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June 12, 2012

Two Plead Guilty in D.C. Carjacking, Robberies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May 28, 2012

D.C. Criminal Lawyers Advise Against Fleeing

Washington D.C. criminal defense attorneys know that rarely is a good idea to flee from police. crosswalk.jpg

Not only are you probably going to get caught, but when you do, your D.C. criminal defense is going to likely include fleeing or resisting charges - in addition to whatever the charge was that you were trying to get out of in the first place.

What's more, in some cases, fleeing almost guarantees criminal charges, whereas you may have actually faced nothing had you simply stopped.

Take for example a recent case of a jaywalker who is now facing a host of D.C. weapons charges.

According to The Washington Post, police officers noted three men and a woman jaywalking. Now you may be aware of some of the jaywalking stings that Metropolitan Police have been conducting. In some cases, police will issue a warning. In others, they write a $20 citation. In either case, you'll probably get a lecture and be sent on your way.

However, fleeing is going to grab their attention - and then they're likely to grab you.

That's what happened to the 21-year-old in this case. He was among four who were reportedly jaywalking around 4 p.m. on a Wednesday.

An officer reportedly tried to stop them, presumably to give them a lecture about crossing the street at an appropriate juncture. But the 21-year-old took off running.

At the time when police first stopped him, he had a red backpack slung over his shoulder.

When police finally caught up to him, the backpack was gone. Sly investigators that they were, they were able to retrace the jaywalker's steps, finding the backpack in a trash can that sat near a residential driveway. Nearby, two children were playing.

Inside that backpack, officers found a firearm.

He is now facing weapons charges - in addition to fleeing. To make matters worse, he is also facing robbery and assault charges, for which he is scheduled to appear in court in mid-June.

According to D.C. Criminal Code 22-4503, simple possession of a firearm can be illegal in D.C. if you are a convicted felon, are a drug addict, have been convicted of certain kinds of misdemeanors (such as domestic violence), have been previously convicted of a firearms charge or if you currently have a civil protection order against you.

It's also against the law for you to knowingly provide a gun to a person in any one of these categories. Penalties range from a minimum mandatory of one year in prison all the way up to 10 years and/or a fine of $15,000.

This is not to say that some individuals don't get away with it when they do flee - but it's rare.

The better option if you are stopped by police is to actually stop, be courteous and respectful and remember that you don't have to tell them anything. In fact, you shouldn't. The fact is, anything you do say may be used against you in court.

Cooperation doesn't mean you have to tell them what they want to know.

And in case you are arrested, make sure your first call is to an experienced D.C. criminal defense attorney.

Continue reading "D.C. Criminal Lawyers Advise Against Fleeing" »

April 19, 2012

Washington D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyer on Courtroom Attire

Washington D.C. criminal defense attorneys know how important it is for a defendant to be respectful in the courtroom. glasses.jpg

This is important for anyone who requires D.C. criminal defense - regardless of the crime - and sometimes what you wear is just as important as how you conduct yourself.

It's an issue that came up recently in a trial last month for five individuals accused of several D.C. murders. All five of the defendants showed up for court wearing large-frame glasses for which they did not have a prescription.

Prosecutors pounced.

The assistant U.S. attorney in the case questioned a witness about whether he had ever seen any of the defendants wear glasses prior to the trial. The answer was no.

Of course, glasses like the ones the defendants wore have become known as a trendy hipster fashion statement. On the other hand, D.C. criminal defense attorneys will sometimes recommend or even supply them to defendants. In some cases, inmates will even trade them amongst each other before hearings. They cost about $20, but they can make at least a small difference in terms of perception.

Many attorneys say it's simply part of a more polished, professional look. Often, such a detail can make a defendant appear more studious, serious.

Usually, it's a subtle detail that no one takes much notice of - at least not vocally.

In this case, prosecutors tried to say that by wearing these glasses, defendants were engaging in a form of dishonesty.

But glasses no more change the facts of the case than a suit and tie. We know perception is important, though, which is why the criminal justice system allows defendants to dress in their own clothing during a trial - because it's known that when jurors see a person in orange jailhouse garb, it creates an automatic perception of guilt.

A study in 2008 that was printed in the American Journal of Forensic Psychology found that African American defendants who were wearing glasses were deemed smarter, less threatening and more honest than those without. Meanwhile, white defendants who wore glasses weren't seen any differently depending on the glasses they wore.

The idea, according to analysts, is that you don't expect to see someone who committed a crime wearing glasses if he or she doesn't have to.

Impressions can be so important that in some cases, judges have barred family members from wearing t-shirts memorializing their slain relatives while sitting in the gallery during the trial.

If you show up to court wearing cut-off shorts and a t-shirt, not only might you be asked to change - either by the judge or your D.C. criminal defense attorney - it sends a message that you don't take the proceedings seriously. You haven't said a single word, and already, you're being judged. That's human nature.

For overall dress, some attorneys recommend to dress for court as if you were dressing for church. Conservative. Simple jewelry. No jeans. Solid, dark colors. This is a calculated move to give the person in the courtroom a more polished look, and hopefully, conveys that what you say is trustworthy. At the very least, it shows respect for the court and its role.

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April 2, 2012

D.C. Criminal Defense Watch: Eyewitness Testimony Untrustworthy

As Washington D.C. criminal defense lawyers well understand, eyewitness testimony is often unreliable. eyewitness.jpg

D.C. felony charges that are backed in court solely by someone's memory of what happened can be challenged by a skilled attorney. As a recent felony criminal case illustrates, even the memories of police officers aren't infallible.

This case is actually one of several, all related to a drive-by shooting spree that came to a head on the District's southeast side.

According to The Washington Post, the drive-by shootings, perpetrated by an estimated five males in a single vehicle in March 2010, resulted in a fatality. When 911 calls began pouring into police dispatch, a "Be on the Lookout" signal was issued to local police.

Two officers in the area spotted a minivan that matched the description of the vehicle involved. When one of the officers attempted to pull over that minivan, the driver refused to stop, setting off a police chase that ended in a wide alley, not far from where the drive-by had taken place.

Once in the alley, the men in the minivan reportedly scattered.

A 14-year-old, who happened to be in the alley at the same time, was yoked by police. Two officers said they were certain that he had been the driver of that minivan. So certain, in fact, that not only was this juvenile arrested, he was locked up for three weeks on 41 felony charges, including first-degree murder. Astonishingly, it took three weeks for investigators involved in the case to realize he was in no way connected to the alleged crimes.

In fact, it wasn't until another older teen admitted to his own involvement in the shootings that the 14-year-old was finally cleared.

Now, one of those five gunman is on trial, a D.C. criminal defense attorney for one of the men says the fact that the officers were so certain that they had the right person at the outset proves the weakness of their case.

One sergeant who took the stand said he identified the 14-year-old as the driver. A prosecutor asked if he was confident that the younger teen was the driver. The sergeant answered in the affirmative, though he added he had only seen the driver's face for a few seconds, and never straight in the face.

Then, upon cross-examination, the defense attorney meticulously attacked the sergeant's account, asking pointedly whether the person who the sergeant identified as the driver was actually the person behind the wheel of that minivan.

"I don't know. No," the sergeant answered.

The defense attorney countered that he was confused, and asked the question again. Prosecutors objected to that, and the judge urged him to move on.

After that, the defense attorney questioned the sergeant's partner, who also said she had witnessed the driver and believed the 14-year-old to have been the one behind the wheel.

However, as it turned out, the young teen had just run away from a group home. When police came roaring into that alley, he thought they were after him for that, which is why he ran. He reportedly did have a juvenile record - though nothing even close to the level of what he was accused.

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March 25, 2012

Accused of a D.C. Crime? Supreme Court Says You Deserve a Good Lawyer

Individuals in need of D.C. criminal defense received encouraging news in the form of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that bolsters their rights during the plea bargaining process. balance.jpg

Washington D.C. defense attorneys know how important it is for clients to have competent counsel in the plea bargaining stage. That is because a huge percentage of criminal cases - about 95 to 97 percent - are resolved through plea bargaining. Having an effective attorney can help you reduce felony charges to misdemeanors, cut down on long prison sentences and ultimately help you restore your life to normalcy.

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it your right to have proper counsel in this crucial phase of justice.

The ruling stems from two cases brought before the court - Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye.

In the first case, an individual was given a 30-year prison sentence after his case went to trial, following erroneous advice that was given to him by a defense attorney. The defendant was accused of shooting a woman multiple times in the thigh and buttocks. He was told - wrongly - by his attorney that he couldn't be convicted for attempted murder if the alleged victim was shot below the waist. While the prosecutors in the case had offered a plea deal that would have resulted in a 7-year prison term, the defendant decided to press on to trial, believing, based on his lawyer's advice, that he couldn't be convicted on the charge of which he was accused.

The second case involves a college student in Missouri, who was charged with a felony following his 4th offense for driving on a revoked license. His attorney failed to convey to him a deal from prosecutors that would have reduced that charge to a misdemeanor and compelled him to serve 90 days in jail. Instead, he moved ahead in pleading guilty to the charge with no special conditions, and was sentenced to three years in prison. The student argued that if he had known about the deal from prosecutors, he would have accepted it.

The Supreme Court decided in 5 to 4 votes in both cases that defendants have a right to be properly represented during the plea bargaining phase. As one justice put it, the issue of plea bargaining is not some outlying part of the criminal justice system. Given its pervasiveness, it IS the criminal justice system. As such, an attorney needs to make sure his or her client has been properly informed of any plea deal that is on the table, as well as a correct explanation of the consequences of accepting it or not.

The effects of this ruling are widespread, and could impact thousands of cases across the country. What this ruling does is provide another protection for individuals who may have gotten ineffective counsel. Of course, the better option is to make sure you have adequate defense attorney BEFORE you end up in that position. That means not simply accepting a government-employed public defender and thoroughly researching the qualifications of the attorney you intend to hire.

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