November 2012 Archives

November 30, 2012

D.C. Hate Crimes Against Homosexuals Increasing

Despite the establishment of a police department task force designed to address crimes against gay and lesbian victims, reported D.C. hate crimes have spiked in the last year, prompting advocates to decry police response. rainbowflag.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that there is some debate about whether the marked increase is the result of an actual increase in these crimes, or whether such crimes are simply being better reported and recorded. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier purports the latter. She recently even went so far as to hire an independent contractor to review the department's procedures and responses to anti-gay crimes.

That report should be back by early next year.

Still, as of the end of October, there were 51 hate crimes reported against gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual District residents. That is just two short of the overall record high of 53 in all of last year. There were 35 in 2010.

And as The New York Times noted in a recent story on the matter, a series of high-profile incidents has dragged the issue back into the spotlight.

Last year, there were a number of street killings, and one incident in which a police officer who was off-duty shot a transgendered individual he had solicited for sex after the individual refused the officer's demands. That officer was convicted last month of assault and solicitation of a prostitute, though he was acquitted on charges of assault with intent to kill. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

Although no one has been killed in similar incidents so far this year, there were back-to-back attacks in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, and then in July, a 16-year-old boy was stabbed in what is suspected to be a hate crime. Last month, a 23-year-old gay man was severely beaten on a street in Columbia Heights.

The responding officer in that case did not initially record the incident as a hate crime. The chief later responded that was because the officer hadn't at first been told that anti-gay slurs had been shouted moments prior to the attack.

Representatives from the Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence organization commented before the D.C. Council in a July meeting that the city has the highest rate of anti-LGBT violence in the country - and the problem is only getting worse.

When Chief Lanier accepted her position five years ago, she subsequently received a $100,000 grant for the lesbian and gay unit. Part of the changes she has made since then include distributing some 100 officers trained in LGBT crime response throughout the district, rather than having them primarily focused in the Dupont Circle area.

Some say this approach has failed to be effective.

As in many other areas of the country, D.C. imposes harsher penalties when the motivation for a crime is to strike out against an LGBT individual. D.C. code 22-3701 covers bias-related crimes, imposing a sentencing enhancement of 1.5 times the maximum fine and 1.5 times the maximum prison term if a person is found guilty of a hate crime.

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November 28, 2012

D.C. Robbery Cases to Spike With Holiday Shopping Season

Robbery, perhaps more so than other crimes, is often a matter of opportunity. mallinbudapest.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers know the more opportunity presents itself, the more robberies cases we are likely to see.

Starting with Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season, we are expecting to hear from an increasing number of robbery defendants. So, too, are police agencies, a number of which have announced they will mobilize task forces and special operations to specifically target robbery suspects from Nov. 23rd through Dec. 26th.

A recent case just outside of Arundel Mills Mall is likely just the beginning. According to the Anne Arundel County police, a 14-year-old boy was attacked just two hours after the shopping center opened to promote holiday sales. He was reportedly walking out of the Bed Bath & Beyond store shortly after 2 a.m. when a group of five males approached him from behind on the sidewalk. One of the men punched the teen while another grabbed the bag of items the teen had just bought.

The attackers were described by authorities as being between 17 and 21 years-old. Officers have not said what items were stolen, and the teen wasn't seriously injured.

But it's important to note that serious injury isn't necessary for a robbery charge to carry serious time.

In Washington D.C. the crime of robbery is spelled out in D.C. Criminal Code 22-2801 and 22-4502. It is a felony crime that requires three basic elements in order for prosecutors to secure a conviction. These are:

  • That there was force or violence, whether against someone's resistance or by sudden snatching or by making someone fearful of harm. A lot of people think robbery is just stealing something with a gun. But it could be pushing a person in order to take his or her bag. It could be threatening you with words. Even simply approaching someone in a manner perceived to be aggressive could satisfy this element.

  • That something of value was stolen. It doesn't need to be expensive, and it might not even be worth anything except to the person to whom it belongs. Theoretically, a stolen pencil could qualify.

  • Finally, the actual theft needs to take place either directly from that person or from the person's possession. Swiping a briefcase from the bus seat next to you could be considered robbery. However, if that same briefcase is stolen from an unlocked vehicle, that is considered a burglary.

A robbery conviction can result in a prison sentence of anywhere from 2 to 15 years. If you use a firearm, the charge is upgraded to armed robbery, which doubles the maximum prison sentence to 30 years. At minimum, an armed robbery conviction will result in a five-year prison term.

This is why it is so critical for anyone being investigated for robbery to contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Be sure that in the interim, you make no statement to police - or to anyone else - about the alleged incident.

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November 23, 2012

D.C. Gang Members Face More Serious Penalties for Crimes

Nearly a dozen men, labeled gang members, were arrested for reportedly robbing and attacking homeless people and others who had been deemed "vulnerable" in the D.C. area. Namely, the attacks occurred in Chinatown, Adams Morgan and U Street.friends1.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers
know anytime a person is labeled as a "gang member," the crimes for which they are charged are going to carry more weight because prosecutors can then argue that the action was taken in order to further the cause of a criminal organization. That's bad because it means stiffer sentences and higher fines.

In 2007, the District passed a law called the D.C. Criminal Street Gang statute, found in D.C. Code 22-951. It makes it a misdemeanor offense to solicit, invite or otherwise recruit another person to join a criminal street gang. These are groups of six or more people that require crimes of violence as a condition of membership or that perpetuate such criminal acts as part of its frequent activities or core purpose. The law also makes it a felony - punishable by up to five years - if you knowingly or willfully participate in either a felony or a violent misdemeanor for the purpose or benefit of the gang. This is on top of whatever sanction you would receive for the underlying crime.

In this case, the men, between the ages of 18 and 20, were reportedly led by a "president" who directed a series of violent actions against numerous individuals. In June alone, prosecutors say the group carried out the following acts:

  • Assaulted, beat and robbed a man around 3:30 a.m. as he walked near a bus stop on H Street NW;

  • Targeted a Hispanic man for an attack around 3:45 a.m., hurling racial epithets at him as they punched him, leading to additional charges under the district's hate crime statutes;

  • Targeted a homeless man around 4 a.m. near K Street NE, stole his backpack containing his clothes and tried to take his shoes. Crimes against the homeless are also considered hate crimes;

  • A "flash mob" of members targeted a gas station on Florida Avenue to steal numerous items;

  • Surrounded a woman leaving the Metro train and robbed her of her phone;

  • Gained entry into an unoccupied house, sprayed graffiti throughout and broke a window;

  • Targeted a former member at night at a bus stop and threatened to kill him if he spoke to police;

  • Robbed a man at Metro Center.

Among the charges the men are facing are theft, robbery and assault.

The group reportedly didn't call themselves a "gang," but rather a "crew," that organized using social media, including YouTube and Facebook.

Still, they might, under the technical definition, qualify as a criminal gang.

According to the FBI, some 1.4 million people in the U.S. are members to some 33,000 gangs. A recent report indicates those organizations are responsible for nearly half of all violent crimes, with a number of organizations sourcing weapons from the military.

Business Insider lists the gangs that are highest on the FBI radar as:

  • The 18th Street Gang;

  • Florencia 13;

  • Barrio Azteca;

  • Juggalos;

  • The Almighty Latin King Nation

  • Somali gangs;

  • MS-13;

  • Trinitarios;

  • Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos;

  • Mexican Mafia;

  • Mongols;

  • Vagos Motorcycle Club;

  • Wheels of Soul.

Continue reading "D.C. Gang Members Face More Serious Penalties for Crimes" »

November 20, 2012

D.C. Parental Kidnapping Charges, Domestic Cases, Require Legal Help

Two people are facing charges of child abduction in Virginia after they reportedly refused to surrender custody of their 1-year-old child, as per a court order. hands1.jpg

D.C. criminal defense attorneys know that while we hear so much about stranger kidnappings, the fact is, most child kidnappings involve at least one of the parents or a close family member.

Parental kidnapping is when a parent either takes, keeps or hides a child from the other parent, another family member or other guardian in violation of custody arrangements or rights.

D.C. Code 22-2001 defines kidnapping as the aiding, abetting, seizing, confining, enticing, decoying, kidnapping, carrying away, concealing, abducting or holding and detaining a person. This charge is considered a Class A felony, which means a conviction could result in up to 30 years in prison.

There is also D.C. Code 16-1021-1024, which forbids parents, relatives or others from concealing a child from the other parent or person who has legal custody. People who aid someone in this action can also be charged criminally.

If the charge is filed as a misdemeanor, the result will usually be a fine, probation and community service. If it's charged as a felony, but the child was out of lawful custody for less than a month, the parent could face up to six months in jail. If, however, the term the child is concealed is longer than a month, you could serve up to a year with fines of up to $5,000.

You may in some cases be able to have the charge pleaded down to a misdemeanor if you return the child to a safe place without injury prior to your arrest.

This is why, No. 1, a good family law attorney is key to hopefully avoiding such a situation in the first place. But it's also critical if you are arrested for child kidnapping or other domestic event that you hire an experienced criminal attorney. You can't assume that just because the "kidnapped" person involved is your own child that the court won't take it very seriously and impose a maximum sentence.

The U.S. Justice Department estimates that more than 350,000 children are abducted each year by family members. In about half of these cases, the kids were taken across state lines. Some were even taken out of the country.

Interestingly, prior to the late 1960s, a parent who abducted his or her child actually stood a great chance of being awarded custody in the end, as custody was typically given on the basis of the parent's actual physical presence with the child. But then the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, a federal measure, made it so that there is interstate recognition of custody agreements throughout the country. So the custody agreement that is valid in Virginia is also valid in D.C. and Maryland and throughout the U.S.

Some legal defenses to these charges include:

  • If the child was taken in order to prevent him or her from immediate physical harm;

  • If the child was taken in the course of protecting the parent from imminent physical harm;

  • If the act was consented to by the other parent;

  • If the action was otherwise authorized by law.

In this case out of Virginia, the child was legally in the custody of child protective service workers, though she was placed in the home of a relative. The couple were supposed to return her to child protective services, but instead did not arrive.

Police issued an Amber Alert, alleging the child could be in "extreme danger." However, the three were found a short time later in Prince George, with the child unharmed.

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November 10, 2012

D.C. Restaurant Owner Pleads Guilty to Drug Carry-Out Scheme

From the outside, it appeared to be nothing more than a popular, fish filet carry-out restaurant. sugar.jpg

However, investigators caught wind of a different kind of scheme cooking up there. D.C. criminal defense lawyers have learned that the owner of that restaurant has now pleaded guilty to using his restaurant as a front for cocaine distribution.

He was convicted in federal court where he pleaded guilty after a week-long trial, immediately after he testified in his own defense.

The timing of this plea deal would suggest that his testimony was particularly damning, which illustrates why it can be incredibly risky to put a defendant on the stand in his or her own criminal case.

Why? Shouldn't a person be allowed to make the case for their innocence?

Sure, and you do have that right. But many defense attorneys will use it as a last resort during a jury trial because then the burden of proof almost shifts from, "Did the state prove its case?" to "Do I believe the defendant?" That can be a fatal move for some defense teams, particularly when you have a defendant who may be unlikable. Although criminal cases are not popularity contests and should never be decided that way, juries are comprised of fallible human beings who can be susceptible to such influences.

Plus, when a defendant is placed on the stand, he or she is subjected to cross-examination. This is where the prosecuting attorney can directly ask you questions while you are under oath, on the witness stand and you do not have the benefit of your attorney answering or speaking for you. Prosecutors are often skilled interrogators, and are very good at turning your own honest words against you.

Generally, an attorney will only put a defendant on the stand when the state's evidence is overwhelming and there is no other choice.

In this case, the defendant all but proved the prosecution's case when he got on the stand and testified that he had entered into an arrangement with two younger men, which allowed them to conduct cocaine deals inside his restaurant so that they would not be seen by police. In exchange, he received a cut of the proceeds.

These deals reportedly took place anywhere from 10 to 15 times daily, every single day.

Officers received tips regarding the operation, but didn't get a major break until a successful undercover operation when two officers made separate cocaine purchases inside the store. In both instances, the restaurant owner reportedly facilitated the transactions and then took a cut.

The other two men in the case had already pleaded guilty to cocaine charges, with one now serving an 18-month sentence and the other still awaiting sentencing.

A conviction on a federal charge of distribution of cocaine carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

D.C. Code 48-904.01 prohibits the sale or distribution of any restricted narcotic. Penalties vary depending on the type of substance. Cocaine, for example, is a Schedule II drug that is considered narcotic or abusive, the sale of which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years, same as for a Schedule I drug offense. For Schedule I or II non-abusive drugs or Schedule III substances, the penalty is up to 5 years with a maximum fine of $50,000.

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November 8, 2012

U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Drug-Sniffing Dog Scope

Should a police officer be allowed to go door-to-door in your neighborhood with a trained canine, searching for drugs at random? germanshepherd1.jpg

What about the use a signal from a trained canine to search your car, even if that canine has proven itself unreliable?

D.C. criminal defense attorneys know these are the questions before the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court in two separate cases involving the use of trained law enforcement canines.

Oral arguments were heard on Halloween, and a ruling is expected some time next June. The outcome could have far-reaching implications in terms of how law enforcement searches involving dogs are conducted.

In both cases, which originated in Florida, the state supreme court agreed with the defendants, reasoning the government had overreached the scope of its authority under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

A great deal is at stake here, as attorneys general with 24 other states have urged the Supreme Court justices to side with the state of Florida in this matter.

Despite the fact that the court has generally leaned favorably toward law enforcement in matters such as these, this may not be as clear-cut.

The first case, Jardines v. Florida, involves a drug-sniffing dog named Franky and his police officer handler. Detectives in the Miami-area had received word that Jardines was operating a marijuana grow house in their district. Using this information, the officer approached the home with Franky. The officer claims he smelled marijuana as he stood on the front porch (as a trick-or-treater or door-to-door salesman might). However, where this gets tricky is that Franky at that point positively alerted to drug detection.

Based upon this, the officer left and successfully obtained a search warrant. From there, officers searched the home and did find a marijuana grow operation. The district court judge tossed evidence relating to that search, reasoning that a person had a reasonable expectation of privacy in their home, and further that the law enforcement officer's actions with respect to the use of the dog on the doorstep were a gross invasion of that privacy. The appellate court later reversed that decision, but the state supreme court affirmed the earlier ruling.

The state's high court also tossed evidence obtained by Aldo, a police dog working for a rural county sheriff. In that case, officers pulled over a individual and searched his vehicle after Aldo indicated affirmatively to the presence of drugs. Officers found methamphetamine. The defendant was arrested and released on bond. Two months later - same officer, same dog, stopped the same man. The dog again alerted for drugs. However this time, none were found. It was for this reason that the district court tossed the evidence uncovered in the first search. The state supreme court ruled that a dog's training is not enough to establish reliability in court.

In the meantime, the courts have generally held that drug dogs were appropriate for use in the commission of traffic stops. So if you are arrested for drug offenses in the D.C. area, contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

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November 1, 2012

Police Target Robberies in D.C.

Police in D.C. have been boosting their efforts to thwart and catch suspected robbers, after noting a rash of cases over the last year. gun.jpg

However, D.C. criminal defense attorneys understand that these increased patrols, according to The Washington Times, haven't been very effective.

What's interesting here is that it tends to disprove the notion that more police action or presence means less crime. Everyone from police agencies to legislators use theories like this to expand operations, increase budgets and strengthen penalties for certain actions. Here, we see that such action isn't always the answer.

Last year, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier used this theory as the basis for an initiative called "All Hands on Deck." It's a cutesy title for an initiative that saturates city streets with patrolling officers, specifically in an effort to drive down robbery statistics.

But when reporters with the Times analyzed the data, they couldn't find much justification for the effort. One recent weekend, officers took to the streets in full force as part of the initiative. And yet, over the three-day weekend, more than 60 robberies were reported. This is not outrageous, except for when you look at the numbers for the previous weekend. During that time, when the saturation patrols weren't occurring, there were only 40 robberies reported.

A spokeswoman for the police department blamed it on Howard University's homecoming. In the Third District, where the homecoming took place, there were 13 robberies over the weekend (with more than 75 crimes total reported there). But meanwhile, in the Fourth District, there were 14 robberies that same weekend. So the homecoming theory doesn't quite pan out either.

During that same time frame, there were a total of more than 300 crimes reported, including 17 assaults with a deadly weapon, 26 auto thefts, 86 thefts from vehicles and a sexual assault.

Even the local police union is critical of the effort, with a spokesman saying that it proves the effort does little to curb crime, and in fact is more for public relations purposes.

On the whole, robberies are up 6 percent in D.C. this year. There were approximately 3,445 reported in D.C. as of Oct. 21. During the same time last year, there were 3,235. Overall, crime has inched up by about 3 percent.

In one of the recent robberies, a man was reportedly approached by a group of four others and robbed at gunpoint on Underwood Street. In another case, which happened in broad daylight on a Sunday, a man stopped another on the street and robbed him of his wallet at knifepoint.

Robbery is different than other crimes in that it is actually a combination of two crimes: theft and assault. It is not enough that you have merely stolen something. In order to be convicted of robbery in D.C., prosecutors have to show that you stole something of value with the use of violence, the threat of violence or sudden snatching.

Robbery in D.C. is a felony, punishable by between 2 an 15 years in prison. It's a serious crime for which you need skilled representation.

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