April 19, 2007

Drug Sniffing Dogs- Are they constitutional? Are they reliable?

In 2005, the United States Supreme Court held in the case of Illinois v. Caballes that when a trained drug dog sniffs a persons automobile, there is no search. As a result, no constitutional violation occurs. This is the case even if the police have absolutely no reason to suspect you may be carrying illegal contraband whatsoever.

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The majority reasoned that a dog’s sniffing is not really a “search” because it detects only contraband, and therefore does not compromise the privacy of someone who has nothing to hide. Justices David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg both dissented strongly, warning that this decision could lead to “suspicionless and indiscriminate sweeps of cars in parking garages and pedestrians on sidewalks.”

The decision was not shocking, it was merely an extension of an earlier case decided by the Supreme Court in 1982 which held that the use of drug sniffing dogs to search luggage in an airport was in fact not a search either. (United States v. Place).

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April 10, 2007

Excluding Evidence for Illegal Searches and/or Seizures

We as Americans are protected "against unreasonable searches and seizures" under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Search warrants are not to be issued for less than "probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized". If a judge finds that a policeman or other law enforcement agent violates an individual's fourth amendment rights, then any and all evidence they collect as a result of the illegal search will be excluded at trial. This is what is known as the "exclusionary rule".

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The "exclusionary rule" has its roots in a case decided by the Unites States Supreme Court in 1886, Boyd v. United States. It was not until 1961 in the case of Mapp v. Ohio, that the Supreme Court made it clear that the exclusionary rule applied to all federal AND state law enforcement officials. However, as the Supreme Court has become more conservative in recent years, the exclusionary rule now has a much more narrow application than when the Mapp case was decided in 1961.

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April 4, 2007

DUI- The crime and penalties in Tennessee

Getting a DUI is a life changing experience. Many times, the people charged with this crime have little to no experience with the criminal justice system and have no idea what to expect. DUI also is a crime which law enforcement and District Attorneys are very aggressive in prosecuting. The blood alcohol content (BAC) limit in Tennessee is .08, this can mean as few as two drinks for some people. A persons BAC will depend on many factors, such as weight, time period in which drinks are consumed, a persons individual rate of metabolism, and many others.

Driving Under the Influence is one of the few crimes for which an individual can be convicted solely on the opinion of a police officer. While most Tennessee DUI offenses are classified as misdemeanors (although a fourth-offense is a Class E felony in Tennessee), the penalties for Tennessee DUI are typically much more serious.

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Upon conviction for First Offense DUI in Tennessee, a person is subject to a maximum sentence of 11 months, 29 days, with a minimum of 48 hours in jail, or a minimum of 7 days in jail if, at the time of the offense, the defendant's blood alcohol level was .20% or higher. A first offense also require a minimum $350.00 fine and court costs; the loss of driver's license for a period of one year; and enrollment in a court approved DUI education course.

Attendance at AA meetings may also be required. License revocation for one year is also required when a defendant is found to have refused to submit to a chemical test (blood, breath, or urine) after being lawfully requested to do so. This may apply even where the defendant is not convicted of DUI.

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April 1, 2007

Marijuana- The Decriminalization debate

Many people in this country feel that marijuana should in fact be decriminalized. Multiple states, counties, and cities have decriminalized marijuana. Most places that have decriminalized marijuana have civil fines, drug education, or drug treatment in place of incarceration and/or criminal charges for possession of small amounts of marijuana, or have made various marijuana offenses the lowest priority for law enforcement. A few places, particularly in California, have removed almost all legal penalties for marijuana, including personal cultivation.

540325_plantator.jpg In Tennessee, possession of Marijuana is a Class A Misdemeanor and can carry with it a fine of up to $2,500 and a jail sentence of up to 11 months and 29 days. First convictions for any misdemeanor has a mandatory minimum fine of $250. Second convictions $500, and subsequent convictions, $1,000. A person in Tennessee found in possession of more than one-half an ounce or 14.75 grams, may be charged with possession with intent to sell, a felony charge. The class of felony will increase depending on the amount of marijuana a person is charged with being in possession.

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