Recently in D.C. criminal defense Category

February 17, 2014

Parker v. Delaware - Social Media Postings Become Criminal Evidence

When it comes to admitting social media posts as criminal evidence, courts have taken varied approaches to authentication.
In Maryland, the courts have establish that social media evidence is only authenticated through testimony of the creator, documentation of internet history or hard drive of the alleged creator's computer or information obtained directly from the social networking provider itself. The idea is that the proponent of the evidence can only submit it if that party can thoroughly convince the judge that the post wasn't falsified or created by some other user.

However, our D.C. criminal defense lawyers recognize an entirely different approach taken by courts in Texas. Those courts have established that social media evidence can be submitted to a jury so long as it could be demonstrated to the judge that a jury might reasonably find the evidence to be authentic. That's a much lesser standard, and the one that was recently adopted by the courts in Delaware also, in Parker v. Delaware, reviewed by the Delaware Supreme Court.

Continue reading "Parker v. Delaware - Social Media Postings Become Criminal Evidence" »

February 12, 2014

United States v. Richards - Exigent Circumstances in a Warrantless Search

Anytime a person is approached by police and asked to consent to a search, individuals should avail themselves of their right to decline consent.
This does not necessarily mean police won't still initiate the search, particularly if they have a warrant. However, the Fourth Amendment protects us all from unreasonable searches and seizures, and if there is ever a question regarding the validity of the warrant or the logical foundation for the search, absent your consent, that evidence may be suppressed (or not used against you in court).

D.C. criminal defense lawyers want to stress, however, that when you do consent, it can complicate matters a great deal, and generally it makes it much harder to argue that evidence should be suppressed.

Continue reading "United States v. Richards - Exigent Circumstances in a Warrantless Search" »

January 23, 2014

D.C. Defense Lawyers: Police Can Track Your Digital Trail Without a Warrant

Our D.C. criminal defense lawyers cannot stress enough that these days, almost all forms of communication are subject to possible police surveillance.
Text messages, e-mails, e-mail drafts, Facebook posts, phone call records, even what computers you use - all of these things may potentially be monitored by police - in some cases, even without a warrant.

While we could debate the merits of this kind of expansive surveillance at length, the bigger issue for our clients is understanding what can be obtained, how it can be obtained and how that might impact your case moving ahead. (It's also valuable, we hope, in terms of urging potential clients to curb their communications with regard to certain activities, ultimately leaving police and prosecutors with a weaker case.)

Continue reading "D.C. Defense Lawyers: Police Can Track Your Digital Trail Without a Warrant" »

December 28, 2013

D.C. Defense Lawyers on the Voir Dire Phase of Trial

Recently, prosecutors in the District came under fire for running criminal background checks on a number of potential jurors in a handful of high-profile, gang-related cases. The judge voiced serious concerns that the majority of those selected for the in-depth checks were African American.
The cases involved alleged crimes of murder, assault and conspiracy. The judge demanded to know why prosecutors had given extra scrutiny to certain potential jurors, and further ordered the team to work through the night to conduct checks on the entire rest of the jury pool.

Most prosecutors in the Washington-area don't run criminal checks on potential jurors, but that doesn't mean they can't if they so choose. D.C. criminal defense lawyers know that the issue was not whether prosecutors had a right to conduct background checks, but whether those checks were selective to race.

Continue reading "D.C. Defense Lawyers on the Voir Dire Phase of Trial" »

December 23, 2013

D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyers: Preserve Your Right to Appeal

Preserving your right to appeal a criminal conviction is one of the most important things your D.C. defense lawyer can help you do - aside from, of course, helping you to avoid a conviction in the first place.
A good lawyer knows that preserving this right means being highly involved throughout the case. If the issue of contention is not first raised to the lower court for consideration, the chances of having the appellate court accept the matter for review are slim.

This is important because if the lower court errs on a matter of law or an issue of fairness, it probably won't correct itself. An appellate court is your chance to have that matter reconsidered. You don't want to forgo that chance because it could be your next best chance to have the case against you dropped.

Continue reading "D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyers: Preserve Your Right to Appeal" »

December 12, 2013

Wrongful Arrests in D.C. More Commonplace Than You Think

While proclamations of "You've got the wrong guy!" are frequently met with an eye roll by police officers making an arrest, the reality is that officers all too frequently blame the wrong person for a crime.handcuffssilver.jpg

If only innocence were enough to shield us all from allegations of criminal wrongdoing. Unfortunately, being wrongfully arrested in D.C. happens more often than law enforcement officials might wish to admit. Worse, proving it is sometimes not as simple as it should be.

Recently, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an excellent investigation into this phenomena in that city.

Continue reading "Wrongful Arrests in D.C. More Commonplace Than You Think" »

November 2, 2013

D.C. Protest Arrests and Your Right to Peaceful Assembly

Your right to peaceably assemble is firmly established and clearly written in the very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
This aspect of the law is often applied in cases of mass protests, when law enforcement, seeking to "restore order" make large numbers of arrests for offenses like unlawful entry, malicious destruction of property, rioting or inciting to riot, disorderly conduct, demonstration in a residential area or assault on an officer.

Our D.C. criminal defense attorneys know that because we are located in the U.S. capitol, we tend to see more of this kind of action than other areas of the country. People flock to D.C., often in organized groups, to voice their disdain with government leaders - as is well within their rights as citizens.

Continue reading "D.C. Protest Arrests and Your Right to Peaceful Assembly" »

October 23, 2013

D.C. Courtroom Decorum: What Not to Wear

In a perfect world, judgments in criminal cases would be based solely on the facts at hand.
However, juries are human. Judges are human. Because defendants rarely speak during the course of a criminal case, how they present themselves can often convey a great deal about who they are and whether they should be believed.

Of course, our D.C. criminal defense attorneys know that trustworthiness shouldn't be determined on the basis of whether you are wearing a collared shirt and tie. However, if you show up to court to face drug charges wearing a t-shirt with a marijuana leaf emblazoned on the front, your credibility is shot.

Continue reading "D.C. Courtroom Decorum: What Not to Wear" »

October 5, 2013

D.C. Defense Lawyers Discuss Material Witness Orders

Uncooperative witnesses can be the bane of prosecutors or defense attorneys in a criminal case.
However, prosecutors possess a powerful tool: a material witness order. Only to be used in extreme circumstances and with the signed permission of a judge, material witness orders allow district attorneys to detain witnesses in order to compel them to testify.

However, Washington D.C. criminal defense lawyers know that the potential for abuse of these orders is high, as a recent ProPublica investigation revealed.

Continue reading "D.C. Defense Lawyers Discuss Material Witness Orders" »

October 1, 2013

D.C. Gang Child Sex Trafficking Crimes Increasing, Report Says

Gang crimes in D.C. run the gamut, from theft to drug sales, to conspiracy and murder.
Now, a new report in the Washington Post indicates that it has over the last several years branched out into child sex trafficking, which has been deemed cheaper to initiate and more lucrative in the long run.

However, our D.C. criminal defense lawyers know that such enterprises are no less risky. In fact, the courts tend to look very harshly upon individuals involved in the sexual exploitation of minors.

Continue reading "D.C. Gang Child Sex Trafficking Crimes Increasing, Report Says" »

September 3, 2013

D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyers Talk Polygraph Tests

Recently, a man from Indiana was sentenced to eight months in prison for reportedly instructing sex offenders as well as aspiring law enforcement workers on effective ways to "trick" polygraph tests.
Also known as "lie detector tests," these devises are prohibited from use against criminal defendants in D.C. However, that doesn't mean it isn't still wielded as a tool by police interrogators.

Our D.C. criminal defense lawyers know that many law enforcement agencies take advantage of the fact that most people don't realize they aren't obligated to submit to a lie detector test, and neither can those results be used in court. If you don't know that, the cops aren't inclined to tell you. You may be "asked" to submit to a lie detector test, and then pressured to give more information based on the reported results.

Continue reading "D.C. Criminal Defense Lawyers Talk Polygraph Tests" »

July 28, 2013

D.C. Defense Lawyers Battle Constant Video Surveillance as Evidence

If you're in D.C. or the surrounding areas, your movements are likely being tracked in some capacity through either the district's network of surveillance cameras or through law enforcement's increasing use of license plate cameras.
Our D.C. criminal defense lawyers know that more and more, detectives are tapping into these resources in the course of investigating various crimes. It's fast becoming a tool that we see more often used against defendants in court in a vast array of cases.

Both the Washington Times and the Washington Post recently reported on this issue, as civil rights advocates argue that the scope of such recordings are overly-broad and may violate privacy laws.

The Times reported that investigators with the Metropolitan Police Department retrieved video from the district's 123 closed-circuit surveillance and red light cameras some 930 times last year. That represents an increase of 15 percent over 2011 and a nearly 30 percent increase from 2010, according to police data.

This trend is expected to continue. From January through May of this year, police have tapped into this resource a total of 530 times. At that rate, they will have made 1,200 requests by the end of the year.

The neighborhood crime cameras first appeared in the district back in 2006. They are now considered standard investigative tools for detectives.

There are a few rules regarding how detectives are allowed to use these feeds. For example, detectives have to make a formal request of a specific camera before they are allowed to obtain a download. However, it doesn't appear they are turned down very often, if ever, in one of these requests.

It's not even so much that police are hoping to find direct video evidence of an actual crime occurring. More likely, they are looking to spot the individual driving a getaway vehicle or to poke holes in a suspect's alibi.

This makes it all the more important for those suspected of involvement in a crime in D.C. to refrain from lying to police. You don't have to give them a statement. In fact, you shouldn't speak to them at all without your attorney present. Better to give them nothing than to try to throw them off with a lie, no matter how small. If police can disprove just one of your statements with the use of these cameras, your entire credibility could be shot. That means your statements and actions will be analyzed with even more heightened scrutiny.

The majority of the images being pulled are from neighborhood cameras. However, a number are also being retrieved from transportation department cameras. The figures cited above don't include footage requested from private surveillance cameras, such as those belonging to apartment complexes, businesses or residents.

Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union sounded the alarm over the fact that D.C.-area law enforcement, as well as those across the country, have amassed databases that tally the movements of millions of Americans over the course of several years through the use of license plate cameras.

Police agencies have these cameras affixed to their cruisers. The technology allows officers to immediately pull up information on an individual or vehicle based on the license plate. Generally, they would be looking for information such as whether the vehicle was reported stolen, alleged to have been involved in a crime or if the individual is driving on a suspended license.

However, even if the officer doesn't actually stop the person, the information recorded by that snapshot is stored in an internal database that police can use later for potential crime-solving.

In Maryland, for example, license plate data was collected some 85 million times last year. Of those, about one in 500 registered a hit, with the vast majority of those being for very minor offenses, such as a failure to comply with the state's emission-control or a lapsed registration. For every 1 million plates recorded, less than 50 were associated with any sort of a serious crime. That amounts to a hit rate of less than 1 percent, which is typical of the program.

Continue reading "D.C. Defense Lawyers Battle Constant Video Surveillance as Evidence" »

June 25, 2013

D.C. Photo Databases' Questionable Use in Criminal Searches

State and local officials have amassed a collection of roughly 120 million faces of innocent Ameircans, using the justification that such images would allow authorities to prevent driver's license fraud.
However, as a recent Washington Post article reveals, these images are frequently being used in criminal facial recognition screens.

Our Washington D.C. criminal defense lawyers are very concerned about the potential for Fourth Amendment violations, as well as the inevitable likelihood that, given the current unreliability of facial recognition technology, someone is going to end up falsely accused.

According to the Post article, these databases operate with very few legal safeguards, so long as the searches carried out for "law enforcement purposes."

The facial recognition technology has been around for some time, but it's been widely used recently in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to help soldiers pinpoint insurgents.

Here at home, the technology has reportedly been used to help police locate individuals suspected of murder, bank robberies and drug deals. Photographs of these individuals are captured either on video surveillance cameras or on social media sites. Those images are then cross-referenced with driver's license photographs.

In some departments, officers have technology that allows them to enter a driver's license photograph of a suspect being pulled over and cross-reference it with suspect photographs using facial recognition technology. The concern is that as these databases expand and become increasingly connected, we are creating what in essence equals a national identification system.

These recognition technologies are not yet as reliable as fingerprint data in terms of identifying people. The new features allow police agencies to map out each person's variations in skin textures, vein patterns and irises. This information is then used to create a digital template for quick, computerized comparison of other faces within the database.

The information has successfully been used to weed out driver's license fraud, as the system picks up whether a person may have more than one driver's license in the country.

However, this kind of detailed information is being collected for the purposes of unrelated criminal investigations - despite the fact that these people have never been convicted or even suspected of a crime. The only thing they've done is obtain a driver's license.

Likewise, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Maryland v. King, allows law enforcement agencies to collect DNA information from criminal suspects to input into state and national databases - even though they have never been convicted of a crime.

Use of driver's license photographs allows police to tap into even more potential suspects. The use of this technology varies by region. In D.C., for example, facial recognition systems are available, but generally there is no allowance for law enforcement to conduct searches. However, such searches are available in a number of neighboring states and there is allowance for police to search or request searches.

One facial recognition program coordinator in Florida called it a tool to benefit law enforcement and not to violate citizen privacy rights. However, no one ever said the two were mutually exclusive.

What's more, there is much to suggest that as of right now, it isn't all that accurate - sometimes dramatically so. In one case, a probe image of a white, middle-aged man returns possible matches with 20-something, African American women with eyes and lips of similar shape. Law enforcement officials can limit the search filters for sex, race and other factors. But looking similar to someone isn't a crime, and we shouldn't be treating it like one.

Continue reading "D.C. Photo Databases' Questionable Use in Criminal Searches" »

June 16, 2013

Detective Arrested for Fatal Shooting Alleges Racial Slur Prompted Gunfire

A detective charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter for the fatal shooting of a fellow motorist has claimed through his attorney that the alleged victim had repeatedly shouted racial slurs against the officer and threatened to kill his family.
Our D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that the defendant in the case is black, while the alleged victim was white.

Defense attorneys say the victim was yelling at the family in their van, behaving in an enraged manner and repeatedly screaming racial epithets at the officer and his family.

The element of racial tension was absent from the investigative report penned by police on the incident. In fact, the majority of the police report relies heavily on statements from the passenger who was riding with the alleged victim. Of course, it should be understood that this individual would have a reason to provide a bias account of what occurred.

The detective, who primarily investigates insurance fraud but had previously been a road patrol officer in Newark, was driving with his wife seated next to him and his three children, ages 3 to 11 buckled in behind him. He was driving in the left turn lane when the altercation began. The defense lawyer said that the detective had been unaware there was a problem until the alleged victim pulled up alongside the van and began screaming at the family, using a series of racial slurs. Additionally, the man was threatening violence upon the entire family. As the attorney put it, "They were on notice."

The detective maintains the alleged victim drove aggressively, doing whatever was needed to stay alongside the family van. When the detective decided to pull over, he wasn't trying to escalate the situation. He thought it was over, and he wanted to stop to collect his calm - and for another reason that his lawyer has yet to disclose. But the other driver stopped some 150 feet in front of him.

At some point, both men got out of their cars. The detective identified himself as a police officer as the alleged victim marched toward him. He repeatedly ordered the man to stop. He didn't. It was only when the alleged victim was within six feet of the detective did he pull his gun and fire.

Police say the victim was shot twice - once in the leg and the second one, to an undisclosed location on the man's body, which proved fatal. However, the defense lawyer maintains only one shot was fired.

A murder charge is one of the most serious a person can face in our legal system. There are many possible approaches a legal defense team can take, and in this case, it appears to be a textbook case of self-defense.

Self-defense is not an excuse to murder, but rather a justification. It is reasonable force displayed in the face of an unjust threat. It is asserting that the actions taken were not criminal, but rather necessary to protect one's own self or others.

Murder is the intention to kill or inflict great bodily injury or action taken that reflects reckless indifference to human life. A person convicted of murder can face up to life in prison.

It is critical in these cases for defendants to hire a skilled criminal defense lawyer.

Continue reading "Detective Arrested for Fatal Shooting Alleges Racial Slur Prompted Gunfire" »

June 14, 2013

D.C. Child Abuse Claim Proves False, Couple Continues to Pay

The young mother of twin baby girls was changing the diaper of one when she heard a thud from across the room. She turned to see that her other 8-month-old daughter, who had been playing nearby, had fallen and bumped her head.
The child didn't have any bumps and bruises, but she grew concerned when the girl began to act fussy and started throwing up. She eventually wound up in the hospital, but recovered quickly.

Still, our D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand the two girls were promptly removed from their parents' home and shoved into foster care. The police launched an investigation and the parents were placed on the city's suspected child-abusers registry.

Police never found any evidence of abuse and no arrests were ever made. Still, the case is not closed for the couple. That was nearly six years ago, and the fight continues, most recently with the couple having filed a $1 million lawsuit against the Child and Family Services Agency for the way it has handled the case.

The primary reason CFSA got involved was because the girl's injuries from that fall included a retinal hemorrhage. That is consistent with an injury that one might see from shaken baby syndrome.

But shaken baby syndrome is a condition that has been broadly applied in criminal investigations launched when children have become injured or, worse, have died. However, many of the symptoms that accompany shaken baby syndrome are also consistent with other childhood injuries and conditions - for example, falling and bumping one's head. This is something children do all the time.

Certainly, there is a need to protect children from parents or caregivers who are abusive or neglectful. However, child protection agencies, law enforcement and prosecutors have become overzealous with their application of the law. In some cases, convictions were secured and parents were sent to prison - only to have it later revealed that the child was injured or died from other causes.

The couple in this case say that while they understand the need for an initial investigation, child service workers and at, first, law enforcement seemed to ignore the fact that there was no evidence whatsoever that they had harmed their child or to show that they were a threat to their other daughter.

D.C. has a very broad statute with regard to what constitutes as child abuse or neglect. The standard of proof in these cases is a preponderance of the evidence. That is, your child can be removed from your home without authorities having to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you harmed him or her.

D.C. Code 16-2301 holds that abuse should be defined as the infliction of mental or physical injury on a child or the sexual exploitation or abuse of a child. A parent may discipline his or her child, but that discipline may not include:

  • Biting, cutting or burning a child;

  • Striking a child with a closed fist;

  • Inflicting injury to the child by kicking, throwing or shaking the child;

  • Any non-accidental injury to a child younger than 18 months;

  • Taking any action that could interfere with a child's breathing;

  • Threatening or using a dangerous weapon on a child.

Cases involving infants are particularly difficult because they are generally unable to communicate how their injuries occurred. That means you will need a strong legal advocate on your side.

Continue reading "D.C. Child Abuse Claim Proves False, Couple Continues to Pay" »