November 2010 Archives

November 29, 2010

I'd Rather Be Fishing... As Long as I don't Violate Any of the Fish and Game Laws in Washington, DC

591307_karelia_8.jpgWhen I'm not working as a Washington, DC criminal Defense attorney, I like to go fishing whenever I get a chance. One of my favorite things to do is fish for Striped Bass, known in the DC Metro Area as Rockfish. They were once abundant in our waters, but after many years of over-fishing, they have faced near extinction. The government banned commercial harvesting and greatly increased recreational catch limits. This has seemed to help and regulations are finally being eased up a bit. What I didn't understand was how I kept seeing Rockfish for sale at local markets given the restrictions. This always struck me as odd. It turns out, my suspicions were correct.

According to a statement released by the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, the owners of Profish, a local wholesale fish distributer, had been selling illegally harvested Rockfish for over ten years. The Judge fined the two owners of the company $850,000 and sentenced to them to 15 and 21 months, respectively. He said that this type of behavior had been taken too lightly in the past and it was time to send a message.

Sometimes people do not realize how seriously fish and wildlife offenses are taken, especially in the Washington, DC area. Let's say you go trout fishing at a local stream and are planning on keeping some fish. If you keep even one more fish than the daily per person limit, there can be serious consequences. The government can take your equipment used to catch fish and the car or truck in which you transported the fish. After they seize and forfeit your assets, they can impose a fine--and you may even face jail time.

Continue reading "I'd Rather Be Fishing... As Long as I don't Violate Any of the Fish and Game Laws in Washington, DC" »

November 25, 2010

A White Collar Defense Approach (Part Two)

754431_in_business.jpg In last post, I discussed some of the history and legal theory behind the crime of Theft. At this point you may be wondering how this works in the real world. Here is an example. If you hire an architect to design a house, she may require that you pay her half of her fee before she starts working. It is your intention that she will complete the plans and you will pay her the other half of the money. But what if she keeps the money and never provides the plans? Do you take her to civil court for breach of contract if has she committed one of the many possible white collar crimes? The answer depends on whether she had the specific intent to steal the money. If she intended to do the job but couldn't complete it because she was sick, for example, then she may have breached the contract but didn't have the intent to steal, so she is not guilty of theft. If she took the money with the intent of keeping it and not doing the work, then she has committed a crime.

For that reason, it is the job of a Washington, DC white collar criminal defense attorney to examine the evidence and challenge the government in their attempt to prove this necessary element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, it is not a classic "who done it" but rather a question of whether any crime was actually committed.

November 23, 2010

Washington, DC School Official Charged with Stealing $2.4 Million from Special Education Grants : A White Collar Defense Approach (Part One)

1302091_tower_bridge.jpgAccording to an in-depth report by Spenser S. Hsu in the Washington Post, Charles I. Emor, founder of a Washington, DC, school for disabled boys, has been charged with stealing $2.4 million from special education grants. He is alleged to have spent the money on cars, jewelry, and other personal property. Emor, who is already incarcerated for an unrelated computer theft from the school system, now faces 37 criminal counts including theft, money laundering, interstate transportation of stolen property, and mail, wire and first degree fraud.

Washington, DC white collar defense attorneys routinely handle cases involving alleged theft of government property. These cases are very different than dealing with violent crimes such as assault, or traffic offenses like drunk driving. One of the major distinctions is that white collar crimes often involve someone who was trusted to handle the property. Another difference is that there is usually a pretty clear paper trail of any theft that occurred. This puts the client at a major disadvantage from the moment they are charged. This does not mean there is no valid defense to white collar charges; it simply means that you must take a different approach.

Based on my experience, it is necessary to focus on whether the client had any intent to permanently take the property. The modern legal concept of theft dates back to British Common Law which stated that theft is the trespassory (non permissive) taking of the property of another with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. This basically means that at the time the defendant took the property, he or she had no permission and had the intent to never give it back. This seems pretty clear when a person takes a candy bar from CVS and runs out of the store. It is a bit more tricky in the case of white collar crime, because the defendant has been given permission to hold the property. The law has addressed this and said the permission ends at the moment the defendant specifically intends to keep the property for their own use. If they didn't specifically intend to the steal the property, then no crime has occurred.

November 19, 2010

United States Attorney's Office Dismisses Charges Against Washington, DC Based FBI Agents Accused of Submitting False Medical Reports to Hide Steroid Use

69131_syringe_and_drug_bottle.jpgAccording to a Washington Post article, three Washington, DC based FBI Special Agents and one investigative analyst were charged with the white collar crime of submitting false statements on fitness evaluations which are government documents attested to as being true. The agents are alleged to have enlisted the help of the analyst to get false diagnoses of conditions such as adult dwarfism and pituitary gland defects so that they would be prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This HRT consisted of steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) which is commonly used to treat such conditions. On September 15, 2010, the defendants were formally charged with submitting false statements in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

The United States Attorney's Office (USAO) was given until November 1, 2010 to present the case to a grand jury and obtain indictments. Based on the limited information released, it seems that the grand jury did not return any indictments and the government had all charges dismissed. A spokesperson for the USAO has stated that an investigation is ongoing but did not give any reasons for the dismissal. There has also been no word if there has been any action taken by the FBI with regard to employment status of the agents and investigator.

Washington, DC white collar defense attorneys often handle cases in which their clients are accused of falsifying government documents. It is very rare for the government to agree to an outright dismissal before an indictment. In a felony case, Due Process requires that the prosecutor introduce evidence to a grand jury who will determine if there is enough probable cause to go forward and formally charge the defendant with the felony. If a grand jury believes there is sufficient probable cause, they will return a "true bill" of Indictment against the defendant. If they do not find probable cause, they will return "no bill" of indictment. While this sounds like a fair process, it is quite far from it. The prosecutor is not required to introduce any evidence that shows that the defendant is innocent and can introduce evidence, such as hearsay, that would be not be allowed at trial. It is perfectly acceptable for the Washington, DC Assistant United States Attorney to have one untrustworthy person testify in a grand jury hearing and not tell the grand jury that there are 49 other people who will swear the defendant is innocent. The prosecutors can basically indict anyone they want.

Criminal defense attorneys often say that the government can indict a ham sandwich if they want. With that being said, it makes you wonder why the government would dismiss white collar crimes and not seek an indictment, when there appeared to be documented evidence like the signed falsified reports, false medical diagnoses, and the prescriptions for steroids and HGH.

November 17, 2010

Washington, DC Alcohol Board Votes Not to Allow Reopening of DC9 Night Club After Aggravated Assault Charges Are Dropped Against Five Club Employees

1191524__broken_window.jpgOn October 15, 2010, Ali Ahmed Mohammed is said to have thrown a brick through the window of the DC9 night club located on Ninth and U Streets in Northwest Washington, DC after being denied admission. Washington, DC Police allege that five employees of the club retaliated by beating Mohammed to death. Police charged the employees with Aggravated Assault.

According to a Washington Post article by Mary Pat Flaherty, the United States Attorney's Office dismissed all charges against the employees on November 5, 2010 because the medical examiner's initial findings were not consistent with a violent beating. Washington, DC criminal defense attorneys routinely see cases where police charge a defendant even though there is no credible evidence to support such a charge.

Unfortunately many of these cases are not properly challenged and result in convictions of innocent people. As a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney, I believe that one of the most important things you can do for your clients is to spend as much time as it takes to review all the evidence and question anything that doesn't seem right. I have handled many cases in which it was clear that the prosecutors were quick to take the police report at face value and were surprised to learn there was not much merit to the case after I had a chance to discuss the matter with them.

Aggravated Assault is serious charge in Washington, DC. The city council has made this offense punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison. If you have been charged with Assault, make sure you hire a criminal defense lawyer who will take the time to conduct a thorough investigation and not take the police report at face value.

November 15, 2010

Can You be Charged with a DUI after taking Prescription Drugs if You Have a Valid Prescription for the Medication in Washington, DC?

254529_drugs_2.jpgYES! This is a common misconception of people charged with DUI in Washington, DC. They believe that since their doctor prescribed a medication that may have side effects, it's perfectly legal to drive after taking it. This is not true.

Several years ago, I prosecuted a case in which the defendant crashed her car on the way home from a Methadone clinic. She was in a narcotic haze when she tried to drive home and slammed into a parked car in front of the police station. At the pretrial hearing, her attorney presented me with a valid prescription for Methadone and explained that she was a recovering heroin addict. I felt sorry for this woman who was clearly trying to deal with her addiction but explained to her attorney that she was not being charged with Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance but rather, Operating Under the Influence of Narcotics. If she had been charged Possession of Controlled Substance, a valid prescription would be a real defense. While this may seem strange, think of it in the context of alcohol. You don't need a prescription to buy Jack Daniels, but you can't drink a pint of it and get in your car and think you have a valid defense to Drunk Driving because it's legal to buy and drink liquor.

As an experienced Washington, DC DUI attorney can tell you, the City Council has enacted legislation by which the government is required to prove that the defendant operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating alcohol or drugs and that their ability to drive was impaired.

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November 12, 2010

Former Students Suspected of Theft of Computers from Washington, DC Metro Area School

632763_computers (1).jpgAccording to an article in the Baltimore Sun, ex-students are suspected of stealing $8,460 worth of computer equipment from Purpose & Potential Christian Arts Academy. These computers were recently purchased with a state grant. School officials allege that the students also tried to steal a $2,000 electronic keyboard but left it in the hallway of the DC Metro area school. School administrators have not yet said why they suspect these particular former students of committing this crime.

While I have a Washington, DC criminal defense firm, I have also chosen to represent students in administrative hearings that involve discipline and expulsion from schools and universities. I find that many students accused of violating school policy do not take advantage of their right to have an attorney represent them in these hearings. It can often be the difference between being expelled and being able to continue their studies.

School disciplinary hearings are similar to criminal proceedings. When a student is accused of violating school rules for reasons such as fighting, truancy, bringing weapons (including toy guns) into school, and numerous other violations, they are entitled to a hearing under the due process laws of the United States. They may be temporarily suspended immediately, but the school administration is required to give the students notice and opportunity to defend themselves at a hearing before more serious action is taken. These hearings are conducted much like a criminal trial. The school officials present the facts of their allegations before a review board which may consist of school board officials or a panel of other students in the case of a college or university. The student has an opportunity to call witnesses and introduce evidence to assist in their defense. The proceeding is usually recorded by a court reporter so that it can be appealed at a later time.

While all of these formalities can be very helpful to the student facing being suspended from school or expelled, they are very rarely taken advantage of by the student. Most parents and students don't realize how much they need an experienced Washington, DC attorney to assist in the process. With an experienced defense attorney, students can receive a fair hearing and have a much better chance at getting favorable results and being able to continue their education and get on with their lives.

November 9, 2010

Washington, DC Woman Charged with Animal Cruelty When Police Discovered a Live Goat in her Trunk at a DUI Checkpoint

179902_goat (2).jpgAccording to a recent story in the Berks-Mont News, a Washington, DC resident was driving to a Goat BBQ after picking up a live goat from a farm in Bedford, VA. She and four passengers were stopped at a random DUI checkpoint when police discovered the goat. Authorities measured the temperature in the trunk at 94 degrees and charged the driver with Animal Cruelty. There have been many complaints related to the BBQ's cancelation. The goat is now living on a farm in Virginia.

I'm not really sure what there is to say about this story but I suppose I will talk a little about DUI checkpoints. The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution is the primary source of law on protection from being searched by the police without probable cause. The actually text is as follows:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

This basically means that the police cannot randomly search someone's person or property without probable cause and a warrant. This was created to protect us from the type of random searches that the British authorities regularly conducted during colonial times. While the language of the Fourth Amendment seems pretty clear, the US Supreme Court has allowed for warrantless searches in certain situations. For example, if the police are responding to an emergency and believe you have a weapon, they can search you in the interest of public safety without first getting a warrant. They can also search you when you are arrested because they justify it in the interest of the officer's safety.

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November 5, 2010

Arizona Man Arrested on Gun Charges in front of the National Mall in Washington, DC

780299_glock_1.jpgOn Thursday, November 4, 2010, US Park Police arrested 66 year-old James M. Patock of Arizona on gun charges. Park police claim they spotted something suspicious in Patock's camper that was parked near the National Mall in Washington, DC. Police found an unregistered handgun and two rifles. Patock was charged with Carrying a Pistol Without a License, Possession of an Unregistered Firearm, and Possession of Unregistered Ammunition. He is scheduled to be arraigned at the DC Superior Court.

This does not appear to be a case of domestic terrorism or anything of that sort. It is just an example of the strictest gun laws in the United States. In the District of Columbia, all firearms must be registered. They can be kept in the home loaded due to a US Supreme Court decision which held DC's old gun laws to be in violation of the Second Amendment. Despite this case, you can never carry a loaded firearm in Washington, DC. If is in your car, it must be in the trunk and not loaded. If you car does not have a trunk, the gun must be kept in a locked container, other than the glove compartment, and the ammunition must be kept in a separate locked container. If it is on your person, you must have a trigger lock on the gun and the ammunition must be in a separate locked container. You may only take the gun out of your house when going to a shooting range or hunting. You must have your registration card on you at all times and be able to present it to the police. You may purchase ammunition from an approved retailer but may only purchase it for the same type of firearm you have registered. Basically, you can't ever carry a gun in the District of Columbia.

November 3, 2010

Lesser Included Offenses and the Art of the Plea Bargain

60534_abandoned_building.jpgSometimes winning a case means a not guilty verdict. Other times winning a case involves getting the charges reduced to something the client can accept--like getting a felony reduced to a misdemeanor.

A few years ago I represented a client charged with burglary. He was recently released from prison and didn't have any place to live. He tried to find work but because of his criminal record and the economy, he didn't have much luck. He met a friend who was staying in a vacant house. After the housing market collapsed, there were many old houses throughout the country that were bought with the intent to renovate and sell for a profit. Many of these old homes now sit vacant with renovation efforts abandoned.

This particular home was vacant and in foreclosure. The bank hired an investigator to check on the condition of the property and make sure there weren't any squatters. He discovered my client and his friend sleeping on lawn chairs in what used to be the living room of this partially gutted building. The investigator called a burglary detective he knew and both men were placed under arrest for burglary.

After reading the police report, I couldn't understand why this was charged as a major felony (burglary) and not a misdemeanor (trespassing). The detective stated in his police report that this was a home or apartment, so the higher charge was justified. My client was willing to admit he was trespassing in a vacant structure but had no intention of committing any other crime. He only wanted a dry place to stay. He was squatting, not a burglar. What really bothered me was the reason this was a major felony was because the officer claimed this was a "home." While it is true that it was once a home, it was not occupied and was in a state of disrepair. The reason breaking into a home carried such a high sentence is because it involves violating the place one feels most secure and safe. This was not a home in the sense that the legislature had in mind when creating this law.

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