We are all criminals now.

When I was in law school I wondered at the complexity of the law and was amazed that I had not run afoul of its prohibitions more often in the past. I imagined myself fortunate to to have avoided trouble and felt relieved that I was “safe” because now I knew the law and could avoid its pitfalls. Stupid me.

A lawyer can hold just so much law in his or her head, so what really happens is that he is constantly learning how he broke the law and didn’t even know it. The rest of you are breaking it all the time, too, but you never realize it until you get caught.

TombstoneI was researching the disposal of animals (some guy had dumped a load of carcases in a ditch) when I was horrified to realize I’d recently committed the crime of burying our family cat (which had died, of course) in my back yard, complete with a paint-lettered tombstone. It turns out you can’t bury your dead cat (or hamster or even a goldfish) unless it is 50 feet from the property line and 300 feet from the neighbors house. Section 269.020, RSMo. That was a little tough to do in my neighborhood.

And I may be breaking other laws without knowing it. Did you know that you’ll pay a $100 fine if you allow any musk thistle to go to seed on your property? Section 263.190, RSMo.

Musk Thistle I’ve got a little wooded section at the back of my yard. I don’t go down there much, but even if I did, I don’t know what a musk thistle looks like. [FLASH UPDATE: I googled the musk thistle and that’s one in the picture]

Have you moved since you renewed your driver’s license? If the Department of Revenue drew your name from a hat and sent you a letter last summer demanding that you prove you have insurance, you may have missed that letter. Sp you didn’t respond. By now, of course, your license is suspended. If you get caught driving, you will be arrested, handcuffed like the criminal that you are, and taken to the county jail. The punishment is 48 hours to a year in jail and a year-long revocation of your license. The law can be tough.

Of course sometimes the law pretends to be tougher than it is.

How often do we hear that law enforcement is going to “crack down” on drivers not wearing their seat belts? They make it sound as if they will be watching for you and pulling you over if you don’t wear your seatbelt. It’s all bogus, as they well know. They can’t pull you over and ticket you for it in Missouri unless you commit some other traffic offense. Every year, the highway patrol spends the whole spring trying to get the mandatory seat belt law passed and then spends the rest of the year pretending that they succeeded.

If you’ve been told to fear “wildlife checkpoints” on public highways during deer season, it’s just more propaganda. Law enforcement cannot (without reasonable suspicion) pull you over to check if you have an illegal deer in the back.It makes you want to laugh and cry. They cleverly make you think you are a lawbreaker to get you to do what you don’t have to do. Meanwhile, you are probably committing five other offenses you’ve never heard of.

It won’t be long now before the legislature is back in the saddle, ready to amuse and alarm us with dubious proposals against openly selling baking soda, motorcycle stunt driving and other horrors. I will keep you posted when the time comes.


MO state rep says cameras to protect police, not citizens

blocksI don’t know what is more disturbing about this report from KMOV in St. Louis:

  1. that a seemingly abusive St Louis police officer brutally struck a hand-cuffed teenager in the head and was then acquitted of assault by a St Louis judge who (for reasons unknown) refused to admit the video of the unprovoked  assault into evidence; or
  2. that Missouri State Representative Jeff Roorda–who is also spokesman for the  police union–defended the officer’s attack on the suspect and argued that police vehicle cameras should be used to protect the police, not to make them accountable for wrongdoing.

Decide for yourself.  The link and video are below.  It raises the question of how well Roorda can represent both the St Louis area citizens of District 113 and rogue cops at the same time.

Surveillance video released of St. Louis officer allegedly beating handcuffed teen

Full video follows the news story:

Jefferson City Criminal lawyer

SB 124: Missouri parents would be required to register firearms

While many Missouri law-makers are sponsoring a bill that would tell the federal government what they can do with their firearms laws [See Will Missouri nullify federal firearms laws?], a St Louis County Democrat has filed a bill that would require parents who own firearms to provide that information to their children’s school.

Senate Bill 124, filed by State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal  creates several new crimes. This law mandates that any parents or guardians of a child must notify the child’s school in writing if such parent or guardian owns any firearm. This registration must occur withing within 30 days of enrolling the child or within 30 days of obtaining a firearm. Violators would be subject to a $100 fine.

The effectiveness of this provision is certainly questionable since the risk of a $100 fine may not be sufficient to encourage thoughtful people to tell the government where the guns are. On the other hand, one can anticipate  the inevitable–and Orwellian–classroom scene where the teacher quizzes the children: “Today we will talk about firearm safety. How many of your parents have guns at home?’  That should keep the county busy prosecuting parents who get snitched out by their kids.

The bill also creates the offenses of: 1) parental failure to stop illegal firearm possession by anyone under 18; and 2) the negligent storage of a firearm. These are class A misdemeanors unless death or injury results, in which case it is a class D felony.




Changes to the Missouri Ignition Interlock law

Many changes to the interlock law are set out here from the Missouri Bar legislative digest regarding Senate Bill 480:

IGNITION INTERLOCK ENHANCED REQUIREMENTS – Under this act, a person whose driving privilege has been denied for 10 years for 3 or more DWI offenses, or for 5 years for 2 intoxication-related traffic offenses within a five-year period shall be required to use an ignition interlock device that has photo identification technology and global positioning system features when their license is reinstated or whenever a limited driving privilege is granted (Section 302.060). If monthly monitoring reports show during the period of reinstatement that the ignition interlock device has registered blood alcohol concentration readings above the set point established by the Department of Transportation, or that the person has tampered with or circumvented the ignition interlock device, an additional 6 months will be added to the person’s reinstatement.

Under current law, a person who has been convicted of a first time DWI or BAC is assessed points and receives a license suspension of 30 days (“hard walk”), followed by a 60 day restricted driving privilege. Under this proposal, a person who chooses to install an ignition interlock device shall serve a 15 day suspension, followed by a 75 day period of restricted driving privilege. The person’s license will be reinstated following the 75 day period if otherwise eligible by law. If the monthly monitoring reports show a violation during this 75 day restricted driving privilege, the person’s license will not be reinstated until the person completes an additional 75 day period of restricted driving privilege without any such violations. The act provides similar measures for persons whose driver’s license have been suspended under the administrative process.

Under current law, a person who has two or more DWI or BAC convictions, must have an ignition interlock device installed in order to have his or her driver license reinstated. The ignition interlock device must be maintained on the offender’s vehicles for a period of at least 6 months. Under this act, if monthly monitoring reports show during the period of reinstatement that the ignition interlock device has registered blood alcohol concentration readings above the set point established by the department of transportation, or that the person has tampered with or circumvented the device, then an additional six months will be added to the person’s reinstatement.

Under current law, persons with 5 year or 10 year license denials because of multiple DWI or other intoxication-related traffic offenses may seek a limited driving privilege after serving 2 or 3 years of the license denial. Under the terms of this act, such persons may seek a limited driving privilege after only serving 45 days of the denial or disqualification period. In addition, this act allows a person who has his or her license revoked for 2 alcohol-related enforcement contacts within 5 years to seek a limited driving privilege after completing the first 45 days of the 1 year revocation. Currently, such a person is not eligible for a limited driving privilege.

The ignition interlock provisions have an effective date of October 1, 2013.

Tasing the young, the old, the weak and the handicapped.

While taser use continues to kill people here and there, the most common abuses tend toward simple electronic attitude adjustment of people who apparently did not get the memo about bandying words with a cop. The variety of people who dare to differ with a police officer is fascinating: children, old ladies, pregnant women. Here are a just a few that have appeared recently. Don’t miss the last one!

* * *

Let’s start with this pathetic deaf guy who was taking too long to use the toilet in a public restroom. They called the police.

The police–as always–demanded his identification.

Being deaf, however, he had trouble understanding all the commotion over his using the toilet. So . . . they tased him. Here it is:

Like the man said, “We were worried about his well-being and we want this man to be able to trust the police.”  So we broke into his stall while he was taking a dump, tased and maced him.

* * *

This next one shows mom getting tased in front of the kids. She should have stayed in the car. This one is a great example of the principle that if the cop–however foolishly–says you are under arrest, then by heaven, no power can change it. The law enforcement principle here seems to be that if the motorist is upset, the cop’s job is not to de-escalate the situation, but instead to bring it to a boil . . . and use his taser. 

It seems this mom was having trouble with her 14 year old daughter and brought her to the police station “to get help” but the girl ran out to a nearby park, where the police chief caught up with her and tased her in the head and the probe went into her BRAIN. Here you go:

In this one, the police break up a kids family baptism party. Too noisy they said. They tased the grandfather who was “disorderly” and didn’t identify himself in his own backyard. Then they tased a pregnant mother who tried to help Grandpa when he went down.

Here is a tiny great-grandmother getting tased. She is a mouthy one. I can honestly say I’ve known a few cops who could have avoided tasing her, but not many.

Finally, this last one is not for the squeamish. I guess it’s easy to second guess decisions that officers have only seconds to make. You be the judge:

OK, just kidding.

Come back with a warrant

Harvard Professor arrested – why didn’t the cop just LEAVE?

The media is full of the story about the black Harvard University professor who was arrested for disorderly conduct after a Cambridge, Massachusetts police officer investigated a report of a break-in at the professor’s home. It turns out that the reported burglar was just the professor trying to get his own door open. Police Report is here.

The police argue that the officer was just doing his job, but the professor accused the officer of being racially motivated.

It seems as if Professor Gates ought to have been a bit more understanding (and appreciative) of neighbors and police who were only keeping a watchful eye on the neighborhood, including the professor’s house. But from his viewpoint, he was just minding his own business on his own property. Maybe he had a bad day at the office (leading up to an even worse evening at home).

The bottom line, however, is that at some point the police officer became satisfied that Professor Gates was the homeowner and that there had been no burglary. At that point, the officer’s business was concluded. He did well in walking out of the residence.

I understand that the officer probably felt that the Professor was an ungrateful jerk. What I cannot understand—and perhaps this will become clear at some point—is why the officer did not JUST KEEP ON WALKING and LEAVE.

The homeowner was irate and abusive and making racial accusations, but he was not violent. Once the police knew there was no break-in, they had no right and no authority to remain on his property at all.  I don’t know what they wanted to prove by arresting the professor for: 1)  yelling at them; 2) while on his own property; 3) after their business was finished.  There was no point in it, except to have the last word.

We all like to have the last word.  If you have a gun and a badge, I suspect you get it more often than the rest of us.

Baptist pastor tased & beaten by police at checkpoint

Missouri Criminal Defense LawyerThere is a news story about a Baptist pastor who was driving home to Phoenix, AZ from San Diego. He was stopped at a customs checkpoint (not actually at any border, apparently).  He informed  the agents that his business was his own and he would not answer their questions, but just wanted to be on his way.

They brought up a drug dog up to sniff his car trunk and then informed him that the dog indicated that he had drugs or a person hidden in the car trunk and that they were going to search it.

[Note:  the indication of drugs turned out to be false, but not soon enough to do this guy any good]

When he refused to get out, they broke out his car windows, ground his head into the broken glass, dragged him out, threw him on the ground while tasing him throughout the entire procedure.

After a trip to the emergency room to stitch up his face, they took him to jail (I’m not sure for what).

When he later asked why they had done it, he was told it was because he did not answer their questions.

Here is some local coverage of the story:  Pastor Claims Border Agents Beat Him

Here is a YouTube video of the guy telling his side of the story:

In the news story the border patrol claims they never use tasers. Here is a video that the pastor made showing one of his taser wounds (looked real to me –and I’ve seen taser wounds) and some of the spent taser wires that he collected from inside his car after the incident:

I really admire this guy.  It takes guts to refuse to answer police questions about one’s personal business. Even when you know you are completely innocent, this can still happen to you.  It is so much easier to give them what they want.  I fear our police state will get worse before it gets better.

Government, like fire, never says: “Enough!”

State Senator Yvonne Wilson, Democrat from Kansas City, is back this year with three crime-related bills that we’ve seen before. There is not much new to say except the bills have not been improved from ones that died in earlier years.

Criminal defense lawyer