There are so many things wrong with the municipal court system in St. Louis County. Some courts are efficient and fair and dispose of justice effectively. Some. But there are over 80 municipal courts in this County, and a majority of these courts and their practices are downright embarrassing. Those of us who represent clients in County municipal courts, and especially the dozens of courts in North County, have known about this sad state of affairs for years.
Today, the Washington Post released what I suppose could be termed an “exposé” revealing just how bad things have become in these courts.
The events that took place in Ferguson last month were no doubt more a response to the corrupt system of government in that neck of the woods than simple outrage over the death of one young man. I encourage you to read this (very long) article if you would like to know the types of stories we hear on an almost daily basis.
Our neighbors in Kirkwood this week passed an ordinance banning texting and driving for all drivers, regardless of age. State law makes it illegal for drivers under 21 to text or use their smartphones while driving, but in the past few months, several local towns have implemented a ban for all drivers. The question of whether municipalities can enforce harsher restrictions than state laws provide has and will continue to lead to controversy, but in an area with a lot of foot traffic like Kirkwood, this can only be seen as a positive development. Whether officers will actually enforce this law remains to be seen, but one can only wonder if this law will apply to unfortunate drivers who find themselves stuck for 15 minutes waiting for train to cross in downtown Kirkwood.
In a unanimous decision this morning, the United States Supreme Court held that police must obtain a search warrant before searching through a cell phone seized during an arrest. With all the many things that we store in our cell phones: pictures, messages, emails, bank information etc., it is surprising that before today law enforcement officers did not need a warrant to go through your phone. In fact it was widely assumed by many people that such a requirement was already in place. We’ve had more than a few consultations with clients where this strange and outdated policy had to be explained. But as of today, the law of the land has finally caught up with the 21st century.
The Court acknowledged in Davis v. California that cell phones in 2014 store troves of personal information, and that “the fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.” Chief Justice John Roberts went on to say that cellphones “are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.” Cannot argue with that logic.
The 4th Amendment, as many people know, protects us from unreasonable searches (among other things). Soon after a person is arrested, however, the law regarding the 4th Amendment can get very murky. So it is nice to have another bright-line rule regarding a common search issue, and it is nice to celebrate another victory for our privacy.
There is a trend in this country for state motor vehicle departments to issue unique license plates for drivers convicted of DUI. A few states such as Georgia and Minnesota currently have special plates which simply have a unique set of letters and numbers that, in all likelihood, would only be recognizable to law enforcement. But we were just made aware of one state, Ohio, which takes this public shaming to a whole new level.
Check out this picture of the bright yellow license plate issued to certain classes of DUI offenders in Ohio. These have been in practice for nearly a decade, but this is the first we have heard of this. They are apparently affectionately known to Ohioans as “party plates”, and they are mandatory for high-BAC first-time convictions as well as subsequent convictions within a 6-year period.
While there have always been rumors of bill of this type coming up in Missouri, no such bill has even been introduced. Is this public shaming a deterrent to drunk driving? Or is it exactly that – public shaming, which may subject drivers to increased scrutiny for law enforcement? It’s an interesting question, and we thank Shawn for bringing this fun fact to our attention!
After more than 30 years, the Missouri Criminal Code is as close as ever to being revised. Yesterday Missouri lawmakers passed a revision to the Code and have sent it to Governor Nixon for his signature. There are many long-overdue revisions, the summary of which can be found here. It appears as though the sense of optimism that should be present after finally getting to this point has been negated by reports that Governor Nixon will likely oppose signing the bill in its current form. And, even if he does, the revised statutes are not slated to take hold until 2017.
There are many positives to the proposals, including tougher stances on sex offenders, child molesters, and habitual drunk drivers. But one item missing from the proposal that many attorneys were hoping to see was the ability to more easily expunge certain non-violent crimes, especially for young offenders. The failure to include this option led at least one legislator to vote “no”.
Unlike in many neighboring states, it is extremely difficult to expunge a prior conviction. A select few types of crimes are eligible (first-time alcohol-related misdemeanor, passing a bad check, trespassing), but many crimes that a younger offender may commit are ineligible for expungement and can have long-lasting effects on a person’s ability to obtain employment, apply for student loans or housing, etc. An offender must wait at least 20 years to even apply for a felony expungement (10 years for a misdemeanor), and even then, at the expungment hearing, the State will almost certainly ask the Judge to dismiss the expungement application.
This high hurdle has been an issue for ages and it has always been said that the only recourse is the state legislature. So while news of the revised criminal code is a welcome sound that will streamline the criminal justice process and relieve our overcrowded jails and prisons, it was very disappointing to see a revised expungement process excluded from the bill.
Tired of feeling obligated to check your work email while you’re eating dinner or watching the Cardinals game or laying in bed? Consider moving to France.
After ruling last week that the City of St. Louis’ red-light camera operation is illegal, Judge Steven Ohmer has put a temporary hold on his decision, effectively reinstating the red-light cameras in the City until further notice. The City can continue enforcing violations and collecting fines, but these fines must be placed in an escrow account. The fines will be returned to drivers in the event that Judge Ohmer’s decision is upheld on appeal. Our ability to not have to come to a complete stop for 5 seconds before taking a right on red was fun while it lasted…
After last year’s incredibly warm winter, which featured only a couple of days of snow quickly followed by 50-degree days which melted any accumulation, this winter has been harsh to say the least. Snow and ice have covered the ground for the better part of 2 months, and we’re only halfway through February. And with all of this ice and snow has come an increase in ice- and snow- related slip-and-fall calls to our office.
There certainly appears to be a giant misconception among people who unfortunately slip and fall as a result of ice and snow at local businesses or on sidewalks. After calling 911 or their regular doctor, their next phone call is often to an attorney’s office, hoping to make a nice payday for their troubles. Unfortunately, this is not always the way it works out.
In Missouri, property owners generally do not have a duty to remove NATURAL ACCUMULATIONS of ice, snow or water. This is because ice and/or snow creates a hazard for anyone who encounters it, and just because it is on someone’s property doesn’t make that property owner liable. And it would be unreasonable to expect a person or business owner to stand outside throughout a long snow storm and continually shovel snow. If, however, the owner does something that makes the accumulation no longer natural (inadequate shoveling or snow removal efforts, substandard gutter drainage or blocked drains, installing an awning which allows snow to drip and freeze, uneven land grading, etc.), the owner could be liable. For a business, this is especially true, as most businesses have the express goal of getting you to actually come inside their business.
This conflicts somewhat with local ordinances (ex: St. Louis and Columbia) which require snow and ice removal “immediately . . . after any fall of snow…”. Indeed, this is a confusing area of the law, and it would be impossible to determine if a property owner or business owner is liable for your injuries without meeting with an experienced attorney to dissect every aspect of your claim. If you have slipped and fell on ice or snow this winter and you feel that this is the result of a negligent act by a homeowner or business, contact our office today and we can talk about your situation.
A St. Louis city judge yesterday ruled that the city’s red-light camera enforcement is invalid and that the city may no longer send violation notices, process payments, or send collection notices for unpaid fines. In a lengthy 18-page opinion, Judge Steven Ohmer struck down the city’s red-light program pending, most certainly, the final say by the Missouri Supreme Court.
The city of Arnold, the first city in the St.Louis area to implement red-light cameras, has announced that they will continue to issue red-light camera violations despite neighboring cities ditching their programs altogether. However, in a puzzling move, the city has decided to dismiss their red-light camera tickets for those who show up on their court night to protest their citations.
As always, these tickets do not put points on your license, regardless of where you receive one. But now in Arnold, you have 2 choices: show up on your court night and have the ticket automatically dismissed; or, stay home on court night and pay the $94.50 fine. The city has said that all fines paid for these tickets will not be returned, pending further developments. So if you receive a red-light camera ticket in the city of Arnold, apparently the only question you need to ask yourself is: “How much is my time worth?”