How does DNA testing for evidence work?

DNA is a molecule that contains our genetic code and determines all of our traits. Every cell in the human body contains a complete set of our DNA. 99% of the DNA from two people will be identical, 0.1% of the DNA code is what makes each person unique.

These sequences, genetic markers are used by forensic scientists when doing a DNA test. Identical twins will have identical genetic markets.

Forensic evidence could include samples from skin, hair, blood or other body fluids.

The accuracy of DNA is crucial as it can be life changing for someone on trial. DNA tests can sometimes be the only evidence to prove someone was involved in a crime or free someone wrongly convicted. Testing more markers will insure the accuracy of the test, but this can be expensive. Unrelated people can be the same, however this is only a one in one billion chance.

DNA was not used to profile people until the mid 1980’s. Compared to fingerprints or eyewitness testimony, DNA evidence is a high accurate method. DNA evidence is heavily relied on in court.

For more about DNA evidence in criminal law, check out these resources:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/0/20205874
https://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-procedure/how-dna-evidence-works.html

Washington Fair Chance Act- What is it?

The Washington Fair Chance Act was signed into law this week by Governor Jay Inslee. Referred to as “ban the box” by supporters, this law prohibits employers from asking about arrests or convictions until after the employer determines if the applicant is otherwise qualified for the position. Exceptions include law enforcement, state agencies, schools and other jobs that work with children or vulnerable adults.

More than one million people living in Washington State have a criminal record. Nationwide 11 states and 150 cities have adopted a similar concept.

The main goal is to prohibit excluding someone with a criminal history solely based on that fact if they are otherwise qualified during the initial screenings. Many qualified applicants can be discouraged from applying for a position if they need to check a box saying they have a past history with the law.

Another goal of this legislature is to help ex-offenders fine productive employment. The idea is if they are able to make a living wage, provide for their families and have work then they are less likely to re-offend or turn to criminal activities.

You can read more about the bill and what supporters believe are the benefits here.

In the News: Lawyer Admitted Client’s Guilt

The U.S. Supreme Court considers the question: When a defendant in a capital case says, “not guilty,” can his attorney say “guilty?”

This happened in the case of State of Louisiana v. McCoy. Robert McCoy is currently on death row after his conviction for triple murder after being charged with first-degree murder. He claimed he was innocent, but his lawyer thought the evidence against him was overwhelming.

Lawyer, Larry English wanted to spare him from execution and proposed admitting guilt and pleading for a lesser sentence. McCoy did not agree. At trial, McCoy said he was out of the state during the time of the murders. English, mentioned in his closing arguments that his client was guilty of second-degree murder because of mental deficiencies.

The lawyer had told McCoy to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. The lawyer was trying to avoid the death penalty. This strategy failed.

The Supreme Court heard arguments on this case during an appeal. McCoy asked for a new trial because his lawyer disobeyed his instructions. The justices will have to decide “whether the lawyer’s decisions was a reasonable effort to make the best of a bad situation or instead a violation of McCoy’s constitutional rights, entitling him to a new trial.”

Sources: http://blogs.findlaw.com/supreme_court/2018/01/supreme-court-hears-murder-case-where-lawyer-admitted-clients-guilt.html

https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/16/16-8255/26940/20180105201207565_16-8255%20rb.pdf

http://www.wnd.com/2018/01/oops-defense-attorney-admits-clients-guilt/#o3oFidAF5hOOrjkX.99

Avoiding DUI Super Bowl Sunday

Super Bowl Sunday is coming up this weekend. A day typically full of food, football and fun, drinking is a part of many Super Bowl parties. After the festivities, many get behind the wheel not realizing how impaired they actually are. The most effective way to avoid a DUI charge is simply to not drink and drive. Even if you think you are sober enough to drive, if you have had any amount of alcohol your BAC could suggest otherwise. If you plan on driving, avoiding drinking completely is the only way to eliminate your chance for a DUI arrest.

Here are some tips to follow to avoid a DUI.

  • Eat plenty of food and alternate drinks with water throughout the day.
  • Keep track of your drinks and have a limit for yourself.
  • Set up a safe, sober ride home.
  • If unable to drive, call Uber or a taxi.
  • Ask a friend if you can stay over for the night.

Always have a backup plan. You may plan on driving home but drink more than you planned. Never get behind the wheel if you are intoxicated. Keep the roads safe and avoid a DUI arrest. If you need more advice regarding DUI and DUI laws, contact Charles A Johnston Law today.

In the News: The Sexual Misconduct Scandals

This fall, Harvey Weinstein,  the Hollywood producer,  was fired after multiple women came forward and accused him of rape and sexual assault.

After this, a series of accusations of sexual misconduct were made on dozens of others. The allegations ranged from inappropriate comments to rape. These allegations have led to multiple high-profile men to be fired or forced to resign. These allegations are continuing to come in.

You can view a full list and read more about the allegations here.

So, what does the law say about sexual harassment? Many companies are examining their current sexual harrassment policies after a barrage of #metoo stories on social media and the conversation on sexual harassment was put front and center on the media.

 

Sexual harassment is defined by the law. According to the University of Michigan Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when either: 

  • The conduct is made as a term or condition of an individual’s employment, education, living environment or participation in a University community.
  • The acceptance or refusal of such conduct is used as the basis or a factor in decisions affecting an individual’s employment, education, living environment, or participation in a University community.
  • The conduct unreasonably impacts an individual’s employment or academic performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for that individual’s employment, education, living environment, or participation in a University community.”

Sexual harassment is a form of Sex Discrimination occurring in the workplace. A key part of the definition is the use of “unwelcome.”

There are two types (generally): quid pro quo and hostile environment.

  • Quid pro quo means “this for that.” Implying that a certain things will depend on the individual submitting to conduct of a sexual nature. For example, implying that a promotion will occur only if the employee goes on a date with their supervisor.
  • Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when the conduct of sexual nature is intimidating, threatening or abusing

 

Learn more about what the law says about sexual harassment here.

 

 

Freedom of Speech

With the comments by President Donald Trump and the protests by NFL players being highlighted in the media, it is important to consider what our laws say about “Freedom of Speech” and this right granted to ALL of us in the United States.

This right is not absolute. State, local and federal governments can limit how people express themselves. Threats and incitations to violence – aren’t protected at all.

Free Speech entitles us:

  1. Not to speak (the right to not salute the flag.)
  2. To protest war
  3. To use offensive words and phrases to convey political messages.
  4. To contribute money to a political campaign.
  5. To advertise commercial products and services (with restrictions)
  6. To engage in symbolic speech (flag burning in protest etc.)

Additionally, free speech isn’t limited. We have these same rights every day. This means, that even speech that other people do not like or agree with is legal. The First Amendment protects speech even if most people find it offensive, hurtful or hateful. The government cannot determine what can and cannot be said.

Your right to protest in public places can be limited. And, your right to protest is protected as long as it is peaceful. The First Amendment doesn’t offer protections for a gathering in which a clear, present danger of riot, disorder and interference of traffic or an immediate threat to public safety exists.

For even more information on your right to Freedom of Speech, visit Us Courts
and Cornell Law

Crime Classification 101

Crimes are different depending on their severity. They start with infractions, then misdemeanors and finally the most serious, felonies. These classifications can influence the procedures as well as the charges. Here is some information on the differences.

What is an Infraction?

This type of crime is the least serious. This type of crime typically leads to a ticket in which the person has a pay a fine. These usually involve little or no time in court. Infractions commonly known are traffic tickets, jaywalking, simple speeding tickets, red light tickets, and littering to name a few.

What type of crimes are considered a Misdemeanor?
Misdemeanors usually have the punishment of a substantial fine and may include some jail time, usually less than one year.

What makes a crime a Felony?
A felony is the most serious level of crimes. They are classified by degree with first degree being the most serious. A few examples include murder, treason, arson, rape, robbery, burglary, kidnapping and terrorism.

What are civil cases vs criminal cases?
A civil case is a private dispute between two entities. (People or organizations) Criminal cases include actions that can be harmful to society as a whole.

Source:
FindLaw

Factors Judge Considers During Sentencing

Judges determine the punishments for a crime. (Capital punishment cases the jury will decide life in prison or death). The 8th amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

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Once a person has been found guilty in the court of law or pleads guilty, sentencing will be the next step. A judge will need to review relevant information and consider many factors. The mandatory minimum along with social factors, severity of crime and victim statements all play a part in the sentencing.

Additionally, the crime must fit the punishment. A Judge will consider the punishment and then consider “aggravating” or “mitigating” circumstances. A few of these factors considered include:

  • First time or repeat offender
  • Main offender or accessory
  • If anyone was hurt or if crime was unlikely to hurt anyone
  • If crime was committed under stress
  • If offender was very cruel
  • If offender is remorseful

Provisions state that the court must give counsel an opportunity to speak on behalf of the defendant. Defendant will be allowed to prevent any information or make a statement on his own behalf. In many states, a victim or victims family may also be given the opportunity to address the court and recommend leniency or strictness.

If you need help and want to know more about the sentencing laws in Washington State, contact Charles A Johnston law.

Fireworks and Fourth of July Safety in Tacoma

Did you know that Fireworks are illegal in Tacoma? This 4th of July the Tacoma Fire Department encourages your family to attend a public fireworks display instead of lighting off your own. 4th of July is a very fun holiday, but if you break the law or partake in dangerous fireworks activities then you risk fines.

One of the main reasons for banning fireworks in the City of Tacoma is because of the high fire damage after warm, dry weather. Additionally, the concern for other citizens and their property was a reason for the banning.

If you buy fireworks on Tribal Land and then bring them to Tacoma, you risk fines and confiscation. Fireworks are legal to discharge on Tribal Land.

If you are excited to see fireworks, attend one of the big public shows. These are put on by professionals and are spectacular fireworks. One of the best shows in the area is the Freedom Fair on the Tacoma waterfront.

Be safe this 4th of July and follow the law about discharging fireworks.

For additional information on locations where fireworks are allowed or banned go here.

Real Law: Fitbit Data Solving a Murder

What can be used in a criminal case is constantly changing as modern technology becomes involved. Data is collected and stored on a variety of places including your computer. These things can be used in court. Things such as an internet browser history, files, and data in the cloud can be used.

In a recent murder case, IoT (Internet of Things) data is helping to solve a murder. The data stored on a murder victim’s Fitbit and other electronically stored data are forming evidence against the victim’s husband who has now been charged with murder.

The victim had been wearing her Fitbit activity tracker which showed that she was still moving around and posting on Facebook an hour after her husband claimed she had been murdered by an intruder. The husband had been involved in an extramarital affair in which the women was pregnant. Mounting evidence points to him trying to cover up the murder. The husband also sought to collect on a half million dollar life insurance policy only days after the murder.

There is a right to privacy, and police will generally need a warrant to access IoT data. The data on victim’s devices typically will be available to law enforcement without difficulty.

Sources: FindLaw
NYMag