January 2011 Archives

January 31, 2011

Senator Schumer Wants Synthetic Cocaine Often Sold Online as Bath Salts Added to Controlled Substance Schedules

salts.jpgIn case you have trouble keeping up with the latest trends in designer drugs, it seems that "Meow Meow" aka "M-CAT" (Mephedrone/synthetic ecstasy) is now being replaced in popularity by a synthetic cocaine (MDPV) often sold legally over the internet as bath salts. One common brand that has allegedly been linked to the death of some users is sold as "Ivory Wave" bath salts.

As a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, DC who handles drug charges, I am familiar with the Schedule of Controlled Substances used by the Federal government and the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia. If NY Senator Chuck Schumer is successful, this form of synthetic cocaine will be added to list of illegal drugs, so anyone in possession could be arrested on possession of a controlled substance charge.

As you can see, more and more of these plant based drugs like Salvia (now famous because it was allegedly used by Miley Cyrus), or synthetic designer drugs like Ivory Wave, come on the market each year. They are sold primarily over the internet and are manufactured in other countries like Mexico. Once they become popular enough to get on the radar of the FDA or DEA, they eventually become classified as illegal narcotics. After being classified as illegal, they are generally manufactured in rural towns across America and the occasional college dorm.

January 28, 2011

Huntington Beach Police Attempt to Post Mug Shot of Defendants Charged with DUIs on Facebook

alg_huntington_beach_pd_facebook.jpgIn an effort by the Huntington Beach, California police to shame defendants charged with a DUI, they have devised a plan to post the drivers' mug shots on a Facebook page. In a beach city with many clubs and bars, it should not come as a surprise that there are a large number of DUI arrests each year. According to many recent news stories, the city has a reputation for being particularly tough on drunk driving, and it is for this reason that the city council considered this new measure this week. Unfortunately for the police, the proposal was rejected.

Washington, DC has yet to consider this method, but jurisdictions across the county are trying to find new ways to humiliate those charged with drunk driving. In some states, a driver who has been convicted of a DUI must have special plates to let others know.

Those who support these methods claim they are similar to the sex offender registry and should be constitutional. DUI lawyers will be watching for what case law develops, but I think police will have a much harder time showing that this is really done in the interest of public safety. For now, it seems the police will have to rely on the criminal justice system to deal with those charged with crimes instead of social media applications like Facebook.

January 26, 2011

Two Year Long Investigation Leads to 25 Arrests on Drugs and Weapons Charges in the Washington, DC Metro Area

835376_dirty_money_2.jpgThe Fairfax Times is reporting that a two year long undercover investigation known as "Operation Bull Run" resulted in 25 suspects being arrested in the Washington, DC metro area for criminal charges involving guns and drugs. Police and Federal Agents made undercover purchases of 85 guns, two kilos of powder cocaine, and 500 grams of crack cocaine.

Many DC criminal defense attorneys who handle gun and drug charges will be eagerly watching to see how many of these arrests actually result in convictions. Local police and Federal agencies often team up to form these massive taskforces aimed at a particular threat like terrorism, gang violence, narcotics, guns, etc. When they finally make a statement to the press, they like to show a high number of arrests. This may result in sloppily writing police reports and officers and agents who have no intention of showing up to court to testify in what they consider minor offenses.

I worked on a case where a similar taskforce called "Operation Calm Waters" led to the arrest of a 19 year-old defendant for having less than one-eighth ounce of marijuana and a pocket knife. He was sitting on a bench by the water smoking a joint and was suddenly surrounded by 19 officers and agents who arrested him for possession of a controlled substance. He was a number for the press release but a dismissed case in court. When reading these stories, or dealing with your own case, it is important to remember that an arrest is not a conviction.

January 24, 2011

Washington, DC Man Allowed to Appeal 1996 Gun Conviction Based on Court Ruling

1038828_u_s__supreme_court_2.jpgAccording to a recent story in the City Paper, Dave Magnus can now appeal his 1996 conviction for gun charges. In 1996, police arrested Magnus in his home in the Petworth neighborhood in Washington, DC. During a search of Magnus's residence, warrant in hand, the police discovered nearly $10,000 cash, a pound of marijuana, and two handguns. During the search, Magnus told the police that the weapons were present in the home. He admitted that "I own both the .357 cal pistol and the .45 caliber pistol found in my room." He told the police that he bought the weapons on the street and had them because he feared for his safety. He said that he was robbed in front of his home and owned the firearms for protection. Magnus pleaded guilty to the weapons charges and the Prosecutor dismissed the drug charges. He was sentenced to one year of probation which he successfully completed. A felony conviction remains on his record.

At the time of his arrest, it was a crime in the District of Columbia to possess a loaded gun in your home or place of business without a permit. There were no such permits issued to persons other than military or law enforcement. As a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney, I have been closely monitoring the recent changes to the gun laws. The most noteworthy case was the 2008 Supreme Court case titled District of Columbia v. Heller. In Heller, the Court decided that not allowing a citizen to possess a loaded gun in their home was a violation of the Second Amendment. The City Council held an emergency session which created a law that allowed residents to possess a loaded gun in one's home, so long as the firearm and ammunition was registered.

Based upon the Heller decision, Magnus appealed to the DC Court of Appeals and was granted the right to have a hearing to overturn his conviction, because the law he was convicted of violating has now been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. If Magnus is successful, this will allow many others to follow in his footsteps to challenge their unconstitutional conviction for possessing a loaded firearm in their home.

January 19, 2011

Follow-Up: Arizona Man Arrested on Gun Charges in front of the National Mall in Washington, DC Receives Probation

sniper_rifle.jpgAs I discussed in a previous post, James Patock of Arizona was arrested on gun charges on November 4, 2010. Patock was living in his mobile home that was parked in front of the Air and Space museum in Washington, DC. Police saw weapons inside the vehicle and performed a search and found a pistol, ammunition, and two rifles. Patock was charged with various gun charges and plead guilty to attempted carrying a pistol without a license and possession of an unregistered firearm in D.C. Superior Court. He was sentenced to one year in prison with that sentence suspended if Patock complies with the terms of his probation.

One of the major issues faced by DC gun charge lawyers is the harsh penalties for this type of crime in the DC Code and that fact that it is hard to dispute whether the defendant was in possession of firearms. The best defense often comes in the form a motion to suppress evidence. If it can be shown that police did have probable cause to search for the weapons, then they generally will be excluded from evidence. If the prosecution cannot introduce the gun or ammunition into evidence, then the prosecution will basically have no choice but dismiss the charges.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution gives every citizen the right to be protected from unlawful search and seizure. It is important to remember that a charge is not a conviction and there is a lot that can be done to help prevent a prison sentence so that you can get on with your life.

January 17, 2011

2007 Washington, DC Assault Turns into Homicide after Victim Dies: A Look at Various Assault Crimes

ambulance.jpgAccording to a recent story in the Washington Post, Demetrius Ormon Dempsey was the victim of an alleged assault that occurred on June 30, 2007 in NE Washington, DC. The police say that he was suffering from blunt-force trauma when he was found. This past week, Dempsey died from what the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) for the District of Columbia is calling a homicide resulting from the injuries he sustained during the earlier assault. The DC Metro Police issued a statement saying that the charges will now be upgraded to murder. According to police, the alleged victim had "remained in hospitals and nursing facilities for the remainder of his life."

The police have not made any arrest for homicide or assault charges as of this time. As I have discussed in other posts, Washington, DC criminal defense attorneys deal with various types of assault charges. There is a simple assault which is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in prison and/or a $1000 fine. If the assault results in significant injuries to the victim, a defendant can be charged with assault with significant bodily injury. This is a DC felony with a maximum sentence of up to 3 years in prison and/or a $3,000 fine.

A more serious DC assault charge is aggravated assault. This is an assault in which the defendant acted intentionally (purposefully), or with a disregard towards human life that results in a serious bodily injury. This is a major felony and is punishable by up to ten years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. As I have discussed before, DC takes guns and weapons offenses very seriously. If a defendant commits an aggravated assault while armed (AGWA), the maximum penalty can be as high as 15 years in prison. It should also be noted that a lesser form of assault can turn into a more serious crime if the victim later suffers additional injuries as a result of the attack. This is the case with Dempsey who is now considered a homicide victim.

January 13, 2011

Some Thoughts on so-called "Designer Drugs" and Their Use in Washington, DC

Ecstacy_monogram.jpgThere are often stories in the news about college students in Washington, DC and across the nation getting charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance involving drugs many people do not even know exist. Many have heard of Ecstasy (MDMA), Crystal Meth, or even less common drugs like Ketamine, commonly called "Special K" by those who use it. But this is only the tip of the iceberg of designer drugs available.

As a criminal defense lawyer who handles drug cases, I have seen my fair share of these types of drugs. They have strange chemical names like DMT (Dimethyltryptamine), GHB (Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid), and are manufactured primarily in Mexico, or more increasingly by amateur chemists called "cooks" in basements and garages throughout the US. There was even a recent case involving students arrested for allegedly attempting to manufacture DMT in a Georgetown University dorm room.

An interesting thing is that even if a user is knowledgeable about the drug, they have no idea what is actually in the specific substance they purchased. I handled a case in which a woman was charged with being in possession with intent to distribute 24 Ecstacy pills near a school. When we got the lab results back from the government, it turned out the pills also contained heroin, PCP, Ketamine, and many other dangerous drugs. She had no idea that these drugs are often cut with other drugs to make them stronger, cheaper, or more addictive. Manufacturers will even imprint their drugs with a specific symbol so people know what chemist made it. I once had a client who had been addicted to heroin since age 15 who said he would never do a drug made in a Pittsburgh basement. I think this is probably good advice.

Aside from the long term health consequences, use of designer drugs may lead to your arrest, and lab tests may discover other substances leading to additional charges. If you are a college or university student, this may also lead to expulsion or academic termination. When choosing a lawyer to defend you, it is important to discuss these concerns with him and hire someone who specializes in this area of law.

January 12, 2011

On Motions to Suppress When Facing Drug Charges in Washington, DC

541px-Crack_street_dosage.jpgIn every drug case I have handled, there is one thing in common: my client was arrested, and drugs were seized by the police. The police seem to think they caught the defendant red-handed, and it's an open and closed case. They are often wrong.

The most important thing a Washington, DC drug charge lawyer can do for a client is conduct a thorough investigation of all of the events leading up to the arrest. If the police did not have probable cause to stop a suspect, then they cannot conduct a search because the US Supreme Court has held that anything that follows an illegal stop is generally inadmissible because it is a "fruit of a poisonous tree." The unlawful stop is seen as a poisonous tree, and all evidence that it yields is also "tainted" and thus inadmissible in court.

Sometimes a DC Metro Police officer may have a valid "pretext" for stopping a suspect, but that does not automatically give them the right to do a full search. For example, if the officer can give a decent reason that they suspect a person is a danger to public safety, they can stop a suspect and do a quick pat-first of the outside of the person's clothing. This is called a "Terry Stop." They may not have probable cause to conduct a full search such as taking a pack of cigarettes out of a coat pocket and then looking for crack cocaine or heroin in the wrapper. If the suspect is in a car, they do not have the right to search the entire car, open the glove compartment, or open the trunk without probable cause. If the police ask if you have anything they should know about, or if they have permission to search you or your property, you have the right to say no. You don't have to give them any reason for saying no, and you should not worry if it makes you look suspicious. If they search you and find drugs or a weapon, then you are going to look guilty either way.

Continue reading "On Motions to Suppress When Facing Drug Charges in Washington, DC" »

January 10, 2011

Federal Safety Regulators and the Auto Industry Research Placing Alcohol Detection Sensors on All Cars to Prevent DUI and DWI Charges

988920_key.jpgAccording to an interesting story by Ashley Halsey III of the Washington Post, the US government safety regulation agencies and the auto industry have teamed up to fund research developing alcohol sensors that would be standard on all new vehicles sold in the US. These sensors use the same technology as the explosive material scanners used at airports. If the scanners detect that a driver is over the preset blood alcohol limit, the car will not start. Unlike breathalyzers or ignition interlocks currently in use, these new devices would not require that drivers blow into a tube, but would have a sensor in the key, steering wheel, or start button. This is similar to the alcohol sensing ankle bracelets, or SCRAM devices, that Lindsay Lohan and Tracy Morgan were required to wear after their DUI convictions, which detect the presence of alcohol in perspiration.

As a Washington, DC drunk driving defense lawyer, what concerns me is what the preset limit will be. It would be logical to set the devices at 0.08, which is the legal limit for a DWI charge, but there has been speculation that the devices might be set to prevent a vehicle from starting if the sensors detect any presence of alcohol. It is not likely that the average citizen who enjoys a glass of wine with dinner of a single ($8.00) beer at the Redskins game would support this. According to the American Beverage Institute, "Most Americans would say: 'Absolutely not. I don't drive drunk, and you're not going to put that in my car.'"

January 7, 2011

Washington, DC Metro Area Man Charged with a DUI and Other Crimes While Driving a Stolen Golf Cart

1026602_golf_cart.jpgAccording a recent story by David P. Marino-Nachison of the Washington Post, Everths Moran-Reyes of the Washington, DC metro area was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), theft of a motor vehicle, and driving with a suspended license. The golf cart was allegedly stolen from a local shopping mall.

One question that may come to mind is whether the police can charge someone with a DUI or driving while intoxicated (DWI) on a golf cart. The general answer is yes. The DC Code sections that define drunk driving offenses do not specify that the vehicle must be "motorized." Any wheeled vehicle that is used a mode of transportation including non-motorized bicycles count as vehicles. As a Washington, DC DUI Lawyer, I have been asked if you can get a DUI or DWI on a bicycle. The general answer to this question is also yes. Generally, the only type of vehicle that is specifically excluded by the DC City Council is a wheelchair in order to avoid discrimination. While there are many legal arguments your lawyer can make on your behalf, it is best use a designated driver, call a taxi, or use the Metro if you have been drinking.

The theft of a motor vehicle charge is also an interesting aspect of this story. In Washington, DC, in relation to theft of a motor vehicle or unauthorized use of a motor vehicle charges, the term "motor vehicle" is defined as follows: "[A]ny automobile, self-propelled mobile home, motorcycle, truck, truck tractor, truck tractor with semi trailer or trailer, or bus." Based upon this definition, the police could charge someone with stealing a vehicle even when the vehicle involved is a golf cart.

While it may seem like the laws are mostly written to favor the prosecutors, it is important to remember that an arrest is not a conviction and there are a lot of things that can be done to help with your situation.

January 5, 2011

As Homicide Charges Fell, Washington, DC Saw a Major Increase in Sex Crimes in 2010

787445_blue_alarm_light.jpgAs I discussed in the last post, Washington, DC has seen a sharp decrease in homicide charges; however, the DC Metropolitan Police Department is reporting a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of serious sex crimes the past year. According to a recent article in The Examiner, by last December, 200 sexual assaults had been reported, compared to 137 in the previous year. The report only included first degree and second degree sexual abuse. It did not include less serious offenses like third degree or fourth degree sex crimes or other sexually based offenses.

Washington, DC criminal defense attorneys use the District of Columbia Code term "sexual abuse" rather than the commonly used term "rape." The Code divides sexual abuse into degrees based on how serious the DC City Council has deemed them to be. Both the first degree and second degree offenses involve forcing a person to engage in a sexual act. The difference between the two is that first degree sexual abuse generally involves the use of physical force or threatened use of a gun or other weapon. Second degree sexual abuse involves threatening or placing a person in reasonable fear or knowing the person was incapable of declining consent or incapable of expressing a desire to refuse to engage in sexual conduct. Third degree sexual abuse involves the touching of the genitals of a person and involves the use of force requirement of the first degree offense but only involves touching of clothed or unclothed genitals or breasts but does not require actual penetration. Fourth degree sexual abuse also involves a touching of genitals or breasts of a person who is incapable of declining consent or incapable of expressing a desire to refuse to consent to the touching.

Finally, DC has a misdemeanor sexual abuse crime which requires that a sexual act occurred and the defendant knew or should have known that they did not have consent.

January 4, 2011

Two Washington, DC Twins Sentenced to Prison for Offering a Bribe to Police Officers in Exchange for Not Arresting Them on Drug Charges

1156821_handcuffs.jpgAccording to a story by Spenser S. Hsu of the Washington Post, twin brother's Gary and Larry Moody were sentenced to 10 and 21 months in prison for offering an $8,000 bribe to two DC police officers who were going to charge them with possession with intent to distribute heroin near a school. The DC police officers, working with the FBI, conducted a sting operation at the Hooters restaurant in Chinatown. The two defendants were recorded on video offering a bribe to public officials. The Judge called the twins' actions an "act of raw corruption."

I am aware of various attempts to bribe the police into dropping criminal charges. While this may work on TV, my advice to anyone who knows they are being investigated by the police is to contact a Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer who handles drug charges or whatever other crime may be involved. You should do this as soon as possible so that your rights will be protected. As you can see from this post, bribing a public official is an additional charge which is not looked upon favorable by many judges.

January 3, 2011

Homicides in Washington, DC Fall to Lowest Numbers Since 1963

658306_townhouses_logan_circle_washington_dc.jpgAt the beginning of a new year, everyone likes to look back at the past year and review all that has happened. There are lists of the top songs, the craziest celebrity moments, politics, and so on. As a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, DC, I like to take a look at the crime statistics released by the DC Metropolitan Police Department.

According to story in the Washington Times, this year there were 131 murders committed in the District of Columbia, down nine percent from the 143 homicides last year. To put this in perspective, in the late 1980s Washington, DC was labeled the "Murder Capital" with a record high 482 killings reported. This was at a time in the city's history when a crack cocaine epidemic and heroin use were causing gangs and street crews to engage in turf wars to control the drug trade.

While the overall decline is clearly good news, it was pointed out by the Washington Times, that there has been an increase in the percentage of murders committed by juvenile offenders. Many of these murders were committed during robberies and other crimes and not only related to street crew rivalries.

One aspect that might be interesting to look into is whether the overall number of Washington, DC gun charges, armed robberies, shootings, and attempted murders has also declined in comparison to the homicide rate. It would be interesting to see if the advances of medical technology and trauma care have contributed to the decreases across the nation. Maybe I should research this for a later post.