to an offender’s sentence.

WHERE ELSE IS THE JUSTICE SYSTEM BEING REFORMED?

Reforms to the criminal justice system are happening rapidly across the nation. In 2014, California’s Proposition 47 reclassified low-level property and drug felonies such as shoplifting, theft, and check fraud under $950, as well as personal illicit drug use, as misdemeanors. In New York City, thousands charged with low-level or non-violent crimes no longer have to post bail under a new plan to lower the number of inmates in the city’s crowded jail system.

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Of course, if you commit a crime in the Denver area, you’ll still be arrested, and you’ll still need the counsel of an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney. Nevertheless, the United States is slowly, step-by-step creating a criminal justice system that is fair, that does not discriminate, and that genuinely delivers justice to citizens throughout Colorado and the other forty-nine states.

Colorado will Require All Police Officers to Undergo Psych Evaluations

Posted on: June 9, 2016 by in Criminal Defense
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Across the United States, more and more jurisdictions are requiring police officers and police officer candidates to pass full psychological evaluations. In December 2015, for example, the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board reaffirmed that passing a psychological evaluation is a requirement for every police officer in the state. Officers must be evaluated every time an officer is hired or changes jobs or jurisdictions, according to the Denver Post. The Board also decided that officers with felony convictions will not be hired or allowed to stay on the job.

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The goal of police psychological evaluations isn’t exclusively to determine whether an applicant has a diagnosable mental disorder; the evaluations are also designed to identify potential law enforcement officers whose personalities and behavior are unsuited to a job which requires sound judgment, quick decisions, and emotional stability, especially during tense situations. These psychological evaluations can help prevent any questionable individuals from becoming police officers.

Almost every Denver criminal defense attorney has represented someone who has been a victim of police misconduct or police brutality in this city. In 2013, a man named Robert Duran was awarded $40,000 after jurors saw a video of an ex-Denver Sheriff’s Deputy grabbing Duran by the throat. In 2011, the City of Denver paid out more than $1 million to settle police brutality lawsuits.

WHAT ARE THE STANDARDS FOR POLICE PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS?

Because the individual states govern how police agencies operate – by creating state commissions or academies to determine hiring and training standards – there is no widely-accepted national consensus regarding how police departments recruit candidates, how psychological evaluations are conducted, what those evaluations should determine, or even whether or not such evaluations should be mandatory.

Colorado state law already required psychological evaluations, but in practice, the evaluations were rarely conducted prior to this year. The loose protocols worked to the advantage of “problem” officers who could shuffle between police departments when they were accused of violations. In many cases, those officers landed in impoverished, rural communities which have difficulty recruiting qualified candidates.

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John S. Camper is the Chief of Police in Grand Junction, Colorado, and the vice chairman of the Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. “What the public is concerned about,” Camper says, “is that police departments don’t pass off someone that is a problem in one department to another department.” He added that, “If I’m hiring someone, even if they’ve been an officer at another jurisdiction, I’m going to require them to go through it.”

ARE THE PUBLIC’S CONCERNS LEGITIMATE?

The public’s concerns are genuine. In other states, the hiring of unqualified police officers has had deadly consequences. Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland police officer who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death in November 2014, was previously deemed “unfit” to be a police officer in 2012 after only six months with the Independence Police Department in Ohio. In March 2014, he landed the job in Cleveland.

Robert Bates, an Oklahoma Sheriff’s deputy, shot and killed a fleeing suspect when he reportedly fired his weapon by mistake when he intended to reach for his Taser. Videos showing the shootings of Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald and 50-year-old Walter Scott in South Carolina indicate that officers gunned down suspects who were moving away rather than posing a threat. Twenty-two states do not mandate that a licensed psychologist administer a psychological evaluation as a minimum qualification for a potential police recruit.

Psychological evaluations are required by most large municipal police departments regardless of whether or not the state’s laws explicitly mandate evaluations. But even in large, urban police agencies, psychological evaluations are inconsistently conducted, and the many tests and methods used by examiners – as well as the qualifications of the examiners themselves – vary widely. In states that do not mandate the evaluations, many smaller police departments do not require them.

WITHOUT POLICE PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS, WHAT CAN HAPPEN?

When police agencies disregard psychological screenings, the result is often police brutality litigation. Flint Taylor, a founding partner of the People’s Law Office in Chicago, says, “We have been dealing with the psychological screening of police officers, and the lack of it, ever since the ‘60s when I first started litigating police brutality cases. It’s a problem that police departments skirt around in one form or another.”

Despite the absence of mandated national standards governing evaluation tools and procedures, the Police Psychological Services Section of the International Association of Chiefs of Police established the first set of guidelines in 1986 and revised the guidelines in 2009. The guidelines specify that a licensed, doctoral-level psychologist should use tools including psychological assessments and personal interviews with a candidate to determine a candidate’s suitability to become a police officer.

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice originally recommended psychological evaluations for potential police recruits back in 1967. However, the use of evaluations didn’t become widespread by police applicants until the public’s reaction to the Rodney King incident in 1991. This pivotal incident compelled police departments to respond by requiring evaluations to reduce the rising costs of litigation linked to police brutality charges.

ARE MORE POLICE PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS NEEDED?

About three to five percent of the general population suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder, and the number of police applicants disqualified on the basis of diagnosable mental illness is in the same range – three to five percent. But police departments need more comprehensive screening. Having bad judgment or a short temper may not be a “diagnosable mental disorder,” but those traits should still disqualify an applicant from becoming a police officer.

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There’s also growing evidence that officers need to be reevaluated routinely – perhaps every three or five years. The data indicates that police work can alter the personality traits of an officer over time. Law enforcement agencies routinely use “fitness for duty” examinations designed for experienced officers, but usually that only happens after the officer has already displayed troubling behavior. Many police psychologists support regular, mandatory evaluations and counseling for all law enforcement officers on a continuing basis.

Of course, even if police psychological evaluations of police applicants were one hundred percent accurate when predicting “undesirable” personality traits, and even if counseling for veteran officers was mandatory, misconduct could still happen. Frankly, any time an arrest is made, there’s a potential for misconduct and injury, so anyone charged with a crime in Colorado should always consult first with an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney.

Recent Bill Allows Colorado Residents The Right To Record The Police

Posted on: April 25, 2016 by in Criminal Defense
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When a man named George Holliday shot video from his balcony of several Los Angeles police officers assaulting Rodney King back in 1991, the incident quickly became a huge national news story. At that time, there was no YouTube, cell phones still were not universal, and video of police misbehavior was still rare. If the Rodney King story happened today, George Holliday’s video would have to compete on the internet with dozens of other frightening and disturbing police misconduct videos.

In the quarter-of-a-century since 1991, video cameras are now everywhere, and an army of citizen-photographers across the country have been recording incidents of police misconduct – and posting their recordings to YouTube. Scores of beatings, assaults, shootings, and incidents of bullying by law enforcement officers can now be seen by everyone. This explosion of citizen video has fueled a national debate about the nature of police work, as well as dramatically changed how people consider claims of police misconduct.

Recent videos that have “gone viral” – that is, videos shared and watched online by thousands, even millions – include videos showing a teenage girl being thrown from a school desk by a sheriff’s deputy in South Carolina and an unarmed man, also in South Carolina, being shot in the back by a police officer. YouTube watchers can also see a 15-year-old girl being thrown to the ground by a police officer in McKinney, Texas, and a New York City police detective screaming at an Uber driver in an out-of-control, xenophobic rant.

HOW ARE LAWMAKERS RESPONDING TO POLICE MISCONDUCT?

In response to these many recent and confirmed recorded incidents of police misconduct, lawmakers around the country have been taking legislative steps to ensure that the citizen-photographers can keep shooting video. For decades, law enforcement officers have resisted being recorded, intimidated citizen-photographers, and have often seized cameras and video with the knowledge that there would be few if any repercussions.

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However, since 2014, at least six states have adopted laws which reaffirm that filming the police is a legal right almost always protected under the Constitution. New laws in Connecticut and here in Colorado expose police officers to civil fines if the officers wrongly interfere with or destroy a legal recording. Legislation adopted in the summer of 2015 ensures that Coloradans can record police officers as long as the photographers are not obstructing an officer in the performance of his or her law enforcement duties. The 2015 law entitles Colorado citizens to at least $15,000 in civil damages if police officers interfere with their right to record.

WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?

Specifically, the Colorado law states: “A person who lawfully records an incident involving a peace officer and has that recording destroyed by a peace officer or a peace officer seizes the recording without receiving permission from the person to seize it or without first obtaining a warrant has a private civil right of action against the peace officer’s employing law enforcement agency.”

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Fort Collins Assistant Chief of Police Cory Christensen says that for many years, the officers in Fort Collins have been trained to interact with citizens who are recording them. “We believe in the professionalism of our officers, so it doesn’t matter if we are being recorded or not,” Christensen says. Officers will only ask citizens to stop recording in sensitive situations involving matters such as sexual assaults or child abuse. Christensen says that yes, Colorado state law allows citizens to record police officers, but citizens still need to respect an officer’s need to perform his or her duties. He added, “obstructing police is a crime.”

In New York City, the expanding practice of citizens recording police officers has meant that more allegations of police misconduct are being confirmed by video recordings. In the first nine months of 2015, 23 percent of misconduct and abuse complaints against New York City police officers were substantiated by a city review board – up from 17 percent in 2014 and 8 percent in 2011. About 40 percent of the nation’s law enforcement agencies now equip police officers with body cameras. Usually, most police officials say, such footage shows officers acting properly and protects officers against fabricated misconduct claims.

Specifically, the 2015 Colorado law affirms that citizens have a right to record “any incident” involving a law enforcement officer and that citizens also have the right to maintain “custody and control” of both the recording (that is, the photos or video) and the device that was used (the camera). The law also gives Colorado citizens the legal grounds to take civil action against police officers who interfere with their recording. Citizens are entitled to compensation for the replacement of damaged devices, $500 for damaged or destroyed recordings, legal fees, and punitive damages of up to $15,000.

ARE PHOTOGRAPHERS OBSTRUCTING THE POLICE?

As more states affirm the right of citizens to take video of law enforcement officers, some legitimate concerns about citizen-photographers and their impact on police work are being expressed. Some police officers say the citizen-photographers can interfere with police work and create dangerous situations. “They try to get closer to the police than is necessary, and they get in the way sometimes,” Baltimore police Lt. Victor Gearhart tells the Wall Street Journal. Witnesses can also be scared away by photographers, he says: “They don’t want to end up on Facebook and all their friends see them talking to police.”

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Last year, police in Baltimore introduced a new policy that allows the police to seize someone’s video only if the officers believe that evidence of a crime is in “immediate jeopardy” of being deleted or altered. The new policy in Baltimore is one part of a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which sued on behalf of a citizen-photographer after the Baltimore police destroyed his video of an arrest.

HOW CAN VIDEO HELP YOU?

If you are arrested and charged with any crime, video can sometimes be compelling evidence in your defense. Historically, when it’s only your word against an arresting officer, juries and judges have generally given the officer the benefit of the doubt and video recordings eliminate that bias. The recordings can protect an innocent police officer when there is a fabricated allegation of police brutality or misconduct, but the real value of video recordings is the evidence those recordings often provide to defendants.

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Denver area residents and visitors charged with a crime will need to retain the advice and services of an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney who has a record of winning similar cases and successfully guiding clients through the often-confusing Colorado criminal justice system. If you face a criminal charge in the Denver area and you were a victim of police brutality or abuse, or if you believe there may be video evidence that can help your case, tell your defense attorney at once.

One of your lawyer’s first moves will be to obtain any pertinent recording of your arrest or of the crime you are accused of committing. In the best scenarios, scrutiny of a video may even lead to a dismissal of criminal charges prior to a trial. If you are accused of any crime in the Denver area, do not admit to anything, and do not try to act as your own attorney. Instead, exercise your right to remain silent, and immediately contact an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney who can fight aggressively for your rights and for justice on your behalf.

False Confessions, Planted Evidence, And “Making A Murderer”

Posted on: March 7, 2016 by in Criminal Defense
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The ten-part blockbuster crime documentary released last December by Netflix, Making a Murderer, has enthralled millions of viewers, and even now, many are still viewing the controversial series for the first time. Making a Murderer follows the disconcerting story of a Wisconsin man convicted of murder – Steven Avery. Avery’s 2007 murder conviction, however, is not where the Making a Murderer narrative begins. Avery was found guilty back in 1985 and sent to prison for a sexual assault crime that he did not commit. After eighteen years behind bars, he was vindicated in 2003 when DNA evidence finally identified another suspect. Upon his release, Avery quickly sued local authorities in Manitowoc County for $36 million in compensation for the long miscarriage of justice. In 2005, as that legal claim was pending, Avery was charged with the murder of a woman named Teresa Halbach, and he was convicted for that murder in 2007.

Making a Murderer raises a number of disturbing questions about our law enforcement authorities and our criminal justice system in the United States. Do police officers plant evidence to frame innocent people or to strengthen a case against someone they believe is guilty? Sometimes, the answer is yes. Do cops frighten and confuse innocent and vulnerable persons into making false confessions? Again, sometimes, the answer is yes. False confessions and planted evidence are pervasive problems in the U.S. criminal justice system, although no one really knows precisely how rampant or widespread these problems actually are.

Brendan Dassey, Steven Avery’s nephew and his alleged partner in the murder of Teresa Halbach, was 16 years old when he was arrested by the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office. He has an IQ of 70. For hours, Manitowoc County law enforcement officers aggressively interrogated Dassey without a lawyer or even a parent present. Most viewers of Making a Murderer are persuaded – after seeing the actual video of his interrogation – that Brendan Dassey was coerced by the police into making a false confession and incriminating Steven Avery.

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The fierce interrogation of Brendan Dassey is only one of the disturbing issues raised by the creators of Making a Murderer. Crucial forensic evidence that seems to point to Steven Avery’s guilt was also found, somehow, weeks after the original investigators had conducted a number of comprehensive searches of the purported crime scenes. Making a Murderer presents strong evidence that police officers planted their own evidence to ensure Steven Avery’s conviction – and to ensure that his $36 million lawsuit against them disappeared. The only safe bet about Teresa Halbach’s murder is that Brendan Dassey told his interrogators what he believed they wanted to hear. However, the physical evidence in the case doesn’t even match up with the story Dassey provided to police investigators. Since Making a Murderer was released in December, thousands of outraged Netflix viewers have signed petitions demanding retrials for both Dassey and Avery.

HOW OFTEN ARE FALSE CONFESSIONS MADE?

Sadly, however, false confessions take place much more often than you might suspect. According to the Innocence Project, a legal group founded in 1992 to exonerate those wrongly convicted of crimes, more than one out of four people who are wrongly convicted of a crime in the United States but who are later vindicated by DNA evidence offered the police a false confession or made self-incriminating statements after they were arrested. Perhaps one of the most frightening example of what false confessions can lead to happened back in 2001, when three innocent people in Alabama confessed to – and were subsequently convicted and sentenced for – “murdering” a person who never even actually existed.

Victoria Bell Banks, Dianne Bell Tucker, and Medell Banks, Jr., were each convicted and sentenced to serve fifteen years in an Alabama state prison for “murdering” Victoria Bell Banks’ “newborn” baby. The story actually began several months earlier. Victoria Bell Banks had lied about being pregnant in order to bond out of jail in Choctaw County, Alabama. When local officers again bumped into Ms. Banks months later, they asked about her “child,” and she told the police that her pregnancy had ended with a miscarriage. The Alabama law officers suspected that Ms. Banks was lying about the miscarriage, but they did not realize that she had been lying about being pregnant from the very beginning. Instead, police officers conducted a murder investigation. Three phony confessions and three wrongful convictions later, medical evidence eventually exonerated Ms. Banks and her purported “murder accomplices.”

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WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS REGARDING INTERROGATIONS?

False confessions almost never jump from someone’s lips for no particular reason. It is extremely rare for anyone to walk into a police station and confess to a crime out of the blue, according to Steven Drizin. He directs the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School in Chicago. Drizin says that most false confessions are the product of overly-aggressive police interrogations that are conducted without attorneys present. That’s one reason why everyone in the United States should clearly understand that you have the right to remain silent when questioned by the police, and you have the right to have an attorney present during any interrogation by police officers. Those two rights are yours at all times, whether or not you have been placed in custody and whether or not your rights have been officially “read” to you.

Never allow the police to question you without having your attorney there the whole time. Exercise your right to remain silent and your right to have your lawyer present for any police interrogation. Be friendly, respectful, and don’t offer the police any “attitude,” but be firm about standing up for your legal rights. Police officers are allowed to deceive and lie to suspects under interrogation in order to obtain confessions. When a suspect provides a confession, whether that confession is true or false, most jurors tend – rightly or wrongly – to consider the confession as compelling evidence of guilt. If you have made a false confession to a crime, or if you have been coerced into making a false confession to a crime, you must have effective, experienced legal representation at once. Contact a good criminal defense lawyer right away, and in the state of Colorado, speak as quickly as possible with an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney.

Making a Murderer also strongly suggests that Wisconsin law enforcement officers in Manitowoc County planted evidence at Steven Avery’s property to ensure Avery’s conviction for Teresa Halbach’s murder. One part of the documentary centers on Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Sgt. Andrew Colborn and Lt. James Lenk, who allegedly discovered a key and a bullet fragment that became critical evidence in Avery’s trial, even though the discoveries occurred long after other investigators had made a number of thorough searches. Avery was sentenced to life without parole for Teresa Halbach’s murder. His several appeals have so far been rejected by Wisconsin courts, but Avery’s new attorneys began work on a new appeal in January.

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HOW PREVALENT IS POLICE MISCONDUCT?

The greater question, of course, is to what extent evidence-planting is practiced by law officers across the nation. No one knows how often evidence is planted by police officers or how many of them are guilty. Professor Philip Stinson, an ex-police officer who now teaches at Bowling Green State University, has collected an extraordinary amount of research about unethical police work and especially about evidence-planting. Still, it’s a murky subject, and Stinson’s data yields little in the way of useful conclusions about evidence-planting. “There’s not much we know about it,” Stinson says.

Nevertheless, evidence-planting is considered a serious crime in all fifty states, and if a law enforcement officer – or if anyone else – plants or tampers with evidence in the state of Colorado, it’s a Class Six felony that is punishable upon conviction by twelve to eighteen months in a state prison and a fine ranging from $1,000 to $100,000. Still, if you are being prosecuted for a crime, and if you believe that evidence was planted to incriminate you, you’ll need your own compelling evidence to back you up. A good criminal defense attorney can help. In New York City, police officers trying to make arrest quotas have admitted to planting drugs on entirely average, innocent New Yorkers, so the shocking reality is that anyone can become a target of police misconduct.

WHERE CAN YOUR TURN IF YOU ARE A VICTIM?

If have been bullied or coerced by police interrogators into making a false confession to any crime, or if you believe that false evidence was planted to frame you for a crime, your situation may look hopeless at the moment, but you must not lose hope. With perseverance, the justice system can sometimes actually render authentic justice. Nevertheless, when the conduct of the police comes into question, you must have trustworthy and seasoned criminal defense representation – an attorney who will fight tenaciously on your behalf. If you are charged with a felony or a misdemeanor in the greater Denver area, discuss your case, your rights, and your options promptly with an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney. If you’ve made a false confession to any crime, or if you are being framed for a crime, legal help is here, but you must take the first step and make the call.

Drinking Coffee While Driving: Is It Now A Crime?

Posted on: January 13, 2016 by in Criminal Defense
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Women arrested for DUI

Every one of us in the United States has legal rights that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and every person in the United States should know what those legal rights are. However, in recent years here in the land of the free, the police are increasingly inserting themselves – illegally and unconstitutionally – into our public and private lives. Even drinking a cup of coffee can bring the government down on you. Ask Lindsey Krieger, a young Minnesota woman. She’s one of the millions of us who like to drink a cup of coffee on the morning commute. When a cop in St. Paul pulled her over in traffic back in October, Ms. Krieger – like the rest of us – had no idea that drinking a cup of coffee could be considered reasonable cause to trigger a traffic stop. After playing a few rounds of “Why Do You Think I Stopped You?” the officer finally informed Ms. Krieger that drinking coffee while driving is against the law.

Of course, Ms. Krieger wasn’t ticketed for drinking coffee while driving. Everyone knows that’s not against the law. She was cited instead for not wearing her safety belt. Ms. Krieger says that she unbuckled the belt after she was stopped so that she could reach more easily for her license and registration. The officer’s supervisor, St. Paul Police Sgt. Mike Ernster, did not criticize his subordinate’s unconstitutional and frankly stupid behavior. He fully supported the officer and told Minnesota reporters that Ms. Krieger might have been guilty of “inattentive” driving. However, at least one observer offered some common sense. Joe Cummings of the Minnesotans for Safe Driving called the unfortunate incident an overreach by the police, and he pointed out that cup holders are standard equipment in U.S.-made automobiles, which means that drinking non-alcoholic beverages while driving is an accepted and normal social practice – not a crime.

A CONSTANT INVASION

It doesn’t really matter what your politics are. All factions along the political spectrum agree that federal, state, and local governments, and especially law enforcement agencies, step over the line far too frequently. The constant invasion of our lives by the police – and by the rest of the government – is a sad reality that more and more of us are forced to confront on almost a daily basis. Do police officers really find it necessary to interrupt our lives with juvenile accusations that only waste your time and your tax dollars? Seattle offers a prime example of governmental pettiness. If a corn cob or a pizza crust accidently falls into your recycling bin in Seattle, and city employees find it, you can be fined up to $50. Here in Colorado, we’ve also endured our share of petty government regulations. Until 2009, you couldn’t even collect rainwater in a bucket on your own property – it legally belonged to the state, every last drop.

Ostensibly, the police still must have a “reasonable cause” to stop you in traffic. In other words, the officer must spot an actual violation, or you must match a description of someone who’s wanted for a crime. During a traffic stop, it’s legal for the police officers to search anything that’s in plain view. But what about a cell phone that’s in plain view, or a laptop that’s open to your Facebook page or your bank account? Along with the coffee and the rainwater, these may seem like trivial examples, but they point to a quite serious reality that’s analogous to “mission creep.” If you’ve watched the United States conduct foreign policy over the last several decades, you know about mission creep. At first, the phrase referred exclusively to military operations where the aim – and the number of boots on the ground needed to accomplish it – keeps expanding. Send in some troops to “liberate” some people, and you end up rebuilding a nation, staying there a decade, and spending a few trillion dollars.

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WHAT’S REALLY LEFT BEHIND

The problem is that mission creep isn’t the monopoly of the military. Police departments are vulnerable to mission creep too, and in too many instances, it’s becoming a chilling reality. Whether the cops are surrounding the home of a suspected white supremacist on Ruby Ridge, choking an innocent black man to death on a New York sidewalk, or harassing a young woman for drinking coffee in St. Paul, they’re acting in ways that precisely define what mission creep is. What’s typically left behind when police agencies expand their “mission” is a basic respect for our legal and constitutional rights.

Historically, mission creep started in police departments with SWAT teams and the “war” on drugs in the 1970s. Police semi-militarization and mission creep continue today. In 2014, outrage at police excesses emerged on the streets in Baltimore and in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as across the nation’s newspapers and televisions. Also in 2014 – in the case of Navarette v. California – the United States Supreme Court decided that anonymous tips accusing drivers of reckless driving are enough to justify searching their vehicles. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his dissent to the Navarette decision that his fellow justices had made a “freedom-destroying” decision. Other Supreme Court rulings since the 1970s have consistently eroded Fourth Amendment rights. Law enforcement agencies around the country now routinely conduct legally questionable searches, and anybody with a grudge against you can simply telephone the police and cause you a world of trouble by telling them that you’re driving recklessly, neglecting your children, or violating some other law. To search your vehicle legally during a traffic stop, one of these conditions must apply:

  • The police officer has probable cause.
  • There is evidence of a crime in plain view.
  • The police officer has obtained your permission to conduct the search.
  • The police officer believes his or her life may be at risk.

TRAFFIC STOPS AND HOME INVASIONS

If you are stopped for a routine traffic violation that should not normally lead to an arrest, the police officer might request permission to conduct a search of your vehicle. You should politely but quite firmly deny that permission. The results of any search that you permit will be admissible in court. Of course, if you are stopped and an officer sees undeniable evidence of a crime – such as weapons, drugs, or open alcohol – in plain view, you and your car can be legally, thoroughly searched, and you’ll very probably be arrested on the spot – legally.

Since cars were invented there’s been controversy regarding traffic stops by the police, but your home is another matter. The Constitution is clear – law enforcement officers may not enter your home without a warrant or without a reasonable belief that a crime is in progress. Yet in 2011, police seized a family’s home without warrants in Henderson, Nevada. A Henderson police officer asked Anthony Mitchell to allow officers to use his home to gain a “tactical advantage” over a neighbor who had barricaded himself, but Mr. Mitchell rejected the request. That is his right under the law. Mr. Mitchell says the police returned, busted through his front door without warrants or permission, and arrested him for “obstructing an officer.” Five years later, Mr. Mitchell and his family are still having no luck seeking justice from the courts.

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THE GREATER CONCERN IS OUR RIGHTS

There’s simply not enough space here to list the many recent incidents of overreaching by police departments, but here’s a sample of what’s happening every day in our nation. Two teens in Hardeman County, Tennessee spent 48 hours in jail in November – for wearing baggy pants. Also in November, a TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agent at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport confiscated a 5-year-old’s “Buzz Lightyear” toy purchased from Disneyworld. Deemed a “replica firearm” by the TSA, after inspecting the toy, the agent didn’t return it. He threw it in the trash and made the child cry. A 39-year-old man was arrested in Mecosta County, Michigan, in November for handing out flyers in front of the county courthouse. They weren’t obscene, either. The flyers explained the legal rights of jurors. Keith Woods now faces six years in prison for “obstruction of justice.” And earlier in 2015, a Miami police officer named Paul Gourrier handcuffed a 5-year-old – who had been fighting with another youngster over a toy – to show the child “what can happen.”

A greater concern, of course, is what can happen when law enforcement officers no longer follow the law. James Madison, the fourth president and an author of the Constitution, once said, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” That’s the reality that we’ve been facing since the 1970s. It’s not an abrupt and sudden rejection of our rights. Instead, we’re slowly and incrementally losing those rights, and many of us don’t even realize how far the government has encroached on our freedoms.

As a consequence of Navarette v. California, you are now much more likely to be stopped and arrested for a crime in Colorado. If that happens, let an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney help. Even a bogus tip now gives the police sufficient reason – “reasonable cause” – to stop you. If you are charged with a felony or with a misdemeanor in the Denver area, now more than ever, you’ll need high-quality legal help, so you’ll need to contact a Denver criminal defense attorney promptly.

What Can You Expect at a Jury Trial?

Posted on: November 16, 2015 by in Criminal Defense
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A trial by jury is one of your most important rights. A jury of your peers will make a decision on your innocence or guilt. It’s important to know what to expect at a jury trial.

Typically, there may be six or 12 jurors who will be charged with determining whether you are guilty or innocent. First, there is the process of jury selection. Jurors are typically picked up from the community randomly, and once they have been selected must appear in court on the date of the trial. Jurors may be selected from property ownership lists, vehicle registration lists, voter registration lists, and from a number of other sources.

In order to qualify to sit on a jury, an individual must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age, able to read, write and speak English, and live in Colorado.

If you have pending felony criminal charges against you that could result in more than one year in jail, then you may not sit on a jury. Likewise, if you have previously been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor that was punishable by more than one year in prison, you cannot sit on a jury. Individuals with permanent mental or physical disabilities are excluded from the jury selection process, and so are those that work specific jobs such as those in the military or police department as well as firefighters or elected public officials.

Once the jurors have arrived at the courtroom, your Denver criminal defense lawyer, the judge, the District Attorney and others will ask the group certain questions related to the case. Questioning will result in some persons being excused from jury.

Once the jury has been finalized, your Denver criminal defense lawyer as well as the prosecuting attorney will address the jury. These opening statements will explain what the evidence will show. Opening statements are used to set the tone for the rest of the trial and introduce the jury to an overview of the case.

This is followed by questioning of witnesses. The witness is questioned by the lawyer who represents the witness. Your criminal defense attorney will be given the chance to ask questions of his witness first. This questioning is referred to as a direct examination. A direct examination is conducted by your own attorney. The purpose of a direct examination is to get evidence, and facts that directly support your case. As the witnesses answer questions, the jury will be listening carefully to take notes and form an opinion on what happened and whether or not the defendant is guilty.

Your attorney cannot ask all types of questions, however. Leading questions are not allowed. In other words, your Denver criminal defense attorney cannot ask the witness questions that are guaranteed to prompt a particular answer. While one lawyer is questioning a witness, the opposing lawyer can choose to object to any questions that he or she does not agree with. If this occurs, the judge will make a decision about whether or not the lawyer questioning the witness can continue. If the judge agrees that the questioning is invalid, then the lawyer must change direction and stop that line of questioning. Witnesses are not allowed to draw conclusions from the evidence presented. However, they can identify evidence in the form of photographs and other items that are presented to the court for review.

Once the examination is concluded, the opposing lawyer will subject the witness to a cross examination. The cross examination will aim to minimize the credibility of the witness. The opposing lawyer will try to establish that the witness suffers from some sort of bias, and that his testimony is unreliable. He may try to establish that the witness is untruthful, or does not know enough about the facts. The opposing lawyer may also try to establish whether the witness benefits from an outcome of the case in favor of the defendant. The whole point will be to destroy the witness’s credibility. During a cross examination, lawyers will try to poke holes in any progress that the opposing lawyer made in the case during the direct examination.

Remember, the opposing lawyer may use much more aggressive tactics during a cross-examination. For instance, leading questions may be asked. However, the questions may be limited to the testimony already provided by the witness.

After both sides have presented and questioned all of their witnesses, closing arguments are presented, and the jury is allowed to deliberate. During the process of deliberation, the jurors discuss whether the prosecutors have presented enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Juries are allowed to take as much time as they need to come to a unanimous verdict. In fact, the more serious the crime, the longer the jury tends to deliberate, with some deliberations taking weeks. Cases that involve a lot of detailed, scientific evidence may also lead to longer deliberations since the jury must sift through each piece.

The jury must reach a unanimous decision before returning a verdict. If the jury is unable to come up with a unanimous decision, the court could declare a hung jury, meaning the jury members do not believe they will ever agree on the verdict. In these cases, the trial must essentially start all over again by selecting a new jury and going through the entire process again.

However, if the jury has been able to reach a unanimous decision, they will alert the judge that they are ready to announce the verdict. Both sides will be called back to the courtroom to hear the verdict, at which point the defendant may be set free or handcuffed, depending on the outcome and severity of the case. The sentencing is not handed down during this phase, but rather during a separate, sentencing phase of the trial.

If you have been arrested, get in touch with a Denver criminal defense lawyer immediately. It’s important to protect your rights immediately, and without the right kind of legal guidance, you might make mistakes that could jeopardize your case.