October 2010 Archives

October 29, 2010

Police Arrest Two Georgetown University Students on Drug Manufacturing Charges

1266636_laboratory_glassware (1).jpgAccording to a story in the Washington Times, on Wednesday October 27, 2010, police arrested two students for allegedly running a drug lab in their freshman dorm at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. A strange odor was reported to be coming from the room occupied by Charles Smith and John Perrone. Police found a cooler containing dry ice, a canister of carbon dioxide, ammonia, lighter fluid, and a turkey baster in the students' room. Authorities first suspected they discovered a meth lab but it was later determined to be a DMT lab. Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a powerful hallucinogen that comes in the form of frozen crystals and can be smoked, snorted, or injected. Users of DMT typically mix the drug with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), because it will not be active when ingested without these MAOIs. It is likely that users of DMT do not have a prescription for MAOIs, which is another possible charge for unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

Both students are 18-year-old Massachusetts residents and were released to parental custody with the requirement that they wear electronic-monitoring ankle bracelets and work or go to school. They are also likely to face a disciplinary hearing by Georgetown University which may result in expulsion from school.

Manufacturing drugs is a major felony that may result in significant prison time. However, these cases may be difficult to prosecute. If the police did not find any actual drugs, that can only make an inference of how this equipment was to be used. Sometimes that inference may require a lot of suggestion from the prosecution. I once defended a woman charged with operating a meth lab because she owned a five-gallon bucket and a garden hose. While this case may not be as clear cut, it is still up to the government to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

I would also suggest that the students have their attorney present at any university disciplinary hearings, because that may be the difference between expulsion and being able to continue their studies.

October 28, 2010

Suspected Drunk Driver Hit and Killed Two Pedestrians in the DC Metro Area but No Charges Have Been Filed

According to a story by My FOX DC, two pedestrians were hit and killed by a suspected drunk driver on Rockville Pike. The two victims were crossing the street at three in the morning when they were hit by a black Acura. Witnesses heard the screech of brakes before the collision. The intersection signals would not have been working at that time in the morning and were flashing yellow. The driver drove around the block and remained at the scene after the accident. He was arrested and processed for DUI, administered a breathalyzer and released. No charges have been filed at this time. Police say that they are confident alcohol played a role in the accident but are awaiting toxicology on the victims and conducting further investigation.

Many are wondering why the driver has not been charged with a crime such as vehicular homicide. The likely answer is that the police will eventually charge the driver with a DUI or DWI but may not be able to charge him with any more serious offenses. The reason is that negligent vehicular homicide involves a drunk driver that engages in conduct in which he has a disregard for human life. In this case, he appeared to have slammed on his brakes when he saw the pedestrians who may very well have been drunk and crossing in the middle of the street without looking for cars. In other words, the driver may have been intoxicated yet was still acting with some amount of care when this tragic accident occurred.

While it is never a good idea to drive after drinking, the one smart move the driver made was to stay at the scene of the accident. If he had fled, it is likely that he would have already been charged with negligent vehicular homicide.

October 27, 2010

DC City Council Votes to Make Life Harder for Juvenile Criminal Defendants

952313_gavel.jpgIf you have read my other posts on juvenile defense, you have seen my thoughts on the purpose of the juvenile justice system. The juvenile justice system in Washington, DC, and throughout the country, was created to rehabilitate troubled youth and steer them away from a life of crime. It is for this reason that the defendants' names are not made public and court records are sealed. While things may not always work out so well in practice, the intentions were good. This may change.

The DC City Council has just voted to allow the release of juvenile defendants' names and criminal records. This includes not only crimes for which the juvenile was convicted, but also for any crimes for which they were merely arrested. The justification of the DC City Council is it that it will make it easier for the police to solve crimes with access to juvenile records.

There was a lot of debate among the council members about whether this would make it harder to rehabilitate juveniles because they have little chance of a productive future once branded as criminals for life, but in the end the council voted to approve the bill. Mayor Fenty has not said whether he will sign the bill into law before leaving office.

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October 20, 2010

Release the Kraken: Virginia Man Sentenced to Four Years in Prison for Recording and Selling Pirated Copies of "Clash of the Titans"

525701_dirty_shattered_cd.jpgAccording to a statement by the US Attorney's Office, Brad Newell pleaded guilty to Copyright Infringement and Distribution of a Pirated Recording of a motion picture. US Customs and Immigration Enforcement agents discovered over 1500 copies of pirated movies and nearly $30,000 in cash and recording equipment. Newell called his illegal enterprise "Burn Central" and had a partner, Nicholas Skamagos, and one employee, Kiah Fields. The court sentenced Fields to five months and Skamagos to six months for their roles in the pirating operation.

It is interesting that the average person wouldn't even consider stealing so much as a candy bar from CVS yet has no problem with downloading thousands of dollars worth of pirated software, music and movies. The good news for the average person is that the government doesn't usually go after purchasers of pirated or counterfeit goods and instead focuses its efforts on the manufacturers and distributors.

I have worked on cases involving millions of dollars worth of counterfeit designer goods, watches, CDs, and sports apparel. It is typical for corporations to hire private investigators to locate counterfeit versions of their products and inform the police. There is a good chance that this is how Burn Central was discovered.

Continue reading "Release the Kraken: Virginia Man Sentenced to Four Years in Prison for Recording and Selling Pirated Copies of "Clash of the Titans"" »

October 18, 2010

Are You a Cop? The Truth About the Entrapment Defense in Washington, DC

292246_mmmmousetrap.jpgIt seems like every scripted show on TV these days is either a police or courtroom drama. The audience is captivated by these types of shows. The only problem is that people start to base their knowledge of the legal system on what they see on TV.

One of the biggest misconceptions is the so-called "entrapment defense." TV has taught us to believe that an undercover officer has to tell the suspect he is a cop if asked. This could not be farther from the truth. If you were a cop and had to tell armed drug dealers you were a cop if asked, how likely would you be to go undercover? The truth is that the police can lie to you, and they do it all the time.

I once prosecuted a case involving three defendants charged with prostitution. They defendants were high on crack when approached by two undercover detectives. One of the defendants thought she recognized the detectives and said "Hey, aren't you those cops that busted me last month?" The detective's actual response which I was required to read in court, was "nope, we're just a couple of horny guys." This is perfectly legal and not entrapment.

I realize that everything I just said flies in the face of what TV has taught us, so let me explain the truth about entrapment. Entrapment occurs when a person who had no intention of committing a crime is convinced to commit a crime by the police and then arrested. Here is an example of entrapment of a man walking down the street by an undercover cop:

Undercover Cop: Hey, you want to buy this Rolex I just stole?

You: No.

Undercover Cop: Come on, I can give it to you for a real good price.

You: No thanks. I'm not interested.

Undercover Cop: Look, this is a $7,000 watch and you can have it for $50.

You: OK, yeah, for $50 I'll take it.

Undercover Cop: You're under arrest for receiving stolen property.

I know you must be thinking that what you just read sounds ridiculous and you're right. That's why entrapment hardly ever happens in real life. In the case of the prostitutes, they were already intending to commit a crime so it wasn't entrapment. Here, the police convinced an innocent man to commit a crime and then arrested him, so it was entrapment. My advice is don't believe everything you see on TV.

October 14, 2010

Collateral Consequences in Washington, DC: Is There Really Such Thing as a "Get Out of Jail Free Card" (Part Two)

979240_jail.jpgIn part one of this post, I discussed collateral consequences in the context of public housing, now I want to focus on how they can affect future criminal charges.

When I meet with a new client, I go through his or her criminal record carefully looking for anything that may affect their current charges. Often times I see misdemeanors that they chose not to fight because it was easier to pay a fine and get out of jail than it was to hire a lawyer and fight the charges. This is especially true in the case of DWI/DUI/OWI, Shoplifting, and Simple Possession of a Controlled Substance.

It may seem like paying $300 and signing a few forms and walking out of jail that night is like getting off scot-free. Of course when you get charged with the same or similar offense later and you're treated as a repeat offender, it doesn't feel so great. The next time you get arrested, you are charged as a repeat offender, and along with that comes greater fines, possible mandatory jail time, and it may even be "enhanced" to a felony. The prosecutor is also a lot less likely to give you any favorable deals the second time around.

Continue reading "Collateral Consequences in Washington, DC: Is There Really Such Thing as a "Get Out of Jail Free Card" (Part Two)" »

October 12, 2010

Collateral Consequences in Washington, DC: Is There Really Such Thing as a "Get Out of Jail Free Card" (Part One)

204588_monopoly_board_game.jpgEvery so often the news runs a story about a law-abiding woman being evicted from public housing because of the actions of someone living in her apartment. Here are the basic facts you might hear: 17 year-old Billy is living with his mom in an apartment owned by the DC Public Housing Authority. Billy gets arrested for Possession With Intent to Distribute Cocaine Base (crack) on a street corner somewhere in Washington, DC. He has no adult criminal record and agrees to plead guilty in exchange for probation. He does not have to serve any time in jail or prison under this sentence as long as he stays out of trouble. He is free to go.

A few weeks later, Billy's mom gets an eviction notice from the District of Columbia Public Housing Authority because a resident of her household (Billy) has been convicted of a felony. She is confused and doesn't understand why she has to leave because of something her son did that had absolutely nothing to do with her apartment. She appeals the eviction but loses. Her eviction is what the law calls a "collateral consequence" of her son's conviction.

A collateral consequence is something that happens as a result of a criminal conviction and can often affect you in many unexpected ways, none of which are good. In the story you just read, eviction from public housing was a collateral consequence of Billy's felony conviction. The DC Public Housing Authority has a right to evict all residents of a home when any member of that home is convicted of a felony. Exclusion for public housing is only one example of a collateral consequence. In part two of this post, I will discuss other collateral consequences and what you can do to avoid them.

October 7, 2010

A Woman Was Struck and Killed by a Hit and Run Driver in the Dupont Circle Neighborhood of Washington, DC

75579_drunk_driving.jpgAt approximately 1:30a.m., a black Lexus SUV struck Kiela M. Ryan as she was exiting her vehicle on the 1300 block of Connecticut Avenue Northwest Washington, DC. The driver fled the scene but not before a bicyclist got the driver's plate number. The police identified the vehicle owner as Jorida Davidson of Chevy Chase, MD. Police arrived to find Davidson sitting in her SUV. The engine was not running. Davidson refused a breathalyzer. Ryan later died of her injuries at a local hospital. DC Metro Police charged Davidson with DWI and are investigating other charges.
It is likely that Davidson will also be charged with Criminally Negligent Manslaughter and Leaving the Scene of an Accident Involving Personal Injury While Intoxicated.

If you ever find yourself in the horrific situation of having been involved in an accident while intoxicated, your first instinct may be to flee the scene. You might be thinking that the police won't know you had been drinking if you don't stay around. You might be thinking that you can get away with it entirely. While this is an understandable reaction, I urge you not to do this. It is illegal and will probably not improve anything. It will probably make things much worse.

The police will immediately talk to witnesses and put out a "be on the lookout," also known as a "BOLO" with any information they have. They will put out a notice to all auto-body shops, garages, and towing companies to report anyone bringing in a vehicle that matches their description. They may even set up road blocks. In other words, you will probably get caught if you are lucky enough to avoid being injured or killed in a chase. After being arrested, the police can now charge with you many additional crimes such as leaving the scene of an accident while intoxicated, resisting arrest, and other forms of criminal negligence.

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October 4, 2010

Washington, DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services Employee Pleaded Guilty to Sealing Unemployment Benefits

1185031_pile_of_money.jpgBenevenuto Bullock, a Washington, DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) employee, pleaded guilty to stealing $7,956 in unemployment benefits by claiming he was unemployed while he was actually working for DYRS. The judge sentenced Bullock to 90 days in jail but suspended the sentence so he will not have to serve time if he complies with the terms of his probation for two years. That includes repaying the amount he stole from the District of Columbia.

Many people are confused about how unemployment works or believe they can take advantage of some loophole and "beat the system." For example, a former client suggested that if he only gets paid once a month for the work he does throughout the month, then he is only technically employed one week a month and can claim unemployment benefits the rest of the month. This is not legal. The District of Columbia Department of Unemployment Services specifically states that income is earned when the work is performed regardless of when you actually get paid.

In case you are wondering why a DC criminal defense attorney is explaining of the rules of unemployment compensation, it is because my office handles white collar crime cases, and white collar crimes often require an understanding of many other types of law. White collar defendants are also sometimes very different from other types of defendants. Many white collar clients may fully admit to their actions but cannot understand why their conduct was illegal. They may have even taken the time to research the law before they engaged in the potentially criminal actions.

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