June 2012 Archives

June 28, 2012

Corrections Officer Charged with D.C. Sex Assault

A sheriff's deputy has been charged with second-degree sexual abuse, following accusations that he sexually assaulted a female inmate who was in jail awaiting trial. prisonbed.jpg

D.C. sex assault defense lawyers know that it is not unusual in jail or prison settings for sexual relationships to develop between inmates and guards. However, because of the skewed balance of power, corrections officers will almost always face at least some sanctions for this, even if consensual.

From an employment standpoint, it could be anything from a reprimand to termination. If it was a consensual relationship, it's possible but not always the case that one would face criminal charges.

While it's not clear in this case exactly what physical evidence there might have been, it appears the defendant confessed to investigators, following the accusations brought forth by the female inmate.

The woman was reportedly awaiting trial - we don't know what for - at the Upper Marlboro courthouse in Prince George County. She was reportedly in her holding cell when the deputy assaulted her.

The exact details of the encounter haven't yet been released. Yet, the deputy's employer is already seeking to distance itself from the incident, with the sheriff issuing a statement to the effect that he is saddened and outraged, calling the action a betrayal of public trust.

The incident reportedly happened in the afternoon, and was reported fairly soon after it allegedly occurred.

Although the circumstances in this case are obviously unique, given the position of the accused, the basic standards are applicable to all D.C. sexual assault cases.

Second degree sexual abuse in D.C., as defined in D.C. Statute 22-3003, can apply to anyone. This law essentially says that you engaged a person in sexual contact through means of threat or fear. The maximum penalty for this is imprisonment of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $200,000.

A correctional officer, however, can face additional charges with regard to sexual abuse under D.C. Statute 22-3014, which outlines second-degree sexual abuse of a ward. This applies to any employee, staff member, consultant, volunteer, at a treatment facility, group home, hospital - or detention center - in which they are essentially serving as a custodian of that person. If they engage that person for whom they are a custodian in a sexual act, they face a maximum of five years in prison and a $50,000 fine if convicted.

In either case, the severity of the circumstances means that securing an experienced criminal defense lawyer should be a top priority for this - and all - defendants accused of a sex crime.

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June 25, 2012

Mental Competency in D.C. Sex Crimes Case: It Doesn't Pay to Fake It

The mental competency of a D.C. sex crimes suspect is in question as he awaits trial in connection to at least 12 rapes and other crimes over the last 10 years.
D.C. defense lawyers
understand that those representing this individual had pressed for a second exam to explore his mental competency, after his last exam determined he was malingering, or exaggerating and faking his condition as a way to get out of being prosecuted.

Defense attorneys for the 41-year-old defendant say his condition has worsened, and that they worry that he is not fully comprehending the charges and proceedings against him.

It's true that lacking mental competency can be successfully argued as a defense to a crime - even a violent one - but it requires an attorney with skill, experience and who is dedicating the proper resources to the case.

In this case, the defendant's attorneys said that since he was moved to a new jail facility earlier this year, his behavior has become increasingly erratic. Not only is he refusing to cooperate or even speak with his lawyers and mental health professionals, he is also cutting himself - something known as self-mutilation.

When the defendant was present in court, he repeatedly interrupted his attorneys, asking the judge to address the court. The judge did not allow him to speak, and he was ultimately taken out of the courtroom.

Among the crimes of which he is accused were the 2009 rapes of two teenage trick-or-treaters. He allegedly kidnapped three of them, forcing them into a wooded area before raping two and then fleeing as police arrived.

DNA evidence found at that scene reportedly linked that attack to others in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia, going back all the way to 1997. He has been indicted in a sexual assault that took place in Leesburg and could face charges in Prince George and Fairfax counties. He was being held in Connecticut, but was then transferred to Virginia after prosecutors there said they would allow Virginia's case to move forward first.

All of these states are going to have various statutes with regard to how they can punish him. In D.C., the crime of first-degree child sexual abuse falls under D.C. Statute 22-3008. This allows that anyone who is 4 years older than a minor and engages in a sexual act with that minor can be found guilty, and serve up to life in prison. This is a Class A felony, but a judge has a lot of discretion in terms of the sentence that can be imposed. This statute allows that a person can be "imprisoned for any term of years or for life." However, for a sentence of over 30 years, the crime has to meet certain criteria, as laid out in D.C. Statute 22-3020.

Either way, you certainly understand that these are serious charges.

If it's proven that you, as an adult, committed a sexual act with a person identified as a minor, the only valid defenses under D.C. Statute 22-3011 are that one of your ages is in question or mistaken or that you are married or have a domestic partnership with the child (and there are certain criteria one must meet to prove this).

Mental incompetence can be a defense in certain situations, but even in those cases, you may be sent to a mental hospital until such time as you are deemed well - which could be years, or even decades.

It depends on the circumstances. Faking it almost never works, and blocks your defense attorneys from gathering information that could be critical to your defense.

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June 23, 2012

Probable Cause Critical in D.C. Weapons Cases

Anytime law enforcement conducts a search of a property, they must have a search warrant that is predicated upon probable cause.

Washington D.C. criminal defense lawyers
know that when this doesn't happen, it may be grounds to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of that search, and possibly move for a dismissal of the charges, depending on the circumstances of the case. silverfirearm.jpg

This is why if you are arrested in D.C. on the basis of evidence found during the execution of a search warrant, it's important not to offer police a confession or statement, believing they already have enough to convict you. No matter what they say, your first priority at that point is to contact a criminal defense attorney, who can advise you of your options.

This is what happened in a case out of California's Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In U.S. v. Grant, the defendant was convicted for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. However, he and his attorney argued that the basis of the search, which ultimately led to his conviction, was erroneous and therefore the conviction should be tossed.

The lower court had held that while there was lack of probable cause for that search warrant, they could invoke the good faith doctrine established by United States v. Leon, a 1984 case. The appellate court, however, agreed that there was a lack of probable cause, but said the lower court had misapplied the findings in the earlier case, and therefore found in favor of the defendant in this case - reversing his conviction.

Although this case was decided in California, the basic principles remain relevant to defendants facing weapons charges in D.C.

The facts of the case, as laid out in court documents, are this:

The defendant is the father of two gang members. A homicide was committed in January of 2009. The deceased man had been shot to death with a .357 weapon.

The detective in the case, working with few leads, reportedly found a cell phone box at the victim's home. He did not find the cell phone. However, using the information provided on the box, he was able to track the SIM card used in the phone to one of the defendant's gang member sons. While actually suspecting it may have been the second son who had a connection to the homicide (given his appearance and build, combined with some earlier witness statements), the detective questioned the first brother (who was in jail on an unrelated charge) about the phone and where he had received it. That son indicated it was one of two other gang members, and definitely not his brother.

However, in a subsequent conversation at the jail that was recorded via video and audio, he mentions that police are looking for the phone. He also mentions his father.

Based on this, the detective obtained a search warrant from an appeals judge to search the father's home. The search warrant was to find a .357 gun. That was not found. However, other weapons were.

It was later learned that the father had been convicted of a drug felony in Ohio years earlier. It was on this basis that he was charged with violation of federal statute 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). This prohibits convicted felons from possessing firearms or ammunition.

He was convicted after pleading guilty - only on the condition that he be allowed to appeal the case to a higher court. He was sentenced to 46 months behind bars.

However, the appellate court ruled that the detective lacked probable cause to search the father's home because there was no direct evidence linking him to the homicide. Therefore, the evidence obtained in that search - i.e., the guns, which constituted all of the evidence against the father - had to be suppressed.

The case was thrown out.

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June 18, 2012

Child Sex Crimes in D.C. Suburb Result in Guilty Plea, Shot at Freedom

A former elementary school employee has pleaded guilty to 22 sex crimes in Manassas, the Washington Post reports. hand.jpg

D.C. sex crimes defense lawyers understand that in cases like this, where there are multiple alleged victims and witnesses, focusing on aggressive negotiations for a favorable plea deal are sometimes the best option.

In this case, a trial could have meant two life-in-prison sentences, plus another 210 years. By agreeing to this plea deal, on the other hand, the defendant faces between 20 and 30 years in prison (exactly how much will be up to the judge), and prosecutors have agreed to drop 45 of the charges that were pending against him.

That's still an awful lot of time, but this was an individual who, prior to the deal, would have risked losing his freedom for the rest of his life - period. Now, he may be quite old upon his release, but there's still a chance he will be released.

According to the Post, the 48-year-old defendant reportedly accepted responsibility for sex crimes involved at least eight young males over the course of several decades.

The episodes reportedly date back to the early 1980s, and involve sexual encounters with preteen boys and teenagers.

The defendant reportedly started his career as a kindergarten aid in 1981 and then was later promoted to assistant librarian. He also was responsible for an after-school gym program, as well as the safety patrol program. Additionally, he was active in the summer parks and recreation department activities.

In each of these positions, prosecutors said, he met potential victims, although the alleged abuse happened only at his residences.

It's been more than a decade since the defendant even worked at the school, however. He resigned way back in 1999, amid rumors of several inappropriate relationships.

Since then, the defendant had reportedly lived in relative obscurity until the explosive sex-abuse scandal involving Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky first began to gain steam. It was then that an alleged victim in this case contacted authorities, who launched an investigation and reportedly ended up finding at least 10 alleged victims.

It would seem that proving the case would be a barrier to pressing forward with a prosecution. And indeed, that may have played at least part of a role in the plea bargain that was struck.

However, there was at least some evidence, after police monitored a phone call between the defendant and one of the alleged victims - some 10 years after they had last spoken.

In some of the alleged acts that occurred earlier, investigators said the defendant was violent toward his victims. In later instances, he was more manipulative.

Although prosecutors have recommended a sentence of between 20 to 30 years, a judge could still impose a harsher penalty. That's definitely possible, given that a number of victims are set to speak at his sentencing hearing. It's expected that the testimony they will give will be highly emotional.

A judge may consider, however, that the defendant's willingness to take a plea deal, thereby waiving his right to trial, as an act of mercy and remorse, to spare his alleged victims the emotional toll of a trial. That, too, may factor into his ultimate sentence.

Continue reading "Child Sex Crimes in D.C. Suburb Result in Guilty Plea, Shot at Freedom" »

June 14, 2012

D.C. Burglary of Supreme Court Justice's Home

It might have been one thing if Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer had been burglarized on one occasion. thumbprint.jpg

But as D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand, the justice has been the target of a string of property crimes over the last several months - the most recent of which was the Georgetown burglary of his residence.

Burglary, as defined in D.C. Criminal Code 22-801, is essentially the incidence of a person entering a residence for the purpose of committing some crime. If someone is inside at the time, it's considered a first-degree burglary. In these cases, it would be punishable by between five and 30 years. If there is no one inside at the time, you're still facing somewhere in the neighborhood of two to 15 years if convicted.

If there is ample evidence that you entered the residence unlawfully, one tactic a D.C. criminal defense lawyer may take is that you are only guilty of the lesser unlawful entry of a property. This would mean that you entered when you weren't supposed to, but you had no criminal intent. The statute for this is found in D.C. Criminal Code 22-3302, and you would face a maximum of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine - much less steep than the alternative. This could be particularly effective if you are a first-time offender and the evidence is slight as to whether you actually took anything or did any other harm besides entering.

In the incident involving Breyer's home, the 73-year-old Justice was not at the residence at the time it was hit. The incident reportedly happened the first week of May and was discovered by a housekeeper.

A spokeswoman for the court indicated there were no court-related documents that were taken or compromised.

A police report indicates that the individual appeared to have entered by busting a glass pane near the front door. Missing items included a $500 pair of silver candlesticks and 100-piece silver set valued at more than $2,000.

This incident follows an armed robbery that occurred at Breyer's vacation home on the island of Nevis in the West Indies, off the coast of Puerto Rico. That was back in February, and he, his wife and a guest were reportedly robbed inside their home by a man who entered wielding a machete.

The man reportedly took about $1,000 in cash and subsequently fled. A 28-year-old gardener reportedly turned himself into police for the alleged crime. If he's convicted there, he faces potential corporal punishment, such as lashings with a whip.

Punishment for the D.C. burglary won't include that, but in addition to burglary charges, he or she will likely face charges for the theft as well. Under D.C.'s criminal code, stealing more than $1,000 is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 find. If the individual has two or more convictions for prior theft incidents, there would be a minimum mandatory of one year behind bars.

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June 12, 2012

Two Plead Guilty in D.C. Carjacking, Robberies

A few bad decisions over the course of a crazy night is likely to land two D.C. men behind bars for several years. cartheft.jpg

D.C. criminal defense attorneys understand that the men opted not to take their chances at trial, and instead chose to enter guilty pleas to charges of carjacking and robbery.

According to The Washington Post, the 23-year-old and the 22-year-old pleaded guilty in federal court, where the cases were handled.

In each of the alleged carjackings and robberies, the pair worked together. Investigators said one armed himself with a BB gun that looked like a handgun and the other brandished a metal rod.

The first incident allegedly happened just before 1 a.m. on April 24 last year. The two men, as well as a third, reportedly accosted a cab driver on Bellevue Circle. They held him up and then drove off with his vehicle.

About two hours later, the two men held up a woman who was waiting for a bus on Sixth Street.

Just a few hours later, the two men were leaning up against a fence on Alabama Avenue when a woman walked by. They then put on masks and demanded she hand over her purse. When she tried to run, one of the men reportedly struck her with the metal rod.

Two hours after that, they snatched the purse of a woman on who was waiting for a bus on First Street. Another woman was nearby, saw what was happening and tried to run. the men reportedly stopped her and stole her purse as well.

Each was charged with armed robbery and carjacking. Law enforcement officials are still looking for the third man.

While it's not typical for carjacking and robbery cases to be handled in federal court, it's not unheard of either. Sometimes, these cases are forwarded to federal court because the individuals were involved in a series of crimes and prosecutors and law enforcement officers believe they are going to get more time behind bars than if the case had been tried through a state court.

Actually, up until 1992, federal courts didn't even have a carjacking statute. However, in that year there were a few high-profile cases, some of which resulted in murders. Congress responded by making carjacking a federal crime that can net up to 15 years in prison.

Although there were a slew of these federal carjacking cases right after that law passed, the figures have dwindled significantly. The average annual federal carjacking convictions peter out around 50 or so - and that's for nearly 95 federal districts.

Considering that there are roughly 35,000 cases across the country every year, the vast majority of these you're going to see in state or local courts.

D.C. Criminal Code 22-2803 addresses the crime of carjacking, mandating that a conviction under this statute will carry a prison term of between 7 years and 21 years and a potential fine of up to $5,000.

It's worse if you have a weapon. In that case, armed carjacking (which you can be penalized for even if, as in this case, the weapon you have isn't real) is a Class A felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Continue reading "Two Plead Guilty in D.C. Carjacking, Robberies" »

June 5, 2012

Washington D.C. Warrants: If You Have One, Call a Lawyer First

Having warrants in Washington D.C. can be like having a dark cloud hanging over your head - always looking over your shoulder, wondering if that cop out of the corner of your eye has been following you. blackpolicecuffs.jpg

Washington D.C. criminal defense attorneys want to make it clear that if you have warrants - or think you have warrants - the best thing you can do is reach out to an experienced defense attorney.

Some of these incidents stem from violent crimes, while others are a result of your failure to appear for a court date. If you know you have a warrant, your criminal defense attorney can help you negotiate a safe and discrete resolution. In some cases, all you may need to do is pay a fine. Typically, the outcome will be more favorable than if you wait until you are busted.

If the warrant is for an alleged violent offense, reaching out to a skilled criminal defense attorney is important because if you are stopped by police on the street, it's possible they may take you into immediate custody.

Of course, it's different if you don't know you have a warrant. That's what happened recently in Montgomery County in Maryland, where a 63-year-old had gone to clear up what he thought was a minor warrant so that he could apply for a job. As it turned out, he actually had a murder warrant.

He didn't know it, and neither did the authorities at the sheriff's office - at first.

When law enforcement tried to pull up the minor warrant in the state's database, they turned up nothing. The desk sergeant tried a second database. He was stunned to see the decades-old murder warrant. A quick search confirmed it was still valid.

He was arrested on the spot.

Oddly, though, prosecutors still aren't sure whether they will file charges. That's because they don't know whether or not they even have a viable case.

As the Washington Post reports, the facts are not quite so simple. The warrant is from 1984. The crime allegedly occurred in 1975.

The warrant indicates that a 29-year-old woman reported to police that her husband had left their apartment and subsequently disappeared. But according to the warrant, the wife had actually hired several men to kill her husband after a particularly violent episode between the two in which he allegedly beat her, broke her nose and tried to force her to engage in a form of bestiality.

One of the men identified as having carried out the estranged husband's murder was the man who was sitting in the sheriff's office lobby. He and the others were accused of either suffocating or strangling the husband, wrapping him up and taking away.

The defendant has denied to police that he had anything to do with the murder, but did say he had met the husband once in a halfway house.

Authorities weren't sure if the wife or anyone else had ever been charged or convicted in connection with the case, and while they detained the man in the lobby on the warrant, they were scrambling to find the details.

It's believed that the wife is still alive. Journalists, however, were unable to locate her, though that may be due to the fact that she was believed to have changed her name.

The estranged husband was never seen or heard from again, his body never found. An attorney for the defendant said it's not even clear whether there was actually a murder, as there has never been any real evidence of it.

The judge in the case has granted prosecutors a week to find more information, or release the defendant, who is currently being held without bond.

What prosecutors are finding is a patchwork of conflicting stories about what actually happened to the alleged victim. One story is that the alleged hit men were painters, given $3,000 to carry out the deed.

In one version, the husband was strangled in the couple's apartment while the wife was out. In another, he was smothered by a pillow while the wife was in the next room.

As with any cold case, it's going to be difficult for the prosecution to play catch up after all these years when witnesses may have died or moved away or forgotten.

Continue reading "Washington D.C. Warrants: If You Have One, Call a Lawyer First " »

June 4, 2012

D.C. Criminal Defense Can Be Hindered By Jurors' Access to Social Media

D.C. criminal defense attorneys have noticed a troubling trend cropping up in court cases that make it to trial. technology.jpg

It involves jurors, charged with deciding the credibility of a D.C. criminal defense, obtaining information outside the courtroom that could directly impact the verdict. It's a growing problem as technology has continued to evolve and expand, and jurors and potential jurors have easier and faster access to information regarding a specific case.

Another reason why it's so important to secure a skilled D.C. criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible after you're charged with a crime.

It's become extremely rare for a judge to sequester jurors, which is to have them isolated from outside contact during the trial so as to decrease the chances that they'll be exposed to outside information about the case. It almost never happens, except in the most extreme, high-profile cases.

It used to be, even just a handful of years ago, that jurors were instructed to avoid television or newspaper coverage of the case and to refrain from talking about it with friends and family. They also were ordered not to go near the crime scene or to conduct any investigation of their own.

That's all still in place, and the idea is to ensure that a decision is only made on the merits of a case presented in court. This is particularly critical for the defense, as a lot of pre-trial publicity can be skewed in favor of the prosecution.

But what we're seeing happen here and across the country is that jurors with growing access to information and social media - Facebook, Twitter, Google and others - are seeking or coming across information from these sources, which can greatly influence decisions.

One recent example of this happened in Florida, where a mistrial was declared after seven weeks of testimony in a complex (and expensive) case. One juror reportedly admitted to using Wikipedia and Google to research information about the case that had been deemed inadmissible in court. When pressed, seven other jurors admitted the same. The case had to be tossed, and the defendants, doctors accused of selling weight loss drugs, were freed.

Other cases have involved jurors who messaged each other on Facebook about the ongoing trial, jurors who blogged about the trial and the ongoing juror deliberations, and jurors who have "friended" defendants on Facebook.

Now while it worked out in the defendants' favor in the Florida situation, that's not always going to be the case - particularly when judges don't catch the jurors in these kind of activities. It can be difficult to prove unless it's admitted, but you do need a D.C. criminal defense attorney who is going to be on the lookout for it.

It's particularly important when you consider that in a lot of these cases, jurors will brag about these types of interactions on their Facebook walls or other social media platforms. You need a defense attorney who is savvy enough to catch it.

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