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Newport Legal Blog

Understanding cell phones and search warrants

All Rhode Island citizens have the right to protection from unlawful searches, and understanding how cell phones are included in this is of paramount importance if law enforcement is investigating a person for a crime. With texts, email, social media and even banking often taking place with the use of a personal cell phone, it is only within the past few years that the U.S. Supreme Court has clarified how the Fourth Amendment applies.

As CNN explains, officers are not able to search a suspect's cell phone without first receiving a search warrant. The 2014 ruling by the high court states that while cars, wallets and other personal effects, such as briefcases, are able to be searched initially without a warrant, cell phones and other electronics do not fall into this category because they do not threaten the safety of officers. Since phones now contain personal communication and other information that was not previously as readily available as it is today, cell phone searches are held to a higher standard, much like the search of one's home. In order to search the contents of a home or phone, law enforcement officers must obtain a search warrant in advance of the search.

Bill to expunge records passes House committee

Criminal records can be difficult to recover from, and in Rhode Island, lawmakers are attempting to make past convictions a thing of the past. The Providence Journal reports that a new bill, which would allow up to five misdemeanors to be expunged from an offender’s record, was unanimously approved by the important Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee. The bill has not yet become law, and a similar measure died in the state Senate last year.

The legislation could help clear the records of thousands who previously broke the law. To qualify, the last misdemeanor must be at least 10 years old, and the person requesting expungement cannot have been convicted of a different offense since. Those in favor of the law say that these old offenses keep people who have paid for their crimes from being able to secure housing or to find employment. Rhode Island does bar employers from asking applicants about past criminal records before the “first interview.” Current state law allows for the expungement of a non-violent first offense, five years after conviction for a misdemeanor. Expungement for a felony requires a ten-year wait. The proposed legislation does not apply to felonies at all.

You need an attorney to fight cocaine charges

In Rhode Island, the law does not treat cocaine-related crimes mildly. As this drug can do significant harm, prosecuting attorneys will do everything in their power to seek maximum punishment in cocaine cases. If you find yourself facing cocaine-related drug charges, you need a strong defense.

What are the potential punishments for cocaine-related crimes? Are there alternatives to imprisonment? What defense strategies are available to fight such cases?

Understanding the restrictions that come with restraining orders

It is often said that there is a thin line between love and hate. Perhaps there is no other scenario where this axiom is more evident than in dealing with domestic relations. Married couples in Newport typically share very strong feelings for each which can vacillate between love and hate very quickly. In the event that in a seemingly hateful moment, one spouse allegedly assaults the other, the supposed victim may choose to seek a restraining order against the other until the situation has been dealt with and resolved. Indeed, according to information shared by the Providence Journal, 2,900 of such orders were issued in 2013.

The details of the restrictions that a restraining order places on an individual involved in a domestic violence case can be found in Section 15-15-3 of Rhode Island’s General Laws. Immediately after an order is issued, the defendant that it is against must:

  •          Vacate his or her household immediately
  •          Refrain from the contacting the person who petitioned for the order at home, on the street, or in any other circumstance
  •          Surrender custody of any minor children

Field sobriety tests not 100 percent accurate

If you are one of the Rhode Island drivers who have been arrested for and charged with a driving under the influence offense, you understandably want to learn about your options for a defense. Many people may assume that the tests used by police officers, sheriffs or other law enforcement officials are bullet proof. However, this is not true. As explained by FieldSobrietyTests.org, the three field sobriety tests used at the location of a drunk driving arrest stop each have different accuracy levels but none are 100-percent accurate.

Of the three standardized tests used, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test is the most accurate but even then it is said to be accurate only 77 percent of the time. This test measures the eyeball's involuntary twitching response to light. The response may be more pronounced after a person has consumed alcohol.

College students have a lot at stake when arrested for DUI

The administrations of many colleges and universities take seriously the dangers of alcohol use. In fact, it is common for institutes of higher learning to have dry campuses, meaning that, even if you are legally old enough to drink, you may not do so on school grounds, including in your dorm room.

Of course, that doesn't mean you weren't able to find a party, and now that the semester is over, you were probably looking forward to many fun and relaxing evenings with friends between now and the beginning of the new term. Obviously, you weren't counting on an arrest for drunk driving.

Ignition interlock devices used to prevent repeat DUIs

In an effort to keep the roads safe, Rhode Island allows steep consequences for those who are convicted of DUIs. According to WPRI, it has been two years since ignition interlock devices became one of the ways judges are able to punish DUI offenders. The devices operate like breathalyzer tests, and before a drive is able to start the car they have to blow into the device and show a blood-alcohol content of lower than .02 in order for the ignition to turn on. The state’s legal limit is .08 blood-alcohol concentration. Judges are able to restrict those convicted of a DUI to only drive cars that are equipped with an ignition interlock device.

When the laws went into effect in 2015, states with similar laws found using the devices lowered repeat offenses by two-thirds. Previously, judges could take away a driver’s license after a DUI conviction, but that didn’t actually keep them from driving or re-offending.

Lawmakers debate recreational marijuana bill

This year, lawmakers in Rhode Island once again debated the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. According to WPRI 12, lawmakers have been debating this issue each year since 2011 without coming to a vote. Since Massachusetts recently passed recreational marijuana laws, with stores opening as soon as July 2018, many supporters want to pass a law so as not to lose out on the tax revenue stores in Rhode Island could provide.

The Providence Journal reports that the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association is against legalization and detailed incidences of crimes where the perpetrators were high, including “36 cases of breaking and entering, nine shootings, four homicides, nine fires and four explosions.” They fear legalizing would lead to an increase in crime, without a staff to support the community. Others worry about the cost of doing business after legalization, including how employers will be affected. Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin cautioned that the legalization of recreational pot could lead to an increase in workplace safety lawsuits.

Mix up between miles and kilometers nets man a speeding ticket

It may be difficult to find anyone in Newport who has not, at one time or another, been asked that all-too-familiar question of “Do you know what the speed limit is on this road” by a law enforcement officer. The range of reasons one may have for speeding may be extensive, ranging from being late for work or an appointment, to simply being unfamiliar with the area. Misinterpreting a speed limit might seem like another of the many excuses people may cite. Yet in some cases, it may legitimately be true.

The differences in the standard units of measurement between the U.S. and Canada recently taught a North Dakota man a costly lessen. The man had been traveling along a Canadian road at what he thought was the posted speed limit of 100 mph. What he did not realize is that Canadian speed limits are posted in metric units. His traveling 100 mph in what was actually a 100 kph zone had him actually driving at 168 kmh. Unfortunately, it took the intervention of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police offer to reveal his error.

How does Rhode Island view marijuana?

While the federal government still views marijuana as a serious drug, Rhode Island has joined the list of states that has legalized it for medicinal purposes. Even without a prescription, if found with it in your possession in certain amounts, you may only be guilty of a civil offense. It is those accused of illegally distributing or cultivating the drug who will face the most severe penalties.

So, what exactly do the state's marijuana laws say? What are the penalties if criminally convicted? And, finally, what defense strategies may prove useful when fighting a marijuana-related drug charge?

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