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hartford criminal defense lawyerFor nearly two years, people throughout the United States have been taking precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19, protect against infections, and stay as safe as possible. During the pandemic, people have become used to certain protective measures, such as wearing face masks when indoors and maintaining social distancing. However, these precautions have had some unexpected effects, including in courts that have resumed in-person trials while taking steps to protect the safety of everyone in the courtroom. Some legal analysts have raised concerns about how face masks worn by people involved in trials will affect the rights of criminal defendants. 

Balancing Public Safety and the Right to a Fair Trial

During a criminal trial, the ability to see and read people’s facial expressions can be crucial. However, this has become more difficult due to the requirements that people involved in trials wear masks. In Connecticut, an executive order issued by Governor Ned Lamont requires everyone entering state Judicial Branch facilities to wear facial coverings over their mouth and nose. Depending on the procedures followed in different courts, witnesses may provide testimony without wearing masks, and attorneys may be able to go unmasked when questioning witnesses or making arguments before a jury. However, other people in the courtroom will usually wear masks during a trial.

When defendants are required to wear masks, this may affect jurors’ perceptions of them throughout a trial. Seeing how a person reacts to statements by witnesses, evidence that is presented, or arguments made by attorneys can provide a great deal of insight for jurors. However, this may not be possible when a defendant’s facial expressions cannot be fully seen. Instead, jurors may need to rely on body language or other cues as they attempt to gauge a defendant’s responses to the issues being addressed.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_1048197574-min.jpgRideshare apps such as Uber and Lyft are used regularly by people throughout the United States. These services can make transportation easy and convenient. However, people may not be aware of the risks that they may face when using rideshare apps. In a troubling trend, thousands of people have reported sexual assaults by rideshare drivers. Those who have been assaulted or otherwise harmed by drivers for Uber or Lyft will want to understand their options for pursuing a personal injury lawsuit against these companies.

Reports of Rideshare Driver Sexual Assaults

Due to ongoing concern about the safety of rideshare passengers, Uber and Lyft have released reports detailing the number of incidents that occurred in recent years. Lyft’s most recent report showed that there were 4,158 reports of sexual assault from its customers between 2017 and 2019. These incidents included 360 reports of rape, with other cases involving nonconsensual touching of body parts or attempted sexual penetration. Reports involving Uber drivers have been even more troubling. Between 2017 and 2018, the company logged around 6,000 reports of sexual assault, including 235 rapes. 

While rideshare companies have noted that the vast majority of rides provided by their drivers do not involve harm to passengers, this does not excuse the fact that drivers have assaulted people while working for these companies. Uber and Lyft have come under fire due to the practices they follow when verifying drivers’ records and allowing them to provide transportation for passengers. While the companies do perform background checks, some people with criminal histories or unsafe driving records have been verified as drivers, potentially putting passengers at risk.

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hartford federal crimes defense lawyerFor nearly two years, people throughout the United States have been forced to deal with drastic changes to their lives due to the threat of COVID-19. People in prison are among the most seriously affected, and many have struggled to maintain their safety when being confined in close quarters alongside others and with limited access to medical care. While some recent changes to laws and policies have provided prisoners with benefits that have helped them remain safe, many prisoners who have been convicted of federal crimes are in a state of legal limbo due to ineffective implementation of policies and potential changes once the pandemic ends. 

Issues With Time Credits and Home Detention

The FIRST STEP Act, which was passed by Congress in 2018, provided many benefits for federal prisoners, and one key policy change involved the ability for prisoners to earn time credits and reduce their sentences by participating in rehabilitation programs. The law also included provisions encouraging prisoners to participate in these programs by offering incentives such as increased phone privileges, more visitation time with family members, and transfers to prisons that are closer to their homes and families.

Unfortunately, many of these policies have not been put in place due to negotiations between the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the labor union that represents prison workers. Any changes in prison policies must be negotiated with the union, but these negotiations have not been held for more than 20 months because the BOP has stated that they must be completed remotely, while the union is insisting on in-person meetings. Due to this delay, around 60,000 federal inmates who would able to earn time credits have not been able to participate in these programs.

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hartford drug charges defense lawyerEncounters with police officers can be stressful. Whether a person is pulled over in a traffic stop, has an officer knock on the door of their home, or is approached by police in other situations, they may worry that if they say or do the wrong thing, they could be arrested or face criminal charges. If police officers perform a search of a person’s vehicle or other property, they may uncover evidence that may be used to pursue drug charges or other types of criminal charges. Due to concerns about police misconduct, a person may worry that these types of searches will provide officers with the opportunity to plant evidence that may be used against them in a criminal case. Fortunately, recent changes to the law and rulings by courts have limited police officers’ ability to perform searches based on claims that they smell marijuana.

Marijuana Odor May Not Be a Valid Reason to Conduct a Warrantless Search

For many years, claims that an officer has noticed the odor of marijuana have provided a pretext for performing a search of a person, vehicle, home, or other property without receiving consent from the person or obtaining a search warrant. Officers are generally allowed to perform warrantless searches if they have probable cause to believe that a person has violated the law. Since marijuana was treated as an illegal controlled substance in the past, the alleged smell of this drug was often seen as a strong sign that a person had illegally possessed or used the substance. When performing searches based on the smell of marijuana, officers may have been able to find drugs or other contraband, and this would often lead to arrests and criminal charges.

As marijuana has been legalized for medical and recreational use in a large number of states, the smell of this drug may no longer be seen as an indication that a person has violated the law. Recently, courts in several states have addressed this issue. In Delaware, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that drugs found in a search performed after a minor was arrested because of the smell of marijuana in a vehicle were not admissible as evidence. 

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hartford criminal defense lawyerA criminal conviction can have many effects on a person’s life. While most people understand that a conviction can result in criminal consequences, such as the requirement to pay fines or serve time in prison, they may not be aware of the collateral consequences that can follow a person for years after they completed their sentence, and in some cases, for the rest of their lives. In many cases, these collateral consequences are related to a person’s criminal record, which may prevent them from obtaining employment, housing, education, or public benefits. However, one less-known issue that may affect convicts in Connecticut involves the state’s ability to take action to force a person to pay for some of the costs of their incarceration.

Collection Actions Against Former Inmates

A Connecticut law that was passed in 1995 allows the state to make a claim against a former inmate and recover the costs of the person’s incarceration. These types of collections may be performed when a person receives a “significant windfall,” which will generally include situations such as winning money through the lottery, receiving an inheritance, or receiving compensation in a personal injury case. The state may collect payments within 20 years after a person was released from prison, and it may recover up to 50 percent of the amount received in a windfall.

Criminal justice reform advocates are hoping to introduce new laws that will address this issue and prevent a person from experiencing continuing collateral consequences after they have completed their criminal sentence. After being released from prison, former inmates often struggle to reintegrate into the community, support their families, and build savings that will allow them to succeed financially and avoid future criminal activity. The state’s seizure of money received by a person will prevent them from passing assets to their descendants, making it more difficult to build family wealth and maintain financial stability. 

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