July 2012 Archives

July 27, 2012

D.C. Attack Investigated as Hate Crime

A 29-year-old D.C. man and his longtime homosexual partner were reportedly viciously attacked just a few blocks from their apartment recently, and now investigators have honed in on hate bias as a motivation for the crime. handcuffsinblue.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers know that no one can deny that hate crimes exist. We can't say whether this situation was motivated by a hate for homosexuals or not. What we do know is that officials are often quick to pull this card, sometimes regardless of the true motivation, because they want the defendant to face the increased penalties that are incurred as a result.

One need only look at the number of hate crimes alleged in the last several years.

The Washington Post reported in 2007 that there were 19 hate crimes reported against homosexuals. In 2011, there were 42. Plus, by this time last year, there were 15 hate crimes reported, and so far this year, there have been 22.

Across the country, there have been a estimated 12,000 over the last decade.

But even gay anti-violence groups acknowledge that this has more to do with an increase of reporting rather than an increase of actual crime.

Again, that's not to say that hate crimes or those motivated by a certain bias don't happen. They do. But law enforcement officials also take advantage of the fact that in 2009, the president signed bill making it a federal crime to assault someone on the basis of his or her sexual orientation or sexual identity.

Such crimes run the gamut of acts, but here are a few examples:

1. A physical attack;
2. A destruction of certain property;
3. Burning of a cross;
4. Arson;
5. Harassment, either by phone or electronically;
6. Use of racial slurs;
7. Painting of certain hate symbols, such as a swastika;
8. Verbal abuse;
9. Fireboming a residence, church, business or other gathering place;
10. Vandalism.

It's also in violation of D.C. Code 22-4001 to 22.4004, which mandates increased penalties for crimes committed against someone on the basis of some protected status, such as their race, sexual orientation or religion. In fact, the Metro Police Department even as a D.C. Bias Crimes Task Force, which was founded back in the mid-1990s.

The challenge for prosecutors, however, is in first of all proving that the accused was the one to have committed the crime and secondly that the motivation for carrying out that crime was hatred of a certain group. Usually, this is done using certain electronic communication (which you should never assume to be private) prior to or after the attack. Things like your Facebook page, Twitter account or text messages.

They may also incorporate witness statements regarding any slurs that may have been used prior to, during or after the crime.

It will be up to your defense attorney to prove that the evidence has been taken out of context.

Continue reading "D.C. Attack Investigated as Hate Crime" »

July 26, 2012

Investigators Seeking D.C. Sex Attack Suspect

A sexual assault reported by a female jogger on Capitol Crescent has prompted investigators to seek the public's help in locating the suspect. joggingblur.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers
know that this case is somewhat unique in that most allegations of sexual assault are made by someone who knows the alleged victim. Stranger attacks, while they do happen, are pretty rare.

That said, one thing that most sex crimes cases have in common is a heavy reliance on DNA evidence. Prosecutors use DNA evidence to prove that there was some contact - presumably sexual - between the victim and the defendant.

When DNA is present, the defense is two-pronged:

1. Does the mere fact that there is DNA present prove that a crime occurred?
2. How reliable is that DNA evidence?

With regard to sex crime allegations in which the two individuals know each other, it's not enough to show that they had contact with each other. Obviously if they knew one another, the fact that one's DNA is found on another doesn't necessarily prove anything - particularly if the two were dating or in an otherwise romantic relationship.

Prosecutors have to have a fair amount of circumstantial evidence, and a big part of that is eyewitness testimony. The truth of the matter is, eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. We are just now - through DNA evidence - finding that cases that were tried 10, 20, 30 years ago or longer that resulted in convictions based on eyewitness testimony were completely faulty.

That's not to say witnesses lie. Of course, sometimes they do, but more often than not, they want to help investigators. They want so badly to help solve the crime that they won't readily admit that they truly didn't see the person's face or other features clearly. A good investigator will be able to tell when a witness isn't solid, but sometimes, they want to solve it as badly as the witness, and they allow that to get in the way of their objectivity.

Now with regard to sexual assaults involving supposed strangers, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is that just because two people don't know each other well doesn't mean a consensual sexual encounter was impossible, particularly if alcohol was involved.

And secondly, DNA evidence isn't fool-proof. It's considered the gold standard by law enforcement and prosecutors, and it's true that a large number of defendants have been convicted in cases where there was strong DNA evidence. But more and more, the public has been made aware of issues of contamination, improper methodology and faulty tests. Cases in Texas, for example, caused an entire lab to shut down for a time due to contamination issues.

It hasn't been raised as a point specifically in D.C., but it's always a possibility.

On the flip side, DNA can call into question other sources of forensic evidence, such as fingerprints, bite marks and firearm ballistics.

In this case, the alleged victim reported she was running along the trail around 9:15 p.m. when she was attacked from behind and placed in a choke hold. She reportedly lost consciousness for a time, and awoke to the suspect fondling her.

It remains to be seen what role, if any, forensics will play in this case.

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July 15, 2012

D.C. Murder Charges Dropped Amid Weak Evidence

Murder charges stemming from a shooting outside a nightclub last year have been dismissed by prosecutors, who have said they can't definitively prove who did what. It's unlikely at this point, they say, that anyone will be charged. intentman.jpg

Of course, D.C. criminal defense lawyers would point out that this action wasn't taken before two men were arrested and jailed on felony murder charges, with one ultimately pleading guilty to assault.

It is actually quite rare that prosecutors will admit to a lack of evidence prior to the conclusion of a felony case. The truth is, you certainly can't count on similar action in your own case. No matter what evidence exists against you, your best defense is an experienced defense attorney. When the prosecution's case is weak, a defense attorney just force their hand.

This is a case that has been riddled with flaws from the very beginning.

Back in March 2011, gunfire erupted in the Kennilworth Avenue Surf Club. Responding officers discovered a 30-year-old D.C. man who had been shot multiple times. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was soon after declared deceased.

Within two months, homicide detectives had identified two male suspects, both 24-years-old. They were arrested on warrants, with one having to be extradited from Las Vegas. Both were charged with first-degree murder.

Authorities claimed that the two younger men were involved in some kind of altercation with the alleged victim inside the nightclub. That fight continued outside, and police claimed that one of the men shot the victim while the other drive the getaway car.

In November of last year, one of those individuals was mistakenly released from jail as he awaited trial. He had been held on a no-bond status, but apparently a clerical error had resulted in his case being confused with another, unrelated case with a similar case number. He was accidentally freed on $75,000 bond, and authorities had trouble finding him at first, though he voluntarily appeared at a subsequent bond hearing later that month.

The other man, the one police suspected to be the actual gunman, was indicted twice by a grand jury and his case went to trial last month. On the third day of that trial, prosecutors suddenly dropped the murder charge against him and negotiated a plea deal in which he would plead guilty to assault charges and serve a five-year sentence, in exchange for prosecutors dismissing the first-degree murder charge, as well as charges of obstruction of justice. Facing a life sentence if convicted for murder, he accepted that agreement and was formally sentenced earlier this month, after prosecutors announced they would no longer move forward with the case.

All charges have been dropped against the man who was mistakenly freed as well.

Prosecutors haven't offered much insight into the reasoning behind their decision, except to say that following the full completion of their investigation, that they were unable to prove who did what.

One would think that a murder - or any crime - that takes place in front of dozens of people would be open-and-shut. But the reality is, there is all kinds of doubt that can be raised because eyewitness testimony is often unreliable, particularly in a scenario where people are drinking, it's dark and there may be mass confusion and panic.

These are all issues that can be raised by your attorney both prior to and during trial.

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July 13, 2012

D.C. Rape, Robbery Exoneration: Get it Right the First Time

Yet another instance of exoneration of a sexual assault conviction in D.C., based on DNA evidence. DNA.jpg

D.C. criminal defense attorneys are always pleased when the truth is finally exposed - but are profoundly disappointed that such a conclusion wasn't reached in this case until after the defendant had served 22 years in prison.

The moral of this case, as well as all others like it, is that if you're charged with rape, robbery or any felony, you absolutely can't afford to gamble with your future by hiring a lawyer with inexperience or relying on the public defender's office. You can't assume that your innocence alone will be enough to clear your name.

In fact, this case represents the third in the District of Columbia since 2009 in which a man convicted on charges of rape or murder has had his charges vacated after it was revealed that either erroneous expert and eyewitness testimony or flawed forensics was involved in the original trial.

An innocent person should never make the mistake of assuming that just because forensics are more advanced today than they were 20 or 30 years ago that it will be enough to secure a not guilty verdict. Circumstantial evidence - no matter how skewed - can still be a powerful tool for prosecutors, and your attorney is often your last line of defense.

In this case, the defendant was convicted for the 1981 rape and robbery of a woman inside her apartment on Capitol Hill. During his 1982 trial, he vehemently denied the charges and maintained his innocence.

He was convicted anyway, at least partially based on the fact that the alleged victim identified him personally.

He served 22 years before his release in 2003, but was ordered to register as a sex offender on parole until 2047.

In 2011, he sought advanced DNA testing in the case, and was granted his request - which proved he was an innocent man.

The official exoneration, handed down earlier this month by D.C. Superior Court Judge Herbert B. Dixon, allows the now-50-year-old defendant to be free from parole, sex offender registration and also allows him the ability to seek compensation from the government for his wrongful conviction.

What this case also illustrates is the faulty nature of eyewitness testimony. Though the alleged victim had clearly pointed to him as the perpetrator, it's now known that there is no way it could have been him.

Such errors have led to legislation in other states that has prohibited photo line-ups presented to victims from being conducted by detectives who are familiar with the case. But similar legislation has been struck down by the D.C. Council two times since 2008.

Both the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department announced this month that they have begun a review of thousands of criminal cases over the last several decades, dating back to 1985, in an effort to determine whether any have resulted in wrongful convictions. It's the largest undertaking of its kind, and will have a nationwide impact.

But of course, this is all happening years after the fact. There is no substitute to getting it right - and getting the right lawyer - the first time.

Continue reading "D.C. Rape, Robbery Exoneration: Get it Right the First Time" »

July 8, 2012

D.C. Drug Ring Members Sentenced

The last man convicted of D.C. drug charges in an operation connected to the Mexican La Familia cartel has been sentenced to 7 years in prison. distraught.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that the charge for the 39-year-old Mexican citizen was conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. Under federal guidelines, his sentence range was 5 to 7 years.

The judge gave him the maximum. Partially, this likely had to do with the fact that the drug involved was crystal methamphetamine, viewed as highly toxic and dangerous to the community. And secondly, the case had garnered national headlines, which in some cases prompts judges (and prosecutors, for that matter) to make examples out of the defendants.

Five others had pleaded guilty over the course of the last two years, receiving varying sentences ranging from 5 to 16 years behind bars, depending on their involvement.

According to the Washington Post, the organization to which these defendants were connected was just becoming established in the D.C. area. Authorities reportedly seized millions of dollars worth of meth in the course of the investigation, which involved agents and officers from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Search warrants were executed in three states, resulting in the reported recovery of dozens of gallons of liquid crystal meth.

Another $5 million worth of the drug was seized in Atlanta as part of the same organization, as well as several pounds of marijuana, guns an cash in raids in North Carolina.

Police were able to mole their way into the organization using an undercover agent who was arranging to purchase several pounds of meth and a kilo of cocaine from a local D.C. drug trafficker. That deal led investigators to a larger sting just a few days later.

The La Familia cartel head met with undercover agents in North Carolina a few days later to talk about a larger meth purchase. At that meeting, the cartel leader reportedly told the agent he had an unlimited supply of crystal meth, and he intended to start distribution in the D.C. area in the coming weeks.

They arranged to meet again a few days later in Georgia, for what was to be a $100,000 deal for 20 pounds of meth. But instead of completing the transaction, undercover agents moved in to make the raids and subsequent arrests. They reportedly seized more than $3 million worth of the drug. Four were arrested in North Carolina, two in Georgia and eight more in D.C.

Of those eight facing D.C. charges, six were convicted, including the most recent.

In cases like these, where you have multiple individuals facing stiff charges, it's crucial for you to immediately contact a skilled criminal defense lawyer.

Often, your attorney can negotiate a deal with prosecutors for you to serve less jail time in exchange for a guilty plea to lesser charges or testimony against your co-defendants. But in many cases, this requires you to act quickly. If prosecutors can get what they're looking for from other defendants who make a deal sooner, you may be left in the lurch.

Of course, this would only apply to cases where you own some of the guilt. If you are innocent, your D.C. criminal defense lawyer should be on your side, ready to vehemently fight the charges.

Continue reading "D.C. Drug Ring Members Sentenced " »

July 5, 2012

Choose D.C. Defense Lawyer Carefully

Choosing a criminal defense lawyer in D.C. is not a matter to be taken lightly.hidingface.jpg

This was further evidenced recently by the recent conviction of a D.C. criminal defense lawyer on charges of promoting perjury and fabrication of evidence.

We know that of course lawyers want to win their cases - but they need to do so within the bounds of law. Otherwise, not only do they suffer, but so will your case.

According to the Washington Post, the 66-year-old attorney was found guilty of six felony counts relating to his illegal attempts to score a win at his client's trial for drug crimes. He was acquitted, though, of a single charge of witness tampering. His trial lasted nearly a month, and two of his staff private investigators were also charged with conspiring to obstruct justice.

The three had waived their rights to a trial by jury, instead opting to have a judge decide their fate.

In the end, the judge voted to convict, saying the evidence against them was "overwhelming."

It started in September 2008, with the trial of a 28-year-old drug dealer, who was being tried on charges of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute.

A few months prior to that trial, Metro D.C. police had executed a search warrant at the defendant's grandmother's home. There, they reportedly found nearly 125 grams of crack, as well as about $2,000 in cash, a digital scale and one very expensive pair of boots.

The defendant was subsequently arrested, and was facing more than two decades behind bars - minimum.

His attorney had tried to negotiate a plea deal, but his client rejected it.

As the case was approaching trial, the attorney reportedly directed his investigators, the drug dealer, the drug dealer's girlfriend and relatives to create evidence that was fake and to lie in court. The investigators and the relatives reportedly staged certain photographs to indicate that the drugs reportedly were the dealer's younger brother's. Additionally, a lease document was created to make it seem as if the dealer was living somewhere other than with his grandmother at the time of the raid.

The staging reportedly even went so far as to have the girlfriend drive to New York on the eve of the trial, purchase a pair of those same expensive boots, which were smaller than the original pair, that were then introduced at trial as belonging to the younger brother.

In the end, the jury deadlocked, with 11 of 12 jurors voting to convict. But the one hold-out forced the federal judge to declare a mistrial.

It's not clear what exactly tipped prosecutors off to what had reportedly happened, but once they realized, they charged the drug dealer and his family with obstruction of justice. He ultimately pleaded guilty to the drug dealing, as well as obstruction and witness tampering. His girlfriend, as well as two of his brothers, also pleaded guilty to a number of charges, though they agreed to cooperate with investigators in the case against the defense attorney.

The bottom line is that there are a number of ways a skilled attorney can defend your case. Instructing you to lie under oath is not one of them.

Continue reading "Choose D.C. Defense Lawyer Carefully" »