December 2012 Archives

December 30, 2012

Jackson v. U.S. - Do "Furtive Gestures" Justify Car Searches?

D.C. criminal defense attorneys know that one of the first things we analyze following a traffic arrest is whether the officer had probable cause both to stop the vehicle or search it in the first place. drivefast.jpg

Recently, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled that the "furtive gestures" of a passenger are not necessarily enough to justify a search. As such, the charges against the defendant in Jackson v. U.S. will likely be dismissed.

According to court records, the defendant, Mr. Jackson, entered a conditional plea of guilty to one count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. He was reportedly pulled over by a D.C. police officer back in 2010. He was driving in his own van, and the officer reportedly stopped him for having window tinting that was too dark. The officer reportedly searched the vehicle, and discovered cocaine that was hidden in the steering wheel horn.

Jackson, upon appeal, asserted that the cocaine and other evidence found in the van should be suppressed - or barred from being considered as evidence - because the officer conducted a search of his vehicle without "reasonable articulable suspicion.

The appellate court agreed, finding that the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion that he may be dealing with a dangerous person, and thus the van search violated Mr. Jackson's rights under the Fourth Amendment.

At issue is the standard for "furtive gestures." The officer testified that after stopping the vehicle, which had been driven by a female, the officer noted that the vehicle began to rock, and there was "a lot of shaking." Rather than running registration, as he might normally, the officer immediately stepped out of his vehicle and walked tot he side of the driver's side door.

Once there, the officer noted that a man was behind the wheel, later identified as Mr. Jackson. The officer said there was a lot of movement and commotion going on in the front of the dash area with the occupants' hands. The officer said such movements were both unusual and unnecessary.

As such, the officer ordered Mr. Jackson out of the vehicle. He asked whether he had any weapons. Mr. Jackson answered no. The officer said the defendant appeared nervous. The officer actually testified that he could "feel how hard Jackson's heart was beating." How he did this is not actually clear.

He subsequently searched the car for weapons. He found an open container of gin, empty plastic bags and a small hatchet. The officer then noticed the horn appeared out of position, and when he inspected it more closely, noted several plastic bags inside containing cocaine. Mr. Jackson was subsequently arrested.

The officer was right about the window tinting - it was too dark. Mr. Jackson did have a valid license, but his vehicle registration was expired.

The trial court later ruled that the officer had probable cause to stop the van based on the window tinting. The trial court further ruled that the officer's observations of the two switching places and the furtive hand gestures were justification for a search of the vehicle.

However, the appellate court ruled that this was not "sufficient to arouse reasonable fear" that Mr. Jackson was dangerous. There was nothing in particular to indicate he was retrieving or hiding a weapon. That is, the whole reason "furtive gestures" are a valid reason to search a vehicle is that they may suggest a person is reaching for a weapon. If the prosecution can't prove that there was a reasonable suspicion of this - and in this case, they could not - then everything found in the subsequent search may be suppressed.

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December 26, 2012

D.C. Domestic Violence Arrests Spike on New Year's Eve

Many people find New Year's Eve a time to celebrate - maybe eat a little too much food and drink a bit too much booze. fist1.jpg

It's also a night when things end up going wrong. Our D.C. domestic violence lawyers understand that, according to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, reports of domestic violence shoot up by as much as 30 percent on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

This follows a decrease of reports on Thanksgiving and through Christmas. It seems people work hard to suppress relationship troubles through the holidays. But come New Year's Eve, tensions are high and arguments bubble over. Add alcohol to this fire, and the result can be explosive.

Criminal defense lawyers in D.C. are all too familiar with the fact that when these situations are reported to police, details are sometimes confused, exaggerated or made up altogether. This can have very serious consequences to your future if you are the one determined by police to be the aggressor.

Depending on the extent of the injuries, you may be charged with either a misdemeanor or felony. This could mean not only potential incarceration, you could face hefty fines, requirements to attend batterer's intervention courses and face sanctions in terms of child custody and visitation. Plus, because this is a crime of violence, you may encounter problems with your job.

The fact is, it doesn't take much for police to make this determination. Often in an attempt to avoid liability and separate both parties for the sake of not having to return that night, officers will make an arrest based on very little evidence. The laws are written in such a way that they don't even require the cooperation of the alleged victim to do so.

What that means for you is that many domestic violence cases are completely beatable in court.

One of the first things our attorneys will look at is whether the actions you took on the day in question were the result of an act of self-defense. This would apply if you have a reasonable belief that you or someone you are trying to protect is going to suffer some serious harm if you don't fight back.

Another potential defense is whether the actions taken were accidental, and not intended to harm your spouse or family member.

And finally, we would look at the possibility of false allegations. This is the type of crime that all it takes for an arrest is the word of someone else. So if you and your spouse are warring, it is not out of the question that allegations could be made out of anger, revenge or jealousy.

It's no way to start off the New Year. Let us help you get back on the right foot.

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December 19, 2012

Daycare Death Neglect Charges Dropped Against Worker

Charges of child neglect stemming from the death of an infant while in the care of an unlicensed daycare in Virginia have been dropped, authorities announced. fingerpaints.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand the decision came following a hearing in which a judge granted a defense motion to strike all evidence in the case.

Part of the reason the judge may have been more apt to grant the motion is that the standard for criminal child neglect charges in Virginia is quite high. It requires that the court show gross negligence or wanton disregard for safety.

However, D.C. Ann. Code 16-2301 allows that neglect is committed when a child:

  • Is not reasonably protected by a parent or guardian from abuse inflicted by another;

  • Is without proper parental care, control, food, education, shelter, medical treatment or other care that may be necessary to physical, mental or emotional health;

  • Is born addicted to drugs or alcohol.

There are, however, key exceptions to this. It is not considered neglect when the deprivation of any of these items is the result of not having enough money to do so. It's also not considered neglect when a parent, in good faith, subjects their child solely to spiritual healing by an accredited practitioner in lieu of medical treatment. Neglect and abuse also doesn't come into play when a parent is disciplining a child. However, this discipline has limits. The following are examples of actions considered to be abuse no matter what:

  • Burning, cutting or biting a child;

  • Hitting a child with a closed fist;

  • Kicking, shaking or throwing a child;

  • Any non-accidental injury to a child younger than 1.5 years;

  • Interfering with a child's breathing;

  • Using a dangerous weapon on a child or threatening to do so.

In this case out of Virginia, there was no abuse alleged. However, neglect was initially alleged for several reasons. First, the facility was not licensed to be operating. Secondly, two adults were placed in charge of 23 children, five of whom were under the age of 1. The oldest child was 4-years-old.

One of the infants, a 3-month-old girl, at one point appeared to stop breathing without warning. One of the two women there called 911, and was instructed on how to perform CPR, which she did. However, by the time she was transported to the hospital, the child was dead.

The cause and manner of death was not determined, which often is an indication of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. The girl had no obvious signs of trauma.

The two workers were both charged with five counts of child neglect - one for each of the infants.

The owners and operators, who were out of the country at the time of the incident, were charged with felony and misdemeanor charges, including reckless endangerment, obtaining money by false pretenses and running an unlicensed daycare. Both received probation.

In dropping the charges against one of the employees, the judge said that as an employee, the worker had no authority to alter the circumstances at the facility and may not have even known the facility was not licensed. Charges against the other worker are expected to be dropped as well.

Although those involved in this case appear to have escaped some of the harshest punishment that could have been meted out, allegations of child neglect or abuse have the potential to result in years behind bars. It's not a situation you want to leave to chance.

Contact an experienced D.C. criminal defense attorney if you have been arrested or suspect you are under investigation.

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December 18, 2012

D.C. Police Technology Falters on Crime Statistics

Has crime in Washington D.C. fluctuated at all in the past month? magnifyingglass.jpg

The Metropolitan Police Department wouldn't know because for months, a new data system has prevented the agency from accurately tallying its daily crime report numbers, according to the Washington Times.

The $1.8 million system, purchased last year in an effort to help the agency track and curb crime, has resulted in wildly skewed statistics - leaving the agency intelligence at a disadvantage and unsure of which areas in the city might require more police attention.

D.C. criminal defense lawyers
know that while this doesn't necessarily have a direct impact on those who are arrested, it's indicative of the fact that law enforcement technology is nowhere near perfect.

Neither are their investigations. Just look at the probe into the recent fatal shooting of a local 14-year-old and wounding of another teen. Initially, police arrested a 24-year-old on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree assault. At the same time, they issued a warrant for a 22-year-old man on the same charges. But days later, authorities dropped the charges against the 22-year-old, saying they were instead looking for an 18-year-old suspect.

For an innocent person to be wrongfully charged with murder - even if only for a few days - is an extremely rattling prospect. Too often, the cops get it wrong.

Everyone charged with a serious crime needs a lawyer, regardless of guilt. However, sometimes those who are innocent assume the truth will set them free. It's a nice sentiment, but it's a good way to spend 2013 in a jail cell. Even though the law presumes you are innocent until proven guilty, most often, you will need a good lawyer.

Meanwhile, Metro police are insisting that the technology glitch they are experiencing with their crime tracking isn't affecting their ability to respond to criminal activity as it happens. But when it comes to spotting trends or connecting similar incidents, it's been problematic.

The Times reports that the department had been using the newer system alongside the older system through September --the older system was officially retired in October. It was at that time that they began to see discrepancies in the number of crimes reported versus how many they believed had actually been committed.

The department has since stopped distributing a daily crime report to the media until the data system issues are resolved. This follows the two-time suspension this year of crime-mapping technology that allowed the public to review crime data throughout the city. Perhaps not coincidentally, both of these "black-outs" occurred during large spikes in violent crime.

Still, officials insist that once they work out all the bugs with their newest technology, it will allow them to enhance their intelligence and improve the effectiveness of their investigations.

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December 15, 2012

D.C. Defense Lawyers Advise Sex Crimes Defendants to Remain Silent

A 19-year-old suspect in a series of D.C. sexual assaults has reportedly admitted to at least two of the crimes of which he is accused, according to media reports. imyself.jpg

As a D.C. criminal defense lawyer, I wanted to highlight this case because it's an example of what not to do after you are arrested. The defendant in this case had no attorney and, when questioned by police, gave a full confession. As a result, he has essentially handed the case to prosecutors with a red holiday bow tied on top.

Here's what reportedly happened, according to court records:

In the first case, the accuser indicated that she answered a knock at the door around 2 p.m. one day. A man was standing outside and reportedly pushed his way inside her apartment in Northeast Washington. Once inside, he reportedly knocked her to the floor, attempted to sexually assault her. He then allegedly punched, kicked and stabbed her. She suffered wounds to her face, back, legs and head. He left her on the floor unconscious. She was listed in critical condition, though expected to survive.

A week later, police reported that the same defendant went into a female dorm at Howard University and pushed his way into a woman's room. He then reportedly struck her, brandished brass knuckles with a sharp blade and began to sexually assault her. When she yelled for him to stop, the defendant reportedly stopped. He then grabbed a piece of paper, wrote an abbreviation of his name and his cell phone number on it. He left the piece of paper in the room and then left.

Police were able to use this information, in combination with surveillance video from the earlier incident, to arrest the 19-year-old suspect.

Upon his arrest, he told police that he had only attempted to rob the first woman. In the second incident, he maintained the encounter was consensual.

Students at the dorm told police a man fitting the defendant's description had been loitering in the area on numerous occasions, but had always departed when told.

The defendant is charged with assault with intent to kill, assault with intent to commit first-degree sexual abuse and first-degree sexual abuse. These are all very serious crimes for which the defendant is facing a lengthy prison sentence.

First-degree sexual abuse alone, under D.C. Criminal Code 22-2002, can carry a life sentence and a fine of up to $250,000. Essentially to prove this crime, prosecutors have to show that the defendant engaged another person in a sexual act, either by actual physical force or by threat of force that placed the other person in reasonable fear that failure to do so would result in death or serious injury. It also may involve rendering the other person unconscious through the use of a chemical or drug in order to sexually assault that person.

Upon your arrest, police are required to read you what are known as "Miranda Rights," and included in these is your right to remain silent, with the advisement that anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law. This is essential to keep in mind, particularly when you are facing such grave charges.

There are ways that confessions can be refuted in court, but it can be tough. So the general advice we give everyone arrested in a crime is this: Stay silent, except to demand an attorney.

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December 12, 2012

D.C. Synthetic Drugs Target of Proposed Local Ban

A proposed bill would have D.C. join the ranks of some 40 states that have banned so-called synthetic marijuana and bath salts, which exploded onto the market just two years ago. chaitea.jpg

D.C. criminal defense attorneys believe the measure is somewhat redundant, as the federal government banned the substances back in July, kicking off a massive federal crackdown on importers and distributors. About 90 retailers, importers and middlemen were arrested.

The federal measure, signed by President Barack Obama, made it illegal to sell 31 specific synthetic stimulant, hallucinogenic and cannabinoid compounds. Prior to the passage of that measure, the Drug Enforcement Administration had placed them under an emergency ban. They have been historically marketed under names like Spice, K2 or Ivory Wave. These substances have been around a while, but they have only recently become popular.

They have gained notoriety with the increasing wave of emergency room visits and poison control center calls that have been attributed to their use. They can be either sniffed, snorted or smoked, and have been reported to prompt rapid heart beat, delusions and paranoia that has resulted in violent acts and even sudden suicide. Some acts have been increasingly bizarre, such as a suspected user discovered wandering in the woods of West Virginia in female underwear after stabbing a goat.

The federal law was hailed as a measure that would close loopholes that allowed manufacturers to bypass local and state measures to legally buy and sell these products.

So as of right now, anyone can be charged federally for selling the substances, but issues of individual use have been left primarily up to the states. The problem has been that these substances tend to defy the traditional classifications that we give drugs in the U.S.

For example, it's easy to say that cocaine is banned. It is a very specific substance, and even its derivatives, such as crack, tend to be comprised of the same basic ingredients or active organic/chemical compounds that make it effective. But synthetic drugs are different. That's because they are manufactured, not grown or harvested. So if the government bans one formula, manufacturers can easily go out, tweak the ingredients and come up with a new product that is street legal.

The DEA has attempted to close this loophole by, for example, defining synthetic marijuana as any substance in which a mix of spices or herbs are sprayed with a synthetic form of THC.

The D.C. proposal would restrict the use of drugs in the district. The measure was proposed by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary. He said the district has been grappling with ways to cope with the problem over the last handful of years. But this is the beginning of a formal attempt to outlaw possession of the drugs in D.C.

Our D.C. defense lawyers will be closely following the developments of this measure as it progresses.

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December 12, 2012

Fewer D.C. Traffic Tickets Likely With Increased Speed Limits

You may be less likely to get a traffic ticket in D.C., as district leaders are set to increase speed limits on parts of a couple well-traveled thoroughfares. speedometer.jpg

Our D.C. traffic defense attorneys understand that the two roads are DC-295 and Benning Road near the old Pepco power plant.

A big part of the problem has been the crush of complaints received regarding the automated speed enforcement cameras. So many "violators" have been ticketed that in the most recent fiscal year, the district raked in nearly $180 million in fines. The amount of each violation is based on how fast the vehicle is reportedly traveling. The faster the speed, the higher the fine. In some cases, people have received multiple $250 tickets.

Amid the chorus of complaints, Mayor Vincent Gray issued an executive order that reduced the fines. Additionally, city council is still deciding whether to push forward with legislation that would even further reduce those fines.

A huge part of the problem is that Benning Road is an eight-lane roadway. Yet, the speed limit is just 30 miles per hour. With the cameras posted above, it's essentially nothing more than a speed trap and a revenue hog.

The mayor now says that in the widest parts of the roadway, the speed limit will be increased - by a whole 5 miles per hour, to 35 miles per hour.

It's a similar story on DC-295, where posted speed limits range from 40 to 45 to 50 miles per hour. There, the mayor has said he plans to implement a consistent speed along that road, to 50 miles per hour.

These new speed limits should be in place by the second week of December.

The mayor said he is also carrying out studies to discern whether speed limits on other district roadways require adjustment.

D.C. traffic lawyers know that most people simply pay speeding tickets simply to be done with it. What they may not realize is that they can prompt your insurance company to hike up your premiums and they may even prevent you from doing certain types of jobs, if you rack up enough of them. People may also face the possibility of criminal charges. If you are traveling more than 30 miles per hour over the speed limit, you face up to three months in jail. You may also face a charge of reckless driving.

Getting a ticket from a speed camera does not mean you automatically are convicted.

In fact, it's worth noting that in Maryland, major problems have been recently uncovered in their construction zone speed cameras. According to The Washington Times, the contractor who manages the program was not adequately vetted and the equipment wasn't properly calibrated prior to it going into operation. That's according to a recent audit. This means there could be nearly $1 million in state revenue that could be lost as a result of this oversight. More importantly for the public, it could mean that a large number of traffic tickets can be successfully challenged in court.

The work zone cameras in so-called Maryland SafetyZones automatically slap speeders with a $40 ticket. Again, many people simply paid these believing that they had no choice and it wasn't worth the hassle to take it to court. But they end up paying more in insurance than they would have had they simply paid a lawyer. By doing the latter, it may be a wash, but at least they don't have the offense lingering on their driving record.

A study last year conducted by the U.S. PIRG, numerous traffic enforcement cameras are riddled with problems, including the fact that they actually cause more accidents because motorists slam on their brakes trying not to get a ticket.

Arizona and several cities in California terminated their contracts as a result.

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December 7, 2012

Bill: D.C. Criminal Record Shouldn't Hurt Employment Chances

D.C. Council members are mulling a proposed bill that would ban employers from asking about a person's criminal past until after the position has been offered. Even then, the job couldn't be rescinded if a criminal record is revealed - unless that crime would somehow impact the person's ability to do the job. interview.jpg

It would also prevent such questions from being asked during the course of real estate transactions.

D.C. criminal defense lawyers are hopeful that this law will be passed, particularly given the support it has gained from from a handful of high-profile backers.

However, it can't be understated how a criminal record can impact your future, and in particular your chances of employment. This is why it is so important to hire a skilled criminal defense attorney after your arrest. You want someone with proven experience who can improve your chances of having the charges against you reduced or dismissed entirely.

It goes beyond the immediate benefit of lesser fines and jail time. It is an investment in your future.

Even if an employer can't ask about your criminal record, many private companies and public entities are required as a matter of policy to conduct background checks. In some jobs, it's considered more important than others. For example, jobs that require employees to work directly with children or the disabled or elderly will inevitably require criminal background information. Those who have been convicted of any crime involving violence may have a very difficult time landing the position.

Similarly, someone convicted of a financial crime, such as check fraud or theft, may be denied jobs where you regularly handle money, including everything from cashier to banker.

The D.C. measure has divided politicians, but it has passed a committee vote.

Councilman Marion Barry has said that employers too often discriminate against those who have been convicted of a crime. Though he served as mayor of the district for 16 years, he gained national notoriety for his 1990 arrest on crack cocaine charges. He said a person's criminal past should be categorized in a protective class the same way race, religion and sexual preference are.

Councilman Jim Graham's chief of staff was quoted as saying he was previously arrested nearly 40 times for his connection to drug sale crimes back in the 1980s. He said he was given a second chance by Woodland while working on his first council campaign and was eventually promoted to a full-time position. Still, he said very few in his position have been as fortunate. In trying to put the pieces of their lives back together, they have few options - with little support, they can't find a job or a place to live.

It is this same concern that prompted the introduction of H.R. 6220 in the House of Representatives. It's also known as the "Ban the Box" bill, as in, ban the box that requires job applicants to say whether they've been previously convicted of a crime. Similar to the D.C. measure, it would make it unlawful for certain employers to seek information regarding an applicant's criminal past. However, the bill was referred to a committee in late July, when it was introduced, and it's been given a slim chance of being enacted without changes.

Regardless of whether this or the local bill passes, the only way to truly eliminate worry over the question of your criminal background is to not be convicted in the first place. This involves either being found not guilty, having the charges dismissed, having your record expunged or having been a juvenile at the time the crime was committed.

As we wait to see what will happen in D.C., keep these things in mind if you do have a criminal record and are attempting to get a job.

  • Be truthful on your job application;

  • Provide a detailed explanation regarding the circumstances - if they are favorable to you - and your efforts at rehabilitation;

  • Provide stellar professional and/or personal references from people who don't have criminal records.

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