September 2011 Archives

September 26, 2011

On Washington, DC DUI Arrests and the Use of Urine Testing by Police

Lab Testing.jpgAs I have discussed on previous posts, the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police (MPD) is no longer using breathalyzers during DUI arrests. While this may change when they finally get an approved program, for now, their other options are urinalysis or blood testing to determine a driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Blood testing is basically never used unless the driver is in the hospital being treated for injuries. The reason for this is that DC law requires the blood to be drawn by licensed medical professionals such as a physician or registered nurse, and the police just don't have the resources. For that reason, urine testing is the method used in the district by every police agency except the US Capitol Police, who still have a breath-testing program. In case you are used to TV crime shows like CSI or NCIS where they get the results almost instantly, in real life, it takes around 90 days from the time of your arrest to get urine test results back.

The delay in getting results compared to a breathalyzer is not the only difference when it comes to urine testing and DUI charges. Washington, DC criminal defense lawyers who handle drunk driving cases must understand and be able to explain to the client what the results mean in order to challenge them in court. First of all, urine test results are generally a lot higher than breath test results. While there is not a direct scientific conversion chart readily available, the law in the District considers a 0.32 urine BAC the same as a 0.25 breathalyzer BAC. The reason these two numbers have such significance is that a conviction at these respective levels requires a minimum mandatory 10 days in jail which cannot be waived or suspended. However, it may be possible to fight the charges by challenging the urine test results.

One factor that is important to realize is that there is not constant volume of blood to urine in the human bladder. According to research, it can vary as much as 30 percent. This makes getting an exact number such as 0.32 more difficult. There is also the possibility of urine test equipment operator errors that lead to reasonable doubt in court. The lab uses equipment such as gas chromatography mass spectroscopy machines that must be properly calibrated and used to get an accurate and precise result. This is not always the case. Your Washington, DC DUI defense lawyer can cross-examine the lab technician in court about how the equipment was maintained and how the test was performed.

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September 22, 2011

A Look at the Washington, DC Gun Offender Registry

Ammo12.jpgMost people are familiar with the use of a Sex Offender Registry in Washington, DC, as well as its use in other states. If you have been convicted of a sex crime, you will be required to register each year with the DC Metropolitan Police Department. The names on the registry can be searched on the Internet by anyone to see where sex offenders are living or working. There has been much debate about whether this is constitutional but it does not appear to be going away any time soon.

In addition to representing people charged with sex crimes, as a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney, I also handle people arrested on gun charges. As I have said in previous posts on this blog, gun and weapons offenses are treated very seriously in the District. A first offense for carrying a pistol without a license (CPWL) can result in a 5-year prison sentence. If you already have a felony on your record, the government can charge you with being a felon in possession of a firearm, which carries a 10-year sentence. The government can also file "repeat papers" on the day of trial that could allow for a 30-year prison sentence if convicted. As if this is not enough, the District now requires people convicted of any gun crime, at any time, to be added to the Gun Offender Registry. Similar to the Sex Offender Registry, a DC person convicted of a DC gun crime will have to regularly report, provide fingerprints, be photographed, and have their name and address made a public record. This program has been used by other cities who consider it be a success. Perhaps in the future, the government will make a registry for anyone convicted of a crime. They can have a drug crime list, or even a shoplifting registry.

For the time being, the best thing you can do if charged with a firearms offense is to take the charge very seriously, hire a lawyer who frequently handles gun charges, and fight for your rights and freedom. With every case, there are often things that can be challenged. It may be the way in which the police collected the evidence, problems with lab testing of weapons for fingerprints, unreliable informants or witness, and so on. Your lawyer can speak with you about whether any of this applies to your actual situation, but it is important to remember that an arrest is not a conviction.

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September 20, 2011

Study Shows that Washington, DC Crime Cameras are Not Anywhere Near as Effective as They Are in Other Cities.

cctv_camera.jpgAnyone who watched The Wire is familiar with the crime prevention cameras used in Baltimore. Washington, DC installed its own crime prevention cameras around the city in 2006. There had been some cameras in place following 9/11, but these were mostly aimed at preventing terrorism at federal buildings. According the Washington Times, a new study has revealed that these cameras have not had the effect of reducing crime, as they have in other cities. One major reason for this is that, unlike in other cities, Washington, DC crime prevention cameras are not always monitored. People learned this shortly after they were installed, and now the cameras are basically ignored.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney, I have handled numerous cases where cameras were present at the scene of the crime. As it turns out, when my investigator goes to get copies of the recordings, we often find out the camera in that particular area wasn't working. I recently had an unlawful possession of a firearm case where there was a camera located directly above where my client was arrested. It turns out that this particular camera hadn't worked in years. To make matters worse for the crime prevention programs, even if the camera was working, the authorities are often unable to find the footage that was recorded. Many of my clients also ask me about cameras in the cars. As it turns out the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police has chosen not install dash-cams in the vast majority of scout cars. If you are thinking that cost is the reason, there is generally federal public safety money that can be used for these cameras.

As I have discussed on previous posts to this blog, while crime prevention cameras do not seem to be working, the District has put a lot of effort into their traffic enforcement cameras. It seems like it's nearly impossible to drive down a city street without seeing the flash of a redlight or speed camera. In some areas such as in Tenleytown or by the Calvert Street Bridge, it often looks like a strobe light there are so many people getting photo tickets. The only good thing is that while the camera tickets have excessive fines, they don't assess points on your driver's license and there is no affect on your insurance premiums. The tickets will also not result in a citation like in the case of criminal speeding, which is going more than 30mph over the posted speed limit. In case you were not aware, the speed limit in the District of Columbia is 25mph unless otherwise marked. In some areas it is as high as 30mph. If you are arrested for criminal speeding or reckless driving, it will be by an officer using radar or laser. Your lawyer will discuss the facts of your specific case, but it is often possible to challenge the calibration of devices such as the Prolaser 3, which is commonly used by police.

September 16, 2011

On Washington, DC Prostitution Sting Operations

Cuffs12.jpgA car pulls up to two women on 13th and L Street NW Washington, DC. The driver asks the women where they are going. The women respond with "where do you want us to be going?" At this point the driver will ask if the women are cops. He does this because TV has taught us that an undercover cop has to tell you if they are or else it's entrapment. As I have discussed in a previous post on this blog, this is not true. They can and will lie. A common answer seen on police reports is "hell no we ain't cops. Do we look like (expletive) cops? Are you cops?" At this point the driver, a passenger, or the undercover vice cops name a price and the other party agrees, and cops swarm the car. Everyone in the car who participated in the conversation is generally charged with solicitation of prostitution and gets placed in a van with everyone else caught that night. Sometimes the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police (MPD) needs two or more vans to transport all of the people arrested in the sting operation.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer who represents people charged with solicitation of prostitution, I see these same set of facts over and over again. One reason for this is that the MPD has apparently decided this a major problem worthy of a lot of time and money. Regardless of why the police were conducting a sting, if you were unlucky enough to get arrested, you are probably concerned with keeping a potentially embarrassing solicitation charge off your record. One thing I like to do for my clients is to speak with the prosecutor and try to get them to offer a deferred prosecution agreement or "DPA."

In Washington, DC, a DPA means that you enter an agreement to do 32 hours of community service and not get arrested for four months. If you do the community service, the government will dismiss the charge and you will not have a conviction on your record. A DSA is only one option. There may be another type of diversion program available or you may need to demand a trial and fight the charges. It is important to remember that an arrest is not a conviction.

One other thing that I would like to elaborate on in this post is what it means to do community service in Washington, DC and what it doesn't mean. It generally doesn't mean wearing a reflective vest and picking up trash on the side of the highway. This type of community service is generally reserved for those serving time in jail or prison and request an outdoor job. In the case of a DPA or DSA, you can choose from over 30 approved non-profit organizations and do the community serve at a time convenient to you and the organization. Approved organizations include shelters, religious organizations, clinics, historical societies, and others. Most people can find something that interests them. A community service deferent such as the ones just mentioned may also be an option if you are charged with simple assault, some DUI charges, and other misdemeanors. They are not just for solicitation of prostitution charges.

I should also mention that if you are a candidate for a DPA or DSA, one of the requirements is to have three consecutive negative drug tests before the government will sign the agreement. It does not matter whether you were arrested on a drug charge or not. If you have a positive result, it does not mean that the deal is off the table but it is in your best interest to stay clean. PSA can generally find out if you are water-loading or using a product designed to help pass a drug test.

September 9, 2011

Man Arrested on Drug Charges after Trying to Smuggle Cocaine-Filled Clams Through Washington Dulles Airport

clams.jpgAccording to a Washington Times story, David Pocasangre Vaquiz, entered a US Customs station at Dulles airport with a black plastic bag stuffed into his luggage. When officers opened the bag, they discovered 80 clams. It has been reported that 15 of the clams had been opened, stuffed with baggies of cocaine and then glued closed. Customs officials have stated that the clams contained 5.36 ounces of powder cocaine.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense lawyer who handles drug charges, I have represented clients charged with all types of drug offenses, including simple possession, possession with intent to distribute (PWID), and possession with intent to distribute while armed. I have handled cases where ecstasy was allegedly hidden in a teddy bear, cocaine in a glove compartment and marijuana in someone's underwear, but I have never had a case where the drugs were stuffed in a clam. Despite the use of clams, the case is similar to any other, and fighting the charges often involves a motion to suppress evidence.

A motion to suppress evidence can be used to challenge the way in which the police discovered the evidence. If your lawyer can show that the cops violated the fourth, fifth or sixth amendments to the constitution, the judge can exclude the evidence. This means that the government won't be allowed to introduce it at trial. If they can't mention drugs to a jury, they will likely be forced to dismiss the charges after the defense wins a motion to suppress. This type of motion is often based on whether the police had probable cause to conduct a search. During a hearing, the government will have the officer basically read the police report to the judge, and then the defense attorney gets a chance to cross-examine the officer. I recently handled a case where the officer testified that he smelled "fresh" marijuana in the vehicle and that gave him probable cause to search the entire car. I asked him to define fresh marijuana and he said it means "unburned" marijuana. So when I asked the following question: "your testimony is that, while you were standing outside of the driver's window, you could smell unburned marijuana in the glove compartment on the passenger side of the car, correct?" When he responded that this was correct, I could hear laughter coming from the audience.

Another way to suppress evidence may deal with the documentation provided by the government and the chain of custody. If the police tested any of the evidence themselves or sent it to the FBI, ATF, or DEA labs for testing, they are required to provide full documentation of all tests done and who handled and safeguarded the evidence. They are not always able to provide this documentation because there are sometimes problems that occur. In a previous post to this blog, I discussed how a trash can said to hold the body of a murder victim was being used to throw trash away by the police rather than being secured in the blood room at evidence control.

There are numerous other grounds for suppressing evidence in a Washington, DC criminal case. Your lawyer should conduct a thorough investigation and discuss with you how these issues may apply to your case.

September 8, 2011

Woman Pleads Guilty to Washington, DC Assault Charge for Stabbing Her Boyfriend During Sex

knife_in_hand.jpgAccording to a recent story in the Washington Post, Thomure Queen admitted to pulling out a knife and stabbing her boyfriend in the upper-right chest area while the two were having sex. Queen was high on PCP, a controlled substance, at the time of the assault that occurred in Northeast Washington, DC. It has further been reported that Queen and her boyfriend began fighting after the stabbing occurred, and that the boyfriend hit queen with a potted in plant in self-defense. Queen ran out of the house. DC Metropolitan Police (MPD) found blood in the bedroom and a broken pot near the bed. The victim gave police a cellphone on which the couple had recorded these events. Queen has been ordered to be "stepped back" or held in jail until her sentencing on November 18th. Court records indicate that she pleaded guilty to one count of assault with a deadly or dangerous weapon (ADW). In Washington, DC, ADW is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison.

As a Washington, DC assault charges lawyer, I often deal with people charged with assault who may have actually been the one attacked, and should have never been arrested in the first place. This is especially true in the case of simple assault charges that involve an incident that occurred at a bar. As I have discussed in previous posts on this blog, I have represented clients who have been thrown out of bars and beaten by bouncers, then end up getting arrested when it should be the other way around. One reason for this is that many bars and clubs pay for off-duty police officers to work at their establishments as security. The officers are members of the MPD, but also work for the club, and will often do what the club asks them to do. This may mean that an assault victim gets arrested for simple assault against bouncers twice his size.

While, I have been talking about Washington, DC simple assault charges, these issues may also apply to more serious assault charges. It is not uncommon for someone to be charged for assaulting someone who attacked or threatened him first. It may also be the case that the alleged victim has a substantial criminal record. My investigator sometimes discovers that the alleged victim has a long history of violent crimes, domestic violence, drugs, or even gun charges. This may be one of the reasons the government likes to black out victim's names and contact information on all documents they provide to the defendant. It is because of this that if you have been charged with an assault crime, it is important to hire an attorney who will listen to your side of the story, conduct a thorough investigation, and fight the charges when appropriate.

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