April 2012 Archives

April 29, 2012

Capitol Heights Sex Crime Nets 8-Year Sentence for Former Deacon, Cop Candidate

A Capitol Heights sex crime has resulted in an 8-year prison sentence, after a former deacon was convicted of sexual assault of a prostitute at gunpoint. crime.jpg

Capitol Heights defense attorneys understand the 27-year-old defendant had pleaded guilty two months ago to first-degree sexual abuse, as defined in D.C. Code 22-3002, and possession of a gun while committing a violent crime.

In an interesting twist, the defendant, a church deacon at the time of the 2007 offense, was reportedly applying for a job as a police officer with the Baltimore Police Department.

Here's what we know of the case, according to court records, media reports and U.S. Department of Justice releases:

The suspect reportedly picked up a 23-year-old prostitute in downtown Washington D.C. He reportedly agreed to pay for sexual services from the woman, and the two ended up parked near 10th and O Streets NW. Before the prostitute would engage in the sex act, she requested upfront payment.

Now it's important to note that up to this point, both of the individuals could have potentially been arrested for prostitution or solicitation of prostitution. For a first offense, you're looking at a $500 fine and up to three months in jail. Penalties go up from there.

However, it's what happened next that drew such attention.

The deacon reportedly pulled out a gun, pointed it at the woman's head and said he did not intend to pay for the sexual acts. She later told investigators that she complied with his demands, as she feared for her life.

Afterward, the man released the victim. He then drove back to the area where he had originally picked her up. There, she and a friend saw his car and called police.

He was eventually stopped a few blocks from his home. His lawfully-purchased handgun was found in his car.

As this was a clear he-said-she-said scenario, what became a critical piece of evidence for the prosecution was a condom the defendant had used during the incident. His DNA was recovered from that condom.

He has been in custody since his arrest in 2007. A jury found him guilty way back in 2008 on charges of first-degree sexual abuse with aggravating circumstances, possessing a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence, possession of an unregistered firearm and carrying a pistol without a license.

The defendant then appealed part of that verdict, based on instructions that the trial court gave to jurors prior to the decision.

It was just last month that he pleaded guilty to two of those crimes mentioned above.

With time-served, he could be released by 2015.

Continue reading "Capitol Heights Sex Crime Nets 8-Year Sentence for Former Deacon, Cop Candidate" »

April 26, 2012

D.C. Criminal Defense Watch: Warrantless Vehicle Searches

A D.C. appeals court is weighing whether people requiring a D.C. criminal defense have the right to protect their vehicles from a warrantless search after they've been legitimately arrested.search.jpg

D.C. criminal defense attorneys are closely watching this case, as it is likely to impact a large number of D.C. criminal cases.

Here's the background:

A Virginia man was arrested in 2010 on suspicion of DUI. He had crashed into another vehicle. The evidence against him for D.C. DUI was fairly weighted, and he ended up pleading guilty to that charge.

The bigger issue, though, was a gun found in his glove box. The weapon was unregistered, but police only found it after searching his vehicle - without his consent - after he'd been arrested.

This is a problem because the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 took on a case called Arizona v. Gant. The core issue in that case was whether police could search a person's vehicle without his or her consent if he or she had already been arrested.There, a man was arrested for driving with a suspended license. While he was handcuffed, officers searched his car, finding drugs in the car. The defendant wasn't initially successful in getting that evidence tossed out on the basis of an unlawful search. However, the Supreme Court, after hearing the case, limited the access that officers have to search a vehicle without a person's consent. What they decided was that officers can only conduct a search without consent when the officer has reason to believe that the vehicle may contain evidence pertaining to the arresting offense.

So, for example, prosecutors have argued that in a D.C. drunk driving case, officers could reasonably search a vehicle looking for open containers of alcohol, based on the officers' past experience that would indicate that could be a possibility.

However, a judge with the District of Columbia's Superior Court ruled that if officers are solely relying on their past experience would create categories of cases where it would be assumed that these kinds of searches are legal. But that goes against the intent of the ruling in Arizona v. Grant, the judge said. He ultimately suppressed the gun evidence in the D.C. DUI case.

But now, the prosecutors are appealing to the higher court.

In hearing the case, one of the judges questioning prosecutors said she had a difficult time reasoning with the argument that the inherent nature of a certain crime (in this case, DUI) would automatically mean a warrantless search would be reasonable.

Prosecutors countered that it would go to common sense. For example, if a person is arrested for DUI - but had just left a bar - there would be no reason for an officer to necessarily assume there may be open alcohol containers in the vehicle.

The judge smartly countered that this argument sounded more like speculation, adding that if they accepted the government's stance, that would mean "allowing the exception to swallow the rule."

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April 19, 2012

Washington D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyer on Courtroom Attire

Washington D.C. criminal defense attorneys know how important it is for a defendant to be respectful in the courtroom. glasses.jpg

This is important for anyone who requires D.C. criminal defense - regardless of the crime - and sometimes what you wear is just as important as how you conduct yourself.

It's an issue that came up recently in a trial last month for five individuals accused of several D.C. murders. All five of the defendants showed up for court wearing large-frame glasses for which they did not have a prescription.

Prosecutors pounced.

The assistant U.S. attorney in the case questioned a witness about whether he had ever seen any of the defendants wear glasses prior to the trial. The answer was no.

Of course, glasses like the ones the defendants wore have become known as a trendy hipster fashion statement. On the other hand, D.C. criminal defense attorneys will sometimes recommend or even supply them to defendants. In some cases, inmates will even trade them amongst each other before hearings. They cost about $20, but they can make at least a small difference in terms of perception.

Many attorneys say it's simply part of a more polished, professional look. Often, such a detail can make a defendant appear more studious, serious.

Usually, it's a subtle detail that no one takes much notice of - at least not vocally.

In this case, prosecutors tried to say that by wearing these glasses, defendants were engaging in a form of dishonesty.

But glasses no more change the facts of the case than a suit and tie. We know perception is important, though, which is why the criminal justice system allows defendants to dress in their own clothing during a trial - because it's known that when jurors see a person in orange jailhouse garb, it creates an automatic perception of guilt.

A study in 2008 that was printed in the American Journal of Forensic Psychology found that African American defendants who were wearing glasses were deemed smarter, less threatening and more honest than those without. Meanwhile, white defendants who wore glasses weren't seen any differently depending on the glasses they wore.

The idea, according to analysts, is that you don't expect to see someone who committed a crime wearing glasses if he or she doesn't have to.

Impressions can be so important that in some cases, judges have barred family members from wearing t-shirts memorializing their slain relatives while sitting in the gallery during the trial.

If you show up to court wearing cut-off shorts and a t-shirt, not only might you be asked to change - either by the judge or your D.C. criminal defense attorney - it sends a message that you don't take the proceedings seriously. You haven't said a single word, and already, you're being judged. That's human nature.

For overall dress, some attorneys recommend to dress for court as if you were dressing for church. Conservative. Simple jewelry. No jeans. Solid, dark colors. This is a calculated move to give the person in the courtroom a more polished look, and hopefully, conveys that what you say is trustworthy. At the very least, it shows respect for the court and its role.

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April 17, 2012

Washington D.C. Assaults by Taxicab Drivers Scrutinized

Over the last several weeks, seven taxicab drivers have been arrested for Washington D.C. assaults against passengers. taxi.jpg

Washington D.C. criminal defense attorneys are hesitant to take the accounts of these alleged assaults at mere face value.

First, let's consider that taxi drivers was considered the 11th most-dangerous job in the country last year - ranking right up there with firefighters and police officers. In fact, Business Insider had reported there were more than 21 deaths per 100,000 workers, with 50 fatalities in 2007.

What's more, the most common cause of death for taxi drivers? It's not car accidents. It's assaults and violent acts.

And that's all for about $12 an hour.

So with that in mind, let's take a look at what's being reported.

ABC-7 and The Washington Post report that seven taxi drivers have been arrested on charges of assault against passengers.

The chairman of the Taxicab Commission told the media that there has been a marked increase in drivers who are "physically manhandling" customers. He described these incidents as involving hitting, pulling them out of cabs - in one case, a female was reportedly pulled out by her ankles. Six of the seven alleged victims were females.

This has prompted the commission to put in motion plans that would allow a panic button to be installed in D.C. cabs by the end of this year.

What hasn't been revealed is how these incidents started. Without knowing the details, it's hard to say what a possible defense in these cases could be. However, we do know we're only getting one side of the story. And given the violence that taxi cab drivers have become accustomed to being on the receiving end of, it's possible some of these cases are going to result in claims of self-defense.

Simple assault in Washington D.C. is defined under D.C. Criminal Code 22-404. Basically what that says is that there are three different kinds of simple assault. There's attempted battery assault, and that's when the suspect injures or attempts to injure another. Then there's intent-to-frighten assault, which is when you commit a threatening act that puts another person in fear that you will hurt them. And then, there's non-violent sexual touching assault. That's when there is the intentional sexual touching of another person's body without his or her consent.

In the first two scenarios - which is most likely what we're talking about in the taxicab assaults - prosecutors have to show that the suspect's actions were intentional and that the person had the ability to injure the other person at the time of the alleged incident. Penalties for these max out at a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.

An assault is considered to be more serious when it results in serious bodily injury to the other person or when the acts were caused intentionally or as a result of recklessness. In those situations, the penalties increase to a $3,000 fine and up to 3 years in prison.

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April 8, 2012

D.C. Defense Attorneys Warn: SCOTUS Allows Strip Searches

Bad news for anyone requiring D.C. criminal defense: The Supreme Court says jailers have the right to strip search you - even if the crimes of which you are accused are minor. back.jpg

D.C. criminal defense attorneys are disheartened by the news of this most recent vote, which resulted from a 5-4 vote after a New Jersey man argued that it should be unconstitutional for authorities to conduct such an invasive search for someone accused of something as minor as an unpaid traffic tickets.

In this case, the man was mistakenly arrested by troopers on a warrant for unpaid fines. He had been with his wife and son on their way to visit his parents when he was arrested. What's more, even if the warrant had been a true reflection of the facts - which it wasn't -failing to pay a fine isn't even a crime in New Jersey. The mistake was reportedly the result of a computer error. And even though the man immediately produced a receipt showing he had paid the fine, troopers arrested him anyway.

He was reportedly detained in jail for a week and strip-searched on two occasions. Those searches were humiliating procedures, which included requiring the individual to shower in front of a guard and then cough, squat and lift his genitals.

Authorities later conceded that they had failed to delete the warrant from their system once the fine had been paid.

Attorneys for this man argued that strip searches should be unconstitutional unless authorities have reason to believe the suspect is in possession of drugs or weapons. In fact, they said, it violated the man's 4th Amendment protection against an unreasonable search.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has disagreed with him. One justice was quoted as saying that because jails are typically unsanitary, crowded and dangerous, it's incumbent upon correctional officers to ensure that no contraband is brought into the facility that could potentially harm guards or other inmates or disrupt the peace.

Dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer, however, argued that guards have the ability to conduct the far less-invasive metal detector searches or even searches involving the suspect in his or her underwear.

With an estimated 700,000 people arrested for minor offenses - those that involve neither violence nor drugs - it doesn't make sense that each should be subjected to such a rigorous search. What this means is that people who are taken into custody because they have a headlight out or because they failed to have their dog on a leash or because they were on a bicycle without a bell could all be strip-searched.

Breyer had argued that none of these individuals were likely to have anticipated an arrest, so they weren't likely to have anything hidden in any body cavities, and therefore, a search seems quite unreasonable.

But the other justices said it would be unfeasible for jail officials to weed out who needed to be strip-searched and who wouldn't. He added that people who are detained for minor offenses in some cases turn out to be very dangerous, noting Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who was originally arrested for driving without a license.

Unfortunately, D.C. is not in the company of 10 states that already outlaw strip searches for those accused of minor and misdemeanor offenses.

Continue reading "D.C. Defense Attorneys Warn: SCOTUS Allows Strip Searches" »

April 4, 2012

D.C. Drug Crimes Defense To Be Impacted By SCOTUS Ruling In Jardines v. Florida

The issue of whether police will be allowed to use K-9's at people's homes in the course of investigating Washington D.C. drug charges will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. 1177738_german_shepherd_gsd.jpg

Washington D.C. drug defense attorneys will be watching the developments of this case with interest, as it could have major implications on future cases across the country.

The highest court in the land decided to take on the issue, stemming from Jardines v. Florida, a drug case that has had attorneys in Florida wrangling for the last several years.

At the core of this case is whether a drug-sniffing dog amounts to a formal search of property. If this is the case, as several lower courts have determined, then it is subject to all of the other laws governing proper search and seizure of evidence.

Jardines was a Miami resident, and police there received a tip that he was cultivating cannabis. Detectives placed the home under 24-7 surveillance, hoping to turn up some solid evidence. But they found nothing that would indicate there was any criminal activity happening at the home.

Then one day, a detective decided to approach the door. This is not illegal. However, at his side was a K-9 drug sniffing dog. The dog, upon approaching the residence, gave his law enforcement handler a signal indicating he smelled drugs at the residence. The detective knocked, but no one answered the door. The detective noted that he, too, smelled marijuana.

Using this scant bit of evidence - particularly the dog's alert - the detective sought a warrant from a local magistrate, which was approved. With that warrant, detectives searched the home, and found what they were looking for - a lot of pot.

It might have seemed an open-and-shut case, were it not for Jardines' defense attorney bringing up a 2004 case in a federal appeals court. There, the judges ruled that not only does a drug dog's sniff count as a formal search, but that when the place being searched is a person's private residence, using a drug dog amounts amounts to an unlawful search. At trial, the judge agreed with the defense attorney's reasoning. All of the evidence uncovered at the house was tossed.

The case might have ended there, were it not for a ruling by the 3rd District Court of Appeals. There, judges determined that the simple act of a dog sniffing around at someone's door step doesn't equal a search. Therefore, according to the judges, no warrant was required. In its reasoning, the appeals court relied on another determination made by the U.S. Supreme Court, stemming from an Illinois case. In that ruling, the justices found that nobody has any right to privacy when it comes to contraband. So, according to them, a sniffing dog does not amount to a search. The justices took it a step further in saying that dogs aren't like surveillance video or wiretapping in that the dog's only job is to hunt for illegal drugs. The other devices, it was decided, were more invasive in that they captured inane, as well as criminal, activity, and therefore, they required a warrant. The dog, however, did not.

The case may have ended there, were it not for the Florida Supreme Court weighing in on the decision. Judges there overturned the appeals' court ruling, saying that not only are using drug dogs to sniff test a private residence a government intrusion, but they are an "unreasonable" and "substantial" intrusion, and further a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

All of this lays the groundwork for what promises to be an interesting debate with far-reaching implications in D.C. drug crime cases.

Continue reading "D.C. Drug Crimes Defense To Be Impacted By SCOTUS Ruling In Jardines v. Florida" »

April 2, 2012

D.C. Criminal Defense Watch: Eyewitness Testimony Untrustworthy

As Washington D.C. criminal defense lawyers well understand, eyewitness testimony is often unreliable. eyewitness.jpg

D.C. felony charges that are backed in court solely by someone's memory of what happened can be challenged by a skilled attorney. As a recent felony criminal case illustrates, even the memories of police officers aren't infallible.

This case is actually one of several, all related to a drive-by shooting spree that came to a head on the District's southeast side.

According to The Washington Post, the drive-by shootings, perpetrated by an estimated five males in a single vehicle in March 2010, resulted in a fatality. When 911 calls began pouring into police dispatch, a "Be on the Lookout" signal was issued to local police.

Two officers in the area spotted a minivan that matched the description of the vehicle involved. When one of the officers attempted to pull over that minivan, the driver refused to stop, setting off a police chase that ended in a wide alley, not far from where the drive-by had taken place.

Once in the alley, the men in the minivan reportedly scattered.

A 14-year-old, who happened to be in the alley at the same time, was yoked by police. Two officers said they were certain that he had been the driver of that minivan. So certain, in fact, that not only was this juvenile arrested, he was locked up for three weeks on 41 felony charges, including first-degree murder. Astonishingly, it took three weeks for investigators involved in the case to realize he was in no way connected to the alleged crimes.

In fact, it wasn't until another older teen admitted to his own involvement in the shootings that the 14-year-old was finally cleared.

Now, one of those five gunman is on trial, a D.C. criminal defense attorney for one of the men says the fact that the officers were so certain that they had the right person at the outset proves the weakness of their case.

One sergeant who took the stand said he identified the 14-year-old as the driver. A prosecutor asked if he was confident that the younger teen was the driver. The sergeant answered in the affirmative, though he added he had only seen the driver's face for a few seconds, and never straight in the face.

Then, upon cross-examination, the defense attorney meticulously attacked the sergeant's account, asking pointedly whether the person who the sergeant identified as the driver was actually the person behind the wheel of that minivan.

"I don't know. No," the sergeant answered.

The defense attorney countered that he was confused, and asked the question again. Prosecutors objected to that, and the judge urged him to move on.

After that, the defense attorney questioned the sergeant's partner, who also said she had witnessed the driver and believed the 14-year-old to have been the one behind the wheel.

However, as it turned out, the young teen had just run away from a group home. When police came roaring into that alley, he thought they were after him for that, which is why he ran. He reportedly did have a juvenile record - though nothing even close to the level of what he was accused.

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