March 2011 Archives

March 31, 2011

Violent Crime Rates Decrease in Washington, DC as Theft Charges Increase

DC_forced_entry.jpgAccording to an in-depth feature by Allison Klein of the Washington Post, the District of Columbia has experienced a major increase in burglaries and thefts while there been a reduction in incidents of violent crimes such as robbery, and guns or weapons offenses. Specifically, DC Metropolitan Police (MPD) is reporting a 20 percent increase in burglaries and a 23 percent increase in theft in Washington, DC. In Dupont Circle, burglaries are up threefold compared to last year at this time.

Many of the thefts involve personal property such as cell phones, iPads, and laptops being stolen right off the table at coffee shops and restaurants in the Washington, DC area. The burglaries generally involve thieves smashing in back windows or doors, running in, grabbing anything they can sell and running out. They are not exactly an elaborate and well-planned heists.

As a Washington, DC theft charges lawyer, I often talk to with prospective clients who do not realize how serious the consequences may be for what many consider a minor theft charge. With respect to the criminal penalties, if the stolen property is under $1,000 in value, DC law defines the crime as a misdemeanor theft or "second degree theft" punishable by a maximum of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. If the value of the property is $1,000 or greater, it is a first degree felony theft charge punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

In addition to the criminal penalties for theft under Washington, DC criminal law, theft is considered a "crime of moral turpitude." In other words, it's a crime that can make you look like a dishonest person. A conviction for a moral turpitude offense can make it very difficult to get a job, especially one that involves handling money. If you have a theft conviction, you may want to look into having your Washington, DC criminal record expunged/sealed.

March 29, 2011

Two Women in Same Car Are Charged with a DUI: On What It Means to "Operate" a Vehicle in Washington, DC

car_crash.jpgAccording to a recent story on NECN, two Vermont women were charged with drunk driving in the same car. Police allege that the Caryn Pletzer was driving the car, and Ashley Griffin was sitting next to Pletzer in the passenger seat. It was after 3:00am and the women began arguing while driving down the road. Police believe that Griffin grabbed the steering wheel causing the car to loose control and roll several times before coming to a stop. They were transported by paramedics to a local hospital and treated for their injuries. Both women were charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). Griffin, the passenger, was also charged with aggravated assault and gross negligent operation.

If this was a Washington, DC, DWI, it would be defined as the operation of a vehicle while having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 grams per deciliter of blood. With this type of DC DUI charge, the government is not required to prove that the driver was actually suffering any type of impairment. The question that may come to mind in the story being discussed is whether the passenger was "operating" the vehicle when she allegedly grabbed the steering wheel.

As a Washington, DC DUI lawyer, I'm aware of drunk driving cases involving bicycles and golf carts, so a passenger being charged with a DWI would not be outside of the realm of possibility. The DC Criminal Code defines operation as exercising physical control of a vehicle which can involve driving, moving, pushing, steering, or parking on a public highway. Under this definition of "operation", one could see where grabbing the steering wheel, and causing the car to roll over could be considered exercising physical control over the vehicle. There are a lot of nuances in DUI defense in Washington, DC and your lawyer should speak with you about the law relevant to your case. It is important to remember that an arrest is not a conviction.

March 28, 2011

Washington, DC Gang Member Sentenced to Life on Murder and Racketeering Charges

Graffitti.jpgWashington, DC is not known for having many national gangs like other major cities. Instead of gangs like the Bloods or Crips, many defendants charged with drug crimes in DC are members of neighborhood crews. There are over 40 operating crews in the District, according to police. These crews are usually named after the neighborhood where they are located. One exception to this is the increasing presence of Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13. This is an extremely violent gang with roots to guerilla fighters in El Salvador. They are known for being involved with illegal firearms and drugs and have a reputation for being extremely violent toward rival gangs and anyone they consider an enemy. Authorities are very concerned by their overseas ties that may aid them in smuggling operations.

According to a recent story in the Washington Post, William Cordova, also known as "Centinella," was sentenced to life in prison for killing Feliciana Flores-Esquina Flores. Cordova shot Flores two times in the head at a Washington, DC bus stop. He also killed three other men in 2006.

Washington, DC criminal defense lawyers who handle drug and gun charges may be dealing with more cases in which the prosecutor tries to treat gang members like members of an organized crime family, as they have done with mafia crime families. If they are able to charge defendants with racketeering, as they have done in this case, it will allow for additional federal charges and increase the maximum penalties of many crimes. This will be important to people facing DC gun charges or drug charges.

March 25, 2011

Six Arrested in Washington, DC on Charges Involving Armed Robbery, Possession of Firearms, and Conspiracy: A Look at the Entrapment Defense (Part Two)

spider_web.jpgIn part one of this post, I discussed how six men were arrested in Washington, DC on charges of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and possession of firearms during a crime of violence (PFCV). Both crimes are serious Washington, DC felonies. Armed robbery could result in up to 30 years in prison depending on the defendant's criminal record (rap sheet). PFCV carries a mandatory minimum of five years and a maximum of 30 years in prison. In this case, the defendants were arrested as part of an undercover operation. Their weapons were missing firing pins and the location they were trying to rob was actually set up by the police.

Criminal defense lawyers in Washington, DC are often told by their clients that the police entrapped them. The problem with this defense is that you can only be entrapped if you had no intention of breaking the law, and the police convinced you to commit a crime. If you already have the intent to commit a crime, then it is probably not entrapment under DC law.

In this case, the robbery crew were allegedly already planning to commit the robberies but asked the undercover police to provide handguns and rifles. They already allegedly possessed what the law calls "actus reus," or a guilty mind, when the undercover cops approached them. For that reason, the police did not convince an innocent minded person to break the law, and it is probably not entrapment. This is the same as when a person driving around the streets of DC looking for a prostitute gets approached by a female undercover MPD officer who arrests the driver as soon as they agree on a price. Because the man was already out looking to solicit prostitution, it is not entrapment. As I mentioned in other posts, the cops are allowed to lie to you. They do it all the time. Despite what TV tells us, they do not have to say yes when asked "are you a cop?"

March 24, 2011

Police in Washington, DC Enforce Federal Regulations that Outlaw Synthetic Marijuana as a Controlled Substance

Fake Pot.jpgIn a previous post, I discussed an increase in the use of synthetic pot (THC) by college students. This synthetic marijuana is being sold as incense under names such as K2 or Spice. While it is not technically illegal under Washington, DC law, the DEA has been granted authority to temporarily add it the Schedule of Controlled Substances. This makes is a federal offense to possess or distribute the drug in the District of Columbia or any other state which can result in DC drug charges.

Washington, DC criminal defense lawyers who take drug cases are not likely to see that many individuals arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance involving this drug because the case would have to be brought in federal court. This would be a very minor federal drug case in Washington, DC. MPD or the DEA may make some arrests to set an example however, so it is not out of the question. The more logical approach is to target stores selling the drugs in the District.

According to a recent story in the Washington Post, three store owners in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of NW DC, and two gas stations in Anacostia, have been given warnings that selling drugs such as K2, Spice, or other forms of synthetic THC classified as controlled substances, is a crime. Technically speaking, five chemicals are included in this new ban including JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol. These chemicals are applied to the herbal material sold as incense, and are said to mimic the properties of THC and produce a marijuana-like high.

March 23, 2011

Six Arrested in Washington, DC on Charges Involving Armed Robbery, Possession of Firearms, and Conspiracy: A Look at the Entrapment Defense (Part One)

Stun Grenade.gifAccording to a new Washington Post story, six men were arrested while attempting to rob a drug dealer. The men were armed with pistols and a semi-automatic rifle. When they entered what they believed to the drug dealer's place of business, they were blinded and deafened by stun grenades or "flash bangs" thrown by the Emergency Response Team (ERT) of the DC Metro Police and the FBI. Most of the weapons carried by the defendants were actually supplied by undercover cops who had removed the firing pins. Some tried to ditch their weapons and flee the scene, others stayed and surrendered, all were arrested and taken into custody within two minutes.

It should come as no surprise that the six defendants were set up by Washington, DC law enforcement as part of a sting operation. According to reports, Serfido Trinidad Perez Florian, Vahelo Alay Escobar, Armando Palma Alonzo, Jose Martin Ruis-Cacho, Luis Lopez, and Edgar Geovani Perez-Suniga, all of El Salvador, became associated with a confidential informant who told the police of their plans to commit armed robbery in the Washington, DC Metro area. The police supplied them with weapons and told them of a drug dealer that was an easy target. This turned out to be the setup just mentioned where the defendants were arrested and charged with conspiring to commit armed bank robbery and possessing firearms during a crime of violence. Both offenses are serious felonies in the District of Columbia.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer, I would like to discuss the entrapment defense in the legal context. As I have discussed in a previous entry called "Are You a Cop?" the so-called entrapment defense does not really exist outside of TV and movies. The reason I want to take a closer look at this defense is because we are constantly hearing about the police providing weapons or bomb-making equipment to people who they then arrest on conspiracy charges. In part two of this post, I will provide that closer look.

March 21, 2011

Fourth Grader Brings Cocaine into Washington, DC School and Gets Charged with Possession of a Controlled Substance

DC Drug charges.jpgAccording to a recent NPR story, a fourth-grade boy at a public elementary school in NW Washington, DC brought in cocaine that he found in his father's car. The boy distributed the cocaine to several other students. It is reported that school officials noticed that these children were sick and called EMS. After speaking with the boy who allegedly brought in the illegal drugs, EMTs transported the students to a hospital in the DC metro area.

It was later determined that the students had either eaten or snorted the cocaine. It was initially reported that the student was charged with possession of a controlled substance; however, it now seems that the prosecutor's office does not wish to bring formal charges and has referred the case to social services. The child and his younger sibling are now in foster care. This appears to be an example of how the DC police will sometimes arrest a person for an alleged criminal offense but the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia or the District Attorney General's Office decides not to "paper" the case. This amounts to a dismissal.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer who handles drug charges, I would not be surprised if the boy's father is charged with possession of a controlled substance and other counts relating to child endangerment.

In the District of Columbia, a first offense simple possession of a controlled substance is a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and $1,000 fine. Any charges relating to child endangerment that involve exposing a child to a controlled substance such as cocaine may be serious DC felonies depending on the facts involved.

March 18, 2011

College Students in Washington, DC Fear Being Arrested and Charged for Making too Much Noise

Silence Board.jpgThe Washington, DC City Counsel has enacted legislation known as the "Disorderly Conduct Amendment Act of 2010." This law took effect February 1, 2011, and makes the following conduct illegal: "unreasonably loud noise between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. that is likely to annoy or disturb one or more other persons in their residences." The maximum penalty for being convicted of this disorderly conduct charge is up to 90 days in jail and up to a $300 fine. This makes the offense a Washington, DC misdemeanor.

According to an interesting article by Josh Brown of the Washington Times, the DC Student Alliance has taken issue with the new law. The group consists of student leaders from 15 colleges and universities in the area. The group is calling the law too vague and disagrees with the severity of the penalty. There is no set standard to what "unreasonably loud" means and this has students worried.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney who also handles school discipline cases, I cannot stress enough the importance of raising a good defense at a college or university hearing. It is common for criminal charges that stem from off-campus incidents to result in an academic termination hearing on campus. Many school policies allow for this. A school discipline hearing is a serious matter that is treated similar to a criminal hearing. The school will read the alleged facts, take statements from witnesses and those impacted by the alleged offense, and allow the student-defendant to make a statement. The proceedings are often recorded similar to a court case. The student has a right to have an attorney represent him or her at this hearing. There are many ways this can help.

A DC school discipline attorney can challenge the procedure the school is required to follow, cross-examine witnesses testifying against the student, and most importantly, protect the student from having his or her Fifth Amendment rights compromised. While the school hearing is not a criminal case, anything the student says may be admissible against them later in court.

March 16, 2011

Alcohol-Related Motor Vehicle Accident in Washington, DC Metro Area Results in a Fatality: Defendant Charged with DWI, Involuntary Manslaughter, and other Serious Felonies

Sanchez-Ramos.jpgAccording to a recent story in the Washington Post, Paul J. Krause of Fairfax was killed Monday night when he was hit by another vehicle and pushed into an intersection with oncoming traffic. Krause died as result of his injuries. The vehicle that hit Krause was allegedly driven by Carlos Sanchez-Ramos. According to reports, Sanchez-Ramos fled the scene with a three year-old child that had been with him in the car. He was apprehended by police not far from the scene of the accident. Sanchez-Ramos was charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI), involuntary manslaughter, hit and run, and child endangerment. Police are reporting that Sanchez-Ramos is not a legal resident, and had been deported for a prior drunk driving charge that also involved personal injury.

As a Washington, DC DUI defense lawyer, one aspect that I would like to discuss is how additional DC felonies may result from leaving the scene. The police will canvas the scene for any witness statements, review footage from security cameras, call all local hospitals to see if anyone came in with injuries consistent with a car accident, and call local auto body shops to see if anyone brought in a car matching the suspect vehicle.

If the motorist is caught, you may be charged with many additional crimes such as leaving the scene of an accident while intoxicated. Fleeing the scene also increases the likeliness of a being charged with vehicle manslaughter involving a DWI.

March 15, 2011

Washington, DC Guardian Angel Injured as He Tries to Stop another Confrontation on the Metro: Five Charged with Assault

For those who have never heard of the Guardian Angles, they are an international safety organization founded in 1979 with chapters all over the world. They are unarmed volunteers who wear red berets, and travel in safety patrols in an effort to protect the public from violent crime. They were originally the subject of much controversy. Today they are generally accepted.

According to a recent story on My Fox DC, members of the Washington, DC chapter of the group were patrolling the Metro when one member witnessed what he determined to be an assault in progress. He tried to break up the fight but became an assault victim himself when he was thrown to the ground, punched, and kicked. Another Guardian Angel on the car was able to assist him and put out a "code red" which called for other angels in the vicinity to come immediately. They were able to restrain those involved until police arrived. Metro Police stated that three juvenile defendants and two adults were arrested on assault charges.

Washington, DC assault charge lawyers who handle these cases have seen a recent increase in assaults and other crimes happening in the Metro system. One interesting aspect of this is that the system was actually designed with crime prevention in mind. Unlike other cities, the DC Metro has stations with vast open areas and unobstructed views. They are also well-lit. This was all done to prevent the assault and drug crimes that plague the mass transit systems of other cities.

March 14, 2011

Felicia "Snoop" Pearson of HBO's The Wire Arrested on Drug Charges and Conspiracy

Snoop Photo.jpgThose familiar with HBO's The Wire (which is pretty much everyone in the Washington, DC metro area) are sure to remember, Snoop. Felicia "Snoop" Pearson. Pearson grew up in Baltimore and was involved in the drug trade from an early age. At 14 she was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to serve eight years in prison. At some point after being released, she was at a nightclub when she met Michael K. Williams. Williams, better known to fans of The Wire as Omar, invited her to the set and eventually she was cast in the series.

According to a recent article in The Baltimore Sun, Person was arrested during an early morning raid of her home. Pearson was arrested along with 63 other suspects on drug charges and conspiracy. Teams of police, ATF, and, DEA agents assembled at M&T Bank Stadium before conducting raids across the city. In the end, 40 warrants were served, five pounds of marijuana, five grams of heroin, and four guns were seized. The police are calling this raid a success but I am image they would have liked to see a lot more evidence recovered. There is nothing police and prosecutors love more than standing next to a table full of guns and drugs during a press conference. It is believed that Pearson's role in this alleged conspiracy was rather small.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney who handles drug and weapons charges, I am always interested to see how many convictions result from these massive taskforce arrests. In my experience, after a big media splash following the arrests, we often don't hear anything else in the news for quite some time until learning that a significant portion of those arrested on controlled substance and conspiracy charges were eventually released.

March 11, 2011

Let Our Thoughts and Prayers Be With the People of Japan

cherry blossom.jpgThe Law Office of Daniel A. Gross asks our friends to keep the Japanese people, and all those affected by this great tragedy, in their thoughts and prayers today.

After suffering an earthquake of tremendous magnitude, and now a major tsunami, we pray for as safe and quick a recovery as possible.

Below are some links that you can use to keep up with news and current events:

NHK World English Edition

The Daily Yomiuri Newspaper Online English Edition

March 10, 2011

Assault at Washington, DC Metro Station Looks to Be another Juvenile Offense

DC Metro Assault.jpgAccording to a recent Washington Post article, a man was assaulted with a knife at the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station. He was stabbed in the leg by up to three alleged juvenile offenders. The victim was taken to a local hospital. His injuries are not reported to be life-threatening.

The Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and Metro officials have said the assault occurred at approximately 9:35 p.m. near the 7th street station entrance. This entrance was closed for a half hour while the police investigated. MPD and Metro Police are searching for the three youths alleged to be involved. On the night of the assault, there was a Wizards basketball game being played at the Verizon center located directly above the Metro station. Police do not yet know if the crowd played any part in this attack.

As a Washington, DC juvenile defense lawyer, I have seen recent increases in juvenile offenses as well as a seeming breakdown of the Washington, DC juvenile justice system. The two are not unrelated. In the past, youth found to be delinquent by the court were often sent to Oak Hill. After years of negligent and underfunding, the facility had begun to crumble. Problems were not limited to the building itself however, as overcrowding and violence became commonplace.

Continue reading "Assault at Washington, DC Metro Station Looks to Be another Juvenile Offense" »

March 9, 2011

Medicinal Marijuana Laws in Washington, DC

weed.jpgThe legalization of marijuana for medicinal use is sweeping the nation. The Obama administration has pledged not to prosecute those involved with the medicinal marijuana industry on federal controlled substances charges. The Washington, DC City Council has signed into law a program for District. According a recent story in the Washington Post, the Grey administration is working with local agencies to finalize the details that will allow for the operation of 10 cultivation centers and five dispensaries. The US Congress allowed this bill to pass into law without taking any action.

As criminal defense attorney who handles DC drug charges, I am sometimes asked about the current state of marijuana laws. I first want to mention that possession of marijuana without a valid prescription will remain illegal in the District. Marijuana is also considered a schedule one controlled substance which is the most serious type of drug because DC uses the federal drug schedules. For whatever reason, the US Congress considered marijuana to be highly addictive and chose to include it on schedule one.

Under the new program, licensed dispensaries will be able to dispense up to a one month supply of marijuana to chronically ill patients with a valid prescription. Patients in Washington, DC will not be permitted to grow their own marijuana as is allowed in some of the fourteen other states to allow medicinal marijuana. All marijuana sold in the dispensaries must be grown in the District of Columbia by licensed cultivation centers. The reason for this requirement is that marijuana cannot be shipped across Maryland or Virginia state lines because those states do not have a medicinal marijuana program or a legal way to transport the drug.

March 8, 2011

Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Officer Charged with Burglary

MPD Car.jpgAccording to a breaking story by Paul Duggan of the Washington Post, a DC MPD officer was arrested on burglary and receiving stolen property charges. Officer Jennifer Green has been on the job for two years, and she was assigned to the Fourth District. The Fourth District station is located on George Avenue NW.

Jones was arrested at approximately 9 o'clock on the evening of Saturday March 5, 2011. At the time of the arrest, Jones was allegedly in what she believed to a private home. According to police, Jones was "the target of a confidential criminal investigation," and had been an active participant in the crime. She was charged with receiving stolen property and burglary.

As a DC criminal defense lawyer, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the concept of "factual impossibility." This case involved burglary charges, and receiving stolen property. While we do not know all the facts, we can assume that the police may have been the lawful owner of the property, or at the very least, the lawful owner gave the DC MDP permission to use it during the sting operation. The point is that the property was not technically "stolen." Defendants have tried to use this in court by saying that they can't be guilty of receiving stolen property if the property wasn't stolen. While this may seem like a clever argument, it is generally not a valid defense because you can be charged with or convicted of the offense of attempted receiving of stolen property which requires the defendant to have the specific mental intent to commit the crime (desire to obtain the stolen property), and take a substantial step towards committing the crime. This may be as simple as calling the seller on the phone and agreeing to meet with him. For that reason, impossibility of facts in generally not a valid defense to a Washington, DC criminal charge.

March 7, 2011

The Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, Proudly Presents New Washington, DC Resource for DWI, DUI, OWI, and Traffic Violations Defense.

http.jpgI am proud to present my new DUI, DWI, OWI, and traffic violations defense website and the DC DWI Lawyer Blog so that it may serve as resource to people charged with drunk driving a or traffic violation in the District of Columbia. I invite you to read all the articles and frequently asked questions (FAQs), but please understand this information is only general advice and should not be a substitute for speaking with a licensed Washington, DC attorney.

I have found that DUI defense has become an extremely complex area of criminal defense and requires special knowledge and training to get better results for clients. For that reason, I have attended continuing legal education in drunk driving and speeding ticket defense in Washington, DC. I am also trained in administering the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs). This is the same training required by DC police who administer the tests to suspected drunk drivers.

There are many lawyers who believe that pleading guilty to a first offense is standard practice; a strong defense requires a thorough investigation, knowledge of police procedure and equipment, and a desire to fight the charges in court where appropriate.

March 4, 2011

A New Arrest in 2009 Washington, DC Metro Bus Shooting

DC Metrobus.pngOn Nov. 11, 2009, George Rawlings was shot and killed while boarding a Metro bus on the 1300 block of H Street in NE Washington, DC. He was shot just after attending a funeral for Ashton Hunter. Hunter was also a murder victim. Police report that as Rawlings left the funeral home, he was followed by the three shooters. It is believed that Rawlings was killed in retaliation for Hunter's death.

Two of the suspects were arrested shortly after the shooting. According to a recent story in the Washington Post, a third suspect, Javoricle Moore, was arrested yesterday and charged with first degree murder. Rawlings' brother, DeOnte Rawlings, was also a victim of firearm violence when he was killed by police in 2007 at the age of 14. The police shooting was ruled as justified by federal authorities but the family is still fighting this determination according to reports that they are still involved in civil litigation regarding the death.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney, I will be following along closely to see what happens with this case. There are many possible issues that can arise when dealing with cases involving an alleged crime that happened years ago. While two years may not seem like that long ago, it is sufficient length of time for witnesses to forget certain details of what they may have seen or heard. It is also a long time in terms of evidence storage which has been an issue in numerous past cases.

March 2, 2011

Washington, DC City Council Presses OAG for a Timeline on a Working Breathalyzer Program for DUI Arrests.

Intox.jpgAs I have discussed in previous posts, the seeming inability of local and federal police to run a constitutionally-sound breath testing program in Washington, DC has become somewhat of a running joke among DUI defense attorneys. At least one member of the DC City Council has had enough. According to a recent story in the Washington Post, council member Phil Mendelson wants to know why DC police can't seem to figure it out and is asking the following question: "Do people really get drunk differently in the District?"

During a meeting held by the City Council, the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia has vowed to establish a firmer timeline for when the breathalyzers will be back in service. The program was recently suspended by the MPD after a series of allegations came to light about the accuracy of breath tests being conducted in DC.

People may be wondering what the big deal is with whether the numbers are exactly accurate when the drivers have probably been drinking anyway. The truth is that it is a major deal. In this country any person accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. An admittedly faulty breathalyzer being introduced as scientific evidence is reasonable doubt. There is also the issue of mandatory jail time for certain breath test scores. If you blow a .20 or higher on a breathalyzer in DC and are charged with a DWI, you will face mandatory jail time if convicted. With such severe consequences at hand, accuracy is very important.