Criminal Law Newsletter February 2017

February 22, 2017

The following is a compendium of news reports over the past month that may be of interest to our AG offices who are involved with criminal law issues. Neither the National Association of Attorneys General nor the National Association of Attorneys General Training & Research Institute expresses a view as to the accuracy of news accounts, nor as to the positions expounded by the authors of the hyperlinked articles. 

Legislation

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas joined a panel that discussed Senate Bill 294, which would bring together prosecutors, judges, law enforcement officers, and child safety workers to form the New Mexico Homicide Review Team. That team will investigate child abuse-related homicides and develop ways to prevent child abuse.

The Rapid DNA Act of 2017 (S. 139/ H.R. 510) has been introduced by Sen. Orin Hatch and Rep. Jim Sesenbrenner. According to its sponsors, the bill would implement Rapid DNA testing to assist in making decisions about pretrial release or detention; solve and prevent violent crimes; exonerate the innocent; and prevent DNA analysis backlogs.

U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz has introduced a bill, H.R. 1061, that would require law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant to use a cell site simulator and would penalize the use of such a device without a warrant by up to ten years in prison.

In Texas, lawmakers are expected to consider bills requiring that police officers and ninth graders either take courses together or separately about how to best interact with each other. Other bills address police officers’ use of body cameras and would provide bulletproof vests to officers, and still others would raise the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 years.

Policy

The International Association of Chiefs of Police has released Deliberations from the IACP National Forum on Body-Worn Cameras and Violence Against Women, a 46-page monograph that explores issues of privacy and safety for victims when police are equipped with body-worn cameras.

Familial searching” is used to search DNA databases for family members of an unknown perpetrator who left DNA at a crime scene. It is generally done only after searching for the contributor proves fruitless and has resulted in the apprehension and successful prosecutions of the “Grim Sleeper” and “BTK” serial killers. The New York State Commission on Forensic Science is considering whether to allow familial searching as an investigative technique in New York.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley has issued a second official opinion on the implementation of Marsy’s Law, a victims’ rights law recently passed by voters in the state. That opinion concludes that the law does not apply to civil court proceedings, ordinance violations, or—except when a victim clearly invokes his or her rights—the Sexual Assault Response Team.

In the Courts

Two Lawrence, Massachusetts, men are among the first to be sentenced under a 2016 state law that criminalizes the sale of fentanyl. Regla Santana and Antonio Rivera, who were charged by Attorney General Maura Healey, have been sentenced to three to four years in prison. AG Healey wrote the law, which was passed in a year during which nearly 2,000 people in Massachusetts died from opioid-related deaths.

In Pennsylvania, a funeral home director has been charged with a long-term, large-scale scam in which she took over $300,000 from victims for pre-paid funeral services and used it to pay personal expenses and gamble. Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the woman, Lynn Taucher, “betrayed dozens of elderly people who placed their trust in her.”

Five Louisiana men have been arrested on more than 300 counts of sexual exploitation of children on charges brought by Attorney General Jeff Landry’s Cyber Crime Unit. One of the defendants had already been convicted of child pornography charges and continued downloading new images before he reported to prison.

Todd Jeremy Rettenberger has been sentenced to one to fifteen years in prison for human trafficking in charges brought by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’s SECURE Strike Force. Rettenberger was previously convicted of a 1996 robbery and murder, but the Utah Supreme Court concluded that his confession should not have been admitted at his trial and reversed that conviction. Rettenberg then pled guilty to reduced charges that resulted in a sentence of time served in connection with that killing. In 2011, Rettenberg pled guilty to a sexual exploitation charge; he was on parole for that charge when he was arrested in the human trafficking case.

In South Dakota, a federal court has suppressed evidence obtained by local police who obtained a search warrant to examine an iPhone in an unrelated state case and then shared that evidence with federal authorities. The court ruled that—to paraphrase the Supreme Court’s remarks regarding capital punishment—“cellphones are different” than, for example, boxes of physical evidence seized pursuant to a state search warrant that could have been permissibly examined by the federal team. The district judge relied heavily upon the Supreme Court’s decision in Riley v. California, which held that officers were not generally permitted to search incident to arrest a defendant’s cellphone.

Training

The Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Service Council will hold its 2017 Prosecuting Economic Crimes from February 26 through March 2, 2017 in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Stetson Law School will offer a free forensic science webinar on March 1, 2017, called “Crime Scene Essentials.” This webinar is offered through a Bureau of Justice Assistance grant and is open to both prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The New Mexico MCLE’s teleconference “50 Shades of Ethics” will take place on March 7, 2017, at 1:00 PM Mountain time.

From July 19 through 21, 2017, in Washington, D.C., NAGTRI will hold its first ever National Forensic Science Symposium.

Other News of Interest

Michael Mejia, a California gang member freed as a result of a push to reduce prison overcrowding, murdered Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer and shot his partner, Patrick Hazell on February 20, 2017. Boyer and Hazell responded to a car accident in which Mejia rear-ended another vehicle with a car he had stolen from his own cousin, who he is believed to have also murdered. Mejia pulled a gun and shot both police officers when they responded to the accident.


Amie Ely is the Editor of Criminal Law Newsletter and may be reached at 202-326-6041. The Criminal Law Newsletter is a publication of the National Association of Attorneys General. Any use and/or copies of this newsletter in whole or part must include the customary bibliographic citation. NAAG retains copyright and all other intellectual property rights in the material presented in this publication. For content submissions or to contact the editor directly, please e-mail aely@naag.org.

Faculty Spotlight

NAGTRI's faculty are top-rated experts in their field. Read about them.

Course Schedule

NAGTRI offers high-quality, responsive and innovative trainings.

Research & Newsletters

NAGTRI produces comprehensive research and newsletters on topical legal issues.