overdoseWhen you think of a victim of a crime, do you picture a person who has been physically assaulted or had something stolen from him or her? Of course, individuals can be victimized by a wide variety criminal activity, and, sometimes, a single crime can affect an entire family or more. In many criminal proceedings, the victim of a crime and his or her family play a role in the prosecution of the offender, as both witnesses and those seeking restitution from the accused.

Now, in the wake of the heroin epidemic that continues to plague the state—a major issue expected to claim the lives of more than 800 by the end of the year—United States Attorneys in Connecticut have started reaching out to the families of individuals who have suffered fatal overdoses. With the help of these secondary victims, the U.S. Attorney have been able to build stronger cases against defendants charged with selling the drugs that caused the overdose death.

Drug-Induced Homicide

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field drug test, Hartford criminal defense attorneyAccording to statistics compiled by the federal government, more than 90 percent of all criminal defendant plead guilty to the charges against them—or some variation of such charges in a plea deal—instead of going to trial. In some cases, pleading guilty may be the better option, as the defendant knows that he or she committed the crime of which he or she has been accused and by pleading guilty, the impact to the defendant’s future may be lessened. In other situations, however, including many drug cases, a suspect may plead guilty because he or she was led to believe that the evidence against him or her is overwhelming, even if he or she is not actually guilty. The defendant may be convinced that he or she stands no chance at trial and a plea agreement may seem like the only option.

Field Drug Testing

One example of such potentially misleading evidence is the result of a field drug test. These tests are intended to use a chemical process to detect the presence of illicit substances and lead to thousands of arrests each year. To conduct a field drug analysis, a police officer will drop a sample of a seized substance into a pouch containing several chemicals, which are meant to change color to indicate that the substance is, in fact, an illegal drug. While many studies have supported the tests as accurate enough to establish probable cause for the officer to then make an arrest, a conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt—a standard that these $2 test kits may not be capable of meeting.

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apartment, fourth amendment, Hartford criminal defense attorneyIn 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in Florida v. Jardines, a case that involved the presence of a drug-sniffing dog on the porch of a suspect’s home without a warrant. The dog’s behavior on the porch and around the home suggested to law enforcement officers that there were illegal drugs inside the home. Based on the dog’s alert, the police obtained a warrant, searched the home, and arrested the suspect for marijuana trafficking. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the area “immediately surrounding and associated with home is part of the home for Fourth Amendment purposes,” and that the introduction of the drug-sniffing dog with a warrant based on probable cause was a violation of the owner’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Precedent for Apartments?

From a practical standpoint, the high court’s ruling in Jardines applies fairly easily to single family dwellings and duplexes that share very little common area. But do the same Fourth Amendment rights apply to those who live in apartments, condos, and other homes with shared hallways and public spaces? In the federal court system, circuits around the country have been divided on the issue, which may be an indication that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately need to put the matter to rest. Meanwhile, the Connecticut Supreme Court is expected to rule on a case very similar to Jardines, but that involved a drug-sniffing dog in the common hallway of an apartment building in Hartford County.

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marijuana possession, SJC, Connecticut Criminal Defense AttorneyAcross the country, including right here in Connecticut, the decriminalization of minor marijuana possession is well underway. To date, 14 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation removing the threat of criminal penalties for, at least, low-level marijuana possession with some going as far fully legalizing recreational use.

Decriminalization is not the same as legalization, of course, and in most of the 14 states possessing marijuana is still against the law. Rather than prosecuting it as a crime, however, possession is treated as a civil infraction, similar to a speeding ticket. This creates a dilemma of sorts for many law enforcement officers. In neighboring Massachusetts, that dilemma was resolved last month when the commonwealth’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled that traffic stops are no longer permitted solely on the suspicion of marijuana use or possession.

Previous Decisions

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Connecticut marijuana convictions, Hartford drug crimes attorneyMore than 30 marijuana possession convictions have been erased by Connecticut Superior Court judges in just a few months. While the number may seem relatively low compared to the thousands of marijuana-related arrests in the last several years, the rate of approval continues to be very high. Judicial branch records indicate that only 39 petitions had been processed through May 2015 to erase marijuana possession convictions, with more than 80 percent (a total of 32 cases) having been approved.

Decriminalization of Minor Possession

Earlier this year, the Connecticut Supreme Court was faced with a decision regarding the definition of decriminalization as it pertains to erasing a conviction. Under Connecticut law, a person who has been convicted of an offense that is later “decriminalized” may petition the court to have the conviction erased and all records of the case physically destroyed.

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