September 2012 Archives

September 27, 2012

Wanted on a D.C. Warrant? Contact a Lawyer First.

A local news organization is tooting its own horn, after a tip from one of its readers led to the arrest of a man wanted in connection for an armed carjacking and robbery. stampoffinger.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers want you to know that there are very few cases in which a person wanted by law enforcement evades capture for long, particularly if the person is wanted in connection with a violent offense. Sure, there are the occasional stories of those who stay under the radar for decades. But those cases make headlines for a reason: They're extremely rare.

Those who know they have a warrant and don't turn themselves in face a number of risks, including being arrested at work, in front of their families or during a routine traffic stop. In some cases, the arrest may catch you off guard, leading to a potentially violent confrontation that could not only result in additional charges, you may be at risk for physical harm.

However, what you don't want to do is turn yourself into authorities before you have first consulted with an experienced D.C. criminal defense lawyer. There are multiple reasons why.

First, some have made the mistake of thinking they can turn themselves in for crimes after the statute of limitations has run out, believing they can no longer be prosecuted for a crime. This is extremely risky because laws are evolving and can be quite complex. If you make a mistake in this regard, you could potentially be facing a very long prison sentence by turning yourself in for a crime that happened 20 years ago if the statute of limitations is 30 years.

Secondly, when you turn yourself in, depending on the crime of which you are accused, law enforcement officers may attempt to question you soon after you are in custody. If you have not first met with a lawyer or have a lawyer present during that process, there is a high potential you may say something that could be used to incriminate you.

And finally, your defense attorney may be able to facilitate the exact terms of your surrender, as well as your potential release, before you ever step foot in front of a judge. If your warrant is for something relatively minor, such as a bench warrant for failure to appear, an attorney may even be able to help you arrange to pay a fine and have the matter dropped.

Every case is different, but you should always contact an attorney before turning yourself in.

In this particular case, the 29-year-old suspect was wanted for a 2003 incident in which he reportedly used a firearm to carjack a man in Prince George County. He then allegedly made the man drive to an ATM and forced him to take out the $600 maximum the ATM would allow. Unsatisfied with that amount, police said he forced the victim to rent a local hotel room and waited to return to the ATM the following day to take out more.

The Washington Examiner published a story about this wanted individual in May. A reader reportedly contacted the local police department to say that the suspect was known to frequent a nearby park. Police then conducted surveillance on the area and ended up recently arresting him without incident.

Continue reading "Wanted on a D.C. Warrant? Contact a Lawyer First." »

September 24, 2012

Restaurant Comptroller Pleads Guilty to $650k Embezzlement in D.C.

Over the course of a decade, a few hundred dollars pocketed from her employer here and there probably didn't seem like much. tightened100billroll.jpg

But federal prosecutors say over time, those amounts added up to $650,000, ultimately resulting in the long-time employee, the corporate comptroller, pleading guilty to mail fraud for embezzlement.

D.C. criminal defense lawyers do know that while this case was resolved in federal court, many embezzlement cases are handled in district courts. There, the crime of embezzlement actually falls under the broader umbrella of theft, which is spelled out in D.C. Criminal Code 22-3212. In these cases, it is not necessarily from whom you allegedly stole money but how much and in what way.

For example, first-degree theft is charged when the total value of heisted money or property is over $1,000. This charge carries a maximum fine of $5,000 and a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Second-degree theft is for any amount under $1,000, and maximum jail time for this is 180 days, with fines of up to $1,000.

Additionally, if you knowingly misrepresent either yourself or hide the truth in order to cause another person to act to his or her detriment, that is charged as fraud.

While there is no specific element in the D.C. criminal code for additional punishment of an employee who steals from an employer, the courts may impose harsher penalties than they might otherwise if you were considered to be in a position of trust.

In this case, the 55-year-old employee, who had worked at the company since 1982, was considered to be in a position of trust. As the comptroller, she was responsible for the oversight of accounting, budget matters and accounts payable and receivable.

She reportedly committed the theft in a number of ways:

  • By diverting the restaurant company's money to directly pay off her own personal credit card;

  • Charging corporate credit cards for personal expenses the company had not authorized;

  • Using restaurant vendors, paid by the restaurant, to obtain goods for her personal use.

In building a case against her, prosecutors were able to show that the defendant attempted to conceal her activities by asking vendors to alter invoices, creating phony e-mail messages and categorizing certain personal credit card expenses as being for corporate training. When the company began conducting an audit last year, she reportedly created a false corporate credit card statement so that the items that weren't authorized business expenses wouldn't be reflected.

One of the ways that a skilled defense attorney can help a person facing theft or embezzlement charges is by first having the charges consolidated. Often, prosecutors will stack multiple theft charges against a person, counting each individual act of theft as a separate incident. Experienced defense attorneys can usually have those consolidated as being each connected to a singular scheme, and therefore reduced to a singular charge.

Cases of white collar crime, such as this, require an attorney who understands both the legal process and the field of accounting and finance.

Continue reading "Restaurant Comptroller Pleads Guilty to $650k Embezzlement in D.C." »

September 18, 2012

D.C. Cops Search for 6-Year-Old Robbery Suspect

The robbery of cell phones is certainly not an uncommon crime in Washington D.C. these days. swing1.jpg

However, D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that the description of one of the suspects caused quite a stir: A 6 or 7-year-old boy, standing about 4 feet tall and weighing 100 pounds. He would be in first grade.

The victim was reportedly approached by a group of young people between the ages of 6 and 14 years-old.

There is no doubt that juveniles are increasingly being charged as adults for serious, felony crimes - including robbery. According to D.C. Criminal Code 22-2801 and D.C. Criminal Code 22-4502, robbery is is punishable by between 2 to 15 years in prison - assuming you haven't used a firearm, in which case the maximum doubles to 30 years in prison. If a person has a prior record, a minimum mandatory of between 5 or 10 years could be imposed.

But that's only if the the juvenile were charged as an adult.

The juvenile system works differently. The ultimate goal of the juvenile justice system is diversion, whereas the adult justice system centers on punishment. The idea is that a juvenile is more likely than an adult to turn his or her life around.

Recent Supreme Court decisions have determined that even when a juvenile is charged as an adult for a serious crime, he or she can not be sentenced to death or life in prison, as an adult would for the same crime.

Prosecutors use a number of factors to determine whether a juvenile defendant should be tried as an adult or a juvenile. For the most part, it comes down to the nature of the crime and the age of the juvenile. There is no question that a 17-year-old who commits robbery is going to be treated differently than a 6-year-old.

In fact, for any child under the age of 10, a juvenile defense lawyer may be able to make a strong case that the child did not understand right from wrong - particularly if he or she was under the influence or pressure from older peers.

According to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice, about 7 percent of the 1.5 million juvenile cases handled each year involve children under the age of 12. That amounts to about 110,000 total in the country. The vast majority of those cases are going to result in diversion programs.

The D.C. Deputy Attorney, quoted by The Washington Post with regard to the 6-year-old suspect, said that while it is unusual, it is not unprecedented. He said children as young as 8 years-old have been prosecuted for kidnapping, sex offenses, theft and assault.

The majority of juvenile offenses, however, are non-violent (about 70 percent). This case, although a felony, was not reported to be a violent crime, but rather a robbery by snatching.

Police are still cautiously vetting the information they received, as the victims were reportedly in the neighborhood to purchase drugs and had stopped at a fast food restaurant when they were reportedly robbed by the youths.

Continue reading "D.C. Cops Search for 6-Year-Old Robbery Suspect" »

September 17, 2012

D.C. Police Arrests Call Officer Credibility Into Question

It seems the Metro Police Department has some credibility issues. policeonthescene.jpg

Washington D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that in the past 3.5 years, more than 90 police officers - ranging from captains to patrol officers - have been arrested.

This might possibly work to the advantage of those facing criminal charges in D.C. An officer's internal record is considered public, and defense attorneys can access it if deemed relevant to the case at hand.

It's not that we think those who have been arrested are not trustworthy. But the issue is that the primary function of a police officer is to uphold the law. Right or wrong, we as a society hold police officers to a higher standard. When an officer is unable to uphold the law in his or her personal life, we as defense attorneys have a right to question his or her credibility on the job when pertinent to the case at hand.

As a theoretical example, let's say a detective is called to testify in a sexual assault case. Jurors tend to give a greater weight to the testimony of police officers because of their position of authority and sworn oath to uphold the law. However, let's say that detective got a DUI or was arrested for drug possession around the same time the investigation was ongoing. How can we trust the evidence this officer is presenting when we know he or she is known to be a substance abuser?

The Washington Examiner's analysis of arrest data of police officers reveals that some officers were event cuffed for serious offenses.

For example:

  • A detective was arrested in the summer of 2011 after he was accused of murdering his girlfriend and their 1-year-old daughter;
  • That same summer, an officer was incited on nine counts of sexual abuse involving three women;
  • Several weeks ago, a captain was arrested and charged with assault after he reportedly choked his wife in the back of a sport utility vehicle.

Now, it's not likely these officers will be able to hang onto their jobs, but others who have been arrested - and even convicted - most certainly have.

Here's the year-by-year breakdown:

  • 2009 - 26 officers arrested
  • 2010 - 17 officers arrested
  • 2011 - 29 officers arrested
  • 2012 - 19 officers arrested (to date)

What's more, this appears to be a problem that is quite unique to D.C. When you look at Philadelphia, which with 6,600 sworn officers has twice as many as D.C., there were just six arrests so far this year. Last year, there were 18 Philadelphia officers arrested, compared to 29 in D.C.

While it's true that the majority of these arrests are occurring when the officers are off-duty, an officer's credibility is called into question regardless. Internal education campaigns have been launched by the department, focusing on education with regard to substance abuse and domestic violence. But that's apparently not working.

Even the head of the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police isn't happy. He was quoted by a reporter as saying that there is a culture within the agency that allows officers off the hook for wrongdoing. In other words, there is zero accountability.

He went on to say that the fact that officers were pleading guilty and being convicted of serious felonies should be a wake-up call to the public - and the department.

Continue reading "D.C. Police Arrests Call Officer Credibility Into Question" »

September 12, 2012

Misdemeanor Crimes in D.C. Can Still Have Serious Consequences

A recent column by a Washington Post columnist lamented that groping is "a crime, not a misdemeanor." oldbicycle.jpg

Washington D.C. criminal defense lawyers want to point out that a misdemeanor is, in fact, a crime. And despite the fact that the court will not appoint you a lawyer for misdemeanor cases, you may still face serious consequences, and you will need an experienced legal advocate who is looking out for your best interests.

The case in question involves a male bicyclist accused of groping numerous women while he zoomed past. One woman's highly-publicized report of an incident in Dupont Circle resulted in a handful of other women coming forward to report similar experiences to police.

After police interviewed numerous witnesses, they began reviewing hours of surveillance footage of the areas where the alleged assaults were reported to have occurred. It was in the course of this aspect of the investigation that detectives were able to identify the suspect.

They then questioned him, and he reportedly confessed to the offenses for which he was accused, as well as potentially eight other offenses.

As a result, he was charged with misdemeanor sexual abuse. D.C. Criminal Code 22-3006 defines misdemeanor abuse as a person who engages in either a sexual contact or a sexual act with another person when the offender should have known that he or she did not have the other individual's permission.

One common example of misdemeanor sexual abuse might be unwanted groping of passengers on the Metro.

The maximum fine for a single count of misdemeanor sexual abuse is 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

This is what the columnist takes issue with. Her stance is that misdemeanor sexual abuse is not harsh enough, and that under current sentencing guidelines, someone who commits theft from a vending machine will get a harsher penalty (potentially up to three years).

D.C. defense attorneys might alternately argue that the penalties for vending machine theft are too high.

As it stands, the 31-year-old defendant in this case is charged with four counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse. That is a maximum penalty of up to five years behind bars.

By contrast, a fourth-degree felony sexual abuse charge is defined as unwanted sexual contact that involves reasonable fear of injury or a victim who is unconscious. Punishment for this offenses is up to five years in jail.

So felony or misdemeanor - in this case, the defendant is facing serious criminal charges. Even though a misdemeanor conviction is considered relatively minor, it can affect your future employment prospects - particularly if your alleged crimes were of a sexual nature.

Given the amount of proof police have, with the videotaped evidence and confession, it may be wise for this defendant's attorney to work toward some sort of reduced plea deal.

As he awaits his next court date, he's been ordered to stay away from the accusers and has been sent to live in a halfway house.

While this case is somewhat unique, the fact is a large majority of cases like this are the result of either misunderstandings or mistaken identity. They are difficult for prosecutors to prove, absent either multiple witnesses or surveillance video. Many defense attorneys have successfully had charges in cases like this reduced or dropped on these and other grounds.

Continue reading "Misdemeanor Crimes in D.C. Can Still Have Serious Consequences" »

September 6, 2012

Fighting for Reduced or Vacated Prostitution Charges for Trafficking Victims

In a slow shift in their approach toward prostitution, prosecutors are more frequently focusing their efforts primarily on pimps and madams - rather than the prostitutes themselves. womansillouhette.jpg

In fact, Washington D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that seven states - New York, Nevada, Vermont, Washington State, Maryland, Illinois and Hawaii - all have legislation that not only refers to prostitutes as "sex trafficking victims," but under certain circumstances, allows their charges to be dropped and their convictions to be vacated.

These laws include minors in particular, but not always.

Trafficking is defined as the use of force or threat of force or some type of coercion or fraud in order to sell any person for the use of commercial sex OR to cause a person under the age of 18 to engage in a sex act in exchange for money.

A recent article in the New York Times detailed how this approach was working in New York. There, prosecutors were choosing not to go after prostitutes, but rather those who profited from the sale of their bodies. Under old laws, pimps usually faced up to 15 years in prison. Now, updated laws carry a max sentence of up to 25 years. Plus, customers who pay for adult prostitutes used to face up to three months in jail. Now, they face up to a year.

While there is a similar federal law passed in 2000 that increased trafficking penalties, federal prosecutors typically don't have jurisdiction unless a person has been trafficked across state borders.

Right now in Washington, D.C., prostitutes are still arrested regularly. Sex trafficking leaves not only life-long emotional scars upon a victim, but it can also affect his or her future if that arrest or conviction remains on their record.

D.C. Criminal code 22-2701 lays forth that a prostitution arrest can result in up to 90 days in jail. Second or subsequent offenses may include increased jail time and harsh fines.

This is why it's important to have an experienced attorney represent you - one who understands that being victimized by human trafficking is not your fault.

Although D.C. prosecutors don't formally recognize trafficking as a defense to prosecution, if your defense attorney can prove that you were in fact a victim, you may be allowed to plead to some lesser offense or have the charges dropped in exchange for admission to a diversion program.

One of those is called Angels Project Power Program. It is operated by a former prostitute. She was raped and nearly killed in 1987 while working the downtown streets. She works to help prostitutes and trafficking victims learn life skills to help them heal and re-establish themselves in society.

Another resource to aid trafficking victims is the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force, which was founded in 2004. It works to identify victims of sex trafficking and to provide extensive services to these individuals.

Continue reading "Fighting for Reduced or Vacated Prostitution Charges for Trafficking Victims" »

September 4, 2012

Cell Phone Data Increasingly Used in Investigation and Prosecution of Crimes

D.C. criminal defense attorneys want potential clients to understand that your phone could be giving you away. pda.jpg

Police are ever more increasingly using cell phones to track suspects and solve crimes in D.C. and across the country. The advent of smart phones and global positioning devices is fast becoming evidence that can be just as much - if not more - damning than DNA, eyewitness testimony or ballistics.

A few recent examples:

  • Police in Idaho nabbed a murder suspect after tracking his phone on GPS. Once they were directed to his general location, a nearby witness was able to point them to his exact location.
  • Two Pennsylvania men were arrested after searching text messages in the victim's phone.
  • A New York man was arrested for taking pictures under a woman's skirt after she turned her phone on him and snapped a picture. Her photo helped police catch the suspect. The photos he'd taken with his phone helped lead to his conviction.
  • Detectives in Indiana found a number of cell phones during a drug bust. By searching the call log histories, they were able to connect others to the alleged drug rings, and scored several convictions, partially based on the phone data.

In that last case, the defendant's attorney appealed his conviction, saying that police's search of his phone was an invasion of privacy. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit disagreed, and said that such a search did not significantly violate his constitutional protection from an unreasonable search.

Text messages, GPS, videos, photos and call data - all of that can be traced and potentially used against you in court.

Prosecutors have been quoted as saying they bank on the fact that suspects use their phones to plan their crimes, document them or are panicking in the aftermath.

But it can also be a tool for defense as well. Most people don't do anything without their cell phone nearby. If defense lawyers can show that a client's phone was many miles away from where the alleged crime took place, a good argument can be made that a suspect wasn't anywhere nearby either.

Conversely, a defense attorney might attack the accuracy of those GPS devices or other evidence scraped from a cell phone and used to initiate an arrest or push forward with a prosecution.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that extraction of cell phone data is a fairly new technology, born out of the problem faced by customers who wanted to switch their cell phones or carriers, but also wanted to keep all their contacts and other data.

A New Jersey company that sells the technology to police departments has reportedly sold tens of thousands of systems. The devices used by police reportedly don't have the capability to write new data to the person's cell phone, as that would compromise the integrity of the evidence.

What is often a central point is that police often cross over the line with regard to what is a lawful search. Generally, an officer is allowed to conduct a search that is "incident to an arrest," meaning an officer can search a suspect's property, such as a purse or backpack, for items such as a weapon or anything else that might provide further evidence regarding the immediate circumstances. However, extraction of data from a cell phone doesn't necessarily constitute as a lawful search that can be conducted prior to obtaining a search warrant.

So if an officer searches your phone without a warrant, your D.C. criminal defense attorney may challenge whatever evidence was uncovered as a result on the basis that it's a violation of your constitution rights.

Continue reading "Cell Phone Data Increasingly Used in Investigation and Prosecution of Crimes" »