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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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connecticut defense lawyerThe United States Supreme Court receives thousands of requests each year to review cases that were decided in lower courts, including state supreme courts and federal appeals courts. While the Supreme Court only selects a limited number of cases to review, looking at the petitions that are filed with the court can provide an indication of the types of cases it may consider. Recently, several petitions have been filed that address the rights of defendants in criminal cases, and if the Supreme Court decides to hear these cases, its decisions may have significant effects on issues such as searches, surveillance, and confessions.

Potential Supreme Court Cases

  • Struve v. Iowa - This case involved a man who was pulled over after an officer observed him using a cell phone. While the man was not charged with violating the laws against texting or using an electronic device while driving, the officer observed methamphetamines in the back seat of his vehicle, and the man was arrested and convicted on drug possession charges. The man argued that he was subject to an illegal search because the officer pulled him over without the reasonable suspicion that he had violated the law, since it was not possible to tell whether he was texting while driving or using his phone for legal purposes, such as GPS navigation. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the officer used common sense when pulling the man over and that the traffic stop and subsequent search were legal. If the Supreme Court hears this case, its decision could affect people’s rights in situations where they are pulled over for traffic violations.

  • Tuggle v. United States - The defendant in this case argued that federal agents maintained video surveillance of his home for 18 months without a warrant, violating his Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches. A federal appeals court ruled that this surveillance did not constitute a search, since it involved observing activities that would be seen by ordinary people that passed by the home. If the Supreme Court addresses this case, it could make decisions that affect whether search warrants will be required for long-term surveillance.

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connecticut crimnal defense lawyerCOVID-19 has affected the lives of everyone in the United States in a variety of ways. People have been forced to make adjustments in multiple areas of their lives, and many people and organizations are working to return to normalcy while dealing with ongoing health concerns. These issues have also affected the court system, and courts were closed for a significant amount of time in 2020 and 2021 to protect people’s safety. While in-person trials have resumed, ongoing issues related to the pandemic have affected court proceedings and jury verdicts. Those who are involved in criminal trials or civil litigation (including personal injury cases) can make sure these issues are addressed correctly by working with an experienced attorney.

Changes in Jury Makeup and Voting

The state of Connecticut has resumed jury trials as of June 1, 2021. To ensure that all participants in a trial, including jurors, judges, plaintiffs, defendants, witnesses, attorneys, and court officials, will be safe, multiple protective measures have been implemented. Personal protective equipment (PPE) will be provided to everyone who needs it. Courts will also provide face shields for witnesses, ensuring that jurors and attorneys will be able to observe their facial expressions as they provide testimony.

While courts have taken steps to protect people’s safety, the policies they are following during the pandemic and the ways people are responding to jury summons may affect the fairness of trials. In many cases, courts are excusing unvaccinated people from jury duty. Because men are less likely to be vaccinated than women, and vaccination rates are lower for minorities, this means that juries are less likely to be representative of the population as a whole.

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