San Francisco to Throw Out Marijuana Convictions

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA at sunset.

As we previously reported, recreational marijuana became legal in the state of California on January 1st.  And now in an unprecedented move, the city of San Francisco will throw out all marijuana related misdemeanors dating back to 1975.

There are 8 states where recreational marijuana is legal and there are few cities that have adopted such actions as San Francisco.  After California legalized marijuana, San Francisco became the first city to automatically apply the new laws to cases dating back to the 1970s.  As of January 1st when the drug was legalized recreationally, people with misdemeanor violations could petition the court to have their records sealed which, would cost them a fee to do.  The district attorney in San Francisco noticed that very few people were taking advantage of this and decided to make a huge change. Misdemeanor marijuana cases will now be automatically thrown out and sealed with no cost or action required from those who currently have misdemeanor marijuana violations.  It’s estimated that more than 3,000 cases will be thrown out and sealed, all of the cases dating from back when marijuana was illegal.  The prosecutor says they will also examine another 5,000 felony cases as well and reduce those to misdemeanors if the person does not have another violent conviction on their record (such as murder).

Previously in California, possessing one ounce of marijuana would result in a misdemeanor.  Now, possessing up to an ounce of marijuana is completely legal and people do it every day. But, those people with records are still being punished and the new protocol could change the lives of many people with these convictions.  Marijuana offenses are non-violent drug offenses and can hold someone back from being hired; employers can refuse to hire someone who has checked the box regarding a misdemeanor and/or felony conviction. A person can also be denied housing benefits and college loans if they have this sort of conviction so, erasing them could be a second chance for many.  The cost of having your record sealed is can also be off-putting as well, which is a main reason for prosecutors automatically throwing out the cases.

Many states have adopted new laws on marijuana, but San Francisco is the only city to automatically expunge records and offer relief of this type.   A few months ago, the Nevada Governor vetoed a bill that would vacate the sentences of people convicted of marijuana misdemeanors.  Some other cities have adopted policies that allow for the person to petition the court to seal their records but none have an automatic process like San Francisco now does.   The actions of San Francisco could cause a ripple effect throughout California and we could potentially see this becoming the normal process for states where the drug is now legalized.

This is a huge step in the right direction in terms of relief for persons convicted of marijuana offenses in states where the drug is now legal.  People were still being penalized for marijuana records even though the drug was legalized.  We’ll stay up to date on any marijuana law changes so make sure to check back here for updates.

 

Jeff Sessions’ Marijuana Crackdown

jsTo the dismay of many marijuana supporters, this past Thursday Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he will allow federal prosecutors to decide how they would like to handle marijuana cases.  The move sparked panic amongst marijuana growers, sellers, and buyers alike, especially in California where recreational marijuana became legal on January 1st.  The question remains: what will this mean for marijuana law in the 28 states where it’s legal medically and the 8 states where it’s legal recreationally?

This is a hard question to answer. First, we have to dive into the history of marijuana law over the past decade.   During the Obama administration, the golden rule was the Cole Memo. The Cole Memo basically stated that the federal government wouldn’t go after marijuana cases in states where the drug was legal, leaving the states a majority of the control and the power to govern themselves.  The memo stated that prosecutors should instead focus on illicit enterprises, rather than businesses that were following state laws.  These guidelines provided much needed security to marijuana businesses operating amongst conflicting laws.  Marijuana was, and is, still illegal on the federal level, but states could still decide to legalize the drug without fear of federal government interference during this time.  But, the Cole Memo was simply a memo- meaning it is not law and it could easily be changed, which is exactly what Sessions did.  This also opens up questions for states that have marijuana legislation on the forefront of discussions in their congress, like Illinois where lawmakers plan to bring legalization to a vote sometime this year. 

The new guidelines implemented by Sessions allow the US attorneys to use their discretion in pursuing marijuana cases; it no longer discourages them from charging marijuana providers in states where the drugs are legal.  Jeff Sessions has long been an opponent of Marijuana legalization, comparing it to the likes of heroin. So it’s not much of a shock that he decided to get rid of the Obama era rules.  This could mean huge changes for the marijuana markets that exist and this could possibly stall future marijuana legislation.  In his memo, Jeff Sessions enlisted the prosecutors to use their “resources most effectively to reduce violent crime, stem the tide of the drug crisis, and dismantle criminal gangs,” (Department of Justice).   Sessions’ own memo seems to contradict President Trump’s own ideas on marijuana; during his campaign he promised to not pursue states where marijuana is legal.

And the timing of the memo wasn’t coincidental.   The memo was released mere days after recreational marijuana became legal in California- the biggest state to date.  The California market could take a huge hit if the US attorneys choose to go after sellers.  The marijuana industry has seen insane and astronomical growth across the nation. In Colorado alone, the tax revenue has exceeded $506 million since marijuana became legal in 2014.  Marijuana equals money: states want the money and the citizens want it legalized.  So why make the drug illegal in a booming market? Members of congress believe this to be a huge mistake and aren’t taking this lightly.   Many members of congress have expressed their disagreement with the memo, with one senator from Colorado even refusing to approve appointments to the justice department until this is overturned.

It’s hard to navigate marijuana law in a country where the states and federal government have different laws on the books.  Until the laws become the same, issues like these will continue to exist.  We will stay up to date on any new marijuana news so make sure to check back here for updates.  As always, if you have any questions on this law or others, feel free to contact us and one of our skilled attorneys will be happy to assist you.

What You Need to Know about Recreational Marijuana in California

mjOn January 1, 2018, recreational marijuana became legal in the state of California.  California’s market is expected to be the largest legal marijuana market ever with more buyers and sellers than any state has ever seen. This means there are a few rules and regulations that users have to abide by if they want to partake and some things to know before you start your road trip to California.  Here’s a quick recap on everything you’ll need to know about recreational marijuana in California:

 

Age and Weight

The age requirement to buy and use marijuana is 21 years and older. This means that the dispensaries will of course be checking IDs the make sure no one underage illegally purchases the drug.  There’s also restrictions on the amount a person can purchase and carry- up to one ounce of marijuana.  The state has imposed the time frame of 10pm- 6am where dispensaries are not allowed to sell.

Non-resident Usage?

Residents of any state can purchase the recreational marijuana– but if it crosses state lines it can be considered drug trafficking and carries heavy consequences.  (Stay tuned for a blog on marijuana at the federal level). Taking drugs with you on an airplane probably isn’t the best idea either and could potentially get you in legal trouble there as well.  As we recently wrote, it’s also important to remember that an employer can terminate an employee for using recreational or medicinal marijuana, even if the drugs were legal where used.

“Can I smoke here?”

Be careful where you smoke as well.  In California it is still illegal to smoke in public and there is a state imposed fine for those who break the law.  Marijuana usage must be done on private property.  Marijuana is also banned from all places where tobacco is banned which means you can’t light up at schools or parks either.

Driving Under the Influence

As of January 1st, it’s illegal to use marijuana while operating a motor vehicle or as a passenger in a vehicle. Police are on the lookout for users driving under the influence and those who are caught under the influence will face DUI charges.  Marijuana also must be in a completely sealed container if it is being carried in a car which is the same as alcohol.

 

As always, if you have questions on this topic or others feel free to give us a call and one of our skilled attorneys will happy to assist you.

 

New Laws for 2018

As 2017 comes to a close, we usher in 2018 with a new set of laws that go into effect January 1st. This year there are more than 200 new laws that Illinois has put in place.  We’ve compiled a list of some of the most important laws you should know (and we included some of our favorites).  You can check out a full list of all the new laws here.

 

typingOnline Threats Can be Considered Hate Crimes

Of course we’re all probably users of some aspect of social media and therefore familiar with the dangers of cyber stalking and online harassment.  Now, users who make online threats can be prosecuted for hate crimes if their posts are considered obscene or forms of intimidation.

Mental Health Training Requirement for Police Officers

There are 2 different laws that include mental health training/ classification.  The first law will require police officer training on the types of mental health issues and their signs and symptoms.  Also, police officers in counties of 3 million people or more must complete crisis intervention training.  The second law establishes a council that will look into implementing early identification and classification of mental illnesses.

PainPills-1Charges for Providing Drugs

You can now be charged with “drug- induced- homicide” if you provide drugs to someone and they die as a result of the drugs.  This is a Class X felony and carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison.  With Illinois currently facing an opioid crisis, lawmakers are attempting to stop providers of these dangerous drugs.

New DUI Law Sentencing Laws

If you drive on a suspended license from an aggravated DUI and it results in a death, the sentencing will be treated the same way as reckless homicide.  The sentencing for reckless homicide is a Class 3 Felony and carries a sentence of 2-5 years in prison.

No “For Sale” Signs or Stickers on Windows

Under this new law drivers will not be allowed to display “for sale signs” or price tags on windows in order to prevent distractions.  Before you drive off the lot with your new car, the price tag must be taken off.

dogPets are Considered Marital Assets

Couples who are divorcing can now have a judge decide who gets custody of their pets if they can’t come to an agreement. Before this law, pets were usually treated like property that could be divided between the couples.  Judges will look at factors like who typically spends more money on the pet’s food and vet bills and who spends the most time with the pet.

elephantNo More Elephants in the Circus

Sorry Ringling Brothers- elephants will no longer be allowed in circuses in Illinois.  Illinois becomes the first state to ban elephants in circuses and travelling animal acts. This law will protect elephants which are usually abused in these types of big top settings.

 

Childcare Safety Database

This law creates a childcare database for parents where they can search for childcare providers and see which facilitates have had their licenses revoked or those with other infractions.

veterabsMore Assistance for Veterans

Veterans will now have access to better tools in order to ease their transition back into civilian life. These tools include more veteran courts, providing veterans with service animal information, and awarding academic credits for military training.

 

october-pink-1714664_960_720Breast Cancer Coverage

Insurers are now required to provide coverage for a breast MRI if a mammogram shows dense breast tissue.   Mammograms alone cannot always detect breast cancer in patients that have dense or heterogeneous breast tissue and in many cases an MRI or an ultrasound may be required.  Illinois is one of the only states that will now require insurers to provide these tests for patients.

Sexual Assault Policy Requirement

In 2017, we saw many women and men come forward to say they were victims of sexual assault and harassment.  Now, all law enforcement agencies must now have a written policy for any officer that is involved in a sexual assault in order to ensure that everything is handled properly.

hair cutDry Cleaners and Hair Salons Must List their Prices

In an attempt to ensure that men and women are charged equal prices for equal services salons and dry cleaners must have their prices listed.  Senator Melinda Bush believes that these service providers unfairly charge women a higher price than men and therefore service prices must be listed in advance.

 

If you have any questions on these law or any others, don’t hesitate to contact us and one of our skilled attorneys will be happy to assist you.  We here at Lauralaw wish you a Happy and Healthy new year!

 

Red Light Ticket Refunds

red light cameraWe all know the dreadful feeling- you’re driving through a yellow light, hoping that it doesn’t turn red and set the red light photo enforced camera off.  With the possibility of a ticket looming over our heads we vigorously check the mail for weeks, and to our dismay we discover the $100 ticket due to the city of Chicago within 14 days.  These impossible-to-avoid cameras seem to be at every intersection.

But ticket-payers rejoice!!  There is some good news for those who have received a red light ticket.  Back in July, the city reached an agreement in a class-action lawsuit to refund those who were charged late fees.  The city was in direct violation of their own law to give out second notices before charging late fees- which were double the price of the original ticket.  If you had a violation between March 23rd, 2010 and May 17, 2015 you may be eligible of a refund up to 50% of what you paid.

The city mailed out notices to those who were possibly affected by this lawsuit with instructions on how to file a claim.  But, you can also click here and go to the City of Chicago’s website and enter your information to see if have an eligible ticket.  You must file a claim by December 11, 2017 so make sure to submit them as soon as possible!!  The city will pay up to $38.5 million in refunds and they will be paid out next August.

And as always, if you have questions regarding this or any other law don’t hesitate to contact us and one of our skilled attorneys will be happy to assist you.

Field Sobriety Tests

By: Guest Author, Kevin Crowley

dui

 

Field Sobriety Tests To Expect When Cops Pull You Over

When a police officer asks you to pull over and step out of your car on suspicion of drunk driving, he will likely ask you to perform field sobriety tests to determine if you are indeed intoxicated. Field sobriety testing, after all, is one of the primary tools that law enforcement uses to decide whether or not to book you for a DUI.

Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

There are three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) that the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) endorses and law enforcement readily implements. They are the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), walk-and-turn (WAT) and one-leg stand (OLS).

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

This SFST is regularly featured in movie and TV scenes that show police pulling a car over, taking out a penlight and shining it into the eyes of the driver and asking him or her to follow the light.

The actual test typically uses a small object which the driver has to follow with his or her eyes as the officer moves it from side to side. Cops do it to see how the driver’s eyes jerk when it gazes to the side. The whole exercise revolves around the fact that the eye’s involuntary jerking or nystagmus becomes more exaggerated if the driver is intoxicated by alcohol.

Walk and Turn

This test works under the assumption that people who are not impaired by alcohol can easily complete tasks even when their attention is divided. Drivers are made to take nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turn on one foot, and repeat the previous steps but in the opposite direction.

One-Leg Stand

This test requires a driver to stand on one leg with one foot about six inches off the ground for 30 seconds. The police officer will take hopping, swaying, using arms to balance, or putting the foot down before the 30 seconds are up as indicators that the driver is impaired by alcohol.

Law enforcement also administers field sobriety tests other than the three SFSTs above. Check out the infographic below to see more field sobriety tests.

 

 

Author Bio:
Kevin Crowley is an experienced DUI lawyer at  Lane, Hupp & Crowley PLC, a team of criminal defense lawyers in Phoenix, Arizona. He enjoys writing about law and helping his clients handle their legal needs.

We Thank All Our Veterans!

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In Honor: American Knight
Written By: Scott Morask

From the distant sands of Normandy

To the jungles of Vietnam

In the snowy snows of Korea

Came the march to Arlington

The crosses glisten bright

Even on the darkest days

The shadows are filled with light

Upon these ones so brave

So for all of you who have gone to war

And stood at the gates of Hell

And have seen destruction spread it’s wings

That words can never tell

But in your eyes I see a tale

Of courage over fear

Even in the darkness of the night

Your light does persevere

After being in the horror

That only war can bring

Your heroics are still resounding

From sea to shining sea.

God Bless

California and Recreational Marijuana

california

Last November, citizens in California voted to legalize recreational marijuana, making the golden state the 5th state to officially legalize the drug.   California was the first state to legalize medical cannabis in 1996, and many think the legalization of recreational marijuana by California will cause other states to follow suit.  California is the most populous state and could potentially have the largest legal marijuana market ever.  The law will go into effect January 1st, 2018 and cities like LA and San Diego have hopefuls preparing to open up shops, but not without a host of issues that come along with new legislation.

With the largest marijuana market, comes a whole lot of red tape and laws and regulations that need to be followed in order to have a successful operation.  Including the fact that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.  California wants to cover all their bases in regards to regulating the entire process- from seed to plant to shop.  But, they are scrambling to make sure that all the procedures and paperwork are in place before the January 1st deadline.  California plans to streamline the regulations on the medical marijuana and recreational marijuana markets which means both adding onto existing regulations and creating new regulations to govern both markets the same way.  The rules for shop owners are simple enough: you need a license from the state, selling hours apply, proper security measures must be in place, and the shop needs to properly keep their records.  California is currently giving out temporary licenses.  The state wants prospective shop owners to apply for the licenses now in order to make sure that come January 1st, they can start approving them to get the ball rolling and start selling.  But, the proposed regulations haven’t been been approved yet and there’s less than 2 months to go.

The biggest challenge for California’s legal marijuana market may be the stiff competition that comes from the black market dealers.  California already has a well established black market for marijuana.  This means that the legal markets will have tough competition from low level street sellers and those who have already established a customer base.  Opening a shop will cost you; just applying for a license in Illinois is around $60,000.  This most likely means that the people selling on the black market, probably won’t be applying for a license to open a dispensary and will continue to sell the way they are.

It doesn’t help that California plans to implement a tax rate of up to 45% on recreational marijuana.  This will make the legal weed more expensive than the illegal stuff and business would be drawn away from the dispensaries.  According to LA daily news, a bag of marijuana that costs $35 could now cost anywhere from $50-$60 with taxes.  The growers will also be taxed at $44 a pound for what they sell.  The state also has to worry about keeping up with supply and demand.  Marijuana will be a hot commodity once the markets open and this means that the state has to make sure that enough legal marijuana will be available to those who want to purchase it. But, they can’t start selling until the regulations are in place and licenses are issued, which means California won’t make any money until then.  A shortage of legal marijuana, like the one Nevada experienced this summer, could allow the illegal market to flourish once again.

But with the legalization comes other issues like public smoking and keeping people from driving under the influence.  California says that they plan on doing testing to find out the legal limit for marijuana use and driving impairment as well as protocols for testing the blood of drivers that are suspected of driving while high.  Marijuana will be treated in a similar way to alcohol; drivers can still carry marijuana in their car as long as the bag is sealed and the amount is under weight restrictions. Smoking in public will carry a $100 fine and is not allowed within 1,000 feet of schools or playgrounds or within 250 feet of an entrance (Mercury News).

Even with all the complications the legalization is set to bring up to $50 million in tax revenue for Los Angeles alone and $658 million across the state in the first year.  It’s no wonder that Illinois wants to solve the current debt struggle the same way.   California has long been a pioneer for marijuana reform.  Which, could mean that within the next few years we could see many states follow in the same footsteps and legalize recreational marijuana.  Illinois lawmakers plan on bringing recreational marijuana to a vote in congress in 2018.  Here at Lauralaw, we will stay up to date on any current marijuana law passages so make sure to stay tuned to our blog.

 

Changing the Way We Handle DNA Analysis

dnaDNA has becomes an essential part of many court cases since the introduction of DNA evidence during the 1980’s.  DNA evidence is used to exonerate those wrongfully imprisoned and to convict those who’s DNA was present at a crime scene; it’s considered an extremely reliable source in courtrooms across the country.  The presence, or lack thereof, can determine a person’s fate in the criminal justice system.  And now the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) wants to make sure that DNA is being used properly during testing and aims to create a standard for DNA analysis.

In the first study of its kind, the NIST will analyze the same set of complex DNA samples across different labs throughout the United States and will compare the results.  Labs across the country use different types of computerized software programs to examine and analyze DNA in order to get a profile of a suspect.  This profile that is created can then be compared to the DNA of a defendant in a court proceeding and can be used to determine if it the defendant was present during the commission of a crime.  One of the issues here is that different computer programs may present different results when given the same sample to work with.  This raises many red flags and calls for the development of a standard in order to prevent innocent people from going to prison because of lab result differentiations.  Just last year in New York, two different software programs that were analyzing the exact same sample, yielded different results.  If there is no standard for testing DNA, this brings up a major point- those two different results could potentially be life or death for a defendant.

Two controversial methods created by the DNA laboratory in the office of New York City’s chief medical examiner are being questioned here.  The first is “touch DNA” testing.  This is where small trace amounts of DNA are analyzed – so small that the sample may be as little as a trillionth of a gram and is much less than the FBI’s recommended standard for DNA testing.  But, this test doesn’t take into account the fact that trace DNA can be transferred with something as simple as a handshake.  The presence of small amount of DNA being used to determine guilt has a lot of issues. DNA is very sensitive and easily transferable and a much larger amount of DNA would be required in order to complete testing.  One of the NIST’s goals is to determine a standard amount of DNA that can be used for testing.

The other method is probabilistic genotyping.  This is when “software calculates the likelihood that a suspect’s genetic material is present in a complicated mixture of several people’s DNA,” (NIST).  The fact that complex mixtures involving multiple samples of DNA are being tested also raises red flags.  The accuracy cannot be guaranteed.  There are too many variables present in order to ensure that the results are fool proof, and in criminal court cases you want the results need to be as accurate as possible.  There also isn’t a uniform standard for how the DNA results are presented once the testing is complete. Which is what caused the two software programs in New York to present different results.

The NIST hopes to create a standard for testing on complex DNA samples and hopes to look at the use of trace DNA.  The testing and results should be completed by next summer.  The labs have stopped using the controversial forms of testing, but many defense attorneys whose clients were convicted off of this testing want the evidence to be revisited.  This could potentially cause a lot more problems going forward.

Here at Lauralaw, we will update you on any news regarding DNA testing and other important law passages.  Feel free to contact us and one of our attorneys will be happy to assist you.

 

Parking Tickets Beware…

By: Timothy Black

 

20171005_163434Not all heroes wear capes.  Some wear a shirt and tie, and an Illinois law license.  Local hero-attorney Todd Kooperman is one of my favorite Chicagoans.  In a mission after my own heart, Mr. Kooperman is taking on the system.  He’s fighting the man.  He’s squaring up against the establishment.  He’s suing the parking ticket industrial complex.  As a frequent (getter and) fighter of parking tickets, I am well aware of the frustration that comes wrapped in a bright orange envelope from the City’s Streets & Sanitation Department.  There is little that is more annoying than leaving your house, approaching your car, and being greeted by the pompous little parking ticket perched on your windshield.  I love to fight parking tickets.  I fight every single parking ticket I get.  Laura thinks (read: knows) it’s a waste of time – and we all know time is money – but, “they aren’t going to get away with this!” I say, as I drive down to 400 W. Superior St. to inevitably lose my dubiously-founded challenge.  Parking tickets – ugh.

But I’m not alone in my disdain for the ol’ parking ticket.  No – this fight has a new standard-bearer.  Todd Kooperman has not only taken up the flag of fighting against parking tickets, he’s started GoFundMe campaign and hired Chicago civil rights attorney Mark Weinberg to challenge the ordinance that gives authority to the City of Chicago to write parking tickets.  Specifically, he is alleging that the vague nature of the ordinance violates your rights because it does not mandate a timetable for advanced notice before handing out parking tickets to vehicles violating a temporary parking ban.  Street cleaning parking tickets are the most common example.  Mr. Kooperman argues that the ordinance should require a set amount of warning before the City can legally start firing up their trusty parking ticket machines.  I agree.

Mr. Kooperman may only be 50% of the way to his GoFundMe goal of $1,500, but he’s 100% of the way into my heart.  Keep fighting the good fight, Mr. Kooperman.  Do not rest until you have conquered the parking ticket conglomerate that is the City of Chicago.  God Speed.