September 2010 Archives

September 28, 2010

There's Nothing to See Here Folks: Maryland Judge Dismisses Charges Filed Against Air National Guard Sgt. For Videotaping His Own Traffic Stop in the DMV Area

In April of this past year, a Maryland state trooper pulled over Maryland Air National Guard Sgt. Anthony Graber for speeding on his motorcycle. The plain clothes trooper who exited his unmarked car with his gun drawn was unaware that Graber was recording the traffic stop on a helmet-mounted video camera. After receiving his ticket, Graber posted the video on You Tube. You can see the video yourself if you click on the play button above this post.

Several days after Graber posted the video, the Harford County State's Attorney filed felony charges against Graber alleging that he had violated the state's wiretapping statute. This week a Maryland judge dismissed the wiretapping charges on grounds that the police have no reasonable expectation in their official communications.

At this point you may be wondering what a helmet camera has to do with wiretapping. Wiretapping generally conjures up images of secret microphones hidden in lamps and police sitting in a van outside a mafia social club, and while that does happen, the law may actually address any audio or video recordings of conversations.

The purpose of these laws is to prevent the secret recording of seemingly private conversations without a warrant. Some states allow for the secret recording if at least one party to the conversation knows about the recording. This is called a "one party consent" jurisdiction. The theory behind this is that whenever you speak to somebody, you assume the risk that the other person may be recording the conversation. It was under this type of system that Colorado police were able to secretly record basketball player, Kobe Bryant, during a 2003 sexual assault investigation.

Continue reading "There's Nothing to See Here Folks: Maryland Judge Dismisses Charges Filed Against Air National Guard Sgt. For Videotaping His Own Traffic Stop in the DMV Area" »

September 23, 2010

Juvenile Defendants Lack Access to Needed Mental Health Services in Washington, DC

There was an interesting article by Henri E. Cauvin in today's Washington Post that discussed juvenile defendant's lack of access to needed mental health services.

A study released by the District of Columbia Behavioral Health Association found that access to mental health services is not sufficient to meet the needs of juvenile defendants.

There has been more attention given to this issue lately because DC mayor, Adrian Fenty, fired the head of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) this past June for allegedly poor management of the agency. However, this is nation-wide issue and by no means a recent phenomenon.

In order to understand the importance of mental health services in the juvenile justice system, we need to examine the purpose of the system. Juvenile court is run very differently from adult criminal court. The hearings are restricted to essential personnel only, the defendant's names are not made public, and defendants are not found guilty and "convicted" of crimes. Instead they are found to be "delinquent." They are not sent to serve time in prison but rather placed in the custody of the DYRS. The point of these differences is that the juvenile justice system is designed to rehabilitate troubled youth and to do so in a manner that does not ruin any chance of them having a decent future.

Continue reading "Juvenile Defendants Lack Access to Needed Mental Health Services in Washington, DC" »

September 21, 2010

Victim Died from Injuries Sustained When She Was Hit by a Suspected Drunk Driver in the Adams Morgan Neighborhood of NW DC

On September 14, 2010, Julie Bachleitner, 26, and fellow Johns Hopkins graduate student were struck by a vehicle allegedly driven by Chamica M. Adams. Washington, DC Metropolitan Police suspected that Adams was intoxicated when her car struck the two pedestrians on a median and then crashed into an Adams Morgan restaurant. Adams was charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), Aggravated Assault, and now Involuntary Manslaughter.

What may come as surprise to many is that when someone acts negligently with a disregard to human life but not with the intention of killing another person, they are usually charged with "Negligent Homicide." This is the legal term often used for involuntary manslaughter. While voluntary manslaughter allows for a sentence up to 30 years, Negligent Homicide allows for a maximum sentence of five years. However, it is actually quite rare for a first time offender to be given the maximum sentence. I have seen cases where the defendant was convicted in a jury trial of Negligent Homicide involving drunk driving and was sentenced to only one year and half of that was suspended.

So how does a crime called "manslaughter" that sounds so horrible usually result in a seemingly minor penalty? It is because Manslaughter was created in common law as an alternative to the more serious crime of Murder. In the case of involuntary manslaughter, we are talking about a person who acted in such a careless manner that someone died but there was no intentent of killing another person.

September 17, 2010

The 9 Step Walk and Turn: Could Even a Sober Person Pass a Field Sobriety Test in Washington, DC? (Part 2)

In part one, I talked about the "Walk and Turn" and the alphabet game. Now, I want to discuss one of the most well-known and least-accurate field sobriety tests.

Follow My Pen. This legendary FST is called the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus ("HGN") test. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in their publication, Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: The Science & The Law, A Resource Guide for Judges, Prosecutors and Law Enforcement, a "Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking or bouncing of the eyeball that occurs when there is a disturbance of the vestibular (inner ear) system or the oculomotor [sic] control of the eye." Huh? That sounds pretty technical to me and I wasn't aware that a DC Metro police officer was required (let alone qualified) to be an eye doctor. If you are intoxicated, your eyes will typically jerk rapidly (nystagmus) from side-to-side (horizontally) when looking (gazing) at the pen of light. However, there are other causes that result in HGN, not just intoxication, and the officer may not be a medically trained professional. For these reasons, many courts-- including the Superior Court of the District of Columbia--are reluctant to allow such evidence without special testimony from an eye doctor and a showing that the officer was a "certified technician" who was properly trained to administer the test.

Continue reading "The 9 Step Walk and Turn: Could Even a Sober Person Pass a Field Sobriety Test in Washington, DC? (Part 2)" »

September 15, 2010

The 9 Step Walk and Turn: Could Even a Sober Person Pass a Field Sobriety Test in Washington, DC? (Part 1)

Police use field sobriety tests ("FST")--as well as general observation, and blood alcohol or breath tests--to obtain probable cause to make an arrest. These "tests," administered by law enforcement personnel, are supposed to be simple exercises that a sober person would have no trouble successfully completing. However, this could not be farther from the truth. Let's take a look at 3 tests commonly administered to suspected drunk drivers in the District of Columbia and across the nation.

Walk and Turn. The officer instructs the motorist to do exactly as told--walk and turn. The script is basically as follows: "I am going to take big steps along this white line, turn around and take baby steps back. Count out loud: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, and now turn and baby steps, One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten. Your turn." Let's hope you were paying really close attention because if you took ten steps instead of nine you just failed. Do you need to be drunk to make that mistake?

SAY the Alphabet. Despite what most people think, they usually don't ask you to recite the alphabet backwards, but correctly. When you say the alphabet, let's hope you're not in a particularly festive mood, because if you start singing the alphabet (as some of us learned it in school), or say "Y and Z," then you may have just failed. Don't get me wrong--I've seen a lot of drunk people who couldn't remember the letters, but I've also seen, "the suspect repeated the alphabet correctly but in a sing-song manner, and based upon my training and experience, I concluded that the suspect was intoxicated." In other words, the police may infer (or conclude) intoxication based on the manner in which the motorist said the alphabet.

September 13, 2010

Kidnapping and Murder Over a Speed Hump Shocks the Washington, DC Metro Area

144708_speed_hump.jpgOn Sunday September 12, 2010 in Fairfax County, David A. Patton burst into Stephen A. Carr's house with a .22 caliber handgun and bound Carr and his girlfriend with zip ties. When Carr started to struggle, Patton fatally shot him in the head. When the police arrived, Patton was standing in Carr's backyard armed with the revolver and holding a backpack filled with zip ties. Carr's girlfriend was released.

In the year prior to this tragic incident, Carr was working on a petition to have a speed hump installed on his street. Most of his neighbors supported his efforts and the county installed a speed hump directly in front Carr's of house. While most of the community was pleased by this, Patton was not.

This past June, Patton confronted Carr in front of his house and the police were called. Three months later, for reasons no entirely known, this campaign for a safer neighborhood resulted in a homicide.

While the zip ties found in Patton's backpack might not seem all that important since he was arrested with a gun in the alleged victim's backyard, these may be crucial elements in the prosecution's case. They can be used to show that Patton came to Carr's house with the intention of using them to restrain Carr and this was not merely the result of a heated argument that got out of hand. In other words, his actions may be shown as "premeditated." If a murder is premeditated, that can elevate it to First Degree Murder, which may result in the death penalty.