Recently in Murder Category

December 8, 2013

Murder Defense in Drug Death Cases: SCOTUS to Weigh In

With alarming frequency, individuals are being arrested on murder charges after selling or supplying drugs to individuals who later suffered a fatal overdose. drugs1.jpg

The U.S. Supreme Court last month heard oral arguments in the case of Burrage v. United States, where an accused drug dealer is on the hook for a death that occurred after the dealer sold the user heroin.

D.C. criminal defense attorneys know that courts have well established that a murder charge can be appropriate when a person provides drugs to another person who then dies as a result of consumption - even when that consumption is voluntary.

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September 12, 2013

D.C. Gun Violence Outbreak Reported By Metro Police

Over the course of just three days, gunfire in D.C. resulted in 10 people shot - two of those fatally - as police reportedly darted from crime scene to crime scene, several of those not known for violent activity.
Our D.C. homicide defense attorneys know that anytime a gun is involved, the resulting charges are inevitably going to be more serious, requiring a legal team with extensive experience and proven skill in the courtroom.

According to local media reports, a man had been shot in the abdomen early on a Friday morning in Southeast. Another man, 24, was fatally shot about five hours later near a public housing complex in Eckington. Then there were a series of shooting-related injuries in Brightwood neighborhood, including one involving a 16-year-old boy. One man was listed in critical condition after he was shot five times. Emergency crews found him on the roof of his vehicle.

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July 25, 2013

Review of Homicide Convictions Ordered Amid Scrutiny of Police, Prosecutor Tactics

It's difficult to imagine that one or two individuals could so profoundly impact the fates of so many people, despite operating in a system that places such a high value on its principals of checks and balances.
But our D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that officials in New York are concerned that the involvement of a once-acclaimed homicide detective may now jeopardize the convictions of any case with which he was involved. Or rather, this detective may have used improper tactics to secure convictions for individuals who otherwise might have walked.

The district attorney's office, at the direction of its own Conviction Integrity Unit, will scour through some 50 murder convictions secured after being investigated by this now-retired detective, and there is word that the investigation into his alleged misconduct could stretch to former prosecutors as well.

The detective in question handled some of the highest profile crimes in the city in the midst of the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. Those embroiled in these cases may not have felt they had much recourse, and it wasn't until the last several years, when The New York Times began delving into dozens of cases handled by this individual, that the state attorneys' office began to take notice.

The Times found that there were troubling patterns in cases with which this detective had been involved. In some instances, there was a tendency to rely on the same eyewitness, over and over again. She was a prostitute with a crack addiction and an apparent penchant for witnessing murders.

A lot of these cases rely heavily on a single eyewitness or confession.

In other cases, it appears key evidence was illegally kept from defense lawyers. There are allegations of coerced confessions, improper procedures with regard to suspect identification by witnesses and later recanted testimony that was hushed.

In one of the allegations, the detective allowed violent criminals to be released from jail for a time in order to visit with prostitutes and smoke crack cocaine, in exchange for their cooperation in testifying against certain defendants.

All of it was blown wide open when the conviction of one of those individuals for the murder of a rabbi began to unravel. The district attorney's office, in a very rare move, recommended his release, saying there was evidence of misconduct, and agreed not to retry him.

However, it didn't end there. Lead prosecutors are being called in for depositions in a $150 million civil lawsuit brought by the exonerated man. The tactics reportedly practiced by both the detective and the prosecutor began to call into question dozens of other cases.

The results of the DA's internal inquiry will be interesting, as the district attorney himself was one of the lead prosecutors in these cases. One would think an outside review would be more appropriate, but that hasn't been suggested.

Based on what we know so far, it appears more than one of these individuals was railroaded into prison.

Of course, if it turns out the chips were stacked that high against the defendant, it would be little wonder that defense attorneys weren't able to overcome the "evidence" in court.

The only thing you can really know for sure going into these cases is that the one person you can trust to have your interests at the forefront is your defense attorney. You want to choose someone who is not only intelligent and knowledgeable regarding the law, but who is also experienced and familiar with the local system.

Continue reading "Review of Homicide Convictions Ordered Amid Scrutiny of Police, Prosecutor Tactics" »

June 28, 2013

Criminal Witness Testimony Always Subject to Critical Errors

Eyewitness testimony in criminal cases is notoriously unreliable.

So it's even more troubling that a man was recently convicted of murder largely on the basis of nothing more than eye movements.
Our D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that the key witness in an Ohio murder case was the deceased. The "testimony," if you could call it that, was obtained on the victim's death bed, a few days after he had suffered a gunshot wound to the brain. He survived only a few weeks after the incident.

In the interim, prosecutors said although he could not speak, he was able to communicate with law enforcement officers by blinking.

Jurors watched a video in which the alleged victim was asked to blink three times to answer "yes" to a question of whether the man who shot him was depicted in the photograph placed in front of him. That photograph showed the defendant. The alleged victim blinked three times.

There are so many problems with this kind of witness, it's difficult to know where to start.

First, let's start with problems inherent in eyewitness testimonies in general. Flawed eyewitness testimony is the No. 1 contributing factor to wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA analysis, according to a book entitled "Convicting the Innocent," by Virginia law professor Brandon L. Garrett. Errors with photo line-ups, pressures by police and problematic law enforcement procedure can all contribute to false eyewitness testimony. So too can intoxication on the night in question, factors such as whether it was dark and the trauma a person has endured.

In this case, it's inarguable that the trauma suffered by the victim/witness included brain damage. Although his doctor testified that he could in fact communicate, it's unclear how accurate or reliable that communication would have been, considering the damage his brain reportedly suffered - the same damage that ultimately resulted in death.

The defense in this case raised another argument in trying to suppress the video from being entered into evidence, saying that the victim's blinks were inconsistent from day-to-day. What's more, there are substantial questions as to whether the powerful narcotics which the victim was prescribed at the time of the interview may have affected his responses. Certainly in any other circumstance, we would question the reliability of testimony from someone who was intoxicated. Although these medications were prescribed and undoubtedly necessary given the man's condition, it seems quite plausible that they could have impacted his judgment.

It's worth noting that the defendant in this case turned down a plea deal that would have resulted in only five years behind bars. He has maintained his innocence. Now, he is facing a sentence of 37 years to life.

It's not unheard of that a person's dying identification would be used as evidence in a murder trial. Typically, however, that comes in the form of actual words spoken to another person (one of the few times courts will allow hearsay). Under the best circumstances, an individual's words are recorded for the jury, who can then discern the exact language, tone and phrasing.

It's far more rare that testimony relying solely on gestures would be introduced by prosecutors as a key piece of evidence. But as this case shows, despite its unreliability, it can still be tough evidence to overcome.

Continue reading "Criminal Witness Testimony Always Subject to Critical Errors" »

April 9, 2013

D.C. Murder Suspect Presents Strong Case for Self-Defense

Initially charged with second-degree murder following the death of her husband, a woman was released from jail and into a lower-security halfway house by a D.C. Superior Court judge who found there was substantial evidence the slaying may have instead been an act of self-defense.
The charge she now faces is voluntary manslaughter.

Washington D.C. criminal defense attorneys
know it is a rare move for a judge to reduce the charges prior to trial, and it speaks to the strength of evidence in the case.

Family members told reporters that the suspect, a local pharmacist, had been fighting extensively with her husband of four years in recent weeks.

On the night in question, the pair were allegedly arguing about the husband's change in his Facebook status to "separated." The wife had been staying elsewhere when the husband called and asked her to return to the home and talk. There, a series of fights erupted. The suspect's sister said she received a call that night and described her sister's demeanor as "frightened."

About two hours later, the wife called 911 to report her husband had gotten violent, so she shot him. First responders arrived to find the husband had been shot in the back of the head.

The woman would later tell investigators that at one point, her husband picked up a pistol and placed it on the TV stand in the living room. He then walked away and she said she picked up the weapon. He then lunged at her, she said, and she fired the gun three times.

She conceded he hadn't hit her that night or threatened to do so, but he had in the past.

Investigators reportedly found three other firearms in the home, none of which were registered to either the husband or wife.

In a later hearing, the woman's defense attorney revealed to the judge that his client had been battered repeatedly by her husband over the course of the marriage, but she had never called police because he had expressed a desire to enter politics, and she wanted to protect his future career.

Still, prosecutors were planning to elevate the charge to first-degree murder when the judge ordered it to be reduced to voluntary manslaughter. The primary difference between these two charges under D.C. law is the presence of adequate provocation.

Murder is defined as the unlawful killing of another person with malice aforethought. That is, you had ill will and/or "wickedness of heart," and the act was deliberate and premeditated.

Voluntary manslaughter, meanwhile, is an intentional killing, but it is one with adequate provocation. One example that is given is if a wife returns home to find her husband in bed with her best friend and in a moment of sudden and intense fury, she kills both of them, she would be charged with voluntary manslaughter. The charge implies the person is still culpable, but had little time to reflect or plan the crime.

Involuntary manslaughter, meanwhile, is when a death is caused by criminal negligence. That is, the death was entirely unintentional, but still caused by the failure to exercise an appropriate degree of care.

While a person convicted of murder may serve up to life in prison, a person found guilty of manslaughter may serve up to 30 years. If you are facing charges in any capacity in the death of another person, you need to seek experienced legal representation.

Continue reading "D.C. Murder Suspect Presents Strong Case for Self-Defense" »

March 8, 2013

Fewer Than 1/3 of D.C. Murders End in Conviction, Special Report Finds

A special report by the Washington Post combed through a review of about homicides in the district between 2000 and 2011, finding that ultimately less than one-third resulted in a conviction for either a manslaughter or murder charge. stampoffinger2.jpg

Our D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand this is despite the fact that the number of overall killings has declined significantly in the last several decades.

The number of murders in D.C. peaked in 1991, totaling more than 480 at the time. Last year, they were at their lowest rate ever, around 110.

The Post spent 15 months conducting the longitudinal study to determine outcomes of D.C. murder cases as they moved through the court system.

Over the last decade, the rate of conviction was about 30 percent. That's slightly higher than results of similar research conducted in 1993, which found that 25 percent of some 1,3000 homicides between 1998 and 1990 resulted in conviction.

That increase doesn't appear to account for the strides made in science and technology that were supposed to be so key to helping law enforcement solve crimes. What's more, law enforcement apparently has significantly smaller case loads, which one would think would lead to more conviction as well.

Law enforcement and prosecutors say it's not a measurement of their own efforts (of course, they do), but rather the lack of witness cooperation. This shows that for all the exponential strides that have been made in forensics, plain old witness testimony tends to be the most valuable element in these cases.

While a defense attorney may only have so much room to dispute the science of DNA or other forensics, there is often ample opportunity to challenge witness testimony and credibility. This is why it's all the more important to choose a lawyer who is thorough, aggressive and eloquent in the courtroom.

Last year, there were reportedly 70 people in D.C. who were convicted of either manslaughter or murder. Another 21 were acquitted or the charges were dismissed after indictment. Another two individuals ended up leading guilty to lesser charges.

Prosecutors say this shows a marked improvement in prosecution rates. We would counter that the fact that they got it wrong a quarter of the time is a huge margin of error when you're talking about people who are facing decades or the rest of their lives behind bars.

Prosecutors say often cases today involve more than one suspect, and that has made it even tougher as witnesses tend to be more reluctant to come forward. Additionally, there has been a shift in the type of homicide being committed. Prosecutors say domestic situations used to be the primary source. Now, drugs, they say, are the most common motive. Drug dealers often have more than one enemy, making pinpointing a suspect more difficult.

Of those 2,300 homicides tracked by the Post, only about 150 were related to a domestic situation. Another 400 were classified as drug cases and another 330 as retaliation, typically involving gangs or drugs. Of those domestic violence cases, about 60 percent resulted in a conviction, versus about 22 percent of drug cases that ended in the same outcome.

However, we're also seeing fewer dismissals before trial. This makes some sense because a higher case load would result in a higher rate of error. That's why two decades ago, when the murder rate was higher, nearly 35 percent of cases ended in dismissals, while in the last 10 years, only about 13 percent of ended the same way.

Continue reading "Fewer Than 1/3 of D.C. Murders End in Conviction, Special Report Finds" »

March 3, 2013

D.C. Motion to Suppress Proves Valuable in Murder Case Ending in Mistrial

A mistrial has been declared in the case of a Prince George County defendant charged with double murder. gavel22.jpg

Our D.C. criminal defense attorneys understand that, as is so often the case with mistrials, a technical error was to blame. Specifically, the matter goes back to a suppression of evidence hearing, with a defense request granted, followed by a prosecution witness who then violated that agreement.

According to The Washington Post, the 30-year-old was on trial for two second-degree murder charges, accused of strangling to death two women - mother and daughter - during a home invasion robbery. Prior to the start of the trial, defense attorneys requested that evidence of other home invasions in which the defendant may have been involved should be suppressed, as it would unduly prejudice the jury against him and it wasn't necessarily relevant to the case at hand.

The judge agreed, but did say that prosecutors would be allowed to put forth evidence of one other home invasion involving the defendant - but that was it.

However, a federal agent who took the stand for the prosecution and under questioning mentioned multiple home invasions involving the defendant.

That was enough for the judge to declare a mistrial - something even prosecutors would later say was the right decision.

While none of this matters a whole lot to the defendant in this case - he's already been sentenced to more than 100 years in prison in connection with a separate federal case for the home invasions - such an incident could matter a great deal for you. It illustrates why it's critical for your defense attorney, when preparing for trial, to push for the blockage of as much information as possible.

First of all, the less prosecutors have to work with, the weaker their case. Secondly, approval of such motions give us better grounds on which to challenge prosecutorial overreach or sweeping statements by witnesses.

There a number of ways that your defense attorney might raise a request for evidence suppression.

One of those ways regards the way in which that evidence was collected in the first place. If law enforcement somehow illegally obtained the evidence being used against you, it would fall under the exclusionary rule. For example, if you officers continued to press you for a confession even after your clearly stated your desire for an attorney , it's likely we could have anything you said after that point suppressed. Likewise, if officers entered and searched your home without a warrant, anything they found there might be subject to suppression.

This is sometimes referred to as the "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine. That is, if an officer searches you illegally and finds drugs in your pocket, the "poisonous tree" is the illegal search and the drugs are the "fruit" - and your defense attorney should seek to get it tossed. That could mean dismissal of the entire case, depending on the circumstances.

Another way a judge might decide that evidence should be suppressed is if prosecutors intentionally or improperly hide it from the defense prior to trial. This is rare, but it does happen and it's a violation of the Fifth Amendment, which means it's likely to result in a mistrial.

Continue reading "D.C. Motion to Suppress Proves Valuable in Murder Case Ending in Mistrial" »

February 12, 2013

D.C. Shooting Conviction Overturned on Appeal for Judicial Error

Prosecutors are deciding whether to retry a man who was convicted of assault with intent to kill in D.C., following the 2008 shooting death of a 13-year-old visiting Alabama boy. gun5.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that the conviction was overturned by the D.C. Court of Appeals late last month, after finding that the judge overseeing the 2011 trial did not properly instruct the jury following its return of guilty verdicts for five of the six charges of which he was accused.

According to court records, the trial actually should have ended in a hung jury. When jurors first returned to the judge with their decision, they said all but one juror was in agreement. The judge responded that they should deliberate until all of them were in agreement. What he failed to do was warn the jurors about pressuring the one who disagreed into siding with their viewpoint.

In order for a verdict to be rendered one way or another in a criminal case, the decision has to be unanimous among jurors. Even in cases where the evidence against you may be substantial, all a defense attorney has to do is convince one or two members of the jury of reasonable doubt with regard to your guilt.

This error, the appellate court found, created the potential for coercion of the juror who was not in agreement.

The fact is, this was a complicated case, with some eight suspects involved in a spree of shootings in the District's Trinidad neighborhood that summer. The boy who was killed was visiting his grandmother, and was shot in a drive-by. But prosecutors reportedly had a difficult time obtaining statements from credible witnesses.

In fact, they only had two direct witnesses to testify, and one of those had struck a deal with prosecutors on another case in exchange for his testimony. What's more, he had reportedly admitted to using multiple drugs that day, and was reported to have a history of mental health issues.

Two other men charged in the case were acquitted and the jury was hung in the case of a third. Prosecutors dropped charges against a fourth man.

The individual in this case is already serving a 10-year term after he pleading guilty to an obstruction charge in a separate murder trial.

Police have other suspects for whom they are reportedly continuing to search.

The whole spree of incidents prompted D.C. police to set up military-style checkpoints in the neighborhood, which a federal appeals court later found to be unconstitutional.

The main point in all of this is that there are almost always going to be legal technicalities in every criminal case. But the appeals process can be quite lengthy and despite the outcome here, it can be extremely difficult to be successful in having an earlier verdict completely overturned. The key is to make sure you have hired a criminal defense lawyer with extensive experience in the area of law for which you are facing charges.

Continue reading "D.C. Shooting Conviction Overturned on Appeal for Judicial Error" »

January 4, 2013

D.C. Man Exonerated for 1978 Murder

A man spent nearly three decades behind bars for a D.C. murder he did not commit. chains1.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that the 51-year-old was finally exonerated and formally declared innocent by a Superior Court judge late last month, ending what has been a personal hell and a long battle to clear his name.

Such heartbreaking cases have become common, and as we embark on a new year, they remind of us of how important it is to start things off on the right foot. That is, if you are being investigated for a serious crime or even if you have simply been called in for questioning, don't try to navigate these waters without an experienced lawyer.

Cases like this aren't always caused by ineffective counsel, but rest assured, talking to police with no attorney at all is almost always disastrous - especially if you are a prime suspect.

This is a mistake often made by innocent people. They assume that because they've done nothing wrong, they've got nothing to hide. They trust that surely, DNA will prove them innocent.They believe nothing bad can happen because the truth will set them free. As this case shows, the justice system can be profoundly flawed, and these are risks you absolutely can't take.

In this case, the homicide in question was that of a taxi cab driver who was killed by a man wearing a stocking mask. A forensic examiner with the Federal Bureau of Investigation testified that he was able to match a microscopic fiber of hair found in a stocking near the crime scene to the suspect in question.

However, the defendant never wavered on maintaining his innocence. And as it turned out, newer DNA tests conducted on that same small hair fiber showed what he knew all along: It wasn't his.

By that time, he had already served 28 years in prison and had been released. The Superior Court judge's order granted his request for a certificate of innocence.

This case represents the second D.C. man exonerated last year alone and the third since 2009, all stemming from false hair matches made by FBI lab workers. But these rulings came only after hellishly long prison terms.

The cases prompted the Department of Justice last summer to announce a nationwide review of all criminal convictions handled by the FBI's hair and fiber lab workers prior to 2000. That effort, involving some 21,000 cases, is still underway.

The Washington Post reported last spring that officials with the Justice Department had for years been aware of major holes in their forensic testimony. They knew that analysis of hair wasn't as strong of a science as they held it up to be.They knew there were false matches, and they also knew it could have led to hundreds of false convictions. But they did not act. They did not speak up. They left these men to languish in prison indefinitely.

This is a clear-cut example of why you can not simply trust the truth. This is why, from the very beginning, you need an experienced lawyer who will work tirelessly to protect your rights and defend your innocence.

Continue reading "D.C. Man Exonerated for 1978 Murder" »

March 3, 2012

Washington D.C. Murder Case Presents Defense Challenges

The Washington D.C. murder trial of a socialite accused of killing his wife has taken some strange twists.


According to a detailed story by Fox News Washington, the case has captivated many in the D.C. community, both because of the wealthy status of the alleged victim and the courtroom antics of the accused. The suspect has reportedly claimed to be an Iraqi general. He was known to walk around his neighborhood in military gear while smoking cigars. He has also suggested his wife's murder was the work of an Iranian hit man, and has gone on hunger strikes while comparing himself to Judeo-Christian religious figures.

All this brings up two important points that most D.C. criminal defense attorneys deal with frequently.

The first is that media coverage of a case can absolutely impact the opportunity for the accused to receive a fair trial. In some cases, defense attorneys may even request a change of venue due to the publicity the case might have garnered before it has a chance to be heard by a jury. The group of individuals from which attorneys have to choose during voir dire, or the selection phase, may all be somewhat swayed when has been heavily covered in print, broadcast and online.

The second issue is that sometimes, Washington D.C. defense attorneys have the challenge of defending a client who does not aid in his or her own defense. Self preservation would indicate that this would be a rare circumstance, unless the individual suffers some mental illness. Such a sickness could have played a part in the alleged crime as well, although proving insanity as a criminal defense is rare in Washington D.C., as well as throughout the country.

Anyone accused of homicide in Washington D.C. needs to immediately secure an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows how to work in the best interest of a client, regardless of the challenges of a given case. Sometimes, this is done with the help of experts in the medical, forensic and psychological fields.

In this case, the 91-year-old Georgetown victim had been a foreign affairs journalist with a taste for fine art and fashion. Her German husband was 40 years younger and had been known for rather eccentric tendencies. Over the years, he had claimed to be everything from a spy from East Germany to a CIA operative. He wore an eye patch at times, which he said was due to losing an eye while serving as a bodyguard for a U.S. ambassador in Paraguay.

The reality, however, was that this was a man who was unemployed and supported by his much-older wife, who seemed to tolerate his antics.

There had been some accounts that the suspect had struck his wife in the past.

Then last August, he called 911 to report he had found his wife deceased in the bath tub. He e-mailed an obituary to the local media, stating it was a fall that caused her death. A medical examiner, however, ruled her death was a murder.

A neighbor told police she had heard soft cry and a "sinister laugh" around the time of the woman's death.

Her husband has since been charged with second-degree murder.

Eccentric behavior doesn't prove guilt, any more than a neighbor who heard laughing (sinister is an subjective characterization) around the time a 91-year-woman was found dead.

It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds.

Continue reading "Washington D.C. Murder Case Presents Defense Challenges" »

February 23, 2012

Arrest in 1992 Washington D.C. Murder Shows Cold Cases Rife With Problems

"Cold" cases are typically defined by law enforcement as those that have sat months or years without leads or progress.

Television dramas have even been made about these types of cases -- where victims and witnesses die, laws change and authorities can try to use DNA evidence to bridge the gap between having no evidence and trying to scrape together some form of proof.
Recently, Washington D.C. authorities arrested a man in connection with a 1992 Washington D.C. murder, The Washington Post is reporting.

Washington D.C. criminal defense attorneys are always wary of these cases because so much can change between the time a crime is committed and the time an arrest is made.

For one, the laws change. If a person is charged in connection with a crime from 1992, those laws must be applied even if the arrest is made in 2012. That means that different penalties may apply and different court procedures may also be in place that could affect how the case progresses.

Secondly, time changes people's memories. It is often said that a person's memory is best at the time of the event. This makes perfect sense. When a person sees something, especially a criminal act, they are most likely to be able to describe the event right away.

So, if an arrest is made years or decades later, those memories will fade. While a person may believe they can still remember how a suspect looked or exactly how events that transpired, that may not necessarily be the case. As they watch or read news reports, talk to others about it and continuously get interviewed by authorities, their stories can change.

Because every defendant requires a fair trial for charges to be proven beyond all reasonable doubt, shaky evidence brought forth by police and prosecutors requires a critical eye from a Washington D.C. defense attorney.

In this case, a 37-year-old man from South Carolina was recently arrested in connection with a 20-year-old homicide in Washington D.C. The man was arrested on an outstanding warrant last month but was extradited to the District. He now faces a charge of felony murder in connection with the death of a 27-year-old man.

The crime occurred on May 25, 1992 on Ohio Drive SW, near the U.S. Park Police station. Officials said the victim was a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier. He was found dead in East Potomac Park.

It's unclear from the news article how police determined this man was connected to the killing. Even though DNA databases that are connected to every city and county in the country and new forensic technology improves, leading to more and more arrests, it doesn't mean the suspects will be arrested.

The state must still prove the elements beyond all reasonable doubt. Sometimes, suspects are so shocked by the arrests it leads to an abundance of plea agreements. The prosecution is sometimes thankful because an arrest and not-guilty verdict would be an embarrassment. But the defendant must consult with their Washington D.C. criminal defense lawyer to determine the best strategy to attack the charges.

Continue reading "Arrest in 1992 Washington D.C. Murder Shows Cold Cases Rife With Problems" »

December 2, 2011

Supreme Court Hears Argument on Warrantless GPS Monitoring in U.S. v. Antoine Jones

As you can see every day, technology continues to become more and more advanced and sophisticated. Cell phones are almost a necessity for many, the Internet is accessible anywhere at anytime, and traveling has been made easier with global positioning satellite services.

GPS is found in many devices, including cell phones and gadgets that provide maps for people on the go. The recent case of a Washington, D.C., man who was tracked by the FBI in a Washington, D.C., drug case has gone to the United States Supreme Court because of alleged police misconduct. Washington, D.C., criminal defense lawyers have seen instances where overzealous police work leads to a violation of rights. In many cases like that, the charges get dropped when the evidence is suppressed.
In the United States vs. Antoine Jones case, the FBI tracked the man through a GPS device for four weeks without a warrant. A Washington, D.C., appeals court ruled that his drug conviction, and subsequent life sentence, should be overturned because of a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

Every person has a right to avoid unlawful search and seizure. Under the Fourth Amendment, a person can't be subjected to the police barreling in without a warrant or a reason to enter. This applies to vehicles and businesses, too. This important protection ensures that police don't overstep their bounds when conducting an investigation.

In this case, Jones was monitored with a GPS device for a month by agents who didn't have a warrant to do so. They also didn't have permission to install a GPS device on his car in the first place. The tracking and later arrest led to a 2008 conviction on a charge of possession and distribution of more than 50 kilograms of cocaine.

In arguing before the Supreme Court, attorneys for the government relied on old cases that dealt with the right to privacy. Justices argued, though, that technology has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. GPS devices allow police to track people much more easily today.

Justices also were concerned that ruling against Jones in this case could open up every citizen in the United States to monitoring without a warrant. Jones' lawyer argued that private information was seized by authorities while they used the GPS device. The government doesn't have the right to steal information from citizens, he argued.

This isn't just an issue with the FBI, however. Local law enforcement agencies use the devices during investigations as well. This should be concerning for all citizens. If police have the right to attach GPS devices to your vehicle without reason, that's essentially the same concept as them being able to knock down your door for no reason and start rummaging through the house.

This would be a major hit to everyone's Fourth Amendment rights and a continued assault on the privacy of citizens throughout the country. For people charged with a crime, it would allow police more access to your personal affairs and potentially create more evidence in a criminal case. Stay tuned.

Continue reading "Supreme Court Hears Argument on Warrantless GPS Monitoring in U.S. v. Antoine Jones" »

October 3, 2011

Washington, DC Murder Rate on Track to Be The Lowest in Years

239372_caution_tape.jpgAccording to a recent story in the Washington Times, there have been 81 reported homicides so far this year in the District of Columbia. Last year at this time there had already been 96 reported homicides in Washington, DC. This change reflects a 15% reduction from the previous year. It is estimated that if the trend continues, there will be a total of 108 murders instead of the 132 from the previous year. Either way, these numbers are lot lower than the 454 murders reported in 1993.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney, I often wonder about the reasons for these reductions. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) credits increased relationships with members of the community and technology. However, it seems that this might assist with investigating a crime but not preventing crime. From the courthouse it seems that is no shortage of people being charged with other offenses such as drug charges, gun charges, and violent crimes such as armed robbery.

Another potential reason for the decline in homicide rates over the years may be related to advances in trauma care at hospitals as result of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in addition to medical advances in general. What may have been a murder 10 years ago could very well result in an aggravated assault charge today if doctors are able to save the victim. In Washington, DC an aggravated assault charge states that the defendant acted intentionally, purposefully, or with a disregard towards human life that resulted in a serious bodily injury. This is a major felony and is punishable by up to ten years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. Attempted aggravated assault in Washington, DC is felony punishable by a fine of $5,000 and/or 5 years in prison. If armed while committing an aggravated assault, the potential penalty could be up to 15 years in prison. There is also the possibility that the government could file repeat papers which would make the penalty even higher based upon the defendants past criminal record.

In any event, from my view at the courthouse, it seems that is no shortage of people being charged with other offenses such as drug charges, gun charges, and violent crimes such as armed robbery.

Continue reading "Washington, DC Murder Rate on Track to Be The Lowest in Years" »

March 28, 2011

Washington, DC Gang Member Sentenced to Life on Murder and Racketeering Charges

Graffitti.jpgWashington, DC is not known for having many national gangs like other major cities. Instead of gangs like the Bloods or Crips, many defendants charged with drug crimes in DC are members of neighborhood crews. There are over 40 operating crews in the District, according to police. These crews are usually named after the neighborhood where they are located. One exception to this is the increasing presence of Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13. This is an extremely violent gang with roots to guerilla fighters in El Salvador. They are known for being involved with illegal firearms and drugs and have a reputation for being extremely violent toward rival gangs and anyone they consider an enemy. Authorities are very concerned by their overseas ties that may aid them in smuggling operations.

According to a recent story in the Washington Post, William Cordova, also known as "Centinella," was sentenced to life in prison for killing Feliciana Flores-Esquina Flores. Cordova shot Flores two times in the head at a Washington, DC bus stop. He also killed three other men in 2006.

Washington, DC criminal defense lawyers who handle drug and gun charges may be dealing with more cases in which the prosecutor tries to treat gang members like members of an organized crime family, as they have done with mafia crime families. If they are able to charge defendants with racketeering, as they have done in this case, it will allow for additional federal charges and increase the maximum penalties of many crimes. This will be important to people facing DC gun charges or drug charges.

March 4, 2011

A New Arrest in 2009 Washington, DC Metro Bus Shooting

DC Metrobus.pngOn Nov. 11, 2009, George Rawlings was shot and killed while boarding a Metro bus on the 1300 block of H Street in NE Washington, DC. He was shot just after attending a funeral for Ashton Hunter. Hunter was also a murder victim. Police report that as Rawlings left the funeral home, he was followed by the three shooters. It is believed that Rawlings was killed in retaliation for Hunter's death.

Two of the suspects were arrested shortly after the shooting. According to a recent story in the Washington Post, a third suspect, Javoricle Moore, was arrested yesterday and charged with first degree murder. Rawlings' brother, DeOnte Rawlings, was also a victim of firearm violence when he was killed by police in 2007 at the age of 14. The police shooting was ruled as justified by federal authorities but the family is still fighting this determination according to reports that they are still involved in civil litigation regarding the death.

As a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney, I will be following along closely to see what happens with this case. There are many possible issues that can arise when dealing with cases involving an alleged crime that happened years ago. While two years may not seem like that long ago, it is sufficient length of time for witnesses to forget certain details of what they may have seen or heard. It is also a long time in terms of evidence storage which has been an issue in numerous past cases.