May 2012 Archives

May 28, 2012

D.C. Criminal Lawyers Advise Against Fleeing

Washington D.C. criminal defense attorneys know that rarely is a good idea to flee from police. crosswalk.jpg

Not only are you probably going to get caught, but when you do, your D.C. criminal defense is going to likely include fleeing or resisting charges - in addition to whatever the charge was that you were trying to get out of in the first place.

What's more, in some cases, fleeing almost guarantees criminal charges, whereas you may have actually faced nothing had you simply stopped.

Take for example a recent case of a jaywalker who is now facing a host of D.C. weapons charges.

According to The Washington Post, police officers noted three men and a woman jaywalking. Now you may be aware of some of the jaywalking stings that Metropolitan Police have been conducting. In some cases, police will issue a warning. In others, they write a $20 citation. In either case, you'll probably get a lecture and be sent on your way.

However, fleeing is going to grab their attention - and then they're likely to grab you.

That's what happened to the 21-year-old in this case. He was among four who were reportedly jaywalking around 4 p.m. on a Wednesday.

An officer reportedly tried to stop them, presumably to give them a lecture about crossing the street at an appropriate juncture. But the 21-year-old took off running.

At the time when police first stopped him, he had a red backpack slung over his shoulder.

When police finally caught up to him, the backpack was gone. Sly investigators that they were, they were able to retrace the jaywalker's steps, finding the backpack in a trash can that sat near a residential driveway. Nearby, two children were playing.

Inside that backpack, officers found a firearm.

He is now facing weapons charges - in addition to fleeing. To make matters worse, he is also facing robbery and assault charges, for which he is scheduled to appear in court in mid-June.

According to D.C. Criminal Code 22-4503, simple possession of a firearm can be illegal in D.C. if you are a convicted felon, are a drug addict, have been convicted of certain kinds of misdemeanors (such as domestic violence), have been previously convicted of a firearms charge or if you currently have a civil protection order against you.

It's also against the law for you to knowingly provide a gun to a person in any one of these categories. Penalties range from a minimum mandatory of one year in prison all the way up to 10 years and/or a fine of $15,000.

This is not to say that some individuals don't get away with it when they do flee - but it's rare.

The better option if you are stopped by police is to actually stop, be courteous and respectful and remember that you don't have to tell them anything. In fact, you shouldn't. The fact is, anything you do say may be used against you in court.

Cooperation doesn't mean you have to tell them what they want to know.

And in case you are arrested, make sure your first call is to an experienced D.C. criminal defense attorney.

Continue reading "D.C. Criminal Lawyers Advise Against Fleeing" »

May 25, 2012

D.C. Criminal Defense: One Shot to Do It Right

Washington D.C. criminal defense attorneys know that most people get one chance to prove their innocence. washingtonmonument.jpg

That's what makes a strong D.C. criminal defense so vitally important. You rarely get a do-over.

So when defendants take their chances with public defenders, mistakes are inevitably going to occur. Public defenders, after all, are notoriously overworked and underpaid. It's not that they are bad attorneys, but they don't have the time to dedicate to your case that a private criminal defense attorney will.

This is especially evident in the research just released that indicated there have been 2,000 exonerations over the past two decades in the U.S. That is 2,000 defendants who were found guilty - and it was later determined they weren't at all.

The actual number is, in fact, a great deal higher.

First, that figure doesn't account for the nearly 1,200 people who were cleared following a rash of police misconduct scandals, which showed law enforcement officers planting evidence and lying on the stand.

Those cases also only represent the number identified by researchers with the University of Michigan Law School and Northwestern University School of Law, which worked jointly to create a database of national exonerations, as one did not previously exist.

While we are encouraged that these defendants were able to clear their names, it did not come without an enormous price tag. Of the nearly 900 defendants for whom researchers were able to cull extensive case information, it was tabulated they had spent a combined 10,000 years in prison - for crimes they did not commit.

The database that researchers created starts in 1989 and spans through 2011.

Of the approximately 900 more detailed-data cases, more than half were homicides and another 300 or so were sex crimes. In the majority of those cases, it was DNA that ultimately led to the prisoners' freedom.

But what went wrong in the original cases?

Researchers found in an overwhelming number of cases, it had to do with witness statements. Witnesses were either coerced into testifying to facts that weren't true. In other cases, they were simply mistaken. And in others, it was determined that they lied.

What this tells us is that D.C. criminal defense attorneys must be extremely diligent in researching the cases they take on. The sad fact is, public defenders simply can not possibly do that in every single case that is handed to them. It would be physically impossible, just given their sheer caseload.

The number of exonerations were broken down by state, with Illinois, New York and Texas having the most. Now what's important to note about that is that it doesn't necessarily mean that those states have been especially diligent about clearing wrongfully convicted felons. It really comes down to the fact that these states have a multitude of wrongful conviction centers. These are organizations or law schools that frequently take cases on pro-bono, depending on the individual merits of the case.

It's actually quite difficult to have your case taken on by one of these organizations - and even more difficult to get your case re-opened or dismissed on the basis of evidence uncovered by a wrongful conviction center. They also mostly focus on the most serious of crimes - murder and sex offenses.Other crimes, even with lengthy sentences, are given less priority.

What that means is that you really have one shot at doing it right. Make sure you hire a lawyer with experience you can trust.

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May 20, 2012

D.C. Theft Defense: Handicap Permits a Prime Target

An increasing number of people have found they are requiring a D.C. theft defense for stealing handicapped parking permits. handicap.jpg

D.C. theft defense attorneys understand that these tags have become quite valuable on the black market, where they are being sold and traded as a commodity.

Of course, the problem stems from the fact that there is a lack of convenient and inexpensive ways to park along the traffic-clogged streets of D.C., Virginia and Maryland. If the person were to simply park their vehicle along the road without permission, they're potentially facing hundreds of dollars in parking fines.

Just to give you an idea, there are an estimated 17,000 parking spaces in the District. The 2010 U.S. Census indicated there were more than 600,000 people living here. That doesn't include those who commute into the District for work each day. Even a politician could do that math.

A rash of burglaries has been reported in nearby neighborhoods, where individuals are reportedly breaking into vehicles not for the electronics or purses, but rather the handicap permits.

In another case, a 19-year-old suspect in Temple Hills was reportedly arrested for stealing nearly 20 handicapped permits.

These individuals are reportedly turning around to sell the permits for about $50 each to drivers desperate for a place to park. The permits are especially in demand considering the "red top" parking program, which allows disabled motorists to park for free at designated spots. There are about 400 of those spots right now, and when the program is fully functional, it's expected there will be about 1,500. Of course, the only way to verify that the person is disabled? A handicap parking permit.

To give you an idea, the District Department of Transportation reported that in a recent check of blocks in office areas, between 40 to 90 percent of spots were taken by vehicles with handicap permits.

In truth, officials with the Registry of Motor Vehicles aren't sure how many of the permits have been stolen, as not all of them are reported. Generally, if there are many taken from the same area, then police will investigate. One here or there, however, they may not place a high priority on it.

Theft charges, which are spelled out in D.C. criminal code 22-3212, theft is defined as taking of anything without consent.

With regard to heisting handicap stickers, you can even be held liable under the District's Traffic Adjudication Act if you are using someone's permit - with or without permission.

That means if you purchase one of these stickers of the black market, it's considered fraud, and you could be held criminally liable.

And even if you do have permission from the original owner, the person who granted permission could be held liable. Generally, under D.C.'s traffic code (2718.4), doing so will result in a $250 fine and revocation of the permit.

Continue reading "D.C. Theft Defense: Handicap Permits a Prime Target" »

May 15, 2012

D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyers: Longer Bar Hours and More Speed Cameras

D.C. criminal defense attorneys understand that the city council has approved not only longer bar hours, but the installation of more speed cameras. cameras.jpg

This particular combination could result in more individuals requiring a D.C. criminal defense.

The idea behind both measures was to boost the District's bank accounts. Of course, guess where that money would come from?

That's right. You.

With regard to the alcohol sales, this had to do with a highly contentious debate among officials about whether to extend bar and liquor store hours. Opponents believed such a measure would tarnish the city's efforts to remain family-friendly and inevitably result in more D.C. DUIs. Supporters, however, argued that the city had not been "a 9 to 5 town" in years, and it was time to start offering more in the way of night life.

With the council facing an estimated $170 million deficit in the budget, it agreed to permit extended hours for alcohol - but only for the weekends and during federal and District holidays. For the designated times, alcohol sales at D.C. bars will be allowed to continue until 4 a.m. In exchange, a higher sales tax is being imposed that will go directly to the city.

Additionally, liquor stores will be allowed to open their doors as early as 7 a.m. That's two hours before the current law allowed.

With regard to the speed cameras, the District is hoping to raise an estimated $30 million by expanding the program. The mayor insisted that the sole purpose of this was to boost public safety, though that's doubtful given the amount of money that is potentially at stake here.

One of the councilman said that he hoped the city could explore potentially reducing the amount of the fines doled out, as the number of cameras expands. The fines don't have to be quite as exorbitant, he said, if there is more certainty of being caught. In fact, cameras will be added to another 25 locations throughout the District.

However, our D.C. traffic ticketdefense attorneys realize that traffic cameras are wrought with legal issues that we may be able to challenge in court.

As we understand it, violators at these new locations will be issued warnings until June 6. Then at that time, anyone photographed violating the speed at those locations will be sent a citation and a fine.

Speed limits in those areas range from 25 miles per hour to 40 miles per hour.

Unlike in Maryland, there is no wiggle room in D.C. between the legal limit and the speed citation. While Maryland has its cameras set to give citations to vehicles going 12 miles per hour over the limit, D.C. cameras are set to issue citations on the basis of that strict, posted limit.

Continue reading "D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyers: Longer Bar Hours and More Speed Cameras" »

May 13, 2012

Washington D.C. Theft : Metro Fare Evasion

Washington D.C. theft crimes are gaining more attention, following a Fox 5 investigation of Metro fare evasion.subwaystairs.jpg

Washington D.C. defense attorneys know that many people may not see this as actual theft. However, according to the Fox investigation, officials believe people skipping out on fares are costing the district millions of dollars.

While you might not be viewed as a career criminal, this is just the kind of dumb charge that is enough to haunt a person and can dampen future job prospects.

Under D.C. Statute 22-3211, theft is defined as taking someone else's property - or wrongfully obtaining the property of another with the intent to deprive someone else of its benefit and either use it for yourself or to give or sell to someone else. Subsection c says that in the case of theft of services, the person obtains services that would have been available only with compensation and then left without making that payment.

In this case, the services rendered is the Metro ride. Metro rail fares range from $1.60 to $5.00. So it doesn't seem like much - but you can be prosecuted nonetheless.

The news channel went "undercover" with police. Within just a few minutes, police find a young man trying to squeeze through the fare gates without paying. Actually, they spotted several people - he was just the one they were able to catch.

In some cases, people do what's called "piggybacking." This is where a person follows a passenger who has paid very closely so that they are able to slip through before the gate closes.

In other cases, there is abuse of the student pass. D.C. school students get reduced fare rates, but it's supposed to only be used by students. But other people regularly use their friends' and relatives' student cards. That, too, will warrant a citation.

Last year, police reported they issued more than 4,500 tickets for fare evasion and another 2,500 warnings.

While it may be tempting to brush off such an infraction as essentially harmless, officers did note that if you are found guilty, you will have a criminal record.

A lot of riders just pay the fine without trying to fight it. Those fines can range from $1 to $100, but generally fall somewhere around $50.

But in some of these cases, it's possible someone could get wrongly cited. It's busy, it's crowded and transit police aren't interested in hearing an explanation.

While Metro police don't have exact figures for exactly what they may be losing, in New York City, transit officials estimate that for each ticket they hand out, there are roughly another 150 that get away with it. Using that standard, it would mean some 700,000 people who are skipping out on their Metro fare in D.C. With the average fare at about $2.60, that means the transit agency is losing almost $2 million a year.

Of course, no one person would be prosecuted on that scale, but it gives you a perspective on how commonplace this has become.

And of course, the more you do it, the more likely you are to get caught. Officers compare it to doing a "dine-and-dash," which is when you go out to a restaurant to eat and then leave before paying the tab - same concept, police say.

It's also important to point out that when you are busted for fare evasion, police can easily scan your information to see if you are wanted for anything else - either failure to appear on a court date or default on your child support payments.

Is it really worth it for $1.50?

Continue reading "Washington D.C. Theft : Metro Fare Evasion" »

May 10, 2012

D.C. Violent Crimes and The Insanity Defense

Washington D.C. defense attorneys have been watching closely the news from the Northwest neighborhoods, where police are reporting a spate of violent crimes in D.C., to which one 19-year-old man has since been linked. 952313_gavel.jpg

According to The Washington Post, the first victim was a 66-year-old tourist from Denver, who was found in an alley on Emerson Street. Investigators said he had suffered fatal head wounds.

Then it was a 53-year-old man discovered with head injuries on Georgia Avenue.

And then later that same night, a 37-year-old woman had suffered head injuries while on the 5000 block of Ninth Street.

The latter two reportedly survived those attacks.

Then two other attacks were reported.

For weeks, the motive in the attacks were a mystery. Police had even gone so far as to urge people to walk in pairs, saying the assaults were apparently random. All they knew was that the individuals were in the same neighborhood, had all been alone and had all suffered head injuries.

It wasn't until just a few days ago that police made an arrest: a teenager, the younger brother of a pro-football player, now facing two assault charges as well as a first-degree murder charges.

The teen is accused of sneaking up behind these individuals and hitting them on the back of the head with a hammer.

It's still not exactly clear what the motive may have been, but news reports indicated that the suspect had been treated last year for psychiatric issues, when his guardian and teachers said they had become fearful of his behavior. He was allegedly yelling and laughing out loud in school and talking to himself for hours on the bathroom floor.

Files released by the D.C. Superior Court indicate that the suspect suffered from schizophrenia, visual and auditory hallucinations and had only borderline intellectual functioning. Psychiatrists who evaluated him said that he moved rapidly between blank stares to unpredictable and threatening behavior. And then other times, he would seem completely fine. He reportedly had a history of hospitalizations for psychiatric issues.

Now, in most D.C. assault or murder cases, a defense of insanity is simply not going to fly. There is a high bar for what has to be proven in order for this defense to be successful.

First, it's important to note that rarely does a person "beat" the charges with an insanity defense. An insanity defense is actually an admission that you did, in fact, commit a crime, but that you were afflicted with a severe mental defect or disease that rendered you unable to understand the nature or wrongfulness of your actions.

So in a normal trial, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to show that you in fact committed the crime. When D.C. criminal defense attorneys opt to employ the insanity defense, that burden of proof shifts. No longer are you fighting to prove you didn't do it, you're now on the offensive in proving you didn't know right from wrong at the time you did it.

It's a tough bar to meet, and studies have shown that less than 1 percent of defendants are successful in using this defense. Conferring with an experienced D.C. criminal defense lawyer can help you better understand all your options.

Continue reading "D.C. Violent Crimes and The Insanity Defense" »

May 4, 2012

Washington D.C. Theft: Cell Phone Robberies to Decrease With Integrated Database

In Washington D.C., theft of cell phones is the fastest growing crime in the district. iphone.jpg

Washington D.C. theft defense attorneys understand that robberies relating to cell phones spiked nearly 55 percent between 2007 and 2011. That's according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

In New York, there were more than 25,000 reports of theft of electronics just in the first 10 months of last year. Of those, more than 80 percent were cell phones.

Now, the cell phone carriers are working together to try to reduce temptation by making the phones virtually worthless once they're stolen.

What we first need to understand is why these devices are such popular targets for Washington D.C. theft in the first place. It has to do with the fact that it's profitable.

For example, an iPhone 4 is going to cost you between $200 and $400. If that phone gets stolen, a person can then turn around and sell it on or and get just a little less than the original price, assuming it's still in decent working condition. The person buying the phone isn't likely to have any idea that it's stolen.

According to D.C. Criminal Code 22-3212, if the value of the item is worth more than $1,000, its theft will be considered a first-degree theft, which means you face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Cell phones, though, are generally going to fall within the under $1,000 range, which will make a theft a second-degree theft, which will result in a maximum of 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

It's important to note, however, that if you take a cell phone by force or directly from a person, that's considered robbery. The sentences for robbery versus theft are much more severe.

In the past, when cell phones were stolen, there wasn't much a person could do. There was no real incentive for the companies to do anything about it because whoever ended up using the stolen phone would end up reactivating it by swapping out the SIM card and become a new paying customer.

But at the urging of the Federal Communications Commission, five major cell phone wireless carriers are working to develop a database that will make it difficult or impossible to use a stolen device. The idea is to make the phone an undesirable target for theft because the resale value will be greatly reduced.

While all the details haven't yet been hammered out, it seems that the cell carriers are going to work out a process by which each device will have its own serial number. When that serial number is reported stolen, the phone won't be allowed to be reactivated. This will also make tracking stolen cell phones easier because officers will have proof in the form of a serial number.

It's expected that this database is going to be live within half a year or so, and will be fully integrated a year after that. Smaller carriers are expected to climb aboard with this as well.

Similar databases are already in use in Germany, the U.K., Australia and France.

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May 3, 2012

Washington D.C. Fraud: Public Official Sentenced

Washington D.C. fraud and embezzlement charges had hounded a former neighborhood commissioner for months. bribe.jpg

As D.C. criminal defense attorneys understand, the former public official will serve 30 days in jail - roughly, one day for each $1,000 he allegedly stole from taxpayer coffers.

William Shelton, the 42-year-old former Ward 5 advisory commissioner, had pleaded guilty back in January to the charges, involving some $29,000 worth of funds. According to prosecutors, he used the district's debit card for about 120 personal transactions. Those purchases included shopping trips to stores like Target and Bloomingdale's, as well as car expenses.

The Washington Post reports that in U.S. District Court, a federal judge ordered that following the jail term, Shelton is to serve 150 days of house arrest, followed by two years of probation. In the course of those two years, Shelton will not be able to accept a job in which he will have access to the business or employer's money, unless he gets prior approval from probation officers.

The prosecutor in the case labeled Shelton a "serial embezzler."

However, most D.C. criminal defense attorneys understand that even if there are multiple incidents of embezzlement - or cases in which a person is accused of stealing money that he or she is entrusted with - you can sometimes argue that they were all part of the same scheme. That can mean he or she can sometimes negotiate to reduce multiple counts of embezzlement down to just one.

Statements sent by anonymous residents in Shelton's ward were read aloud in court. Expressing feelings of "outrage" and "disgust," those comments likely didn't help his case.

Still, prosecutors had been hoping for a much stiffer sentence: six months in jail, followed by three years of probation.

Shelton's D.C. criminal defense attorney, speaking on his client's behalf, said that his clients has repeatedly expressed remorse and shame, and is trying to redeem himself as best he can. His attorney also made note of the fact that his client has been diagnosed with a mental health problem - a type of bipolar disorder - which he said contributed to his actions.

He went on to argue that jail time wasn't necessary, given the immense scrutiny the case has gotten, which meant extreme embarrassment and the reality that getting another job with a felony on his record is going to be extremely difficult.

Those were compelling arguments, though not quite enough to keep Shelton out of jail entirely.

Shelton settled a civil suit with the district back in December, agreeing to pay back the full $30,000. He made an initial installment of $5,000, and has agreed to pay back $200 monthly. So far, his payments have totaled $5,600.

Another D.C. Council member, Harry Thomas Jr., also pleaded guilty in January to theft of public money - some $350,000. He is scheduled to be sentenced this week as well, and could face up to 46 months in federal prison.

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