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April 23, 1999

Attorney General Criminal Law 1999 Legislative Proposals


THE PROBLEM: According to the law enforcement community, metham-phetamine has become the number one drug problem in Iowa. Even the national news media, in programs such as Nightline and 48 Hours, have highlighted Iowa's extensive meth problem.

Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug, providing the user with a "high" that is difficult to compare to any other drug. Methamphetamine produces alertness, speediness, and is often referred to as the "poor man's drug." People who use methamphetamine only once may become addicted. Unfortunately, methamphetamine tears families apart, ruins lives, and kills.

Importance of a comprehensive approach:

Attorney General Miller strongly supports the comprehensive approach advocated by Gov. Tom Vilsack to tackle the meth emergency. A full-spectrum approach goes beyond law enforcement to include reducing demand and working to provide an effective meth addiction treatment approach. Miller also said it is essential for all the State's policy leaders to work cooperatively and constructively on the meth problem.

Miller supports Gov. Tom Vilsack's making meth one of his highest overall priorities, his strong emphasis on education to dissuade people from trying meth, and his use of the "bully pulpit" as an indispensable means of addressing the problem. Miller also notes that national "drug czar" Gen. Barry McCaffrey also subscribes to the pivotal role of education, demand reduction, and treatment, since meth is extraordinarily addictive. Miller notes that meth prosecution and punishment already have been strengthened substantially in the last couple years.

On reducing demand, Miller supported the Governor's use of his office to call attention to education and other means to reach especially young people, and Miller said community groups, schools and others must mobilize to cooperate and find effective approaches. Reducing demand may be the greatest challenge, Miller says, and it will require strong focus by the Governor, Legislature and all parties to determine and provide the best approaches.

On treatment, Miller noted concerns that we still need to find effective treatment measures for a drug that appears to be extraordinarily addictive and to cause brain damage. Local, state and federal officials must cooperate to find and implement effective treatment measures.

As the State's top law enforcement official, Miller offers several proposals on the law enforcement and prosecution end of the spectrum of policies that should be adopted.

The Attorney General's recommendations on enforcement:

Making meth has become about as easy as baking bread, and "recipes" are easily obtained over the Internet. In 1998, over 300 meth labs were discovered and seized by authorities in Iowa. Manufacturers have resorted to newer techniques using readily available unregulated chemicals, such as lithium from batteries, ether, and anhydrous ammonia. Law enforcement officials report more incidents of clandestine laboratories using such alternative ingredients and methods to manufacture illegal methamphetamine.

Hazardous wastes produced by clandestine labs have become a nuisance to law enforcement and a significant danger to the public. Materials may be explosive, toxic, or corrosive. After labs are discovered and processed for evidence, law enforcement officers must keep the site secure in order to protect the public from the hazardous waste. Currently, hazardous waste clean-up crews are responding from Missouri. These crews sometimes take as long as 16 hours to arrive to start the clean up.

Miller said State support is needed to help local law enforcement and public officials for whom meth is becoming a very costly and time-consuming problem.

THE PROPOSALS: The Attorney General's methamphetamine legislative proposal addresses three separate but integral issues:

  • Expand the list of chemicals used in alternative methods of manufacture and make it illegal to possess these chemicals with the intent to manufacture an illegal substance such as methamphetamine. The list should be expanded to include anhydrous ammonia, ether, lithium, liquid nitrogen, red phosphorous, and other chemicals.
  • Make it illegal to dispose hazardous waste that is a product of unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance, punishable by a fine or not more than fifty thousand dollars and imprisonment of not more than five years. Criminal charges related to hazardous wastes are rarely prosecuted now because alternative charges, such as manufacturing a controlled substance, are felonies, while hazardous waste charges are only misdemeanors. The change would give prosecutors one more useful tool.
  • Establish a civil penalty for failure to clean up a hazardous waste site. This would serve two purposes. First, it would help pay for cleaning up clandestine lab sites. Second, the civil penalty would help recover costs for enforcement and prosecution of methamphetamine manufacturing cases.

Interception of Communication

THE PROBLEM: Iowa's interception of communication law is out of date. Current law fails to address interception that could involve pagers, cellular telephones, and other new wireless and electronic technologies, and the law only provides authority for courts to order wiretapping when there is evidence of a felony drug offense.

Court-approved electronic surveillance is one of the most important and most powerful tools law enforcement has to prevent or solve criminal activity. Evidence and information obtained through court-authorized surveillance cannot be obtained through other methods or investigative techniques.

Interception of communication can be a very important tool in combating drug cartels and high-level drug trafficking in the State. Miller said that since enactment of Iowa's wire tap law, the Attorney General's Office has applied twice for wire tap authority -- both for large-scale meth operations that involved traffickers with out-of-state connections.

THE PROPOSAL: The Attorney General's legislative proposal would provide authorized law enforcement agencies with the technical assistance necessary to conduct lawful interceptions of communications. The proposal would expand the law so the court could authorize interception of electronic communications, and expand the law to provide for interception of communication when there is evidence of felony offenses of money laundering or ongoing criminal conduct.

The proposal also would allow authorized law enforcement agencies to use court-authorized "pen registers" and "trap and trace" devices. Pen registers are used to identify numbers dialed from the line to which the device is attached. Trap and trace devices identify the origin of call made to line to which the device is attached. Trap and trace and pen register devices also would be made available to law enforcement when an emergency exists that involves immediate danger of death or serious bodily injury to any person.

Use of trap and trace and pen registry devices is less intrusive and less expensive than other investigative tools.

Felonious Stalking

THE PROBLEM: One of every twelve women and one of every forty-five men in the United States has been stalked, according to the U.S. Census.

Stalkers can be extremely threatening, dangerous and often violent to their victims and to family members and co-workers of their victims. Stalking victims frequently live in fear and terror and often are forced to alter their lives dramatically in their search for safety and freedom.

According to the Iowa Court Improvement System, twenty-nine offenders have been convicted of felonious stalking since 1996. Two cases are on appeal.

Iowa law now ensures that victims of stalking are protected by no-contact orders. However, according to a survey completed by the National Institute of Justice, 70 percent of all such restraining orders obtained against stalkers are violated. It is imperative that Iowa law should recognize the seriousness of this crime and treat felonious stalking like other felonious crimes.

Experts say that limiting a stalker's access to the victim is the only way to ensure safety for the victim, and they advise to do this through incarceration.

THE PROPOSAL: The Attorney General's legislative proposal validates the seriousness of stalking crimes. It would restrict bail bonds for those awaiting sentencing following either a plea or verdict of guilty of felonious stalking, and those who are appealing a conviction.

Here is an example: An offender/stalker brutally abused his girlfriend in Illinois. When she moved out, he continually harassed and stalked her for three years. He followed her from shelter to shelter and friend's house to friend's house. He then was convicted of battery and of violating a protective order in Illinois. When the victim moved to Iowa, he tracked her down at her new residence. The offender was then convicted of felonious stalking in Johnson County. Currently, the offender is free on an appeal bond. Meanwhile, the victim continues to live in fear. Under the proposal the offender would not be eligible for release on an appeal bond.

Crime Victim Compensation

THE PROBLEM: Iowans who are victims of violent crime generally are eligible for crime victim compensation -- payment for some of the out-of-pocket costs they may incur if they are victims of crimes such as assault and drunken driving. Every penny of crime victim compensation is paid from fines and penalties paid by criminals. Victim compensation only covers expenses not covered by other sources such as insurance. Even though it can't erase the trauma and all the costs of violent crime, compensation is a very important means to help victims heal.

There are two problems addressed by the proposed legislation: (1) The current maximum compensation for medical benefits ($10,500) has fallen far behind the increase in medical costs. The limit was set at $10,000 in 1983 and was only bumped up slightly to $10,500 in 1990. It should be increased. (2) Some otherwise eligible persons fail to apply within two years as presently required by law.


  • Increase the maximum crime victim compensation benefit from $10,500 to $15,000. The compensation fund has the funds to cover such an increase, and the increase recognizes the increased costs incurred by innocent victims of violent crime
  • Provide a good-cause exemption for certain victims who file an application later than the two-year limit prescribed in the law, in cases where there was a system, health or safety barrier to timely application. Otherwise-eligible victims sometimes have good cause for not filing an application within the required two years. For example, trials sometimes are delayed for a couple years and prosecutors fail to inform victims in time about victim compensation. Sometimes local authorities may not inform victims because they don't know victims may be entitled to compensation. (Example: persons whose child was killed five or six years ago may learn much later that they are eligible for compensation for all-important grief counseling or even funeral expenses.) In such cases, administrators should be able to exercise a good-cause exemption for the victims. Note: the compensation statute also has a requirement that victims must report a crime within three days; but that requirement also has a good-cause exemption. The same flexibility should be available in the interest of justice when it comes to the application deadline.

Sexually Violent Predator

THE PROBLEM: The Legislature passed Iowa's Sexually Violent Predator Act last year and it took effect July 1, 1998. Because the law is based closely on a Kansas statute, it needs changes to make a better "fit" with other Iowa law.

The Sexually Violent Predator Act provides for civil commitment of certain sex offenders. Under the Act, to be civilly committed, an offender who has completed serving a sentence for a sexual offense must be shown to have a mental disorder which would create a probability that the offender will engage in acts that are sexually violent.

THE PROPOSAL: The proposal is divided into two sections. The first section relates to the Sexually Violent Predator Act and the second relates to child abuse records.

The first section would make Iowa Code chapter 229A consistent with other established procedural deadlines established by the Iowa Code and the Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure. The time for making a demand for a jury trial would be changed from four days to ten days. The proposal also would remove the requirement that the Attorney General file a petition of notice within seventy-five days of the date the Attorney General received a recommendation that an offender be civilly committed. (The State still would be required to make a filing decision prior to the release of the offender from confinement.) In addition, the proposal would provide prosecuting attorneys with the power to subpoena witnesses and documents in order to do a thorough investigation and make an informed decision prior to filing a commitment petition.

The second section of the proposal would provided the Department of Justice with access to child sexual abuse records for use in sexually violent predator proceedings. Current law requires that child abuse records be sealed after ten years from the initial report; and the records remain sealed for eight years, at which time they are expunged. The proposal would authorize access to the sealed child sexual abuse records by the Department of Justice for use in sexually violent predator investigations. The proposal also would provide that sealed records of report and disposition data concerning child sexual abuse would be maintained indefinitely.

Prison Contraband

THE PROBLEM: Possession and use of contraband poses a serious security and safety threat in state correctional facilities, county jails and juvenile detention facilities. Contraband includes drugs and weapons, but also includes a key, hypodermic needle, knife, razor, rope and other items that could be used to facilitate escape. While the present law makes it illegal to provide contraband to inmates, it does not expressly prohibit possession of contraband by inmates or others (except for specific items, such as illegal controlled substances.)

Cases are prosecuted now as aiding and abetting under the sections on providing contraband. The complexity of such a prosecution often results in "hung" juries, but the difficulty could be avoided by clearly making possession of contraband in correction facilities a crime.

THE PROPOSAL: This proposal addresses four situations: 1) introducing contraband onto correctional facility grounds; 2) conveying contraband to any person confined in a correctional facility; 3) possessing contraband while being confined or being transported or moved incidental to a correctional facility; and 4) failing to report the possession of contraband.

The proposal also would allow inmates to be x-rayed when there is reason to believe an inmate may possess contraband. This measure addresses situations that occur in the visiting rooms of institutions, when an inmate may swallow a balloon of controlled substances provided by a visitor. Without the ability to x-ray an inmate, an inmate suspected of ingesting drugs in a balloon, for example, would have to be watched non-stop for up to two days.

Identity Theft

THE PROBLEM: Identity theft occurs when someone knowingly obtains personal identification information of another and use that information for personal gain, such as obtaining credit or property.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. The crime can drain a person's bank account, and it can destroy a person's credit. There is no law in Iowa that addresses the problem of a person stealing, using, or attempting to use another's personal identification information. Offenders often steal identities in order to obtain credit, telephone service, or other types of services for themselves (not necessarily to steal money from the victims.) Stolen identity can cause complicated and troublesome problems for victims, but, without actual monies being stolen, prosecution in these areas often is extremely difficult.

In 1995, victims in the U.S. suffered about $440 million in losses to identity theft, individually and institutionally. In 1997, the loss skyrocketed to $745 million. Part of the increase in identity theft may be related to the rapid pace of technology, people shopping over the Internet, and easy credit, including pre-approval of credit card applications in the mail. Access to a person's personal identification information is easier today than ever before.

Iowans are not exempt from identity theft. In 1998, the Consumer Protection Division of the Iowa Attorney General's Office received 328 inquiries or complaints of identity theft.

THE PROPOSAL: The Attorney General's proposal would make it an aggravated misdemeanor if a person knowingly obtains personal identification information of another without the person's consent; the proposal would make it a Class D felony if the value of the property, credit or services is greater than $1000. The proposal also would make the offender civilly liable; a civil suit could be brought by the victim and/or by the Attorney General under the Consumer Fraud Act.

The proposal also contains measures to prevent identity theft. It would require a consumer credit reporting agency to match three categories of personal identification information when a consumer applies for credit in person. The proposal also would require that, if a victim of identity theft submits a copy of a police report to the credit reporting agency, the agency must promptly and permanently block reporting any information the consumer alleges appears on his or her credit report as a result of a criminal violation.

[Note: This proposal was announced separately in December.]

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