October 2011 Archives

October 31, 2011

Masked Suspects Attempt to Commit Robbery on Washington, DC Motorist While Yelling Trick or Treat

885249_pumpkin.jpgAccording a recent story in the Washington Times, three masked men walked up to a car in Northwest Washington, DC yelling trick or treat. While the car was stopped a traffic light, the men allegedly grabbed the driver's shirt and tried to pull him out of the car. The driver managed to drive away unharmed. The three suspects are said to have fled the scene and are being sought by the DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

As a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney who handles robbery charges, I want to discuss how a key issue in a case like this is often the way in which the police identify a suspect. Assuming the police were able to get a lead on the men who are alleged to have done this (and this is only a hypothetical), they would need the victim to make an identification of the suspects if they want to have a decent case in court. The proper way to do this might be to take a series of photos and include the defendant's photo in a photo array. Usually it is six pictures of people who are supposed to look similar and one of them is the suspect. They should preserve the photo array or "six pack" so the defense attorney can see it later. They should never put more than one suspect in the same photo array, and they should not have any pictures that obviously look like mug shots. It should be a neutral setting.

Another thing the police could do to identify a suspect would be to put them a line-up. The line-up should also be composed of people who are similar in height, weight, and complexion to the suspect, and there should not be more than one suspect in one line-up. The police should also take care to assure that the victim or witness does not see the suspect wearing handcuffs or being escorted by police because this is considered suggestive and could taint the indication.

The most unreliable thing that police could do is a "show-up" identification. This is where the police take the suspect in handcuffs and bring (drag) him to the victim who is usually hidden behind a tinted window or window blinds and the victim is asked if this is the guy who robbed him. This could not possibly be more suggestive. The police often do this claiming that it was an emergency and there was not time to set up a proper line-up. Your DC defense attorney should file a motion to suppress the identification. As I have discussed in other posts in this blog, a successful motion to suppress evidence can make a major difference in a criminal case and can also increase the chance of the defendant winning the case.

In Washington, DC, robbery charges carry a potential penalty of 2 to 30 years in prison depending on the defendant' prior criminal history and whether a gun or other weapon was used during the crime. Obviously, robbery while armed is considered a more serious felony than unarmed robbery.

October 28, 2011

On Why You Should Think Very Carefully Before Taking a Quick Deal on Your First Washington, DC Criminal Charge (Part Two)

703517_justice.jpgIn the first part of this post, I discussed some of the problems faced by clients who have been previously convicted of a felony in Washington, DC. In part two of this post, I would like to discuss another major collateral consequence seen by Washington, DC criminal defense attorneys. Many of my clients tell me that they got into trouble when they were young but have turned their lives around. Many of them haven't been arrested in 10 or even 20 years. When they were 18 or 19 years old, they may have pled to a robbery or a drug charge, but after that, they went to school, got a good job and had a family. Fast-forward 15 years and one of my clients is in a car where someone else in the car has a gun or drugs. The client doesn't even know about it. The driver gets pulled over, someone talks, and the cops arrest everyone in the car for carrying a pistol without a license (CPWL). Along with the CPWL charge, my client gets charged with possession of unlawful ammunition, and possession of an unregistered firearm. Even if the gun was under the driver's seat, they can still say that the passenger had "constructive possession" of the weapon. Yes, they can charge more than one person with possessing the same gun. Now, getting back to the client with the prior record, because he is a convicted a felon, the government can indict him for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The CPWL, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, now becomes a 10-year felony just because of the prior conviction. The prior conviction also means that the government may be able to file "enhancement papers" since the client is considered a repeat offender. On the day of trial, the government hands the defense attorney a paper saying that under the DC Code, the charge now carries a maximum of 30 years in Federal Prison because of the prior felony. This is a not just something that can happen, it happens all time. It happened during my last jury trial.

If you are already in this situation, you need to contact a lawyer as soon as possible to work on fighting the charges. You can't afford to wait if you want to protect your rights and try and preserve your liberty. If you are facing a first offense, you should also contact a lawyer as soon as possible. The best way to try and avoid these problems is to fight the charges instead of taking the first deal that the government offers.

October 27, 2011

Capitol Hill Hemp Store Raided Police: Several Arrested on Washington, DC Drug Charges

969266_hemp.jpgAccording to a recent story in the Huffington Post, the Metropolitan Police raided Capitol Hemp stores in the Adams Morgan and Chinatown neighborhoods of Washington, DC. The store sells high quality hemp clothing and accessories and glassware made by local artists including glass tobacco pipes and vaporizers according to the company website. As a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney who handles drug cases, I should point out that the police will charge an individual with paraphernalia charges if these "tobacco pipes" are found in the vicinity of marijuana or other illegal drugs.

Getting back to the story, store co-owner Adam Eidinger told reports that police "ransacked the stores" and seized "hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise." It has also been reported that two employees were found with less than a gram of marijuana. Eidinger said this was in violation of store policy. A total of six employees and one customer were arrested on drug charges. Eidinger told the Huffington Post that he feels these raids were politically motivated since he has been a vocal critic of a luxury hotel project in Adams Morgan that netted the developer a $46 million tax benefit.

In Washington, DC, simple possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 180 days in jail. Possession with intent to distribute (PWID) marijuana is also a misdemeanor, unlike PWID Cocaine or PWID heroin. However, if you have gun when you are arrested on PWID marijuana, it becomes PWID while armed, which is a major felony. It also means that that you can be charged with possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent or dangerous crime. For reasons unknown to me, the DC City Counsel considers the sale of marijuana a dangerous crime. If you have been arrested on DC drug charges, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.

October 26, 2011

On Why You Should Think Very Carefully Before Taking a Quick Deal on Your First Washington, DC Criminal Charge (Part One)

balance.jpgIn Washington, DC, there is no shortage of people being charged with a crime. The fact is that criminal justice can't handle the huge volume. Years ago a law school professor described the criminal court process like trying to pour the liquid in a 55 gallon drum into a coffee cup. Most of it will spill out. And that spilling out means dismissed cases, plea bargains and diversions. It's good for the government and it's good for the court, but all I care about is if it's good for the client.

Let's look at a DC drug charge first. You are in a car with a friend and get pulled over for having an expired registration. The DC Metropolitan Police officer comes up to your car and tells you that your registration is expired and asks for your license. He goes back to his cruiser, runs your info through the warrant management system, finds nothing, and comes back to the car. "Is there anything in the car I should know about?" he asks. At this point, I would like to remind you of my earlier posts on the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination (a.k.a. the right to remain silent or "taking the nickel" as I like to call it). You don't need to tell the officer anything. Simply say "no." If the officer asks if he can search the car, say "no, I am not giving you consent to search me or my car." If he asks why, simple tell him that it is your right to say no and leave it at that. Do not get tricked into letting him do a consent search of you or your car when he had no probable cause. Many people admit to having drugs or guns and end up in the Central Cell Block (CCB) and eventually the DC Superior Court on a gun charge like carrying a pistol without a license (CPWL) or possession with intent to distribute (PWID) drugs.

If this is your first offense, the government will probably make a plea offer where they will not oppose probation. This seems good that you are basically guaranteeing you will not serve time in jail or prison. That may be appealing, and since a trial is always a risk, you take the deal. The problem is that while you didn't serve time, you are now a convicted felon. That has a lot of consequences. You may lose a job, be denied a security clearance, or lose public benefits such as EBT or welfare. You may be evicted from public housing. You may lose the right to vote. These are all collateral consequences of being a convicted felon, but the trouble doesn't end there.

In the next part of this post, I will discuss one of the most common collateral consequences to taking a guilty plea.

October 24, 2011

On Halloween Related Criminal Charges in Washington, DC

pumpkin_halloween.jpgAs Halloween approaches, many in the Washington, DC area are enjoying the cooler weather (especially if you live in a building where the air has already been switched over to heat) buying costumes and decorating and planning parties. As a DC criminal defense attorney, I get to see another side of the holiday.

Obviously, many people will be driving to parties and drinking alcohol. I urge you to drink responsibly and use a designated driver because the DC Police, US Park Police, and Capitol Police will be out in force to make DUI arrests. It is also common for the police to set up field sobriety checkpoints in areas where drunk driving is likely such as Adams Morgan and in an around the US Capitol grounds. There will also likely be an increase in alcohol related arrests throughout the District such as fake ID charges (ABC violations), underage drinking, possession of an open container (POCA), and simple assault.
In case you are wondering why I have included simple assault, it's because most arrests for it in the District happen at a bar and often involve the innocent victim being charged. I have represented many clients who had actually been assaulted by the bouncers who are double their size, been banged and bruised, and had their cell phones smashed, only to wind up in the back seat of a police car. One reason for this frequent occurrence is that the police will often ask the club staff what happened and write this version of the story in the police report. This is especially true if the club or bar regularly hires off-duty police officers for security. Such officers have unofficially told me that while they represent the Metropolitan Police Force, they are being employed by the business and tend to do what the owners expect of them.

I should also mention that we often see a lot of juvenile arrests around Halloween. Whether, your child is arrested for destruction of property, assault, or just a prank gone wrong, as I have mentioned in previous posts on this issue, contact an attorney immediately so there is a better chance of moving past the unfortunate incident.

October 3, 2011

Washington, DC Murder Rate on Track to Be The Lowest in Years

239372_caution_tape.jpgAccording to a recent story in the Washington Times, there have been 81 reported homicides so far this year in the District of Columbia. Last year at this time there had already been 96 reported homicides in Washington, DC. This change reflects a 15% reduction from the previous year. It is estimated that if the trend continues, there will be a total of 108 murders instead of the 132 from the previous year. Either way, these numbers are lot lower than the 454 murders reported in 1993.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney, I often wonder about the reasons for these reductions. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) credits increased relationships with members of the community and technology. However, it seems that this might assist with investigating a crime but not preventing crime. From the courthouse it seems that is no shortage of people being charged with other offenses such as drug charges, gun charges, and violent crimes such as armed robbery.

Another potential reason for the decline in homicide rates over the years may be related to advances in trauma care at hospitals as result of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in addition to medical advances in general. What may have been a murder 10 years ago could very well result in an aggravated assault charge today if doctors are able to save the victim. In Washington, DC an aggravated assault charge states that the defendant acted intentionally, purposefully, or with a disregard towards human life that resulted 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. Attempted aggravated assault in Washington, DC is felony punishable by a fine of $5,000 and/or 5 years in prison. If armed while committing an aggravated assault, the potential penalty could be up to 15 years in prison. There is also the possibility that the government could file repeat papers which would make the penalty even higher based upon the defendants past criminal record.

In any event, from my view at the courthouse, it seems that is no shortage of people being charged with other offenses such as drug charges, gun charges, and violent crimes such as armed robbery.

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