April 2011 Archives

April 28, 2011

According to TMZ, Lindsay Lohan is Defending Her Attorney: On Choosing a Criminal Defense Lawyer

lindsay-lohan-court.jpgIn case you haven't been following the Lindsay Lohan saga, she has recently been sentenced to 120 days in jail for violating her probation. Lohan pleaded guilty to a DUI and was placed on probation. While on probation, she was arrested on felony theft charges when she walked out of a jewelry store with a $1,500 necklace. The government offered Lohan a plea offer of a six-month jail sentence. This was considered a fair deal except the judge said that if Lohan pleaded guilty to the theft, she would be found in violation of her DUI probation and could face a sentence longer than 180 days in jail. After consulting with her attorney, Lohan decided to plead guilty to theft. The judge sentenced Lohan to 120 days in jail. In response to this many people have accused Lohan's defense attorney, Shawn Holley, of doing a poor job, but according to TMZ, Lohan has said that she is very pleased with Holley and that she did an incredible job. For the rest of this post, I will discuss some aspects of working with clients.

As a criminal defense attorney in Washington, DC, I provide free consultations to people knowing that they will probably speak with other lawyers and shop around. This is perfectly understandable. For a person charged with a crime who doesn't know any DC criminal defense lawyers, choosing a lawyer is a big decision. One of the most important things is to choose someone who is not only competent but is an attorney you can trust and will take the time to answer your questions and is available when you need him. The last thing a client wants is a lawyer who will pass their case off to a junior associate and never see the client again.

In the Lohan case, she was happy with her attorney because she had established a rapport and level of trust, and this is what every criminal defense attorney should strive to attain.

April 27, 2011

Washington, DC Police Officer Pleads Guilty on Burglary Charges: On Confidential Informants

hidden_microphone.jpgIn a previous post, I wrote about the arrest of a DC police officer. Following up on this story, the Washington Post is now reporting that DC Metropolitan Police (MPD) Officer, Jennifer N. Green, has agreed to plead guilty to charges of attempted second-degree burglary. According to reports, the Internal Affairs unit set up a meeting between Green and an informant at the Macombo Lounge. The two planned a burglary at a DC residence that was supposed to contain a lot of cash and drugs. Green supposedly said that she didn't want the drugs, but could use the money. Using her police issued radio to monitor law enforcement activity in the area, Green and the informant pulled up to the apartment and the informant took a crowbar and went into the apartment. He returned with $1,050 in marked bills, and counterfeit crack cocaine. Green took $600 from the informant. She drove back to her apartment where she was arrested.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer, one of the common things I discuss with my clients is whether the police had a confidential informant (CI), or were just very lucky. Sometimes the police will put the existence of the CI in the police report, and other times they will strongly deny it no matter how obvious it may be.

While this can be used as part a good defense to a DC felony charge, the plain truth is that anyone can be a police informant, and according to the law, you assume the risk that the person you are talking to is working for the police. This is especially true once you have been arrested. Police cruisers may have microphones in them to record all conversations. A person at the district station, Central Cell Block (CCB), or DC Jail may be an informant. Your phone may be tapped. It is for this reason that I tell all of my clients not to discuss their case with anyone except me. It is best not take any chances with your constitutional rights.

April 26, 2011

A Stabbing Occurred at the National Zoo in Washington, DC: On DC Assault Charges and Self Defense

DC Zoo.jpgAccording to a recent story in Washington Post, a young person, who may have been a juvenile, was the victim of an alleged assault that occurred Easter Monday at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. The alleged victim suffered what has been reported as serious knife wounds. After being stabbed, he left the Zoo on foot and was later found bleeding near an apartment building on Connecticut Avenue in NW DC. He was taken to a local hospital with injuries that may are potentially life-threatening. Police have said that prior to this alleged assault, there was a fight involving an unknown number of people. A suspect was apprehended by zoo police. It has not yet been reported what charges he will face.

Washington, DC criminal defense attorneys who handle assault cases and weapons charges, routinely see cases where it is not immediately clear who the initial attacker was. If it can be shown that the alleged victim was actually the primary aggressor (attacker), then there may be a valid claim of self-defense.

If you are placed in imminent (immediate) fear that your life is in danger, or the life of another, you may be justified in using force against the attacker. If you are charged with a DC assault crime, self defense may be appropriate in your case. Please note that this is general advice, and may not apply to your particular situation. If is best to discuss this with your assault charges lawyer to see if self defense is appropriate your case.

April 22, 2011

Washington, DC Metro Driver Charged with Negligent Homicide after Traffic Violation Results in Death

metro bus.jpgAccording to a recent story in the Washington Post, Metrobus driver, Ronald W. Taylor, was charged with negligent homicide (involuntary vehicular manslaughter) after allegedly committing a DC traffic violation that fatally injured Bartlett M. Tabor.

It has been reported that Taylor was driving his bus in NW DC on the evening of September 26, 2008, when the bus hit a taxicab, plowed through an intersection, and eventually came to a stop on the lawn of the Federal Reserve Building. Tabor was a passenger in the taxi. In 2008, investigators concluded that Taylor had run a red light which caused the crash and he was quickly fired from Metro before being reinstated to a non-driver position. According to the article, this was not Taylor's first arrest as he had been charged with a misdemeanor count of possession of an unregistered gun and ammunition in the past. He took the case to trial and received a jury verdict of not guilty for that DC gun charge.

As a Washington DC traffic violations lawyer, I am used to hearing stories from people who were arrested on DUI charges that involved an accident. If the accident resulted in a death, the defendant could also be charged with negligent homicide. It is not as common to see a negligent homicide charge stem from an accident which is not alcohol-related. It will be interesting to see what exactly Taylor was accused of doing in this case. I should point out that one major exception to what I just said about non alcohol-related accidents and criminal charges involves texting while driving. Texting while driving is considered by some lawyers who handle to DC moving violations to basically be a new form of DUI charge.

April 21, 2011

Washington, DC Woman Grazed by Bullet While Sleeping: On DC Gun and Weapons Charges

bullet.jpgAccording to a recent story in the Washington Post, a woman was sleeping in her home in SE Washington, DC when she was awoke to the sound of gunshots. She felt blood running down her face, and discovered that she had been grazed by a bullet. She was taken to local hospital and it has been reported that she will recover from her injuries. Washington, DC Metropolitan Police (MPD) have stated that they do not believe the woman had been targeted by the shooter, but rather this was a stay bullet that hit her. MPD has also stated that a man was shot in the leg at around the same time near the woman's SE DC home. No arrests have been made, and it has not been confirmed that the two shootings were related.

This is clearly a serious incident that could result in serious charges if a suspect is arrested by police. As a Washington, DC gun charges lawyer, I would like to discuss how serious gun crimes are treated even if no injury or death has occurred. It should come as no surprise that the District of Columbia has quite possibly the strictest gun control laws in the nation. DC residents are only allowed to own a handgun if the gun is registered. After registering the gun, it must remain in one's home or place of business at all times when loaded. If the DC gun owner wishes to take the gun out of their home or place of business, it must be locked in a case/trigger lock, unloaded, and the ammunition must be placed in a separate container from the pistol. The only way to carry a loaded pistol in the District is with a license which you cannot get if you are not a law enforcement officer or active duty military.

If you are stopped by DC police and they find a gun on your person, or in your car, you can be charged with carrying a pistol without a license (CPWL). CPWL is a DC felony that is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. If you have already been convicted of a felony, you can be charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm which adds an additional 5 years to the maximum sentence. You can also be charged with the related gun charge of possession unregistered ammunition in many cases.

April 20, 2011

On Expungement or Sealing of a Criminal Record in Washington, DC

Files.jpgHaving a criminal record can affect one's life in countless ways. When you have a criminal history (rap sheet), it may be difficult to find a job, apartment to rent, school that will accept you, and other similar problems. It is for this reason that you may wish to petition the court to seal or expunge your Washington, DC Criminal record.

As a Washington, DC lawyer who handles expungements, I often speak with people who are confused about the process. That is not surprising since the process is very confusing. In this post I would like to explain some of the issues related to a Washington, DC expungement or sealing of a criminal record.

The first issue is whether you have been arrested or convicted. If you have been arrested for a crime, but the charges were dismissed or you were acquitted, you may be able to have the arrest record sealed after waiting two years. You may also be able to have a crime expunged from your record if you can show actual innocence, but this is not easy to prove. In the case of a DC arrest that did you not result in a conviction, you can petition the court to seal the record, if you were arrested for a misdemeanor, or failure to appear (FTA), and it is not on this list of crimes below:

Continue reading "On Expungement or Sealing of a Criminal Record in Washington, DC" »

April 19, 2011

Washington, DC Juvenile Defendant Escapes from Detention Center

razor_wire.jpgAccording to a recent story in the Washington Post, a teen being held a secure juvenile detention center picked the lock on the wooden door to his room, assaulted a guard, stole his wallet and keys, climbed over a fence using a ladder lying on the ground, and sped off in the guard's vehicle. This teen had been charged with burglary in Washington, DC and after conviction, was sent to the facility.

The facility is called New Beginnings Youth Development Center, and while it is located in Maryland, it is used and operated by Washington, DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS). Since the facility opened its doors in May of 2009, three have been three escapes. New Beginnings was created in an effort to replace the crumbling Oak Hill facility which is now closed. The DC City Council originally planned to construct a suitable replacement for Oak Hill but it seems that plans were abandoned. DYRS houses some juveniles at New Beginnings, but also contracts with juvenile justice programs in other states across the country. Many of Washington, DC's troubled youth are sent to Arizona.

While this situation highlights a youth who may actually require a more restrictive environment, as a Washington, DC lawyer who handles juvenile defense cases, I am concerned about the general treatment of juvenile defendants within the justice system. As I have discussed in other posts, the purpose of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation rather than incarceration. The defendant's name is not supposed to be released to the public, the court process is limited to necessary parties, and a juvenile defendant is not found guilty but rather determined to be delinquent and in need of rehabilitation. While this is the purpose of the juvenile court system, it often works quite differently in practice. There are various programs available that can actually help, but it is up to your child's juvenile defense lawyer to fight for access to these services.

April 15, 2011

On DC Drug Charges and Expert Testimony

20 bag.jpgAccording to a recent story in the Washington Post, a Metropolitan Police Officer (MPD) was in the middle of issuing a citation for a moving violation in Washington, DC when she witnessed a Nissan Altima commit an unrelated traffic infraction. When the officer approached the suspect's vehicle, she claims to have smelled a strong odor of Marijuana and discovered over $96,000 worth of the controlled substance and arrested the driver and passenger who were later charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

As a Washington DC drug charges lawyer, I would like to discuss some aspect's how the government tries to prove a drug case. The officers will usually do a field test to see if the substance tests positive. They are trained to describe drugs in a certain way and write it in the police report exactly that way. For example, a police report, called a PD 251 in Washington, DC, will usually say "I observed a plastic bag containing what appeared a to a green leafy substance, upon further examination and my training and experience, I determined the substance be consistent with marijuana. Field testing confirmed the substance to be THC, the active chemical in marijuana." This is done from a script to establish probable cause for an arrest.

Next, the controlled substance is sent to the DEA Mid-Atlantic drug testing lab, to prove it is authentic. It may also be determined to be fake, or a so-called "burn bag." The police will call in an "expert" to testify in the court about the sale of illegal drugs in Washington, DC. He will tell the Jury about how the seller places seeds and stems in the one inch bags (zips) to make them feel fat. He will tell the jury about the names used for the various jobs in a street transaction such as runners, hoppers, holders, money men, and jugglers. For that brief moment, the jurors who were probably half asleep until then, feel like they are watching the wire on HBO. In the end, the speech is always the same, and it's all from a script.

April 12, 2011

Two Female College Students in Washington, DC Report Male Suspects in their Dorm Rooms: Is This a College Prank Gone Wrong or a Burglary/Assault Charge in the Making?

College Campus.jpgAccording to a recent story in the Washington Post, two female students at Georgetown University in Washington, DC have reported being awoken to find a male intruder in their respective dorm rooms according to campus police. The suspects were described by witnesses. These police do not know if it is the same person involved in both incidents, or whether there are two separate individuals. At this point, it is unclear whether either of these break-ins were intended to be burglaries and possible sex abuse crimes, or if this was just another example of a college student drinking too much and getting in trouble.

As a Washington, DC lawyer who represents college and university students charged with crimes, or facing expulsion or suspension from school, I want to stress how serious some of these incidents can become. In the Georgetown University case, if the suspect is caught and arrested by DC police, he will likely be charged with burglary, and potentially other crimes such as attempted sexual abuse. Both of these crimes are DC felonies. Under the DC Criminal Code, burglary involves the breaking and entering of a building, apartment, other structure, or vehicle with the intent to commit a crime. This was a dorm room where somebody was sleeping so it could be considered a first degree burglary. A conviction for first degree burglary in Washington, DC may result a sentence of 5 to 30 years in prison. If the suspect was also charged with attempted sexual abuse, the charge could involve serious prison time and a being placed on the sex offender registry.

While both of these crimes are very serious, and most students would not engage in such conduct, it is a lot more common to be arrested for underage drinking, simple assault, DUI, or even misdemeanor sexual abuse. These DC charges may be less severe than burglary or rape, but they could still have a lasting effect on your life and chance of continuing your studies.

April 11, 2011

Washington, DC DUI Arrests Down 40 Percent Compared to Last Year at this Time: Could this Be the Result of Failed Attempts at a Breath Testing Program?

drunk_drive.jpgAccording to a very informative article by Mary Pat Flaherty in the Washington Post, one year has passed since DC Police pledged to have a new breathalyzer program in place, yet there have no signs of progress. In case you haven't been following, the sole officer responsible for administering the breath testing program for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) asked to be reassigned. This was after 14 years of the running the DUI and DWI detection program and maintaining the equipment. He did not detect any problems with the machines during his tenure even after he had performed several unauthorized adjustments to the filter wheels and other components of the breathalyzers. He was replaced by a consultant who realized by his second day on the job that there was a major problem with the DC breath testing equipment. He simply said, "It was a mess." After reporting his findings to the DC Office of the Attorney General (OAG), the agency responsible for prosecuting DWI, DUI, and OWI cases in the District, prosecutors continued to use the tainted results in court and to get people to plead guilty.
MPD pledged to get a working a breath testing program in the District of Columbia. In the past year, they have not accomplished this goal.

Washington, DC DUI defense attorneys will continue to challenge any results the police attempt to introduce in court, and work with those already convicted. The OAG has determined that there were at least 400 Washington, DC DWI convictions based on possibly tainted evidence.

The city plans to open a new centralized forensic crime lab. In the meantime, the MPD has tried to get the Chief Medical Examiner for the District of Columbia to oversee the breath testing program. She has declined to get involved absent more funding, staff, and expertise. According to the Post article, police have reported being afraid to make DUI arrests in the light of all the alleged fraud, cover-ups, and other problems with the MPD's breathalyzer program. To date, DUI arrests are down 40 percent this year in Washington, DC as compared to last year.

April 7, 2011

New Allegations that the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police have failed to Safeguard and Properly Store Evidence Could Lead to Criminal Cases being dismissed

fingerprint.jpgAccording to a breaking story on WUSA 9 News Now, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has turned over photos which appear to show evidence of many important cases being stored improperly. There are guns and other forensic evidence piled up in unsecured locations. It has also been reported that the trash can in which police discovered the body of 17 year old Ebony Franklyn had been used by MPD officers to throw away trash. Assistant Chief Pete Newsham admits that the trash can should have been placed in the blood room to preserve evidence for trial. He stated that it was eventually placed in the proper location and doubts that it was used as a trash can.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney who handles cases with forensic evidence, I want stress the importance of this discovery if it turns out to be true. The prosecutors and police have tremendous resources compared to the average defendant. They will routinely perform fingerprint tests, gunshot residue tests in gun cases, blood spatter analysis, chemical tests on narcotics, and many other scientific testing that you may be familiar with. The defendant may have an opportunity to hire their own experts to examine the evidence and present findings in court to challenge the government's experts, but this requires a lot of money. One way DC defense lawyers deal with this, is challenging the procedure by which the police tested and preserved the evidence. If the evidence is tampered with, or its status is unknown, it may be a violation of due process to admit the evidence against a defendant. Even if it is admitted, its credibility would be severely undermined.

If the police are not safeguarding evidence, they have no way of knowing if the evidence was tampered with. There is no way to accurately record a chain of custody when you don't even know where the evidence has been stored. If you can't say for certain if the trash can that was supposed to be in a vault, was being used by officers as a normal trash can, this is a major problem. For now, the case was turned over to internal affairs. It will

April 6, 2011

Woman Charged with Theft and Destruction of Property after Allegedly Attacking a Gauguin Painting in a Washington, DC Museum because it was Evil

Paul_Gauguin_1891.pngAccording to a recent story in Yahoo! News, a woman was arrested after allegedly attacking a Gauguin painting at that National Gallery of Art. According to reports, Susan Burns began pounding the painting and trying to rip it off the wall. She told police that she did it because Gauguin was evil and said the painting should be burned. Burns was arrested and charged with attempted second degree theft and malicious destruction of property.

According to court records, Burns stated that "I feel that Gauguin is evil. He has nudity and is bad for the children. He has two women in the painting and it's very homosexual. I was trying to remove it. I think it should be burned." She is also reported to have said "I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you." She was held without bail pending a psychiatric evaluation and mental health hearing. The painting, Two Tahitian Woman, was on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was value at $80,000,000.

In Washington, DC, malicious destruction of property can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor depending on the value of the property. If the property is valued at less than $200, the crime is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and a maximum of 180 days in jail. If the property is valued at $200 or more, the crime can be charged as a DC felony punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and a maximum of 10 years in prison. Your Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer who handles destruction of property charges should discuss the issue of valuation with you and whether it may be necessary to challenge the accuracy of the value determined by the police.

Theft charges in Washington, DC can also be either a misdemeanor or felony based upon the value of the property. If the property in question is equal to or greater than $1000, police can charge the crime as a first degree theft which is a DC felony punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and a maximum of 10 years in prison. If the value of the property is less than $1,000, this is a DC misdemeanor that carries $1,000 fine and a maximum of 180 days in jail.

April 5, 2011

Contempt of Cop: A Washington, DC Jury Finds Police Failed to Correct Improper Disorderly Conduct Arrests

Police.jpgAccording to a recent story on WTOP, a Washington, DC jury found that police failed to correct unlawful arrests for disorderly conduct. This case was filed by a woman arrested in front of a 7-Eleven for cursing at police. The jury awarded the plaintiff, Lindsay Huthnance, $97,500 for her illegal arrest and harsh treatment by police in jail. Her attorneys argued that she was actually arrested for "contempt of cop." In other words, she was arrested for disorderly conduct in DC because she was rude to police.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney who handles disorderly conduct charges, I think it would be helpful to look at the definition of this charge in relation to offensive language. Under the DC Criminal Code, it is unlawful to:

"Direct abusive or offensive language or gestures at another person (other
than a law enforcement officer while acting in his or her official capacity) in a manner likely to provoke immediate physical retaliation or violence by that person or another person."

The purpose of this law appears to be that of preventing a fight or assault from occurring as a result of offensive language or gestures. Police officers are specifically excluded from this statute. They are trained to respond calmly to offensive language, and it should not be likely that the officer will respond in a violent manner. While this is not always the case, the jury found that Huthnance was arrested unlawfully by the police. As her lawyers argued, she was arrested for contempt of cop. Some people may be tempted to ask what the big deal is. To those not familiar with the criminal justice system, spending a night at the Central Cell Block (CCB) under 300 Indiana Avenue can be a pretty traumatic experience.

Despite the outcome of this case, if you have been arrested and charged with a crime in DC, it is best to be polite to the police and let your lawyer deal with any police misconduct in court.

April 4, 2011

DC Metro Police Arrest and Charge Alleged Groper with Assault after Learning of Him from a Blog Post

metro_center.jpgAccording to a recent story on WUSA 9, Washington, DC Metro Police were reading a blog called "Unsuck DC Metro" and discovered an account of a woman claiming to have been groped by a rider at L'Enfant Plaza Station. She wrote that a man rubbed his hips against her two times acting as if the crowd on the train had caused him to do it. She also watched him allegedly do it to other people. On the blog she described him as a wearing a lime green jumpsuit, a white watch and Ralph Lauren glasses. She also wrote that she observed him dressed in the same manner on more than one day and always rode in the last car of the DC Metro train. Undercover cops observed the same exact thing after reading the blog and arrested the alleged groper.

Washington, DC criminal defense lawyers are used to hearing of strange incidents like this one. This is actually a very serious offense. The DC Code defines misdemeanor sexual abuse as engaging in sexual contact with a person when he knew or should have known that he did not have consent. In Washington, DC, touching a person's genitals though clothing can be considered sexual contact.

The charge itself may be a misdemeanor form of DC assault or sexual abuse, but the consequences may be much more severe than a maximum of 180 days in jail. If convicted of a sexual abuse charge, it may result in being placed on the sex offender registry. This can seriously complicate your life. It may be difficult to find a job, or a place to live. Family may not want to you to live with them because their home will be added to the sex offender registry.